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I see it with every woman I serve - their hand reaching out, in search of assurance & connection.
We are afraid.
We feel insignificant...unqualified.
Our story seems unimportant. Sharing it would be an imposition.
But, our story has the power to breathe life into another, to connect and inspire, to strengthen and bless.
From Loss to Light
July 9, 2011 was the happiest day of my life. I was marrying the man of my dreams! We had goals, we had plans and we had our future all mapped out. The Game of Life was just beginning for us. We were young, hopelessly in love and couldn’t wait to start our family. I was so excited for Nic to become a dad (as he is truly a big kid himself) and I had always been a mother hen and couldn’t think of anything more I wanted in life then to be called “Mom”.
As the older sibling to a brother 4 years younger and the eldest grandchild of 6 on my moms side, I grew up as the mature, responsible, dependable, over achiever who reached for her goals, excelled and watched over everyone younger than me along the way. My female cousins were my maid of honour and bridesmaid at my wedding and my friends had just started to settle down and make their own “grown up” plans.
When Nic and I started trying for a baby we were filled with the usual emotions - hope, curiosity, anxiety but most of all, excitement. We began thinking about what our life would be like as a family of 3 or 4...
stuffed animals for the nursery, cute names for our children and daydreaming which of our parents would be called Grandma, Nana, Grandmama, Papa or Gramps. It created so much joy for us. We were giddy with the idea of planning my career around being able to spend some time at home, once little ones were underfoot.
Little did we know, about a year after our amazing wedding day, one of the most difficult journeys of our lives would begin. The next 2 years of our marriage were be filled with a miscarriage, months of checking temperatures, fertility treatments, thousands of dollars spent trying to conceive, needles, blood draws and syringes full of medications. We had dozens of out of town trips to the fertility clinic, an early miscarriage of one twin at 8 weeks, followed by many specialist appointments after receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis. I learned that I had extremely low platelets in my blood (without any issues during my childhood or young adult years), which left me wondering “where the hell did this come from?” There were emergency room visits, around the clock monitoring for internal hemorrhages and an emergency surgery after yet another loss at 16 weeks pregnant and my husband being called in the middle of the night by the surgeon telling him that he and my parents that they better get back to the hospital in London ASAP.
While being rushed into surgery at 2am for a D & C due to the loss of our 3rd baby still inside me, and then yet another loss on the date of our 3rd anniversary, I struggled not knowing how long my husband would stay by my side and in our marriage - as I felt broken, depressed, useless and gut wrenchingly guilty for taking away the one thing I felt he wanted most - children. I remember tearfully asking myself if I would ever be a mom? The short and long answer, we have now come to know and accept…is NO - not in the traditional sense anyway.
My husband Nic is a supportive, kind, happy, easy going, life is great, glass half full kind of guy….who married an extremely loving and nurturing soul but I was a self-conscious, overachiever with an extreme fear of failure…who now had lost 4 of his babies! My self worth was intrinsically tied to my ability to succeed in whatever I wanted…yet, this was something HUGE that I was not able to control, or have the ability to “fix”. The intense planner in me could not “plan” for this upheaval. I could not plan for my stolen dream.
We never would have imagined that our life after all the losses would turn into scheduling specialist appointments, going for weekly blood draws at the lab, Adoption/Foster Parent training every week for 14 weeks, the breakdown of a potential adoptive match (due to a 3rd cousin once removed that finally came forward to take care of the 2 young brothers we were hoping to adopt), a toxic work environment in my management career and 3 job changes for Nic.
We were lost, struggling with why this was happening to our “family plans” and I was in a dark place of high functioning, paired with depression, guilt, loss of self-worth and my once colour-coded, by the book “life plans“ were out the window. My body was tired from the rollercoaster of fertility treatments, lost pregnancies and stress.
The quote “It takes a village” has become a staple in my life over the past 5 years. Usually people refer to this quote when raising a child, but for Nic and I, it took a village to move forward and heal from the trauma we sustained in such a short (felt like forever) timeframe in our twenties. We are so incredibly fortunate to have parents and close friends who have been by our side through every step, especially now that I am living with a chronic blood disorder.
My husband is my rock, and I am thankful every single day that I chose a partner who truly is IN this with me…for the long haul..through sickness and health…through good times and bad. I do not know what I would ever do without him.
Now in my mid-thirties, my close friends and cousins have begun their own families and are entering the world of parenthood, I find myself caught between great excitement and happiness for their new journey and deep seated feelings of resentment, jealousy and envy that they are living the life that I want so bad. How I deal with these feelings has been a turning point for me. I have to constantly remind myself that I am writing a new chapter in my book of life. A life without my own biological children but one filled with many other people that I am able to support, love and nurture. My plans have had to change…and it has taken me 5 years to be able to say…it’s okay.
Thankfully, and I think what has saved me mentally and emotionally from a dark path, was the birth of my best friends’ little one. We became Auntie and Uncle instantly to this new gorgeous baby and had the fortunate opportunity of providing care for him weekly as we became part of my best friends “village”. With the addition of his younger brother 3 years later, we now have two incredible nephews, who have spent many many days and nights here, over the past many years. We have been able to watch them grow, learn and explore the world and fill part of the void in our hearts that I didn’t think would ever be possible.
I have worked my way through the windy path my life has taken, with all its unplanned and unexpected emotional and medical twists and turns.
The positive side, the light after all the dark, has been the most rewarding journey of it all. I took my emotions and feelings of loss, grief and guilt and have tried to find ways to feel useful, supportive, nurturing and giving to others’ lives. I have become actively involved in numerous charities and boards of directors in my community. I mustered up the courage to leave my toxic career and open my own successful business. I teach dance and mentor young children and teens, raise money for a charity in my town and overseas and have become a self-help book junkie! I work with a transformation coach and have come to learn that I am a work in progress and to try to find joy in the journey. I am sharing my story, not as one of pity and negativity, loss and grief, but one of resiliency, strength and support.
I want others to know that we are all dealing with issues that are not always visible on the outside and that is it okay to talk about what we have been through. I have found my tribe - those people I want to surround myself with, who lift me up, support me and encourage me to keep moving forward. If you are reading this and need someone to join your tribe, add to your village and shine some light into your life, please know I am here to help.
