Heather Hansen

HEATHER HANSEN

PROVIDENCE, UT, USA

AGE 43

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Melissa Dimond

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Is there an event in your life that altered your life path?

–I can think of three pretty significant events:

  1. Watching General Conference, a special session of church which is held for our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon church)) every 6 months, at a time when I was applying for medical school, and getting the distinct impression that was not the right path.  Soon thereafter, I withdrew my application and ended up getting my Master’s degree in Public Health.
  2. When I had West Nile virus – this came at a time in life where I was not active in my church.  I was literally at death’s door, in the neurocritical care unit, in guarded status, and realized that the only thing I wanted, and craved, was to feel like I was ok and right with God.  One of the most significant things that kept my spirits up during this experience was kindness, prayers, and visits from faithful members of my church.  I had to relearn walking, talking, eating, etc. as I recovered, which gave me a lot of time to think, and I knew I wanted to go back to church.  Luckily, my husband joined me, and 4 years later, we were sealed in the Bountiful Temple; to us, this is a very special occasion since we believe it will allow us to be married even after death.
  3. Having my daughter – I always thought I would be happy to work and raise a child (or children).  We have infertility issues, so getting her here was very challenging, and took several years of disappointment, learning about fertility, etc. Eventually we went through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures and were able to get her here!  The most surprising thing to me, though, was just how heart-wrenching it was for me to go back to work.  It has broken my heart pretty much every morning since.  I know this isn’t the case for everyone, and that is wonderful, but it has been the case for me.  I’ve learned so much from being a mom, from the importance of family, to the depth of love you can have for another person, to understanding God, who I think of as my Heavenly Father, just a bit more.  If I had to pick one event that has changed me, that one would be it.

What times in your life truly tested you, and what did you learn about yourself by dealing (or not dealing) with them?

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NikiJo Bluth

My journey to motherhood… I was 18, just graduated Highschool with my GED and to say i was excited to be going off to college in just a matter of weeks would be an understatement. I was a life guard in North Myrtle Beach having the best summer ever, my life was finally on the right track. Sometime in July I had begun to feel ill, flu like symptoms, tired and no interest in food. After about a week I went to the doctors. I remember feeling very confused when he did a pelvic exam when i knew it was just the flu. A few minutes past and a nurse came in the room and informed me that I was pregnant. I was so mad that they would say such a thing that i stormed out of the office and refused to hear another word of it… no way, not me, not now… I was just getting my life right with God and was going to a Southern Baptist College 2 hours away from home, I was finally Free… I couldn’t be pregnant…But I was, and thru many months of hard decisions on whether to place her for adoption or not I decided to become her Momma; single and scared to death. But together we made it!

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Motherhood can take on so many faces… a few yrs. Later i was married and we experienced 10 miscarriages in a 5 yr span. I felt like a failure, like i was being punished for my sins in my earlier years. I just couldn’t continue to put my body and mind, heart and soul thru another loss so in 95” we adopted a beautiful baby boy. I was so happy, finally content with our life as a family of 4. Then in 1998 I became pregnant with twins!!!!! It was such a shock to us but I was beyond thrilled. Then in my 10th week we lost one of the twins.. Again my heart broke and I was at a loss for understanding. But in February of 99 i gave birth to another son. Then for the next 6 years I would give birth to 3 more beautiful babies!! I will never be able to understand all the loss and grief that comes with motherhood. But I have also tasted the sweet joy and happiness that can never be measured or explained.

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I think as a mother I had to do some serious soul searching for strength, love, compassion and most of all patience. All of which were not a part of my up bringing and did not come to me as naturally as I had wished. So I decided with my 1st child that I would be a chain breaker and not repeat the same patterns that my parents and their parents had made. This would not be easy but 24 years later its proven to be well worth it!

Motherhood wasn’t something to be valued or treasured in my family… It was something that happened and had to be dealt with… not celebrated or cherished. Children were just another mouth to be fed or body to be clothed. This is why breaking those chains and setting a brand new example to my children was more than just a hope or a dream.. It was a must.

Dreams… wow, those tend to get pushed to the back burner as a mother, don’t they? Sometimes they even get forgotten. I suppose if I was to look around I’d find that my dream of visiting Italy and Greece still exists. Dreams are fun to think about during quiet moments from time to time.

