we are not superheroes: the reality of parenting a medically fragile child

September 3, 2015, Michaela Evanow, 25 Comments

When I get nervous in life or death situations, I start babbling to the people around me. Or I throw up. I do best when strangers surround me for these reasons. Kind nurses with cool hands offering garbage pails and orange juice. Paramedics with glossy boots and wrinkles. Help me. I need help. Take care of me, too. I don’t know how to do this. I could always sense when a nurse was just “working” or really cared deeply. Some nurses made me cry with their simple, kind acts. I loved it when they nurtured and cared for us as a family. I loved it when they really cared for Florence out of love and respect. Mama’s can sense these things.

Getting to the hospital or Canuck Place was like fleeing across the border. I always felt a strange sense of freedom. I can breathe now. For one small moment. The doctors would reassure us: You are in the best possible place if something goes wrong. So I would breathe and silently ask for help.

Fix this. Fix us. Help me.

My heart was (and is) so broken and tired. I was (and am) desperate to be nurtured.

But oh, God, how I miss nurturing her. Florence wasn’t like Theodore. Her needs were so different. She needed us for everything. E V E R Y T H I N G.

We miss carrying her. We miss rolling her from side to side and changing her diapers. We miss the roar of her suction machine and the way her BiPap beep beeped after we hit the power button. We miss her feeding pump and formula. Just the other day I found the 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup I used specifically for her formula. I knelt down in the kitchen and stuck my nose in, hoping to smell her formula.I whispered into the glass: I miss you. I shoved it back into the corner of the cupboard. I will need to hold this and remember again, one day.

How does a parent simply stop doing everything for their child, one day?

The day before Florence passed away, I remember clearly the way she looked up at me, as we transported her to Canuck Place in the ambulance. Serene, happy, even though she was going through hell. It broke my heart for the umpteenth time, but I had to let the pieces slide to the floor. I swept them under the seat with my boot. Keep. Going. Keep. Running.

The ride was calm. I was so nervous but for once, I wasn’t sick to my stomach. I knew it was bad. I knew it was really, really bad.

The paramedic that sat with us in the back talked about home births and transfers and midwives. He was kind. I clung to his words. Florence was watching a show on the iPad. She seemed stable. I felt relieved. Would we maybe make it through this?

She had on cozy sweatpants and her soft, gray “I love someone beautiful and rare” T-shirt (created by a fellow SMA mama). I wanted her to be comfy. I always wanted that. I ached for that. My fibres screamed it out on a daily basis. 

Comfort. For my baby. It threw me into a panic. I want her comfortable! Whatever it takes! Give her pain to me. Let her rest. Help her. The cries of a grief stricken mother are not for the faint of heart.

Grief stricken because I wanted her well. And there was nothing I could do about it.

To put it plainly, it was agonizing. 

Parents of medically fragile children are not superheroes. They are cut from the same cloth as everyone else. They don’t get tough over time. They just get good at holding their breath and faking it.

It doesn’t get easier. In fact, if your child is fragile and there is no cure or treatment, it gets harder. Much harder. Some call it living on borrowed time. It’s a type of parenthood that’s often filled with fear and trembling, anxiety and medication, grief and naked honesty.

I remember when I started getting honest about Florence’s condition. I was honest with myself first, and then to those around me.

My language changed. I used to say she had special needs. Then, that didn’t fit. Because she didn’t really. People would assume she could do certain things. Or might get better. But she was sick. She was progressively getting weaker. Her body was failing on her. She was…fading.

I started using the phrase terminal neuromuscular disease.

It fit. It painted a picture for people. My child wouldn’t get better, unless there was a miracle. My child would one day die from this disease. My child knew what was going on around her. She was so smart and bright but couldn’t verbally express herself due to weakness. She was dealing with big, adult things that big, adults don’t even know how to deal with. 

No one really knows how to function when their loved one is living with a terminal disease.

Hope and heartache go hand in hand. Depression and sheer happiness mingle. Sadness and sorrow can roll right into your day, just like peace and acceptance.

Life is an emergency. It really is. You live in isolation because you don’t want your kid to get sick. So you protect them. You don’t go out as often. And when you do go out, you’re usually alone, because it’s so hard to go on a real date with your spouse and leave your kid or your friends are always sick.

And when you are alone? Well, it’s easy to run from a cafe full of coughing people or bolt from a restaurant if your server has the sniffles. Sheer fear and motherly instinct propelled me out the door many times. Get. Me. Outta. Here. I still have to remind myself that it’s okay if someone around me is sick.

It’s hard to believe I lived like that. But I just knew, in my gut, that Florence couldn’t tolerate getting really sick again. She survived for three years because of how we protected her. We were on lockdown. There was one whole year where none of us got sick. And still, she got weaker.

Nothing ever got easier. We just learned how to cope. My faith anchored me and held me up when my knees were shot. I fixed my eyes on eternity when I couldn’t stop crying.

It was hard. It is hard. I am not a superhero. I am not strong. I am just an ordinary mama letting life and God and circumstances carve into me. I hope something rare and beautiful is made from this mud of mine, because I’ve already watched the life drain from my beautiful girl. That kind of brokenness is not beautiful. It’s just plain hard.

One day, I will see with new eyes, the whole picture. It will be pieced together magnificently. But until then, I will continue picking up these shards, like seeds in my pocket.



