The problem with business trips when your child has a chronic illness

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair bit with work over the years. Shooting tea ads in Thailand, beer ads in New Zealand, chocolate ads in Prague…you name it, I’ve done it. It was always one of my favourite things about my career as an advertising copywriter. And why wouldn’t it be!

Of course it got more challenging when I had my first child, but the recession had also hit, so a reduction in foreign shoots coincided with those hands-on first years. That made it seem easy enough to juggle. Fast forward to having a child with Cystic Fibrosis, and the thing I once loved has turned into at best, a preparation marathon, and at worst, an admission to hospital while you’re away. This is the most soul-destroying feeling of all time.

I’ve had the spectrum of travel tales since my daughter was born, each one a reminder of just how much of a bitch CF is for everyone involved.

Eva’s first hospitalisation came over Christmas when she was just two years’ old. She had been incredibly well up to that, so it was a bolt-out-of-the-blue reminder that CF could turn everything upside down at any time. I was scheduled to go to a TV shoot in South Africa in the New Year – I obviously pulled out and my employers expected me to behave no differently. They were empathetic, understanding and everything I hoped they would be in the circumstances. But this was the beginning of the compatibility issues – could having a career in advertising and having a child with Cystic Fibrosis ever peacefully co-exist?

To test my nerves further, this first hospitalisation and travel cancellation came just after I had handed in my notice to move on to another agency. I had been managing well and when the headhunt came knocking, I decided I shouldn’t let my daughter’s CF hold me or my family back. Of course I could still progress the career ladder. Of course I could earn more money to keep us comfortable. So I said yes. Brave or stupid? Who knows!

Either way, CF decided we deserved another smack in the mouth and one month into my new employment, the unthinkable happened. I was due to present at a meeting in Rotterdam, my first time representing my new agency, and Eva took ill a few days before the trip. The morning of my flight, I knew in the pit of my stomach that she was going under and would be hospitalised while I was away. Bear in mind I was going to be away for one night. ONE NIGHT. That’s how quickly a child with CF can go down.

It was my first month working there and my first business trip. I couldn’t pull out two hours before the flight – how could I? I had been up all night nursing my daughter and I dragged my bleary-eyed and insanely worried and emotional body to the airport. I flicked the necessary switch and pulled off my part of a three-hour session with a global client. But afterwards, I didn’t feel proud of myself for being able to hold it together. I felt like shit. Because long term, no one will ever remember that meeting except me. I’ll remember what an awful mother I felt like during every single minute of it. And when I checked my phone as we left the client’s office, the inevitable had happened and Eva was in hospital on oxygen. I did what I had to do that day, but if it happened again, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get on the flight regardless of the consequences. (By the way, this employer has also been incredibly kind to us.)

I’ve had a few short trips since, and thankfully all has gone well. I’m just home from a two-day work trip where I got to judge at the prestigious D&AD Awards, and again it went perfectly. It does happen! My daughter is in good health and I got to travel and remember the me that I was before CF started demanding attention.

But the problem is that each time there’s a trip, the turmoil is huge as you don’t know what plans CF has for your trip duration.

So what do you do?

Do you resign yourself to career and CF incompatibility issues and just give it up? But if you do this, are you teaching your child that CF is in charge? That we need to limit ourselves because of it? That’s certainly not the narrative I want running around her head. I want her to grab life and pursue it with every ounce of energy she has.

But if you keep up your career, are you teaching your child that work comes before her health? That you wouldn’t make sacrifices for her? Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t have the balance. I don’t have the answer.

And perhaps I never will.

In the mean time, I guess I’ll just keep winging it.

Image from Pixabay

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