I may never be completely healed, but these days…there is a lot less dark and a heck of a lot more light!
While adversity seems to be a constant theme in the pages of my story, I like to think that victory plays just as large, if not a larger part. It is so easy to rest on the negative, to snuggle right down into it and stay there in its warmth. I have found comfort there.
Some of the most significant aspects of my story include trauma from my parents’ divorce, triumph over a long road of failure in academics, an attempt at self-harm as a teen, losing 3 children to miscarriage but having the sheer will and want that lead to the miraculous birth of my three sons, bringing a child, born with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome into the world and growing my acceptance, along with finding myself inside of motherhood.
I no longer view these trials as negatives. I value the tools, strength and resiliency I acquired as a result of enduring them.
Lessons I value from overcoming my trials continue to guide me through life. I find strength in the fact that I was able to crawl out of each and every hardship...even in the darkest of times. I am eternally grateful for the people who stepped up and helped me. My incredibly strong mother and sisters, simply by standing by me and holding my hand, along with extended family, doctors, my husband, my loving children, friends and even strangers.
We simply never know when we are helping others...
It would also seem really odd if I didn't mention my own strength and depth of character - I think is has a lot to do with my success. I’ve grown and matured through every experience.
My parents divorce had long-standing, devastating effects on me which occurred at a very impressionable stage in life. A time when it was natural to blame myself, a time when I needed both of my parents the most, a time when I was trying to figure out who I was...was clouded by what I thought I had done to make my parents break apart. It had a tremendous effect on my academics, which eventually rolled right into my lack of self worth. That lead to a very dark time when leaving everyone I loved behind seems to be the only aspect of my life that made any sense. How I see it is that amazing heroes in my life, along with my want to feel better helped me to rise back up.
I was blessed with tools that helped me to understand that my parents separation had nothing to do with me. That fact alone took away some of the shame for struggling with academics. That feeling as though my family was broken, that I could not learn, that I felt so helpless, was the reason why suicide seemed right. Like a game of dominoes, all just fell into each other.
Every time I have faced misfortune, heartbreak or a blow, I have used the tools that I was given or learned through psychology, growth and life's lessons to wiggle my way out of the dark and back into the light. Admittedly, it does take longer when working out deeper challenges, but I always get there.
On top of that mixed bag of healing power, I have also adopted the philosophy of sharing light with others as absolutely much as I can and with anyone that I feel may need it. I lean into my vulnerable side in order to do this and have found even more purpose there.
I noted above that darkness and negativity can be an odd type of comfort. I think that's true simply because it's easier. But oh how the sun feels when it's shines upon your face. All of the hard work that you have put into yourself is right there in those rays. I have come to love how continuously working on myself, on my marriage and relationships with my children, family and friends is where I love to live life the most!
Love to Spare
In February 2018, we received a phone call from my husband’s cousin saying that the Children’s Aid Society had given him three weeks to find a permanent placement for his niece or she would be taken into their system. At that time, our family consisted of me, my husband, my 11-year-old kiddo, and a host of small family pets. My husband and I were both full-time teachers and our intelligent, loving, polite, artistic child was enjoying and excelling at school, karate and Guiding. We had a very stable, loving household and no real stressors to contend with. It was a relatively quiet home where disagreements were discussed, a conclusion was come to, and life carried on. We were very content and comfortable. The idea of taking on a three-year-old as we ourselves were hitting the mid 40’s mark, was not something we were going to ponder lightly. The only thing we felt certain of was that we already had an amazing family and love to spare. So, as we had always done, we discussed and debated all the possible scenarios that we could think of (enter foreshadowing) and agreed to accept this little girl as part of our family.
Our family made a few visits to meet Autumn in both her home and doing fun things in her city three hours away from us; we didn’t want to be complete strangers when March Break came and she would come to live with us. This sweet little girl was eager to go with us, complete strangers, and she spent the times with us being as cheerful as ever. Despite the obvious adorableness of this three-year-old, we made some immediate and some gradual observations about this beautiful little girl. Her eyes seemed dull and her hair, it had chunks taken out of it from where she had given herself multiple haircuts, to the scalp. At three years and three months old, she had five baby words in her vocabulary, her name not included. Not only could she not say her name, she didn’t even recognize “Autumn” as her given name. She called herself “baby”. She was not even close to being toilet trained. She could not dress or undress herself. We’d been told she was a picky eater, which turned out later to just have been an aversion to the spoiled food that had been in the fridge in their house. She had dead teeth and despite coming with a box load of electronic toys, she had no toothbrush. This cheerful little girl was not checking many of the boxes on the CDC’s list of developmental milestones.
My husband and I began to realize that we hadn’t been given the whole story prior to committing to a life-changing decision. Despite being cousins, the families weren’t close, and it never entered our heads that our new little one would be lacking in so many basic needs of survival. Very quickly did we realize that this child was unlike any we’d lived or spent quality time with. We moved her in with us during March Break so that the three of us could at least be home together for the week and then my husband took parental leave in order to foster an attachment to our family and home. We were all aware that this must have been a horrifying experience for this little child. She had been taken from the only family she knew, to live with near-strangers...and we, as a family of three, had ventured into this major life change with little more than the notion that “we have love to spare”.
One of the first things we discovered was that this little person didn’t know how to sleep like the rest of us did. She wouldn’t nap during the day and she wouldn’t sleep at night. We worked tirelessly to instill a calming bedtime routine and to get her to sleep at night, only to be woken up shortly thereafter by her screaming. She would get out of bed and yell, make that shriek, for extended periods of time. She had no language to communicate what she wanted or needed, but it was clear that she didn’t want to sleep. Each time, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour per episode, we would eventually get her back in bed only to be awoken again shortly thereafter and go through the whole horror again. One night, she woke up 9 times, each time standing in her doorway or in the hall just shrieking...and it seemed like nothing and no one could calm her down. Even when she would sleep, she had night terrors and nightmares, multiple times a night. EVERY NIGHT! We were exhausted. My husband and I would take turns trying to soothe her and get her back to sleep. Nothing worked consistently and we were losing our minds as quickly as we were losing sleep. Then the daytime tantrums began. These were tantrums the likes of which I had never seen or heard before. A wild animal emerged, screaming, biting, hitting, hissing and throwing absolutely anything she could get her hands on. Once again, my husband and I would alternate trying to calm her down. We resorted to earplugs so that we could be in the same space as her and not suffer hearing damage. We handled each situation in different ways, trying anything and everything we could think of. Nothing seemed to work.
