Is there an event in your life that altered your life path?
–I can think of three pretty significant events:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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.”
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.
Salt Lake City, UT, USA
To understand where I come from as a mother, one must understand where I came from as a child. I grew up in kind of a rough neighborhood on the south edge of the beautiful community of Springville, UT. I am the youngest of 8 children. My mother was only a few weeks away from 40 and not in the best health and my dad would turn 47 that fall. My dad kindly called me his bonus baby. They had grown up during The Great Depression and adhered to many of the principles they had learned then. Though we were somewhat a lower middle class family, my parents taught their children to work hard and be frugal with money and assets. They lived within their means and expected their children to do the same. I had the rare opportunity to watch my older brothers and sisters raise children the same age as I was, often babysitting those younger. I was able to watch what was and was not working for them and make decisions of what I wanted for my own future family. They are some of my greatest examples.
One of the biggest life changing influences in my life has been The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The gospel of Jesus Christ has allowed me to grow as a person and has been a guide in all that I do especially as a mom. At the age of 21 I had the opportunity to serve a mission for my church. I went to Southern California and worked among the Spanish speaking community there. Upon return, I quickly fell in love with a friend I had met in high school (a story in itself) and we were married in the Jordan River Temple, July 28, 1995.
My husband, Lyn, suggested that we wait a year to begin our family giving him a little more time to get through school and for us to get to know each other better. That first year I worked full-time while he attended school. My paycheck paid the bills and his went into the bank. The following year I was excited to begin our family as I spent my evenings watching him do homework all night. I was a little bored and wanted to move forward. He was scared to death, being the oldest in a family of 2 kids, never having much experience with babies. By that time we were in a bit of a better position to start a family as he had been promoted to an office accounting job which was his field of study. Ty was born in June, 1997, the following year. I was so excited. I quit my job ready to become a full-time mom. Things didn’t go too smoothly. Soon after, my husband learned that there were issues in the company he was working for and was not willing to overlook the dishonest accounting practices he had uncovered. Here we were with a small family, my husband still a student, and no income.
One of the only true arguments my husband and I have had was over if I would go back to work or not. I told him that I didn’t have a child for someone else to raise him. Part of my argument was that if I were to go back to work, most of my paycheck would go toward child care and gas. I wouldn’t be bringing home enough to make it worthwhile. We found our solution by living on our savings and finding an apartment with lower rent. Those lessons taught by my parents came in handy as times were tight. My husband found a part-time job on campus at BYU that helped to cover our bills, and I helped with groceries by cleaning houses for neighbors on the weekends, and babysitting so that I could stay home with my son. It was one of the best things I did.
Lyn graduated with his Bachelors of Finance, December, 1998. Though that year was financially difficult, our marriage was strengthened as we learned to compromise and work together to meet common goals. January, 1999, I ended up needing a hernia surgery. That meant that we needed to put off having another child for at least a few more months. Lyn was vigorously looking for a new job. That blessing came in March. On the very day I was pronounced healed enough to once again lift Ty, BYU called and offered Lyn a job working in the accounting office at the BYU store. He has worked there ever since. I was ready to have another child as Lyn’s parents had practically taken over their first grandchild, and I felt that in some ways I had given up my first born. I wanted a little one just for me. Ethan was born March, 2000.
Never before had I felt such love for my little family. At the same time it was a time of great confusion for me. Here I had these two fantastic children, but how was I supposed to divide my time between them? Everyone from the grandparents, parents, next door neighbor, to perfect strangers had words of unsolicited advice for me. “Pay more attention to Ty because he is older and will remember if you don’t.” “Don’t spoil the baby.” “Love your kids, they grow up so fast.” they would say. I found myself in a place of turmoil as I tried to balance an active 3 year old and the desire to just hold and enjoy MY newborn son. Add to that, Ethan was fussy, prone to ear infections, and didn’t seem to be thriving as much as Ty had as a baby. I felt trapped in a dark place where there was no relief. In the meantime, there were awesome things happening for our family. We were now in a position to move into a new home. Yet, I was expected to be home caring for little ones with nothing of my own time or space to be me.