  • Reply For your Reading Pleasure...Links and Books 8 - Morning Motivated Mom October 16, 2015 at 5:52 AM

    […] We are not Superheroes: The Reality of Parenting a Medically Fragile Child […]

    • Reply Susan Downing September 7, 2017 at 10:33 PM

      Thank you so much for your honesty and truth. I am truly sorry for the loss of your beautiful daughter. Your words are my words exactly. I have and still am taking care of my perfect sweetness, Patrick. I have lived this way for 19 years. I wouldnt trade it for 1 minute. No-one truly understands family, friends, etc. Understanding comes only from select nurses, doctors and teachers. Thank you for putting your thoughts so eloquently. We have our unshakable faith that our children are or will be with Jesus in perfect mind, body and with complete and eternal love.

  • Reply Sarah Fontenot September 24, 2015 at 4:58 AM

    I came across this post this morning and it truly touched my heart. I lost my own special needs medically fragile daughter in May 2013. There really are no words when someone loses a child. Reading your post was like someone had written out many of the thoughts I have had myself. You just learn to cope – it’s your life. I never felt like I was anything special because of what I did for my daughter – I did what I did because she was my daughter. It’s what a loving parent should do. I would do the same for my other daughter in a heartbeat. I coped. A couple years after her passing, I’m still just trying to cope. I miss everything about taking care of her. I miss the sounds, the smells, the ups, the downs, the doctors, the nurses. It was my life for almost 7 years and one day it just stopped. It is hard to find someone who can relate in any way to what we went through. I am thankful to have found this post today. I don’t know your story but I know we feel many of the same things. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your heart in this post.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 29, 2015 at 7:26 AM

      thank you so much for sharing with me.

  • Reply Diana Trautwein September 11, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    Oh.My.Goodness. My dear, dear girl – what a journey. And what a magnificent piece of writing – a tribute to your lovely girl and to all who care for these special angels among us. Thank you for putting this out into the world — it is important and it is needed. May you find peace as you grieve. I cannot even begin to imagine, so I will not ever say, ‘I know just how you feel.’ I don’t. I can’t. But your words make the feelings palpable and real. And for that, I say a heartfelt thank you. Magnificent.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 15, 2015 at 9:35 PM

      Thank you Diana, as always, for your heartfelt words and kindness.

  • Reply Rayleen Wright September 9, 2015 at 1:52 PM

    Wow, I am sitting here feeling everything you say as I have lived this life with my husband, son and daughter Kaya (born with special needs requiring 24hr care). No we are not superheroes – we love our children the best we know how. With tears streaming down my face I read further and further only to find Kaya was promoted to glory with Jeaus on the day that Florence was born. Now I can’t see my screen for tears as I recall so many other feelings and emotions. Thank you for sharing and doing what I felt I should do but haven’t as yet. God bless and my he strengthen you on your journey as he has done for us!

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 10, 2015 at 9:50 AM

      And now my tears are flowing. Thank you for sharing, mama. All my love to you.

  • Reply Sally September 7, 2015 at 5:40 PM

    The day after your precious Florence passed, my husband planted marigolds in our planter on the back patio. I have watched them bloom and grow all summer and thought of your baby girl every day.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 10, 2015 at 9:50 AM


  • Reply Patty September 4, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing these words and your story that brought me to tears. I can totally relate. The feelings and situations you describe are as if they are my own. Peace and love to you and your family.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 10, 2015 at 9:50 AM

      Thanks Patty. xo

  • Reply Leigh Kramer September 4, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    I have no words to offer you, Michaela, but I am bearing witness to your grief. I hear you. I see you.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 4, 2015 at 11:16 AM

      Leigh, thank you so much.

  • Reply Jill September 4, 2015 at 5:05 AM

    Your honesty in sharing the raw deep feelings of your grief will surely comfort others who have similar pain. I know that when you are reunited in heaven, you will rejoice at seeing her pain free and strong. My heart goes out to you and all families that have lived through the joy and pain of losing a child.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 4, 2015 at 11:16 AM

      Thanks Jill.

  • Reply Rachel Daniels September 3, 2015 at 9:51 PM

    So touching and beautiful.. I was completely moved…God Bless

  • Reply Carly September 3, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    Your words are simply beautiful and hit me deep in my core. I’ve felt and done ALL those things. I’ve had people say “you’re super mom” and I answer, “no, I’m simply a mom who’s doing what’s best for her baby” God bless you and your family. Thank-you for putting words to feelings.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 3, 2015 at 4:38 PM

      Thanks for connecting with me here, Carly. xo

  • Reply Jan Burns September 3, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    You bring tears to my eyes with your words; continue writing.
    Let the anguish flow from your heart to your words, to those of us who can hold you up in prayer and grow in our understanding and awareness. Jesus will sow the seeds of healing. Hugs from the East💜🙏🏼💜

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 3, 2015 at 4:40 PM

      Thank you. xo

  • Reply Heather Caliri September 3, 2015 at 12:37 PM

    This is so lovely, Michaela. And so true. It’s easier to believe the people we admire are super-heroes, because it lets us off the hook. But we believe in a BIG God, who puts seeds into our pockets that grow, and grow and grow. He has given _every one of us_ the capacity to get through the emergency of real life, as you put it. To say otherwise cheapens the heartache and redemption you’re experiencing. Thank you for your witness, Michaela.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 3, 2015 at 4:39 PM

      Wow. Yes. Those words. “To say otherwise cheapens the heartache and redemption you’re experiencing.”
      I’ve never had someone acknowledge that. That’s truth, sister. Thank you.

  • Reply Sarah Bessey September 3, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    Devastating and so true. Michaela, I would read every word you ever wrote. You honour your daughter and I am so deeply grateful for the ways that you continue to lead us all. Love to you. xoxo

    • Reply Michaela Evanow September 3, 2015 at 4:38 PM

      Sarah, thank you for these very meaningful words. So honouring to me. xo

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