I was amidst a current of chemotherapy and after effects of radiation when my body’s recovery slowed and I could no longer keep up with the aggressive cancer treatment.
This gave me a reprieve of several weeks that allowed by body to heal enough to come along with a friend to an API support group.
I had wanted to go since I heard about the group, and my health challenges stood in the way.
The meeting was in the basement of a library. As I walked down the large, open staircase, I wondered how I would make it back up.
The group of about 10 moms sat on the floor in a circle. Young babies were nursing and toddlers were roaming around the room.
Kaylee was there too, alongside her friend Mae. They were both 1.5 and Mae’s mom Kasey had spent hours watching Kaylee while I was living far away for treatment.
I listened as every person introduced themselves, including details about how they heard about API and what brought them there that day.
I had a great pressure in my face as my turn came to pass. I was scared I would break down immediately if I mentioned the words cancer or separation. I hoped the hat on my head and bulky closed hid the disease I was facing.
“Hi, I’m Wendy. I’m here to meet other AP moms like me. My good friend Kasey told me about it.” I smiled as I looked at her. My dear friend who was by my side in an unspeakable way. “She’s up next.”
I was grateful that I made it through the introduction without a tear. My jaw relaxed and I was able to breathe again.
The topic of the day was reconnecting after separation. Like many AP moms, the women were rarely away from their children more than a few hours.
Regardless of how long, reconnecting was difficult. Any separation needs a little bit of loving care. Some needed time and space to help clear out the experiences and interactions during separation.
I really wanted to speak. After all, separation had become a way of life for Kaylee and me. We had become use to being separated, sometimes weeks at a time.
I felt guilty though. I didn’t want to take over the meeting. I thought that as soon as I told any part of my story, it would be the end of other moms telling their stories.
My situation was so extreme.
“What about you?” The group leader looked at me and spoke with gentleness. “Do you have anything to share about reconnecting?”
It was just the push I needed to open up.
“I don’t know where to begin. We are separated all the time.” The flood gates opened as I sobbed and snorted. “I was diagnosed with cancer the weekend of my daughter’s first birthday.”
I immediately felt a warmness and comfort come from the group. My thoughts of guilt faded and I felt safe saying more.
“I was diagnosed with a very rare and highly aggressive cancer, so there wasn’t much time. I had to wean her immediately.”
The moms were concentrating deeply on my words. I could see tears form in some of their eyes as they looked at their own children.
“There were no local, outpatient options for my treatment, so I have been living in the city most of the time. Away from my daughter.”
I continued on. I spoke about how she was living at her grandparents house most of the time. About how saying goodbye was heartbreaking with the tears and the “nos.”
I spoke about missing the energy needed to pick her up or give her any care.
I spoke about the frustrations about my daughter falling asleep to TV instead of nursing. How she was eating processed foods. How she was in diapers. Disposable diapers!
The moms all got it. I was surrounded by an audience of other parents who could connect with the difficulty. Not just separation, but also the challenge when other caretakers do not follow the practices we hold dear.
The response from the mothers was healing. They helped shift my focus from what I didn’t like, to the healthier parts of the separation. Kaylee was watched by her grandparents and Kasey. That she was forming deep relationships with other adults who loved her very much. That these relationships would stay around long after treatment and would be a source of support as she grew.
The moms brought up their own separations and challenges. They may have been on the same scale as mine, but were from the same source of heartbreak. From the same place of Love.
I was thankful to hear them.
Then they all had ideas. Creative, wonderful ideas to help. Many of which I hadn’t thought of before.
Where I had started the meeting in fear of sharing, I left with a feeling of love and support.
A love and support I had not felt since I had been diagnosed.
Deeper than that, it was something I had not experienced from the moment I became pregnant.
Something I had craved from the moment my daughter was born and was heartbroken time and time again when I didn’t receive it from the people around me.
I left the meeting with a new group of friends. Friends who began checking in on me, dropping food at my house or recommending a compassionate understanding of my situation and tools that helped.
I have seen this pattern emerge time and time again when someone in the group has needed help.
It wasn’t just me that was healed from the meeting. Every mom in the room was connected to so some kind of healing, whether is be gratitude for the own health or the nature of helping another.
After all when you are in a dark place and need help yourself, sometimes serving another is all the healing you need.
From that first meeting, I thought of the API group as a place of support. A place of wisdom. A place of Love.
When I meet a parent to be or new parent and they ask for advice, the first thing I say is “find some friends who parent like you.”
Sometimes we get blessed with that support from the people already in our lives.
And sometimes, we need to find a new source of support.
For that, API is a gift for every AP minded parent.
It is a blessing I am grateful to have.