Cough. Cough. Cough.
The sound filled the empty space in the room. It was constant. Relentless.
Cough. Cough. Cough.
“Do you think she needs to go to the emergency room?”
Cough. Cough. Cough.
“I’m not sure. Let’s give it a few minutes and see if the breathing treatment works,” my husband replied.
This was a regular conversation in our home when our children were younger. Three out of our four children were diagnosed with breathing issues at a young age – two with asthma and one with a lung abnormality. Because of this, late night emergency room visits were frequent.
With our four children each being two years apart in age, I was usually either pregnant or nursing – which meant it made sense for me to stay home, and for my husband to be the one to make the middle of the night trip.
No matter how many trips were made, the feeling and thoughts were the same. Please, Lord, let them be okay. Please, let them get to the emergency room quickly. Please, let them experience relief. Please, help them to breathe. Please, make the coughing stop.
I would lay in bed. Trying to sleep. Heart racing. Hands wringing. The phone next to my head. You never get used to seeing your child struggle to breathe. You never get used to hearing the relentless coughing. No matter how many trips are made. The feeling is always the same.
Please let them be okay.
Because a common cold had the potential to wreak havoc, I often found myself cancelling, or declining playdates. If we were getting together with someone during cold and flu season, I would ask if everyone was healthy. If there was a cough of any kind, I would reschedule. I realized early on this wasn’t how most parents operated. Most parents I knew would only reschedule if someone had a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea – you know, standard too sick to hang out kind of stuff. Not me. If your kid was hacking, it just wasn’t going to work for us. Sorry.
“Your child has a cough? I’m sorry, we’re going to have to reschedule.”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
These conversations happened regularly. The outcome for me? Guilt. Guilt. And more Guilt. It wasn’t that my friends were saying, or doing, things to make me think they were upset with me. On the contrary, they were usually very supportive. But the guilt remained. I felt like I was constantly letting my friends down and was regularly worried that they would be upset with me, or even worse – not want to hang out with me anymore. On top of that, I also felt like a bad parent for cancelling fun plans and keeping my kids at home.
Regardless of the mountain of guilt I was heaping on myself, I honestly didn’t know what else to do. Our family had experienced one too many awful late nights and my need to protect my children superseded all else. I would cancel the plans and live under guilt mountain.
I knew being exposed to germs was good. I understood it builds immune systems and ultimately helps kids to be healthier later in life, but at that time in my life, with four very young children and three of them prone to horrible coughing episodes – I just couldn’t take the risk. I was just trying to get through as best as I could and was in a constant state of survival mode.
Over time, I gained confidence in who I was as a mother and began to trust my maternal instincts. I began to truly recognize and appreciate that every family is different. I learned that my true friends would understand, and even more so – that they would support and encourage me and my family.
Guilt mountain began to dissipate.
I learned how to lean on those around me. When my husband would go out of town for work, I would always have one or two neighbors on standby in case a late night trip to the emergency room was in order. I would send out emails and texts asking for prayers when any of the kids began to show signs of sickness. One of my very closest friends could relate because her son also suffered from horrible asthma. We would regularly offer each other words of comfort and understanding. We would drop meals off on each other’s doorsteps after late night emergency room trips and had a mutual understanding when playdates were cancelled.
I learned what worked for our family. I learned that for most families, a cold or a cough wasn’t a big deal, but for ours it was. And that was okay. I had to do what was best for us. I learned how to recognize those guilty feelings when they started to pile up, and over time, I learned how to no longer entertain them or let them consume me. I learned what true friendship looks like – and the kind of friend I want to be.
Now, my children’s asthma is well-controlled and they are even beginning to show signs that they may be growing out of it. My daughter with the lung abnormality seems to have outgrown hers as well. The medicines needed in our home are beginning to decrease. The trips to the emergency room have ceased. I am no longer tense when I am out and hear people around us coughing and plans are no longer cancelled because of colds.
One of the blessings we find in times of struggle is that we are able to relate to other people who are going through similar trials. While it isn’t easy to walk through painful circumstances, the gift that we can then extend to others is the gift of hope. When we are walking through trials, and when we come to the other side, we can look someone in the eyes and offer a hug and words of encouragement. We have empathy and compassion and understanding because we have been there before.
If you have felt your entire body tense because you hear someone coughing nearby. If you have had to cancel playdates. If you have had to change plans. Please don’t feel guilty for doing what you need to do for your family.
If you have spent nights with your phone next to your head while you pray for your child to return home safely from the emergency room, or if you have been the one sitting by the emergency room bedside. If you have heard your child struggle to breathe and your heart feels as if it may stop for a second. If you ever have felt like you are all alone in your struggle. Like you’re not sure if people around you really understand.
Please know there are people who understand. Please know you are not alone.
Please know there is hope.