SHIFT STORY project
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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.
On July 27, 2018, our family went through something we never thought was possible. It was a typical morning and we were at our cottage. My husband, Juergen made strawberry pancakes for breakfast. Our daughter Emily, 5.5 years old at this time, went to her bedroom to lay down in bed. We found her curled up in a ball on her bed crying and saying her tummy hurt. At first we didn’t think much of it... tummy aches are pretty routine.
For months prior she complained of an occasional sore tummy, but once again I did not think much of it and I was going to mention it to our family doctor. The odd thing was, that it came in waves. As the morning went on, she threw up. I suspected a flu bug. As the day went on, I made the choice to take her to the hospital. We carried Emily in and were taken in immediately. Within minutes we were seen by a doctor and sent off to get an ultrasound. Emily continued to scream and curl up in a ball in waves. I lied with her in her bed and she would sleep off and on. We were told that it was not her appendix, but they did see something around her ovary and were on the phone with Sick Kids. The next thing I knew we were in an ambulance with Emily to Sick Kids - lights and sirens all the way. I was so scared but continued to be strong for Emily. She held on to my hand the whole ride up.
We arrived with Emily at Sick Kids with my husband right behind us. We then had to go for an ultrasound again. Emily was still in a lot of pain. We then met Dr. Allan from the gynecology department. Emily had what was called a twisted torsion of her fallopian tube. She needed surgery and we had to sign paperwork, which was incredibly scary. It was not just signing a piece of paper to say please fix our daughter, it was giving permission to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries if needed.
This was my baby girl, who I hoped would become a mom one day.
Emily was finally sleeping and comfortable, so we gave her a kiss and said I love you as they rolled her bed away from us. We waited for what felt like hours when Dr. Allan came out. We went to a quiet room for her to talk to us and were told that everything went well. Her fallopian tube was twisted around 2 times, hence the pain. However, we were also told that her left ovary did not look like a typical ovary. We spent the remainder of the night at Sick Kids. She had stitches at her belly button, and on each side of it. Before we left that day, Emily had to have a hand x-ray to show the age of her bone growth. In less than a week I received our first phone call from Sick Kids with test results.
Emily was producing estrogen. My little girl had her first period within a few weeks of her surgery. We went back and forth to Sick Kids for further tests. She had blood work done a few times, more ultrasounds, full body x-rays, and an MRI. My heart broke for her every time she had a test. We honestly had no idea what was going on. With frequent communication with Sick Kids we learned that Emily had started puberty. She had started to develop breasts, had some vaginal hair and her bone growth was 2 years ahead of her age - she had a large tumor on her left ovary. We were introduced to the ‘hormone’ doctor and between him and Dr. Allan and her team, they felt that the best and only procedure to do was to remove her tumor, left ovary and fallopian tube. We signed the scary papers again.
The day of Emily’s surgery was probably the most anxiety that I had felt. I put on my big girl pants for Emily to show her that she would be fine. I remember her being so scared and snuggling up on me in the bed. Nurses and doctors coming and going. Emily was already to go, but there was no way in hell she was letting go of me. She clung to me so tight. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do as I was trying to hold myself together for her, but tears were coming down my face as I was trying to convince her to go back and lay in her bed so the nurses could take her. Juergen tried and she was not having it.
In that moment, the nurses said that I could go with her, but I had to get changed to go in. I remember putting on the thin paper-like jumper, blue boots, and a hat to cover my hair. Emily then climbed back into my arms and I walked with her to the operating room. I have been in an operating room before but bringing in my little girl was so hard. There were nurses, an anesthesiologist and Dr. Allan. Emily had to put a mask up to her mouth to help her get a little sleepy, but of course did not want anything to do with that and I was not allowed to do it. She had to do this part on her own. Finally, she was able to do this, still in my arms and holding on tight. They had her count and you could hear her starting to get sleepy, but she was still holding on tight. I was able to have her lay down on the bed, still attached to me and they put the IV in. She was finally asleep, and I just stood there watching her. I was reassured she was in good hands and that I could leave her. I gave her a kiss and left with a nurse.
