From the time I was a small child, I would rock my dolls to sleep, spend hours thinking about being a “mommy” like my wonderful mother. I would organize “classes” with my younger sister and brother to teach them the “ABC”s or the Pledge of Allegiance. As I grew up, I spent many hours babysitting children, organizing activities, cooking and baking… anything to feel like a mom.
As I grew up, my weight was a constant battle. Dieting and exercise wasn’t helping, and my glucose levels were considered “pre-diabetic”… which combined with other symptoms lead my doctor to suspect a crushing diagnosis. An ultrasound and blood tests confirmed that I had Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, which meant that my chance of having children without medical intervention was practically impossible. I was 16, and while I was in no means looking to have a child right away, the thought that now, I never would, destroyed me. As the years carried on, I watched countless women and even friends, get pregnant “by accident” only to see these mothers shirk off their responsibilities or worse, being confronted with news of people I knew choosing to end their pregnancies… the anger would stir, the depression lingering for days or even weeks.
At 18, I met a man who pushed all my buttons, drove me crazy and always made me smile. I fought the relationship in the beginning because I was “too young” until I realized that I had never been traditional anyway. Jason and I had a rocky start, but we lived life on our terms. As our relationship continued, we discussed children and the possibility of adoption down the road. This thought alone soothed the ache in my heart for children. Even if I would never give birth to a child, at least I knew that we could help a child in need of a family, one day.
One month before my 22nd birthday, a friend of mine was convinced that she was pregnant, and wanted me to take a pregnancy test with her, just so she wouldn't be alone. Imagine my shock when I saw the plus sign! I couldn’t believe it!
As excited and thrilled as we were, it was a terrible time in our life to have a child. Jason was out of work, we were both living with our parents, and I was working as a waitress part time and in school... we had nothing.
Thankfully, with the support of our family, we managed to pull together and create a wonderful life. We were married on the beach on a gorgeous sunny day in October of 2011, and 3 short months later on February 13th, we welcomed our beautiful baby girl, Elena Grace into the world via a traumatic C-Section (details can be read on my personal blog, link below). She was everything I had ever wanted with her big eyes and chubby cheeks and I was going to do everything I could to make sure she had the life she deserved.
My mother in law convinced me that we needed a date night about a week after Elena was born, so we decided to go out for dinner. I had a low grade fever and intense pain where my incision was, but I tried to have a good time. We ended up cutting our night short when the pain became too much, and I settled in with a call to the doctor who assured me that it was “part of the healing process.”
Another week went by and my temperature slowly rose higher, the pain increasing to the point where it was difficult to walk. I demanded that my doctor run more tests, and thankfully, he agreed. The tests concluded that my instinct was correct, and I had a massive deep tissue infection. I was told to report immediately to the hospital to be admitted, and within hours I was in surgery. Three surgeries and a wound vac later, I was bed ridden in a hospital room. My husband was working as hard as he could to juggle a job and being at the hospital with me, while my precious miracle lived with my mother.
The resentment built back up, questioning why so many women have children with absolutely no trouble, and here, I’m lying in a bed, unable to function without my “handy dandy” pain medication button. My heart rate had slowed down to the mid 30’s, until one day, I woke up with a fire. I was determined to pull together and get home to my little girl, to the life I desperately wished for. The pain was excruciating, I would rather have 50 C Sections than ever feel that pain again… but I survived. Four months of IV antibiotics through a central PICC line, carrying around a wound vac and therapy, and finally I was healed enough to return to work, but the damage was already done.
We had planned for 6 weeks of maternity leave, but not 16. The bills were piling up, eviction notices, electricity being shut off, water shut off, gas shut off, it was always something. I turned to several organizations for help, only to be denied because our income was “too high” with Jason working, or not high enough to show stability. Our families bailed us out when they could, but I know it was a struggle for them as well. Government assistance covered her formula, but there were nights I would lay in bed in tears, wondering how we were going to get diapers, or keep the utilities on that month. I felt like a failure, like I didn’t deserve to be a mother.
My mother, Penny, was and still is my hero, always ready to rescue me when I felt like I was about to crash, supporting me, encouraging me, and helping financially as much as she could, even if it meant making sacrifices herself. I never had to question my mother’s love for me, even if I didn’t always verbalize it during my “teen angst”, but truly in those few months, she showed me the true power of motherhood and taught me the most important lesson about being a mom, “Children are a beautiful thing, they are a gift from God.” She must have said that phrase a billion times growing up, but only now, did I understand what she meant. We were given gifts, and no matter what situations we are facing or the hardships we are dealt, these were our gifts to treasure and care for.
My grandmother, Vera, had knee replacement surgery shortly after my initial surgeries. Seeing her strength during her recovery pushed me to recover alongside her. I'm so blessed to have her in my life, her unconditional faith in God and in life carries me through even the darkest of days. I was also gifted with a mother-in-law, Dianna, who keeps me grounded and focused on the task at hand. She reminded me that everyone struggles, but that does not make us bad mothers, it just means we have to work a little harder and be more organized. When the pity and self-doubt would start to creep in, she was there in my corner, cheering us on and encouraging us every step of the way.
When Elena was about 16 months old, we started collecting everything she had outgrown, marveling at the amount of clothing and toys that she had. Each piece was either a gift or a hand me down from a family member or friend. Instead of tears of despair that plagued me for weeks right after she was born, I was overwhelmed with tears of joy and gratitude to everyone who came through to help my little family in our time of need. I was inspired to pay it forward, and created a simple group “Bradenton Moms Helping Hands” on Facebook. Imagine my surprise when we grew to almost 200 members in the first three days. Women from all walks of life were coming together to share what they had, no matter how much or how little. Donations were coming in to my home; they were taking over my dining room, filling my closets… we were really making a difference! I recruited some friends to help manage the group, and we continued to grow.
Within the first 6 weeks we had a real system of forms, donation pick ups and drop offs, but most importantly, we were building a community of support for the ones who needed it the most. The idea to start a school supply drive took off and with the help of other swap shops in the area, we helped almost 40 children with school supplies… Each step we’ve accomplished just inspires me to keep going. When we made the decision to move to Venice, I started another group, “Venice Moms Helping Hands”, which has now surpassed the Bradenton group in size. A close friend of mine has also opened up a group in the Arcadia area. To date, these three groups work together to serve families throughout Manatee and Sarasota County.
Our mission statement truly says it best, “We are dedicated to strengthening the bonds of our community and enabling families to have access to resources they may need to keep themselves strong and to raise happy, healthy children.My mission is to help Moms in my community to never have to lay awake at night with tears in their eyes as they struggle to figure out which bill to pay next, or where they can get the necessities. There are often times where my situation is no better than what these moms are going through, and traditional means of assistance are not available or easily accessible for us. This group exists to provide a helping hand to even the strongest of families, and in doing so, hopefully change lives. It is my hope that this group will continue to grow, just as the children we help grow with us.