The help that this child needed was more than we could give, and it was breaking us down, mentally and emotionally. I tried reaching out for help. I contacted the local counselling programs and put in a referral. I went to our clinic, and put in a referral. I put in referrals for speech therapy and was sent a letter stating that she would see a speech pathologist in 8 months. Eight months???? In the life of a 3-year-old? So, I hired a private speech pathologist who would travel 3 hours to our small town to work with Maggie once a month. I even signed myself up for parenting courses thinking that maybe it was me. In the mean time, we tried our best to survive and to heal this little person. Have you ever read the book, “Have you filled a bucket today?” I equated this tiny human to someone carrying an empty bucket, not just with a hole at the bottom, but with the entire bottom missing.
Our new goal was to fix her bucket and to start filling it up as best we could. My husband had been taking her to playgroup every weekday so that she could socialize with other children. They went for walks twice a day. When my big kid and I were home, we would play games, sing songs, read books and dance in the kitchen. My big would play creatively and imaginatively with Autumn and showed her how to take care of a dolly. We tried everything to fill her little bucket and yet the tantrums continued, and the sleep didn’t come. We introduced her to her new extended family where she was embraced with more love and she fell head over heels for her new cousins who adored her just as much. We took her on family trips and tried to give her as many positive experiences as we could think of.
We took her sledding, we took her swimming, we praised every single good choice she made. We tried to empower her by giving her choices. We listened to morning positivity videos that repeated the fact that she always tried her best. We put “I Can” posters where she could see them and attempted to give her strategies to use when she was getting angry. Eventually we got in with the pediatrician, and the child psychiatrist from Sick Kids and even a pediatric cardiologist because it turned out that what had killed her mother had been a genetic mutation that stopped her heart, which our little Autumn also has.
After almost a year of struggle, not to mention working through custody arrangements and court dates, the psychiatrist labelled her with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, in partial remission. Oh thank heavens! A year after starting, we were finally in partial remission. Our little girl, our daughter, still struggles with emotional regulation. My husband, big kid and I all tense each time we see a regression in sleep habits or tantrums. But despite the odd fit and regressions in sleeping through the night, she is thriving. She loves to learn. She loves to read. She asks questions non-stop and wants to be included in every aspect of our family life. And she is. She adores her family both near and far and we all love her. She has many friends from daycare and her first year in school and even is learning to take care of her own pet chicken named Elsie. I’m often fearful of what the future might look like with my incredibly spirited, volatile, inquisitive and relentless child.
I hope every day that we are giving her enough strategies to help her learn to emotionally regulate in the moment, and in the future. I know that we made a choice to disrupt our family comfort and I know that we did a good thing for this child. What I’m also learning is that by disturbing our comfortable existence, that we, as a family of three, have not only given a second chance to a tiny human, but we’ve grown stronger as a family unit and while we’re not out of the woods yet, we are now a family of four with love to spare.
I think I've always been a positive person and try and see the good in everything but sometimes that just doesn't work and you have to go through immense pain to realise that this is life raw and real.
I met my first husband when I was 21. He was 30. I was pretty besotted! He was my everything. I knew family wasn't part of our plan as he had two kids to a previous marriage but as I approached 28 I realised that 'maybe' I'd changed my mind! After a lot of thought we decided our only option was IVF as he had to have a 'reversal'.
After 7 years and 2 attempts Maxwell was born. Considering we were given a 4% chance of conceiving naturally we were stunned when a year later I was pregnant again and Jack was born!
It was all a bit of a whirlwind and with his long spells of being away offshore for work, I found myself quite lonely and stressed with the 2 boys under 2! We did the expat thing for 5 years and it was all kinda glamorous....Ireland, Spain, Canada and France to name a few. We were happy, or so I thought! I noticed he had changed, he started taking an interest in his appearance, listening to different music and strangely didn't drink coffee with me anymore!! I knew something was wrong.....
To cut a long story short, he was having an affair with a Brazilian woman 20 years younger than himself. He lied, cheated and made me suffer for 2 days till he “decided" what he was going to do.
The boys were 6 and 8. I had a wee part time job at the local playgroup. HOW would I manage? I fought and I fought to keep our home. Promises were broken when he said he wouldn't hurt me anymore. The pain of him leaving was excruciating....it was like someone sawing off my right arm with a blunt knife. I couldn't eat, sleep or function on any level.
Fast forward a year and an old school friend told me about ENJO. A cleaning system from Austria. I wasn't ready to hear about it.
Another year passed and I was open. Instantly I saw something that excited me. The next day, I joined the company - strange considering I was a sceptic! I quickly realised I had purpose again and I felt alive! It was amazing!!
I felt PART of something very special. I was recognised and celebrated which wasn't something I was used to at all. I had a new circle of people and I loved it all.
I had always been in Ian's shadow as he had the overseas job and made good money, but for the first time in my life I felt noticed and worthy. I felt I deserved everything that was coming my way. My first trip which I qualified for was to New Zealand and my lovely boss toasted my success...it was a bittersweet moment. If Ian hadn't left me none of this would have happened. That was 9 years ago.
ENJO has provided for me and my 2 boys. Yes I work hard and I play hard! I've learnt about self development, management and leadership. I love to learn now. This opportunity has made me
always willing to learn and better myself. My kids have learnt so much from me and are both very entrepreneurial themselves!
Maxwell is now at Uni studying chemical engineering in Edinburgh and Jack is almost through to trying out the navy. I am SO proud of them!! They are my world and we have done this on our own. They haven't seen their father in 7 years.
He pays 50p per day per child maintenance so I am doing this solo really. He married the girl and now has twins...
ENJO also allowed me to find my new husband! He loved ENJO and wanted more fibres!! We were born the same week, were in hospital in our cribs together and went through school together! He's so supportive of my job and he's always there to keep me on track!
