To Insanity and Beyond

Defining Degenerative Disc Disease In Motherhood


Degenerative Disc Disease. Those words were not the least bit foreign sounding to me as the doctor rattled off my official diagnosis. They surely weren’t what I anticipated, though.

No one had ever made mention of it being genetically inherited before – back when my dad received his diagnosis during my late childhood. The HULK-like presence of a 6’3”, 280lb,  body-building police officer slowly deteriorated the older I got. His broad chest, once as solid as a shield, softened like a tub of cold margarine. His bowling ball biceps became overripe bambino melons. The Barry Sanders-esque legs that were my father’s pride and joy now shook, unsteadily, simply after carrying a load of groceries into the house. Four unsuccessful surgeries and twenty years later, the DDD has completely robbed him of his once active lifestyle and has left him with constant discomfort and chronic pain.

Now it would be my turn to let nature take its course.

Knowing what was in store for me scared me deep down, but I was truly grateful it was a disease I was familiar with at least. There was a silver lining in that I wasn’t dealing with something more severely detrimental or rapidly advancing. I finally had the answers to the cause of the recurring numbness and the muscle spasms in my lower extremities which started after the birth of my first child. There was a real, legit reason my normal exercise routine was becoming too difficult and painful to complete now that I had my second baby.

I sought comfort in knowing I could prepare for the inevitable physical restrictions with the firsthand knowledge I had.

What I never could have prepared for, though, was the impact it was going to have on the way I parent. How the slow and methodical progression was going to interfere with the image of motherhood I had envisioned….

Carrying my children piggyback as we hike back to the ginormous parking lot from the beach. Tumbling down grassy hills. Throwing them up into the air with glee as they squeal with joy because we’re excited over something about to happen. Doing cartwheels and pirouettes. Playing football until we dropped in sweat-drenched heaps. Scooping them into my arms when they cry out in pain. Riding bikes, jumping on trampolines, and climbing trees.

None of it was going to be possible without enduring intense pain.

My children would have to watch my body deteriorate the same way I had watched my father’s. This broke my heart. Left me feeling deflated and worthless as a mother.

Becoming a parent was supposed to mean doing everything better than my own parents. Rising above all the errors they made and the shortcomings they succumbed to. I wasn’t supposed to follow in their footsteps at all. Yet, here I was, stepping on my father’s feet both figuratively and literally. The diagnosis stung. It bruised my ego. It humbled me.

My invincibility card had been revoked and denied permanently. Or so I believed.

Then something magical occurred. I got pregnant with my third child. And then my fourth. Somehow my body did not realize it was supposed to be disrupting my life’s plans and restricting my dreams. My failing spine hadn’t failed me yet. I had jumped the gun and counted myself out before the battle had ever begun.

What were a few herniated discs and bone spurs pushing on the spinal cord when the rest of my body still was strong enough to create a brand new life?

My whole perspective changed regarding the way I was following down the same path as my father. I could take my father’s DDD journey and use it as a compass. I didn’t have to dread what hadn’t happened or accept anything as my own fate until I was staring it down in the ring myself.

I was going to be the wonderful mother I was capable of yet.

Instead of letting life count me out of the race every time I needed to adopt a new limitation, like my dad did, I was going to find a new way to rejoin the race. I would step precariously around my father’s footprints, following his lead but forging my own path. One delineating disorder would not stipulate how I must live. My father may have resigned himself to the crippling effects, but I realized I didn’t have to make it a tradition.

I was going to own my DDD.

Piggyback rides may have been out of the question, but pulling them in a wagon was not. Laying in the tall grass and looking for cloud shapes while wishing on blowing dandelion fuzz all around could be just as much fun as rolling down the hill. Squeezing them tight with gigantic bear hugs and tickling them until they shrieked in delight was just as great of a feeling as tossing them into the air. Long bike rides could be too painful, but I could take long walks on smooth terrain. I had to stop performing gymnastics tricks… playing football… doing super fancy dance moves… carrying anything more than twenty-five pounds, but I sure as hell could always do SO MUCH MORE than I could not.

I just had to think outside the box. Or, rather, the stiffening spinal column and deteriorating vertebral discs taking my body hostage.

The DDD, I realize now, could only affect my vision of motherhood if I gave it the power to do so.

I, alone, have written the script to my life, regardless of being cast into familiar scenes from the past a time or two. It forced me to choose whether to follow my father’s course verbatim or step off the beaten path to rewrite history. In doing so, I made my debilitating disease what it is in my life today – just a bunch of words some doctor wrote on my medical chart.