To describe my life story would be more like a describing a very tattered web. I like to joke that most people have family trees, well I have a huge family bush and a thorny one at that. Both my parents have been married 3 times so stability is a foreign concept to me. My biological father came into my life for a brief time when I was 16 only to disappear again. I have 3 sisters that I grew up with.

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Although two are half and one is step we were never anything but sisters.  We are always there for each other. Even still today, my big sister is my best friend and one of the only people I trust in this world.

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I saw and have been through way more than any little girl should ever need to be witness to. As a teenager I was more a parent to my mom than visa versa and had no rules to follow or structure in my life. I lived at the Beach and lived to party. Then at 17 I decided I needed to get my life together and so a new journey began. I also experienced my first real heart break that would alter my view of the world in a way that would torment me for years to come. I had to learn what it meant to value myself and love myself more than any other person. That I could only depend on me to get my needs met..always. I also had to learn how to trust my father in heaven and trust that he could love me when my earthly fathers couldn’t. Trust doesn’t come easy to a girl like me.

Three words to describe me… strong, because I have overcome a lot in my life and I’m very proud of this. I’m independent and very outgoing, I love new adventures and don’t like to depend on others to supply for my needs, happiness or well-being.

Womanhood and motherhood…LOL. For me it’s a blur. I think I’m just now starting to experience womanhood at 44. It’s a different kind of strong, but it feels good. My confidence is starting to emerge in a more secure sorta way. I like the woman I am today, the woman that I’m still becoming.

I think that thru this crazy journey I have learned that life is what you make it, not what you allow it to make you. Also because I have been thru much I know that it is no ones place to judge another’s walk.. I think if we as women could just stop for a moment and see the uniqueness in each other and not judge but love one another, our light as women and as sisters would shine brighter than the sun.

NikiJo Bluth

Eden, North Carolina

Age 44

Jennifer Anderson

I was single for 34 years of my life. My days were filled working as a Nurse Practitioner, running marathons, competing in triathlons and riding my bike. These activities were safe for me, they fit nicely into my comfort zone. Others things weren’t so safe and comfortable for me – relationships and vulnerability. Many days I wondered if I was good enough to be a wife and a mother. I looked at all my flaws, my hangups, my depression and saw a very inadequate person. Fear filled my heart that I would totally mess up any child that might come my way. How could anyone want a mom or wife like me who would be happy one day and in a dark place the next day?

Antidepressants will do funny things to a person. My moods stabilized and I was able to tuck away the negative feelings about myself and start to see through the fog to the real me, a person of goodness, kindness and worth. I started taking medication in December and by January I met the man that became my husband. At last I had courage to take a leap of faith.

While my husband and I dated we talked of having kids. He had 4 beautiful children from a previous marriage but was willing and eager to have more. However, neither of us were spring chickens anymore. Our biological clocks were ticking loudly. We tried for months to have a child but were unsuccessful so we sought medical help to see if we could find an answer to our struggle. After many tests, pokings and proddings we were told that having a baby was not likely to be in our future. What? How could this be? This was not how it was supposed to go. What had I done? The thing I had been so afraid of had become the thing I wanted the most. I felt as though I had wasted all those younger years and now I was being punished. Suddenly I wanted to be a mom more than anything but was given no hope. Well, almost no hope – the doctor said we had a 1% chance of conceiving.

With such a small possibility of pregnancy we decided to start fertility treatments. Blood draws, consultations and counseling dragged on for what felt like eternity. Finally we had everything arranged to start with my next cycle, but a funny thing happened – my cycle never started. We waited day after day wondering what the problem was. Finally we decided to take a pregnancy test and the result was positive! How could this be? How could this happen when we were given such little hope? It was a miracle! What a relief! We were beyond belief. Not that we were complaining. We just beat the odds by a long shot!

Nine months later Isabelle arrived. A perfect little baby girl so full of life and potential. Once the newness of her arrival started to wear off, feelings of inadequacy began creeping in. I thought, how can a person so imperfect as I am raise this perfect little spirit? Those negative feelings and thoughts poked their head back into my life. I plead, “Please don’t let me mess her up, please help me be a good mom to her – one that nurtures, loves and doesn’t ruin that sweet innocence.”