Life throws things at you. Time does heal. I can't forget stuff that's happened but what I can do is let it go and say it's okay. I'm doing good and I'm very proud of my journey. If there's anything I've learnt it's to follow your gut instinct. See yourself for who you are and don't let anyone take you down. You are enough xx
My journey to having a family is not traditional. At the age of 32, I found myself single, in a new town and after a few failed relationships, wondering if having children would be a life I would have. I was in no rush to meet someone and it felt like time was against me.
Then I met a same sex couple and their son, and a question arose in my mind: If they can have a family without a man, why can’t I? This started my journey into fertility and becoming a single mom by choice. I found the process ridiculous. The fact that I had to meet with doctors and a social worker to discuss my “readiness” to be a single parent just seemed “off” considering I could have easily chosen a more irresponsible (but definitely more cost-effective!) way of attempting to “get pregnant.” Do other single moms have to talk to men to get permission?
I began the painful journey of jumping through fertility hoops. It started with a tubal dye test which only proved to be partially successful on my right side, with the left side blocked. The pain was so much that they had to pause the test and the results were inconclusive. This will become important later. I had 6 IUI and two chemical pregnancies, one that looked promising… until it wasn’t. After three failed attempts they suggested laparoscopic surgery to see if there were any blockages. While in surgery, they repeated the tubal dye test to find the same result as before but findings on the LH side were noted as insignificant and I was told I should be able to get pregnant.
I started the gauntlet of fertility medications that made me so sick I unable to sleep for days and when I started seeing tracers, I was quickly taken off the medication and told some women have been known to feel suicidal.
I had to wait for two months to get the medication out of my system. As we ramped back up, the meds gave me painful ovarian cysts - another price to pay for the potential of a baby. And then in August of 2011 I finally got pregnant on my 7th IUI (medicated). I was warned it could be twins but luckily there was only one. Being single and very pregnant felt impossible. I had acquaintances and neighbours and strangers ask me (in public!) who the father was. I have never been asked so directly or indirectly who I was sleeping with (or in this case, not) in my life. It felt invasive and exhausting, yet if I said nothing it felt secretive and shameful. It took a lot of time and soul searching and courage to find words to express myself in a way that felt safe.
My daughter’s Birth (Trauma #1)
I arrived at the hospital at 7:10 pm and my girl was born at 8:23 pm. There was no time for an epidural and the pain felt inhumane and without any reprieve. She was 10 pounds and I only pushed for 20 mins. I didn’t know at the time, my body and brain processed this event as trauma.
I felt “off” after she was born. I was happy and loved her but I often felt dizzy, unwell and almost like I was watching things happen from outside of my body. I didn’t understand how others seemed to have babies and enjoy their lives simultaneously. I was really struggling. She was needy, didn’t sleep well and I was starting to feel the effects of post-trauma which I believed was just how you feel after having a child. I remember wondering if I had ruined my life but feeling I couldn’t complain about it because I had “chosen this.” Things improved with time, although the fatigue and dizziness didn’t dissipate completely but I learned to manage it and I was able to cope and enjoy parenting more.
Fast forward 10 months to when I started to consider having a second child before I was too old. I tried IUI again and got pregnant the first time. But this time I was very sick. I went to the doctor twice stating I had back pain. I was told It was just constipation from the pregnancy and was sent home.
That weekend I thought I was going to pass out at Walmart. I assumed I just needed to eat, did so then went home to rest. That Monday I called my fertility doctor and said that I had been to my family doctor twice and he said I am likely fine but I felt something wasn’t. He agreed to see me but since I had been seen by a doctor my ultrasound was booked with him for Thursday, he didn’t do too much. By Thursday could hardly sit because my back hurt so bad. I was crying a bit by the time he did the ultrasound. Then he uttered words I will never forget, “Don’t move, you are very sick.” And then he left the room.
“Don’t move” ….I was quick to realize he was worried I would bleed out or pass out from the blood loss. I DROVE to this appointment alone… I was led to believe nothing was wrong. I was taken immediately to emergency surgery and was told I was miscarrying (remember that left tube? I had a ruptured tubal pregnancy) my abdomen was full of blood. I was told they may need to take everything depending on the severity of the damage. I started making calls to be sure someone would pick up my daughter from daycare while nurses were putting in 4 IV’s…. I have had many surgeries with one I - I knew this was serious…
I was at a teaching hospital so I heard the “teaching” of the amount of blood in my abdomen and what could happen under anesthetic. Everything was fast - my phone and earrings were being taken from me in the operating room - there was no time.
I remember thinking, I wonder if I will wake up. I prayed for my life. I told them it was fine to take everything (fallopian tubes/ovaries etc), but I had a daughter and she needed a mom so I just needed to be alive. This was Trauma #2.
After the surgery, I was so elated to be alive that I didn’t know the trauma of the loss of the pregnancy was lying dormant somewhere in my brain, but months later when a friend lost her baby days before birth, that trauma surfaced. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt horrible that I was making the sadness about me when the loss was hers. I knew then that I couldn’t ignore my own trauma any longer and then I got REALLY sick. I was dizzy all the time out of nowhere. I would bolt awake at night. I felt like I was having a heart attack or like I was going to pass out all the time. I was losing weight fast (I had always struggled with weight gain so this was very odd for me). I lost 66 pounds in 6 months and doctors were trying to find out why. They tested my thyroid, looked at diabetes, a brain tumor and more. I saw specialists and naturopaths and continued to decline. I started to have full blown panic attacks usually in my sleep so then I became afraid to sleep. I was a mess.
I had to move in with my parents; I could no longer take care of myself and my daughter. I spent a lot of time in bed. I was sure I was dying until finally, I was referred to a psychiatrist for a consult who diagnosed me with Post-Partum Panic Disorder. I was medicated and what I refer to as my magic pills literally made me better in less than two weeks! I was back.
Two years later (that miscarriage shook me enough to take a long break) I felt our family wasn’t complete and I decided to try again. They were able to leave one fallopian tube and so we tried two IUI that didn’t work and then now based on my age it was suggested I try IVF.
They implanted two embryos and one stuck. At the age of 40 my second guy arrived (with an epidural!) after only two pushes. He was early and in the NICU but I cannot explain the difference between these two births.
