Interview with Chantal and Julia
We recently asked two of our #MSWalk ambassadors, who happen to be new mothers, to talk about their experience of motherhood while living with multiple sclerosis, and to share with each other how they find independence within this new role in their lives. Chantal called us from her home in Nova Scotia, where her and her husband are happily raising Sadie, their one-year-old daughter. And Julie caught up with us during an outing to Costco in Edmonton, where we could hear her lively eight-month-old son, Matteo, chatting away as she carted him around. Here’s what they shared with each other.
Did your MS diagnosis affect your decision to become a mother?
Julie: I always knew that I wanted to have a family, and my MS has been somewhat manageable – so I’m lucky. I’ve always had the outlook [while living with MS] that you can’t be afraid to live your life, and you need to try new things. Well, in limitation — I’m not talking about skydiving or having 10 kids! I’m just saying I tried not to let the disease hold me back, so when my husband and I were at the stage where we felt we wanted to grow our family, we went for it.
Chantal: Yeah, for sure, I really agree with you, J. Children were always something that I wanted. When I was diagnosed, the first thing I asked my neurologist was if I would be able to have children. When my husband and I decided to start a family, we started talking with our family doctor and planning for it. I wasn’t going to let my diagnosis get in the way of having a baby. MS will be a part of my life and our child’s life, but it’s not going to be the biggest part.
Within your experience of motherhood, have you been able to find a sense of independence? If so, how do those things intersect for you?
J: Being a mother really enriched my life, and I’m so grateful for life in a way. I feel a sense of independence through this, more than anything else in my life.
C: It’s empowering to know that I created and am taking care of this child to the best of my abilities, and that provides me with a feeling of independence. Fulfilling the dream that I had to start a family also gives me a sense of independence because this is the path I wanted to take and feel liberated for going through the actions to get me there.
Are there any obstacles you face as a mother as a result of your MS?
J: The reality of living with relapsing-remitting MS is that’s it’s unpredictable and can come and go whenever it pleases – it doesn’t take your life into account. For example, I just finished a chemotherapy treatment that kind of reset my immune system and was really harsh, so it was a tough couple of weeks of recovery. But with the support of my husband and my family, I know Matteo will be cared for.
C: Yes, the support from your family is such a big part of it, too. I’ve not gone through the same treatment situation, but at the end of December, I had my last recent relapse and it was the worst I’ve ever experienced. Luckily my husband was home for the holiday break, and I knew that Sadie would be cared for while I was on my way back and forth from the hospital. It’s so important to have a support system.
C: Julia, how many children do you have?
J: Just one, just Matteo who’s ten months.
C: My little girl Sadie is just over a year now. I bet Matteo is moving around a lot now!
J: Oh yes, definitely. He’s on the go all the time – very busy boy!
What would be your advice for people living with MS who are looking to start a family?
J: It’s definitely a big undertaking for a person without MS, and it’s even more so for someone living with MS. The lack of sleep and the constant care and attention you provide to your child can take a toll on you. Definitely don’t be held back by the fact that you have MS, but at the same time you have to make a conscious, calculated decision about whether or not you want to have a child. For me it’s been the most rewarding experience.
C: Absolutely. If you really want to start a family, MS should not hold you back. Just plan ahead as much as possible, speak to your medical team, gather information and paint a realistic picture of what life is going to look like. Look around to see who is there for support if you need it.
Has having a child affected your MS symptoms?
C: When I had Sadie last March, my MS really fell to the back of our minds because we were basking in the responsibility of parenthood and how wonderful it was. But when my husband went back to work I could really feel the difference, and I became really fatigued. I feel like I’ve adapted really well, though. Everyone knows that the little things that help you take care of yourself the most vary from person to person. But life isn’t easy for anyone who has a new baby.
J: C, I really agree that taking care of yourself is a big factor. You need to be healthy enough to keep your child happy and healthy. This means eating as healthy as I can, trying to be active, and getting enough sleep – if that’s possible!
C: I agree 100 per cent! You hear a lot of mothers say that if they’re not in their best health, it will affect the way they care for their child.
J: Exactly. You just find the little tricks that work best for you and adapt.
What do you have planned for Mother’s Day?
J: Nothing too crazy; we typically go up to the cabin and celebrate it with my extended family and my grandparents. I am really looking forward to it!
C: It’s both our first Mother’s Day with children then, right Julia?
J: Yes, I guess it is!
Julia is an #MSWalk ambassador. She lives in Edmonton with her husband Matt, dog Teddy and son, Matteo – who is the light of her life.
Chantal is an #MSWalk ambassador. She lives in Nova Scotia with her husband Scott, her daughter Sadie, and her cat, Star.
May is MS Awareness Month, and all month long we’ll be highlighting the various ways people living with MS find independence in their lives. Follow #strongerthanMS and re-post to help raise awareness of the many ways MS affects people’s lives, as we build up to World MS Day on May 25.