Somehow, over time, I learned how to be a mother. Perhaps remembering how my mom raised me and through the few babysitting jobs I had as a teenager. Isabelle survived my fumblings, insecurities and even seemed to be turning out ok. Wow, maybe I am cut out to be a mother!

Over the next 5 years I settled into this new role. Then I started not feeling well. Something wasn’t right inside me. My stomach started expanding and my energy started shrinking. The veins in my legs became more prominent. My appetite changed. At first I thought my symptoms were from exercising. I had been training for and completed the Ultimate Challenge bike race, a 110 mile ride with 10,000 feet of elevation gain, who wouldn’t be tired after that? But shouldn’t my abs be flattening, not expanding? I went to my doctor. They drew some blood, ran some tests and on a Friday afternoon told me I had Ovarian Cancer – stage III-C.

Cancer runs in my family. My Grandmom died from Ovarian Cancer, so did my Aunt, just nine months before my diagnosis. My world just turned upside down. I wasn’t supposed to get cancer, at least not at such a young age. My Grandmom and Aunt were in their 60’s, so I had years to go before I needed to worry about any chance of getting cancer. My thoughts turned to my daughter. The thought of not being able to raise her felt worse than my diagnosis! My mind reviewed the past five years. Suddenly I didn’t care what kind of a mom I was, I just wanted more than anything to keep being a mom to Isabelle. I prayed, “Please God, just let me stay on earth so I can keep being her mom. Don’t take me away yet. I know I’ve made mistakes, come up short, judged too quickly, and a million other things but I have so much more to learn, to give and to become.”

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Two weeks after my diagnosis I underwent surgery to remove all the cancer that was growing throughout my abdomen. The surgeon said he removed all my insides, set them on a table, sifted through them until all visible cancer cells were found and then stuffed everything back in. That’s exactly what it felt like! The surgery literally took everything out of me. I went from climbing mountains easily on by bike to struggling to stand up, let alone take a step. After 2 weeks I was able to return home much stronger than right after surgery. Now I could walk up a short flight of stairs – as long as I could lay down and rest at the top! Next came chemotherapy – 18 weeks of treatment that extended to 24 weeks due to low blood counts. I lost my hair. Isabelle wasn’t so excited to have a bald mom and dad! I invited her to shave her head too but she wrinkled her nose and told me no, 5 year olds need long hair. I wasn’t the best mom through the surgery and chemo. Instead of the normal run around together outside, we would lay together on the recliner and watch TV. She became my help and support along with my husband who stepped in and took over both his roll and mine so I could heal.

Six months after my diagnosis I completed my treatments. Sometimes it takes the threat of dying to make us want to live fully, dare greatly and love passionately. I’m not sure if I was given a 1% chance of beating cancer, but I beat the odds again. Now I have a scar down my belly (goodbye bikini days), a new head of hair and a new perspective on life. I lost days of being a mom because of fear and unruly thoughts that danced in my head. I focused on thoughts that brought me down, limited me, and diminished my true nature. I now realize that each day is a gift, too short to be wasted looking at the negative, regretting the past or worrying about the future. Today is to be lived in the present, through each breath that passes through the body, each sunrise that brightens the sky, and each smile or tear that flows from Isabelle. Yes, that is living and that is what I want Isabelle to remember about herself and her mother.

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Jennifer Anderson

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Age 47

Julia Gray Collings

‘And I Did Eat’

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When I was asked to write an article about my life I was touched. I then wondered if it was really understood who they had asked and whether they truly knew of the condition of the tapestry of my life and the much needed repair work that had occurred on so many occasions! Realising we are all on different journeys to the same destination and with very different experiences but with the same divine heritage, a prayer was offered up to my Heavenly Father requesting the assistance of The Holy Ghost so that I might be able to write with authenticity the things that my
Father in Heaven would have me share and that these words would reach the people they were intended to lift. I have entitled it ‘And I Did Eat’ because like Eve that’s the choice we all made in the [before life] willingly.

My name is Julia Marie, I loved to introduce myself as this as a child, it made me smile for some reason. My maiden name is Gray and I was born in the United Kingdom. I am a spirited passionate girl who is a wife, mother, grandmother and so much more, still working it all out and trying to see myself with all the lights on as it were. Always wanting to throw myself into the experiences of life with gusto that allow me to flourish and grow on this wonderfully colourful planet. Continue reading