Caring for two children during a pandemic is hard. I did have to take a mental health break from work this year when work, life and the pandemic came crashing in but I will say this: the above sounds harsh, however, it got me here. It was an unknown journey I knew nothing about and at times I felt soul crushingly lonely.
Here is what I have learned:
Those who judged my journey or feel that kids need a man in their life don’t know me or my kids. We are good and I teach them love is love and family are those who show up in the good times and the bad. They have so much love in their life and they are happy children.
If you are going through fertility, remember that doctors have a very important repertoire of learned information but only you how you feel and you are your best advocate.
If you don’t feel right after having children go and talk to someone who can help to uncover if you have a post partum diagnosis (which includes after a miscarriage). You are not a failure if you struggle with mental health for any reason including the onset of mental health after any pregnancy, loss and/or birth (I was diagnosed with Post Partum Panic Disorder that I believe was triggered by the quick, painful birth and solidified by the miscarriage that was life-threatening). You cannot control the chemical response your brain and body creates but you can and should get support.
Finally, I will quote the great Michelle Obama, “When they go low; we go high”. Remove those who do not have the ability to be a part of your tribe in a loving, supportive and respectful manner. We have worked hard to build a stronger, more loving support system for our family and we are truly living our best life! It was a difficult journey, a steep climb and sometimes I fell but it really is oh so worth it! Me, my kiddos aged 10 and 5 and our three fur babies are a team; we have a special bond and a great life that was and is worth the climb.
𝕊𝕥𝕖𝕡𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕚𝕖 𝕍𝕒𝕟 𝔻𝕖 𝕍𝕖𝕟
Owner, Country Spirit Wellness Farm
Certified Meditation Teacher
Professional Writer & Blogger
Adopted 40 years ago, I never thought the feelings of abandonment and loneliness would travel with me for so long. Being an only child, raised on a tobacco and horse farm, you'd think it would be every little girl's dream - and for the most part, it was.. except for the loneliness part.
I spent my days and nights riding my BMX bike on the farm, talking to the horses and snuggling kittens on warm bales of freshly cured tobacco. Fresh farm air, acres of property, and a quiet country road with horses and ponies everywhere -- seems dreamy, doesn't it?
I think that's where my introversion started, and where I found my love and passion for peace, belonging, and animals. And while I appreciate this now, back then it was achingly sad for me. I never felt like I fit in - except for when I was with my ponies. I had older parents who gave me everything I needed and more, but didn't understand a lot of the Canadian ways (they are Dutch immigrants) and because we were on the farm, we were so busy that I didn't have the luxury of being able to see my friends all of the time like I wanted to. My parents did their very best, but as a kid it just kind of sucked. And don't even get me started on having the "cool" clothes or shoes. That wasn't a priority on a farm. But, it was for me.
And then the bullying started to happen at school. I was made fun of on a regular basis at school. Picked on all the time. I was too small, I was too short, I wasn't popular, I was adopted (yes, I was made fun of for that too) and the list goes on. I became shyer, more introverted, and I just wanted to be with my animals, at home. At least they didn't make fun of me, or hurt me. I never understood why kids were so mean.. I just wanted to go to school and be accepted. It was hard. I cried so much, and thinking about it I could still cry now - these deep wounds are taking a lot of time to heal.
As the years carried on, and I grew up just a little more I went to college for Broadcasting (me? the introvert?) Yes! The funny thing was I loved being on TV, and excelled at it. I loved being on the radio, and I could speak in front of thousands. But where I really wanted to be was home, quiet, peaceful and calm with my animals.
I've traveled all over the world. I've worked in corporate settings, I've planned major events globally, I've been on TV, on the radio, and it was only until recently that every little part of my life became clear to me and my broken road (as I like to call it) became smooth. I knew I couldn't hack the corporate life anymore - it was making me sick, unwell, and mentally unstable.
While working for a real estate agent recently, I was visiting a property for my employer to check on the home because it was an empty listing. I had seen the photographs as I was the one marketing the listing, but I'd never gone in. I decided to go take a look and it was as if this place was already mine. From the moment I stepped onto the lush green grass overlooking miles of farmers fields and flanked by gorgeous pine trees I knew it needed to be mine.
I wasn't ready to move, I wasn't prepared to do this and wondered how was I going to afford this financially? I started freaking out but at the same time I knew I would make this happen. That's just me. Find me a problem, and I'll find you a solution - each and every time. I had no money saved, but I knew I needed this house and farm. Every particle of my soul said; Go Get It Girl!
In what felt like seconds, the Universe magically aligned everything together for me like perfect puzzle pieces and I trusted the process. All of a sudden my home was sold, and I was moving to my picture-perfect farm just minutes away from Paris Ontario. Before everything was signed I walked through the property one last time and I asked and prayed for a sign because I was scared, excited, nervous, worried and elated! Walking outside the house to the exact same spot I had walked just a few days earlier, there was an old rusty horseshoe facing upward. There it was. My sign. It wasn't there before. I knew it wasn't. And now it was. My lucky horseshoe now sits in my front entrance way to remind me of how lucky I am.
A little backstory - I'm a single Mother, and have been for 13 years. I had just finally gotten out of an abusive relationship with a textbook narcissist, and my health was not good- and this was all throughout the thick of COVID. I had just had a huge falling out with a long-time friend, and had surgery, plus my son was battling a horrible situation at school where the entire school board was involved and the stress levels were high to say the least. But everything came together. I am in my house, with my son, and my wonderful dad has been building a horse paddock, and shelter for me and my horse. I've been building my business with offerings like a country picnic experience, Airbnb, retreats, yoga, kids summer camp and more.
Soon Spirit, my horse will come home and I'll have everything I've ever wanted and more.
I learned that I am the kinda girl who makes things happen. I'm the manifesting queen! And at Country Spirit Wellness Farm I am so unapologetically me - it's like I never knew myself until just now. This farm is magical, and I have arrived back to me, that happy little farm girl who spent her days with horses and animals and because of it, I'm creating a place of peace for others to heal and recharge as well. It’s so important to me.