I got back to the waiting room and saw Juergen and I just cried. This was the first time I felt I could let it all out. I know she was in the best hands possible but trying to hold myself together for what felt like forever was so hard. I don’t even remember how long Emily was in there for, but I do remember when Dr. Allan came out and said everything went well and they only had to remove one ovary and her fallopian tube along with a very large tumor of over 8cm. I remember going into the room to go and see her and she was hooked up to so many machines and they were trying to wake her up. When she was stable, we were moved to a room to spend a few nights. Not only did I have to deal with Emily, but I had to deal with the fact that my other 3 children were at home with their grandma. This was the very first time I had ever left them for more than a few hours, let alone a night. I spent the night with her snuggled up in bed while Juergen went to the hotel to get some sleep. He came back and I was able to leave and take a shower, which was incredibly hard to do as I had not left her side. I remember walking quickly and showering as fast as I could to get back.
I could not leave her. I needed and wanted to know she was okay. We celebrated our 18th anniversary in the hospital with our daughter...one we will never forget. We continued with testing and regular check ups with Sick Kids. Not only were we learning, but so were the doctors. This is an incredibly rare thing, so rare that it took two biopsy places to conclude what Emily’s tumor was. I remember getting a call saying we needed to come back to Sick Kids for October 1. That day we learned that our baby girl had cancer called Stromal Tubular Tumor. HAD being the key word. It took everything in me to once again hold myself together, but yes, I did have a few tears going down my face, with Emily not truly understanding.
We were reassured that the tumor was removed and there were no further signs of cancer and no required treatment. She was ok and would continue to live a healthy life and be monitored for a very long time at Sick Kids. Today Emily is a healthy young girl. The estrogen that was produced by the tumor is now gone. Any physical parts that started puberty are visible but are no longer developing.
During this time, I had no idea that my mental health was taking a severe hit. When Emily started back to school, I stayed off work. I had no idea I was going to take a year off. I went into a depression like I had never experienced. When Emily was at school I worried and kept my phone close. I was so afraid of something happening. I just wanted security. The hard part was I could not provide that for her or for my other kids. I remember many days where it was hard to just get the kids ready for school and out the door in the morning. There was so much yelling, no patience and anger. My doctor put me on low dose antidepressants. I was not sleeping and was exhausted. I would sleep a little through the day occasionally, but most of the time I would just lay there. I watched so much TV and ate. I made cookies just to eat the cookie dough.
My doctor suggested that I go and talk to someone. This was a big step as I had never done this before and did not know if I could open up to anyone. A friend recommended a wonderful therapist who welcomed me with open arms. I shared my story and so many more as time went on. She gave me steps to try and find my way back. The problem was I needed to work on me, which also meant finding time for me...and let’s be honest, being a mom of 4 kids makes this incredibly difficult at the best of times.
Sleep was impossible. Nothing seemed to help. One day I received a message from an old friend...I am so incredibly grateful for her for reaching out, as we had not talked to in years. She heard I was not well and wanted to help. I did not respond right away. I do not ask for help and do not accept help easily. It came to the point where I felt I had nothing to lose. She was a massage therapist and I truly believe she was part of my healing process. She did her magic and we would talk on a weekly basis. She also introduced me to wild orange essential oil. I used this to help with my depression even though I was skeptical. I tried serenity oil and capsules, vetiver and cedarwood. I still thought she was crazy, but for the first time in months I started to sleep. I was sleeping through the night. I finally understood the power that essential oils had on my body and understood what she was talking about. The sleep may have happened quickly with the oils, but the depression still had a long way to go. As I was dealing with all of this, we were trying to get things started on building a new house, as we had a house fire on a property we owned a week after Emily’s first surgery. Also, I had to fight with long term disability to be covered, which was denied, not just once but three times. I went with no pay for a long time which added additional stress. I always had something I was trying to deal with. Over time I was able to heal and to be able to function as a mom to my children and a wife to my husband...and to be me.
Do I ever feel that I am the same as I was before? No, I don’t. When I see an ambulance with lights and sirens I cry instantly. I went up a size or two in clothing during this time and do not feel beautiful most days. I worked so hard to get to a weight and a look that I could love myself physically. This is something that I struggle with daily and continue to always work on. I am so incredibly grateful for a friend that checked in on me daily, and to a husband that was beyond patient and there for me through everything. I have 4 beautiful and healthy children. Do I think twice about tummy pain with any of my kids, yes, I do. But I also look at Emily and realize how lucky we are to have her in our life as things could have been completely different. She is a strong and independent little girl that I admire more every day. I am reminded of what she went through each day, whether I see her large scar or even her beautiful face - but I carry on.
I carry on for my family and for me too. There are good days and bad, but that is ok. I learn more and more about me each day and I will take those learning opportunities to help my children grow into strong adults.
