Did you know what an incredible biological feat it is to conceive a child? I knew for some people it was a challenge, but it wasn’t until I watched a science documentary about the human body that the sheer miracle of conception made landfall in my brain. It made me marvel at the human race, at how we keep going, and growing, against the odds.

When we found out we were in the family way, we had just bought our first house. We weren’t married yet and this baby was an early starter on our five year plan. The timing seemed off, but life is showing me that everything happens in perfect time, ultimately. At the time, the pregnancy was far more difficult than I expected it to be. I was teaching full time, but every day dizziness and fatigue would overwhelm my world. It was the beginning of problems with my heart that would ultimately lead to a diagnosis of a neurological disorder affecting my autonomic nervous system. In those early years of parenthood, though, we didn’t know.

I struggled through every day wondering why I didn’t have the stamina of everyone else, pushing myself harder and harder to keep it all together. After our little girl was born, the sleep deprivation exacerbated the situation. But still we pushed on. It’s normal, right, to feel tired after a baby is born? I fell asleep once, on the living room floor at one of our coffee group mornings. I woke to see the animated faces of all those young Mums, they just seemed so alive in comparison to how I felt. I was wrung out, done in, kaput.

Then my Mum passed away after a protracted battle with ovarian cancer. The bottom dropped out of my world. I sank, with my toddler in my arms, into a place of complete sadness. What had felt difficult before, became a struggle in small sharp fragments. Moments of painful smiling in public, shards, rubbing against the grief of her loss, present in all of my alone moments. I was shattered. My husband was treading water for us all. Keeping his head above water, maintaining an income, growing greyer by the day. But staying. Staying, in that strong, wonderful way of his. A big hand resting on my shoulder, a big heart holding us all close.

Our son was born the following year. We had thought staying at one was sensible. But how could we deprive our little girl of a sibling? His quirky personality swung sunbeams across the canvas of our home from the moment he was born. Such a happy wee man! Together, we began to emerge from the funk of grief and sleepless nights into a new experience of family. We were ‘us’. A formidable foursome. We would make it. One hand on the pram handle and the other holding my good man’s, our girl up high upon his back, I could see a better future than the place we had been inhabiting. We had faced the challenges. It would be okay.

family challenges

The following year, the first part of my diagnosis would be made and a pacemaker fitted to support my heart. My husband would discover that his own heart was in crisis. Dangerously oversized from years of malfunctioning with a bicuspid aorta, he would have open heart surgery. Our little foursome, tentatively making our way out of the woods, were back in the thick of them. It was a dark and scary place.

I learned over the next three years that my health problems were not limited to my cardiac issues. My whole autonomic nervous system was not functioning properly. I was having trouble standing, walking for any length of time. My digestion, bowel and bladder stopped functioning normally and all manner of other strange things (all the processes your body does automatically) were going wrong. Within two more years I was mostly in bed. Parenting and writing from my bedroom; a view of the street below, my eyes on the realities and my heart in my mouth. How could we carry on, as a family, like this?

We did. We have. Somehow, against the odds we are all doing really well. Walking in unison across the days and difficulties that come. We are finding joy. We are grateful, to be here, to watch our kids grow up. It’s something I see as a clear advantage of all the challenges we have faced. They give us the perspective to value every moment we have together. I see my girl leaping tall jumps on the back of her grey mare; grin on her face. My son, chasing the dogs around the countryside, his giggle tickling at my ears. It’s a good life we have.

Becoming a family is always a challenge. Every family has their share of difficulties. But being in a family while you face them is the most wonderful way to make your way through those dark woods and out into the open air. My husband’s heart, on all levels, continues to impress me. He’s doing really well. He’ll be on medications for the rest of his life, but he can run around with the kids and does a pretty unique version of what he would call …dance! This year, my own health has turned a corner and we have found a possible cause which could lead to treatment. It’s a significant improvement! So I’ve been up and at ‘em again; back to a little work, some study, some hope for the future.

Would we appreciate what we have, if we hadnt travelled through all those challenges?

I don’t think so.

We all start our journey in life, battling the odds to be conceived. I guess that it a pretty big clue.

Life itself is a challenge, no matter what sequence of events shapes it. The very biological components that made us are hard wired to face challenge. We made it into life, so we can do it. Whatever comes our way; we’re built for challenge. Our very family was born out of challenge, against the odds. And we are facing the ups and downs. Together. It’s just what families, do.

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Rachel Cox is an Auckland wife and mother. She has two of her own children ...and two on loan from other mothers. She is a writer and blogger, an ex-teacher and a big believer that information is power. Her favourite topics to write about are all aspects of life with Pandysautonomia, parenting issues, chronic and invisible illness and disability, accessibility and the wonder of life in general. She blogs at www.rachelfaithcox.com

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