There’s no one here to make fun of me, no one here to make me feel unwanted or unloved. It's mine. And I'm building it with love, one 2x4 at a time. I’ve truly never been happier. Funny what a farm can do for your mental health and state of wellness..
It is my hope that by reading this, you can relate in some way and know that anything you want - absolutely anything - can be yours when you don't give up.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer said: " When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change".
See you at the farm!
This is a story of self-doubt, imposter syndrome. Who did I think I was? A Starving Artist.
When I graduated university with my Bachelor's degree of Fine Art and $60K in student debt, my office job who had promised a marketing position said I was meant for better things and gave me 30 days notice after I submitted my application for a marketing team position. The only job available that was paying in my area was a part time minimum wage job at the local art museum. That was not even going to make my minimum payments and although I knew I was talented, the "starving artist" cliche and the imposter syndrome got the best of me and so I plunged into finding other work.
NO WHERE WAS HIRING. If they were, I was over-educated for the positions available. I gave great interviews, but these "entry-level positions" didn’t honour the 3 years of experience I gained from all the jobs I did during school. A friend who had recently started for an insurance company said I should interview, and with only a week until my 30 days was up I went and got the job. I was a 100% commission-based traveling insurance agent suddenly and the world of finance was daunting.
Later I found out everyone who was legal to work in Canada got the job, but that didn't stop me from working my butt off. My now spouse, Jon, had worked for years in a factory, we bought a house between my third and fourth year in university and he maintained it. After supporting my passion for 4 years we decided in my second year of working for the insurance company he would quit.
100% of our financial security was on me now and I ended up leveraging my experience in finance along with my management skills to obtain a salaried position at TD Bank in Woodstock. But it still wasn't enough so I got second and third jobs and also started advertising that I could create art.
I walked into a local coffee shop, steps from TD called The Burnt Brick. I bought a coffee, asked if they were hiring, and begged them to let me update their chalk menu board. They agreed to both hire me and to let me update the board during my shift! It was my first big project and the first time working with a small business and dammit if it didn't make my heart soar. Early Bird Coffee was the brand poured and sold at the shop, so through word of mouth they reached out to me when they had the amazing plan to open up their own Cafe and Roastery.
Creating their window decals and menu boards was such a thrill and I did a good enough job for other small businesses to take notice. By 2020 had shared my artistry with more than 10 local businesses. That’s when Take Wing Artistry was born! Then, BAM, pandemic.
My bank branch closed, the world was on fire and no one knew what was happening. I was sent home with no work (but fortunately, TD maintained my pay as a salaried employee) and no longer did I work for the coffee shop. I took this sudden burst of free time and turned it into working with more small businesses that needed attention. The emphasis became on supporting local, and I went from 10 to 15 to over 30 businesses locally that held a piece of work from Take Wing Artistry!
I found various stay-at-home work opportunities for myself through the bank even after they reopened the branch so my time was spent in a home office/art studio all day, everyday. Jon was home too and after being stuck indoors together for a year we figured out we kinda love doing everything together! With the housing market going crazy and a house selling for an insanely high price across the street from us we decided to take a HUGE leap.
We sold our house in 2 weeks, then bought a 20' shipping container and started downsizing! We leased a 2022 Subaru Wilderness, filled an entire U-Got-Junk truck and started giving our things away to family and friends. Everyone thought we were INSANE. To be fair, it was entirely against the normal brick and mortar, 9-5 job, where you work to retire at 65 lifestyle, but we unsubscribed from that brainwashed way of living a long time ago. We wanted to really LIVE on our own terms and see it all without an end date on our travels. We packed up the Subie with our two Australian Shepherds Casper and Skye and hit the road.
We started in northern Ontario. After getting our first vaccine in North Bay we had tragedy strike on some back country overland trails when our dog, Skye impaled herself on a jutting branch she didn't see before leaping. Thank God for the Subaru or she would have died before we got to the emergency vet. When we handed her to them we had traveled a 1.5 hours worth of rough back road terrain in about 45 mins thanks to Jon's amazing driving and navigation skills and a LOT of luck.
She lived but she had no way to heal with us living out of our car. We stayed at a Ramada Inn for a week then packed her up and headed across provincial borders towards my parents place in Ormocto, New Brunswick.
While Skye healed with my parents we tipped a kayak in the Bay of Fundy, drove along the coastal trail of New Brunswick, took a bridge to PEI and then a ferry to Nova Scotia and experienced the intended beauty of the Cabot Trail. After a quick hello to Halifax, a month had passed and Skye had healed enough to continue our tour which we were now determined to make it a coast-to-coast affair!
Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba & Saskatchewan were quick stops. Unfortunately, the smoke from the BC wildfires had blown as far as the plains of Manitoba. After experiencing our first mountains on the Atlantic Coast we were anticipating some insane views as we entered Alberta and headed out from Calgary, but the satellite view on Google maps showed the mountains covered by smoke. Entire mountain ranges were faint or not visible even while driving directly alongside them. Determined to beat the haze, we headed north to Banff where there were a few days of reprieve from the smoke and we saw our first glimpse of how MASSIVE the mountains were!
Over the next two months we traveled to beat the smoke - from Banff we took the Icefields Parkway into BC and went along the absolutely stunning HWY 99. From gorges to logging trails, we took almost every backroad we could and explored the intense heights of the mountains. Whistler was amazing and when we were again chased out by smoke we headed to Vancouver Island. The dogs loved the ferry rides by this point and we drove from the northern tip of the island to the southernmost tip, then finally to Tofino to dip our toes in the Pacific ocean, signifying the completion of our coast-to-coast tour of Canada.
We both worked remotely throughout the entire trip. It was an incredible opportunity that honestly I wouldn't have been able to experience if COVID-19 hadn't made remote work possible. Even with travel restrictions, getting vaccinated and respecting each province's different precautions and rules we were both fortunate to avoid contracting the virus.
When September chills struck in BC we were still living out of a hatchback SUV with no plans for winter. We had to rethink. For the past two years we had been researching life in Costa Rica. It was either live in BC and pay insane rental costs to be stuck inside after our incredible adventure, or continue it in the tropics. The choice was easy. We headed back across Canada to Ontario, broke our lease on the Subaru and booked flights to Costa Rica.