I spent the first 40 years of my life hating my body. As a child, I was painfully shy, clumsy and slow. I was the last kid picked for every team at school. I first thought I was fat at the age of 8, when I tried on a bathing suit and my mom and aunt giggled about how I had the “family pooch”. I know they didn’t mean anything by the comment, but it sure grabbed hold at the time.
I spent my childhood, teen years and early adulthood trying to avoid the embarrassment of physical activity and secretly cycling between binge eating and starving. I did my first real diet when I was 22, and the next 18 years was a wash-rinse-repeat cycle. Diet/workout - lose weight - lose willpower - fail - quit-gain weight - hate myself - start again.
After I had my third child, I hired a personal trainer. This was the start of understanding food and exercise in a different way. I got into working out and running and I REALLY loved it - I felt strong and powerful for the first time in my life. learned about clean eating, and thought I had found the ticket to escaping the diet cycle. In 2012 I became a personal trainer and started my schooling in Holistic Nutrition. I was passionate about nutrition and exercise...to a fault. It became an obsession, and all I really cared about was being thin. I got to my lowest weight, a size 2, and everyone praised me for how “good I looked”. But I was MISERABLE!
I felt I had to be perfect all the time because I was a role model to others.
I felt isolated and ashamed and like a complete fraud. When no one was looking I would sneak foods and then go for an extra long run the next day (which I did NOT have time for, but HAD to do). I knew all the things I should do, and I did them - but I was doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
Eventually my body had enough. I started to gain weight and I literally could not control it anymore with food or exercise. I tried dieting again but I couldn’t stick to anything. Over-exercising resulted in a major injury that grounded me for over a year. Not being able to run or exercise was devastating for me - I realized I NEEDED that outlet for my well being, not for weight control. I HAD to change to stay sane.
I worked with a coach and we went deep into my self image. Long story short, I gradually started to improve my relationship with myself, with food and exercise, and eventually my body.
I stopped punishing myself with restriction and over exercise and focused on truly feeling my best. I listened to what my body wanted, I levelled out at a medium sized body, and I broke up with the scale for good.
Through it all, as I’ve shared my experiences, I’ve realized I am not alone. So many women are riding the diet train, believing that if they could just have the “perfect body”, suddenly everything will be better.
I’m here to tell you, happiness isn’t a destination, or a dress size. It’s a mindset; a product of our thoughts, and it’s my mission to help women make the connection between their feelings, thoughts, behaviour and results.
I re-entered the wellness industry healed to help women find freedom around food and their bodies.
Get to know how Kim’s approach is so very beautiful and different by following her on fb @ Radiant Vitality - Empowered Wellness or IG @ Kim Hagle - Radiant Vitality
Question: Do you like who you live with?
Now, I’m not talking about your spouse or your kids or even your pets (and let’s face it, in these COVID times, the answer you’d give to that might be a little... influenced right now).
The person I’m talking about is someone who has been with you since day One. Your inner roommate. That person whom you share your every thought and feeling with. The person who is there intently listening and influencing your every move.
I did not like who I was living with for most of my life.
Starting at a relatively early age, my inner roommate was taking precise stock of my shortcomings and wouldn’t hesitate to inform me of when and where I didn’t measure up... in school, in activities, but mainly in my physical appearance. The assault of beratements she’d lay on me left me feeling worthless and empty – an emptiness that I began to fill with food. Food became my friend, my confidante. It never judged or denied me. It was just... there. And as you might imagine, this routine of low self-esteem and worth being muffled by emotional eating patterns only led to (ta-DAH!) weight gain and even lower self-worth. I kept up this pattern – a habit – all throughout adolescence, which gave my roommate something to talk about. By this point she could hardly stand me and made her opinion known every chance she could get.
Highschool – which, let’s face it are some of the hardest years to navigate – are the years where we’re trying to figure out not just what we want to do, but WHO we want to become in this world.
And I felt like I was losing myself more and more.
Winding down high school and looking ahead to post-secondary adventures, something inside me clicked. Maybe it was all the feelings of possibility and change that were on the horizon, but I felt inspired. I started taking charge of myself and not letting my roommate dictate my every move. Always the skeptic, she thought she would stand back and let me try this new behaviour out, but carefully waiting in the wings for when it failed and she could tell me, “I told you so!”. I began exercising. Nothing drastic or overdone, just simple movement. It began to take the place of comfort for me instead of turning to food, and the weight started to come off. I felt great... and people noticed. My inner roommate was doing cartwheels over the attention and was digging on all the external validation this new behaviour was bringing.
And then my roommate got this brilliant idea...If a little is good, a lot must be better. Less food, more exercise.