That fall, I finally asked for some help realizing I was likely dealing with post partum depression. My husband felt terrible when he realized where I was at and was very supportive in helping me get to a better place. After a priesthood blessing from my dad and an understanding with my husband that I needed some me time, I began getting out for a morning walk. The sun began to shine again. Soon after, we became pregnant with our third child. I was eating better, exercising, and finding myself. I also realized that it didn’t matter what other people thought I should do with my kids. They were my responsibility. I hadn’t had them for others to raise so, right or wrong, I needed to do what felt best to me.
Ayndria was born July, 2002. This beautiful little girl was such a delight. I felt enlivened and joyous to explore the difference between little boys and girls in this precious new little life. There was such a difference this time. Life was fun and things were going well in our new home.
When Ayndria was 9 months old, she began having seizures. Ethan, at age 3, was an emaciated waif, and we had our hands full keeping Ty engaged in his first year of school. The first thing we did was to get Ethan into a gastroenterologist. It turned out that he is asthmatic and has a milk allergy. As we worked to change our diet, he began to grow and fill out and as an added bonus, my cholesterol dropped. A success!
Ayndria, though showing a slightly abnormal EEG, grew out of her seizures by the time she was 18 months old. In some ways we figure it was a stress response to not being able to express herself. As she became mobile and was able to talk, things improved and the seizures stopped. It is something we no longer worry about and yet something I ponder in my heart.
Ty’s issues, to some extent, had to do with having a lot of instability in the classroom. His original kindergarten teacher came down with cancer and never made it to class. He had a wonderful substitute teacher the first term, and then a lady who was dealing with her own pregnancy and issues the last ¾ of the year. I made the mistake of unknowingly getting frustrated with her little daughter who was misbehaving in Ethan’s gymnastics class, not realizing who she was and that it would result in retaliation against my older son at school when she became his teacher. The teacher had him labeled as needing remedial help by the end of the year. Not willing to accept the situation, we told Ty that if he would read 100 books by the end of the summer, we would take the family to Lagoon, an amusement park in Northern Utah. I went to the library, found beginning readers and worked with him daily, little by little teaching him how to read and then slowly upping his reading level. We tracked his progress. By the end of the summer the biggest pay off came in him telling me that above going to Lagoon he had learned to love reading. Another blessing we received at this time was the school zoning changed and Ty was able to go to a different school where labels didn’t follow. He started 1st grade needing glasses, which he got, and on grade level with the skills he needed to be successful.
With all this going on, we decided to wait an extra year before adding another child to the mix. It was probably a good thing. Jonathan gave us a little bit of a jolt when he entered life 5 ½ weeks early in February, 2005. The hospital staff was very hesitant to allow him to come home. He needed to learn to eat and hold his body temperature steady. We talked with our children and told them we were in need of their prayers on behalf of their little brother. He was able to meet those goals and allowed to come home on time. Little did we know at the time just what a faith building experience he would provide to our older children. On top of his due date, he came down with RSV and spent 10 days in the pediatric ICU. An average stay with RSV is 3-5 days. We nearly lost him. The doctors told us when all was said and done that his was the worst case they saw that year. He came home tethered to oxygen for the following two months so was nearly 4 months old before he was able to really move. During all this, I felt really rather free. I had an 8 year-old who was an amazing helper, a 5 year-old in kindergarten, and a 3 year-old sweetheart. Really other than summers, I have only had two kids home during the school year at a time if that makes sense. I had gone from needing everything other than the kitchen sink on a changing table in the front room, to a full diaper bag, to sticking an extra diaper in my purse before I headed out the door. I could do this! Here is our family in 2006.
Spencer Seth came a year later in March, 2007. Again, there were complications with him showing up 6 weeks early. He spent 17 days in the NICU and came home past much of what we had dealt with when Jonathan was a baby, thankfully healthy and strong. When I asked the doctor if this was a trend that would continue if we had more children we were told that yes, if we had more children they most likely would continue to come earlier and earlier. After a great deal of prayer we felt we had our hands and hearts full enough and Spencer would complete our family.