To make sure I could still create artwork for people and for all my small businesses clients, Jon bought me an amazing Wacom artist pad which has become my biggest asset. We have been Costa Rica since October, booking Airbnb's in different areas of the country and enjoying each other. I no longer have to work multiple jobs and I finished the last position I held upon arrival to Costa Rica and finally faced my biggest starving-artist fear and became a full-time artist.
Imposter syndrome happens daily but it’s easier to overcome when I look at what I have created. The number of businesses and the area of southern Ontario I've reached has grown. I am coming back to Ontario for the summer and I look forward to continuing to expand my small business love throughout Oxford and surrounding counties!
I changed my narrative from “Who do I think I am?” to “I'm a thriving artist” and that changed everything.
Health & Wellness Coach
I was never athletic as a kid, and I definitely did not like team sports. As a shy girl who didn’t have a competitive bone in her body I can recall in gym class being so stressed over playing basketball. Trying to get possession of a ball from someone else caused me anxiety. That would require an aggression I just did not possess. Side note – you will still find me cheering for both teams!
Although team sports weren’t for me, in my early 20’s I recognized the importance of living a healthy life, and finding a way to move my body. I had a gym membership that I used. Sometimes. I yo-yo’d in and out of kickboxing, yoga, boot camp and running. I tried all the things, but was never consistent. Having kids in my late 20’s and early 30’s and starting a business with my husband while working full time didn’t leave time for workouts, and I stopped most forms of physical activity.
2 months before having our son in 2007 we lost my Father in Law after his battle with cancer. He was a calm presence and always a voice of reason in our family. This loss devastated us. This was our first go around with cancer, and although we didn’t know it at the time, it wouldn’t be our last.
On October 1 2013, we took my Mom to emerg believing she was having a stroke. Within 5 hours we were told that she had several cancerous lesions on her brain, that had spread from her lungs. The lung cancer was a result of years of smoking. I can remember looking at the doctor s he delivered the news and thinking “This is it. This is the pivotal moment where my life is forever changed.” My Mom and I talked every single day. She had a way of making everything easy, and always making us feel loved and supported. I felt blessed to have her as my Mom. How would our family go on without her? She passed away 8 weeks later.
What seemed like a very fast 5 years after that, my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2018 as a result of smoking. He passed away 6 weeks later. My husband and I genuinely enjoyed being with my parents. My Dad had a great sense of humour and we always had fun with them. My kids loved their Nana and Papa, who equally adored them.
When the realization set in that a daily life decision, a habit, cost both my parents their lives far too early, grief hit differently. It was messy. There were days I would get home from work and lay in bed and cry for hours.
Amidst the grief, I continued to have faith. That faith carried me through once again, when we lost my Mother-in-Law to cancer this past December. I do believe that in the hard, ugly, messy parts of life, and in the healing, there are lessons. I learned that how I treat my body matters. What I put into my body matters. The thoughts I allow into my mind matter. Who I surround myself with matters. It ALL matters.
I made some changes to my own health. I started eating better. For the first time, I remained consistent in my workouts, while honouring when my body needed rest and recovery. That led me to becoming a Health and Wellness Coach. Supporting other women in their health and wellness journeys brings me pure joy! I have learned that there are no guarantees in this life. But I will do my best to not only extend the time I have on this earth, but also to FEEL amazing while I’m here.
It was 2013 when I finally crashed HARD. I was expected to attend a work meeting in 5 minutes when I emailed my boss and said, “I need to leave” and I never went back. I had a good job in developmental services but my mental health had finally reached a turning point that I couldn’t ignore. I had to decide - was I going to leave this world or stay in it? I was finished.
The paradigm I was living at 38 was full of messages of dysfunction and trauma and I didn’t know how to sort through it all, take control, create a paradigm shift.
I had a husband, 3 biological kids, 4 step kids and 2 grandchildren at the time. Thankfully they gave me reason to choose to live, without them I would not be here. In fact, there was a time when I was newly married to my second husband that I planned an end for me and my kids. My husband worked away from home all week and I was dealing with one of many major depressive periods; it was time to give up but I couldn’t bear to hurt my kids like that, so the only other option was to take them with me. I was going to start my car and all of us go to sleep on my bed, we would fall asleep together and not wake up. Would have been easy but thankfully something stopped me. Each time I had a plan there was an energy that I can’t explain that stopped me.
I was raised in a loving home with both parents and 3 siblings. Our parents provided very well for us and they taught us strong values of loyalty and family. They were young and like all of us, they didn’t have a guidebook for raising kids so they did the best they could with the resources they had. Unfortunately, they lacked the emotional support of parenting. They were busy doing the physical stuff like making money and feeding us. We learned how to cope with all of life’s ups and downs from them, and their strategies were not always healthy. This added to my shit show paradigm.
Outside of my family unit, just like everyone, I had other influences. The influence that consumed most of my subconscious mind was my elementary school principal who chose me to add to his group of young girls he was sexually abusing when I entered kindergarten at age 5. This went on until he was removed from the school when I was 8. I knew it wasn’t normal but it’s all I had experienced in school so how was I to know better? This experience of 3 years consumed the next 30 years of my life. I charged him later on in Grade 8 and he went to prison for a short period of time. That didn’t help me feel better. I fought back by suing the principal and school board, I thought out of anger and my right to an apology. I won. That didn’t make me feel better. For those 30 years I grasped at every opportunity to heal including going to college to become a social service worker. I didn’t know I was trying to heal but I was. Honestly, every little step helped a little I realize now.
From the time I started the criminal process I started making unhealthy choices and life’s natural events started piling up. I left home at 16 to live with an older boy, got married young to someone I knew would not be my forever but I wanted the wedding and children then got divorced with a 6, 4 and 2 year old under my sole care. My oldest brother died after a 7-month coma in hospital where I visited him most days. My dad had been diagnosed with a cocktail of illnesses that made him seem like a walking time bomb. I was the third child, the caretaker. I could not allow anyone to see that I was losing my shit. I was strong and resilient on the outside and a big puddle of mush on the inside. I didn’t take care of myself.