Restriction must be the key to success.
Because I was so busy with all the change happening in life, I didn’t hear my roommate plotting her latest takeover. And to be honest, I liked the newfound attention so I was eager to keep up whatever I needed to in order to make it happen. It gave me a sense of control – or at least I thought it did.
See, my roommate was a smart and crafty bitch. She’d quietly done her homework, gained my trust and made a new friend whom she invited to come live with us.
After that, there was no more calling the shots. I was tired and they had worn me down. It was easier for me to not feel anything, and so I let my eating disorder take over.
Fortunately, I have a caring and conscientious support system. It didn’t take long for my mother to go into full momma bear-mode on my new guest, getting me to see any doctor, therapist or specialist in our area that she could (and in the mid-nineties, lemme tell you there wasn’t much available!). With her help, and the help of Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, I was able to get the support and treatment I needed to evict anorexia from my life (however she did leave behind a t-shirt to remember her by).
During this time, something else happened.
I met a boy.
And this wasn’t just any boy... he was one of those boys that mothers love and fathers just can’t seem to find any fault in them. He came into my life when I was messy and broken, and he bravely accepted me in this disastrous state. He made me feel safe. He made me feel loved. He made me FEEL again. And eventually, he made me his wife.
We were into the ‘roaring twenties’ - that decade of new love, new careers, planning a wedding, buying a house, making a home. A life. I was the happiest I could remember being since I was a child. My inner roommate had been pretty quiet once it became her and I again. She would speak up every so often with a jab or criticism, but I was just too busy to really pay attention. Life was happening... I became a mother, a business owner, I began teaching fitness classes and building a tribe of support.
I was settling into a life that was... comfortable. And then I began to feel an itch.
An old familiar voice that was calling out to me, reminding me that this was not enough, that I was not enough. My inner roommate had this overwhelming need to change me, and all I kept wondering was, “What’s it going to take? WHEN WILL I BE ENOUGH??”.
I wished that I could just evict this damn girl - life would be SO much easier if I could. But wouldn’t you know it, she signed a life lease. No getting out of that one. I needed to find a way to make this work. I gathered myself up and went in search of the next quick fix... but instead found something that ended up being life-altering. I thought I was getting into a new “diet”, but I ended up in what I call my year of therapy. I had coaches and support that helped me peel back the onion layers of all my actions, behaviours, habits. For the first time ever, I took accountability and ownership of my life and my actions. I stopped being the victim and began being the champion. I forged a new path with healthy habits that nurtured both my body and my mind.
After 37 years, I had finally done the work and repaired the relationship I had with food, my body and myself. My roommate and I – we had finally come to a place of mutual respect and admiration. I had learned how to put my own oxygen mask on first.
And I had done all of these things without the knowledge that my plane was about to go down...
By November 2016, we were facing some tremendous industry challenges and decided to sell our family-run business before more change took place. It was just the right time and the right decision for us. Throughout all of the stress that we had encountered, I stayed calm, focused and felt as if I could conquer the world (whereas normally I would be flying off the handle). I finally felt like my shit was together, neatly filed and colour-coded.
But something was off. Something was lurking in the shadows and was about to attack.
That something came on November 9, 2016 when in the midst of negotiating the sale of our business, my husband – that boy who so long ago accepted a messy, broken girl – died by suicide.
As this news came to me, and the world beneath my feet gave way and I (literally) crumbled to the ground, I heard a whisper...
“It’s okay. You will be okay. I’ve got you now”.
My roommate. My friend. She showed up when I needed her the most. And she helped me to see - in the darkest of dark – all the amazing love and support that we had cultivated in our life. Instead of anger and panic, I was overcome with gratitude for this life. For MY life. For who I had become and for who I could be right then for others, because they couldn’t be there for themselves. She gave me the strength to carry those that needed to be carried through this, especially our daughter.
This is about as true and raw an illustration of the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on first. It is the power of true self-care and how much we all need it. This isn’t a luxury, or something to be put off until later. No, this is a necessity. A critical life skill that every man, woman and child have stocked in their tool box. If I have learned anything, it’s that life is happening to us all the time, and happening at a moment’s notice. The question to ask yourself is... are you (and your inner roommate) ready for it?
It’s been three and a half years since Adrien left us, and I am forever grateful for my roommate’s love and support. She is still here to help when I need her (which is always), and has been trying to help me navigate the new world that we find ourselves in. Widowhood comes with it’s own set of challenges, like an IKEA cabinet with no instructions.