Within the next little while we would realize that Jonathan had developmental delays due to his illness. To illustrate this, by the time he was 3 years old, he was on the mental level of an 18 month old child. Intervention was necessary. We enrolled him in a preschool and got him speech therapy. After a year of this he was now 4 and at a 2 year old level. I went to an IEP (individualized education program) meeting at the school and was told by the preschool teacher that Jonathan needed to be enrolled 4 days a week so he could learn how to use scissors. She began yelling at me when I insisted that it was more important that he learn how to talk rather than giving such a young child scissors. I stood my ground, insisting that I would teach him at home while bringing him to the school twice a week for speech therapy. It is amazing how certain people come into our lives at specific times for specific reasons. It just so happened that the principal of the school was our next door neighbor. When I told her how frustrated I was with how I had been treated in the meeting, we began working much better to get the issues Jonathan was facing resolved. As I worked with the speech therapist and Jonathan throughout the following year he improved by leaps and bounds. We got the kindergarten teacher, also my neighbor, to benchmark Jonathan at the end of the school year and get a recommendation for his kindergarten year. Within the previous year he had nearly completely recovered. She suggested that I work with him through the summer and then enroll him in regular kindergarten. Then if he had to repeat nothing was lost, but if he was able, he would be allowed to advance. That summer we worked hard on letters, numbers, and other skills as suggested by the speech therapist and kindergarten teacher with the knowledge that he would have to do better than most of his peers if he was to be looked at as on track. By the time he was retested at the beginning of kindergarten, he was on par with many of his peers and has since continued to advance with his class with no further difficulty.
If there is one thing that I would tell moms from the roof tops, it is to be involved with your children. Dive in and be their best advocate. If you don’t do it there are very few that will. Teach your children the skills they will need to be independent and strong. Each child has been through the tradition of reading 100 books at the end of their kindergarten year. It has given them a great foundation for their schooling. They do chores that teach life skills. We are constantly talking about the need for a good education, and celebrate each term and success.
As our children have continued to grow, we have faced various challenges knowing in Whom we can put our trust for the best answers possible. Each child is different and unique. Ty has become a very big personality who is social, happy, and outgoing. He is currently, as of this writing in 2016, on an LDS mission in Barcelona, Spain, where he is having good success. Ethan is studious, crafty in that he can envision and build anything out of whatever material is handy. He is an amazing musician, and recently has taken up a penchant for drama. Ty did drama as well. Here they are 3 years apart and it took clear until the end of Ethan’s sophomore year for mutual friends to realize they are brothers. Ayndria is 14. She is quiet, loves to read and write and may well be a famous author before she is out of college. She is a peacemaker, and generous, and such a dear sweetheart in my eyes. Jonathan is in 6th grade this year. He is one of the truly popular kids in his class. We walk down the street and are recognized as Jon’s mom or dad or sibling. He is on his way to being an entrepreneur as he is always trying to figure out a new business to start when he is older. Spencer tends to be a bit of a serious young man. He loves structure and schedules, and video games, and pulling faces in pictures. Though he was my smallest child, he is within an inch of the same height as Jonathan 2 years his senior. We are often asked if they are twins, which I have to say is better than the question I used to get, asking whether all my kids have the same father.
I have learned you don’t ask about pregnancy (I used to tell people who asked if I was pregnant that I was due in a little over 10 months. Often they didn’t get it), or if people have kids unless they have hinted about it themselves. Children wield some of the greatest power to either hurt or bless a woman’s life. Too many people carry unseen sorrows in their hearts when it comes to their experiences so it is best to tread carefully. My advice to mothers would be to be invested in your children; teach them, advocate for them. You brought them here to Earth. Don’t be responsible for other people’s mistakes in raising them. Take the teaching moments when and where they come. Be willing to sacrifice and if at all possible stay at home with them. There is joy in motherhood. You have the greatest potential for changing the world one child at a time. The ladies that told me children grow up fast were not kidding. Here I am all these years later realizing just how true that is and am now saying it myself. Know that there is life after kids. I am a student at BYU working towards a long desired degree in teaching. I am continually learning how much once again my church means to me. Much of the training I am receiving in school I can relate to what I have already learned by teaching in primary and in other church callings. I see the Lord’s hand and His miracles all around me and you can too if you stop and look.
CENTERVILLE, UT, USA
St. George, UT, USA