My strength came from my family - my second husband who I married in 2008 and our kids. I knew he saw my puddle of mush and he accepted it and supported me through every depressive period. When I finally crashed I told him “either I am going to leave this world or I am going to find healing”. He encouraged healing, of course, and reminded me of my many blessings and reasons to live.
The healing began when I finally acknowledged that my childhood experiences were killing me. I acknowledged that I needed sexual assault specific therapy and I reached out. I spent the next 2 years in therapy every other week, did group therapy and attended therapeutic events with other women like me. I remember during my first therapy session I told the therapist “ I just need to get rid of this, I need it to go away so I can live happily”, her response was “It’s never going to go away, and I can’t help you do that.” I felt so defeated. Why the hell am I here if I can’t get rid of it? She went on to assure me that she could help me build coping skills to manage the triggers and memories as well as other unhealthy coping mechanisms I had. I was willing to give it a try, what’s the alternative? – well death! I committed to turning 40 as a new woman, a healthier woman. I achieved that but didn’t know I would keep going and become the woman I am today.
At 47, I am the owner of a successful international business (HSA CANADA) providing training and consultation around person-centred practices in human services. I am a Values Practitioner and a Reiki Practitioner. I practice self-love every single day. During the pandemic I created a program called Creating an EPIC Life and offered it to a small group of women. I will be fine-tuning it and offering it more broadly in the Fall of 2022. I have a beautiful family and all that we could ever need to live comfortably. I keep learning and building on my closet full of coping and self-care strategies. I am shifting my paradigm and just typing that fills me with immense joy and emotion.
My passion lies in helping other people live good lives. Take it from me, someone who was on the edge of choosing death, YOU can heal from anything. YOU can live a good life that you choose. YOU can feel the same joy I feel as I reflect on how far I have come. YOU are worth the effort.
𝕋𝕖𝕖𝕟 𝕄𝕠𝕞 - ℙ𝕒𝕣𝕒𝕞𝕖𝕕𝕚𝕔 - 𝔻𝕖𝕤𝕚𝕘𝕟𝕖𝕣 & 𝔼𝕟𝕥𝕣𝕖𝕡𝕣𝕖𝕟𝕖𝕦𝕣
I became a mom at 16 and a single mom at 17, when my son’s father committed suicide (just 12 days before my son’s first birthday). I went from skipping class and pretending that I didn’t enjoy school (due to an abusive relationship), to excelling in my studies. My inner drive was sparked by all the people that expected me to fail and become the stereotypical “teenage mom”. I had other plans.
My grades granted me an academic scholarship, which paid for my first year of college. Out of 1500 applicants, I was accepted into the Paramedic Program in a class of 50 and only 36 graduated. I was hired directly out of school, to the only county I applied to. I was told to never put “all my eggs in one basket”, but I did anyways.
I worked as a Paramedic for 11 years, fully dedicated to helping others, even though it almost cost me everything. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2017 after responding to a traumatic car accident. Although therapy eventually saved my brain, it was a foggy journey along the way.
At the beginning of 2019, the world threw just about everything at me. Here are just a few of the many events: I dealt with the loss of a pregnancy, my mom fell and fractured her skull (just after becoming cancer free), I attended a nursing home on fire with 46 patients, I attended a car accident with parents that were killed on impact and their children orphaned immediately (all with critical injuries themselves). I wasn’t sleeping. I was scared to close my eyes.
My marriage was falling apart, and my kids didn’t have a truly present mom. I was running on autopilot.
My family and I took an impromptu trip and I forced myself to practice self care. With a personal development book and the view from rock bottom (again), I began to see the world differently. I started to see inspirational lives all around me and thought: WHY NOT ME?
I resigned and pursued my dream. Now here we are.
It turns out I wasn’t broken, the lens that I viewed the world with, was. After years of therapy and personal development I have learned that I choose my lens daily, as do you.
ℂ𝕙𝕖𝕣𝕪 𝕊𝕨𝕒𝕟 - 𝕎𝕙𝕚𝕤𝕜 & ℝ𝕠𝕝𝕝 𝔹𝕒𝕜𝕖𝕣𝕪
I'm Cheryl! I'm 45, a wife of 30 years (yes, you read that right, I've been with my husband since I was 15 years old!) a mom to 4 amazing, strong children and a grandma to my 2-year-old grand daughter who lights up my world. I'm the woman behind a pretty awesome bakery, Whisk & Roll Bakery, which has been a dream come true.
Ever since I can remember I have been glued to the kitchen. I've ways had a passion for feeding people and creating beautiful food. I was a stay at home mom for most of my kids upbringing - they range in age from 14 - 27. I've always worked in the food industry - I love it and it’s the only place I can imagine myself being. It wasn’t until I became a pastry chef for our local fine restaurant that I really wanted to become my own boss. The family I worked for modeled great work ethic, how to work independently and part of a team and helped me to developgreat time management. They also believed in me and supported my dreams, so one cold winter day in 2020 I told them I'm going to open my own bakery. I cried for days; I loved my job… like truly loved it and the people I worked with, they became like family, but I also knew it was time to pursue my own dream. On April 9th, 2021 I opened Whisk & Roll Bakery in Woodstock, Ontario and have never looked back. I gained my passion from my grandmother at a very young age. I knew I had talent growing up but never really did anything with it. I wanted to have babies, get married and stay home until they grew up and became independent which would lead me to??? That time came and I began asking myself “What am I doing?”. I had a calling and I knew I had to do something for myself and I’m so happy I opened my own bakery. I still miss my old job but what it instilled in me was something special I will always hold in my heart. I’ve been open for a while year now and we are starting to expand! I envision a little sit down spot where you can come and sit and enjoy a slice of pie, cake and or dessert with a cup of tea/coffee on your own or to visit with a friend.
We now have also started catering and offering daily take-out lunches because I enjoy cooking as much as I love to bake so we just couldn't stop there! I live that locals can now come grab super yummy, healthy options for lunch - daily soups, biscuits and sandwiches have been our biggest hit.
Everything is made in house and from scratch - we are quality over perfection so you'll always be satisfied with wholesome goodness that reminds you of special times growing up.
We are located at 600 Dundas St in Woodstock, Ontario - come visit our little vintage shop! Our community has been so inviting and supportive and we couldn’t have accomplished what we have in a single year without the love and support we have received.