But that, my friends, is for another story.
I grew up as the child of an alcoholic. It had interesting effects on me, the biggest one being that my highly empathetic natural personality was magnified. I became a fixer, a doer and a pleaser. I became a feelings-hider. No one needed the burden of my feelings when they were dealing with their own. Maybe that’s why it took a lot of encouragement to tell this story.
What’s even more interesting is that the alcoholic I grew up with was the one person who was not safe from my feelings.
When I was a teen, I told him exactly what I thought, and no longer played the codependent game with him – for him, I wouldn't be the person to make things ok. I stopped taking his drunk midnight calls. I called him out on inappropriate behaviour. And to this day, we don’t have a relationship. I “don’t approve of his lifestyle” is the overall impression I’ve left. I see him once a year. During that visit, we dance around small talk.
Being a pleaser and fixer, I have always attracted men that need that. Angry, abusive men that need me to calm them down and make them happy...I’ve lacked the courage to express what I need in return. I’ve been in relationships with men who lack the ability to take responsibility for their own actions. Some I recognized right away...some took longer.
I have had a few relationships, but with long breaks in between to recover. I met a man in my 20’s who I allowed to string me along, and when I found out I was pregnant, he chose not to take part or responsibility. I learned to be really efficient at getting shit done, being a fixer and a doer, and not getting into relationships because my son was more important than anything.
I was fortunate – I’d bought a house with my mother and sister when I was younger, and we lived together. They took such joy in my little boy, and were a great support to me during this time. My son was in the care of my mother the day she passed away at home, at the age of 56. When I arrived home from work in the evening, he was still in his pyjamas, and she was on the floor of the living room, having passed 7 hours earlier. To this day, I have a fear of losing people I’m close to, but at the time I didn't grieve. I put my head down and continued fixing and doing.
Fast forward a few years - I met a man. He turned into my best friend, he was good for my soul and he supported and encouraged me in my work and life. We got engaged after a year of dating, bought a house and got married. Then the mask started to slip. He became emotionally abusive, chipping away at my self-worth. I went through days of the silent treatment for no reason, months of withheld physical affection. I got accustomed to little traumas, every single day. I allowed him to isolate me from friends and family. I allowed him to control the finances. Then, everything was wrong, and it was my fault. After 3 years’ marriage, he discarded me. But in a final act of insult, he first encouraged me to quit a job that I’d been unhappy in, while at the same time he quietly started a new relationship and started to plan his exit. I started my new single life unemployed, with a tiny self-employment income.
I had met the classic narcissist, and had allowed myself to go through the whole process. Idealize. Devalue. Discard.
Being a fixer and a doer, I never recognized my own strengths and achievements during that time, but I see them now as I write this. In quick order, I secured employment, got a mortgage and bought a home. I moved closer to my big, huge supportive family and started a new life, just my boy and I. We worked it out, and despite financial troubles, he enjoyed summer sailing camps and other exciting experiences. I enjoyed very little. I was too busy working hard to make things work, losing sleep over finances, feeling not enough in every way.
One day, during a job change, I met a group of people that changed my life. A group so real, so honest and brave, that I was able to be myself, and I was able to magnify my desire to help others in a positive, meaningful way. That has meant the world to me.
Last June, I got sick. Since 2006, I’d had several episodes of Bells Palsy, a nerve condition that causes facial paralysis and a host of other symptoms. This time, it came with debilitating nerve pain and complete exhaustion. It has impacted my life greatly, forcing me to slow down my life to a crawl, forcing me to stay quiet when I’m normally not, forcing me to back up how I connect with others. There hasn’t been much relief, but I’m grateful to say that I’m now connected to a caring neurologist who is on track with testing and scans to see if there’s a cause, and to see if we can find a treatment.
The past year has been hard for this fixer and doer. Having dropped a lot of non-necessities, I have had to learn to sit quietly and be alone with my thoughts, for the first time ever. It’s been a learning experience, not always good, but I’ve had the chance to reflect on what life is all about.
It turns out, life is not all about fixing and doing. I’ve found that the purpose of life is joy, finding it and helping others to find it. It’s the only thing that matters.
Learning to find the joy and learning to recognize it in the little things is my mission now. And yes, sometimes it’s a struggle. But quiet time helps. It helps me to sort out what is important to finding that joy, and what isn’t. It also helps me to see that in the little details, there are little flashes of joy - and these add up to way more than they seem, individually.
These days, I find joy in helping others to recognize their own joy. This has been the biggest blessing to me of all.
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.