A Month of Moms – Meet Lindsay and Andrea

Well there’s been much lead up to today’s post. Pam and I shared that we have a new series for May: A Month of Moms. Today is our first post and we’d love to introduce to you to 2 incredible moms: Lindsay and Andrea. Not ironically, they are both friends with each other. They share a common bond in that they are both moms of a special needs child. Beyond this shared connection, Lindsay and Andrea have both experienced motherhood pretty intensely. Lindsay might just be the Beyonce of moms: she became a mom during her teen years, she has triplets and her youngest faces some developmental challenges. Andrea’s story is for sure going to touch you as not only is she the mom to a special needs boy, Matthew, but she is also a mom that has lost. Matthew passed away just before his 10th birthday. And we still miss this handsome and infinitely strong little guy.
Grab a cup of coffee or tea and some kleenexes… I just know that these moms are going to bless and inspire you today. One thing that I so admire is their joy. You just feel better in their presence. So, today I hope you feel it too!

Photo courtesy of RJ Bruni

1.  You have 5 children.  Can you tell us a bit about them?
Our oldest, Jesse, is 17 and attends MEI Secondary. He works at Booster Juice, gets As in Science and Math, and loves snowboarding. Aidan, Bailey, and Cole are all 11  and go MEI Elementary. They play whatever sports we let them and are very social. Bailey and Cole are identical and generally enjoy sports activities a bit more than Aidan, who prefers art, puzzles, and magic. Bailey is teaching himself ukulele and Cole is really great with younger children and toddlers. Stella is the star of our family and she is almost nine. Stella has a global developmental delay related to an undiagnosed genetic syndrome. She is in the special ed program at MEI Elementary and LOVES her classmates and teachers. She enjoys music, dancing, food, and people (she knows the good life!).
2.  What was the hardest part of being a young mom?
Motherhood has a way of making you reevaluate your priorities real quick, and I think most psychologists will agree that your teenaged years are pretty selfish. Not in a morally bankrupt way, but in a “I’m learning about this world and how I fit into it with my boundaries way”. When you have a kid at aged 17, you no longer get to be the centre of your own life. Ready or not for that transition, it can definitely strain your relationships with your own parents and siblings as you begin to navigate raising a kid while you’re still, for all intents and purposes, a kid. Practically speaking, it was hard to have a baby and be in high school, and then, a toddler in university. I absolutely could not have done any of it without my own support network of very close family and friends. They didn’t let me fail.
3.  What was your reaction when you found out you were having triplets?
Truthfully, I said a swear word. I swore a LOT. The ultrasound tech was a little taken aback but agreed that she was pretty surprised also (while not on fertility medication, I had been spotting and they suspected a miscarriage). I had always wanted only one or maybe two children… My husband Brad, on the other hand, was delighted. He could not stop laughing… He will say that I’m negative and I will say I’m a realist. I would say he’s an idealist and he would say he’s a positive thinker. My high risk triplet pregnancy really highlighted my ability to worry about everything and his ability to go with the flow and hope for the very best (starting right then and there in that ultrasound room). Thanks goodness we have each other!
4.  What is one piece of advice that you would give to moms of multiples?
Accept help. Swallow your pride and take whatever you can get! Grieve the fact that you won’t be raising those kids in private and that it will take a small village to carry you through. Having said that, accept help with the OTHER stuff (the laundry, the meals, the errands, etc). People who really love you and want to help will understand that you should be the one holding your own babies and caring for them. It’s not really helpful for guests to hold the babies while you run around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to catch up on dusting or laundry. Also, remember that better or worse, this too shall pass. One day you will feel like yourself again, and this whirlwind of babies will feel like a dream. Do whatever you need to do to survive. Taking care of yourself IS taking care of your babies.
5.  Can you tell us a bit about the struggles that Stella faces?
Stella is actually pretty healthy, for which we are very thankful. She has regular visits with various specialists to monitor her brain and heart (she has mild anomalies in both that they like to keep track of), but nothing seriously impacts her ability to function at an unmedicated level. She has delayed speech and motor skills which do impact her ability to perform self care and function independently. She has a full time aide at school that guides her in relating to other children her age and performing skill appropriate classroom tasks. She doesn’t seem to know that she’s not typical… If she did, that might be the most heartbreaking struggle of all. But so far, she just loves people unconditionally and tries every day to connect and enjoy life.
6.  What are three key pieces of advice that you would give to moms of children with special needs?
You are the most important advocate your child will every have. The most brilliant minds in medicine, genetics, psychology, etc. do not have the insight to your child’s real life that you do. They can give you information and tools, but you are the one that has to make it work for your kid to their benefit. That go between role is so important.  But be gentle with yourself too- you’re only human and this is probably one of the hardest if not THE hardest thing you will every have to do. It’s not a club that anyone wants to be a part of… but when you get drafted, you end up learning that there are so many amazing moms and dads walking this journey with you, and offering support to one another can really be a gift. Be careful though- as my friend Andrea says, comparison is the thief of joy.  Comparing Stella to another child with Down Syndrome, or a typical peer of hers, or a child whose diagnosis is known and they get a lot of government funding… There’s no point. It just leads to frustration. Connect as much as it is encouraging to you but know when to hunker down and take care of your own.
7.  What do you do to take care of yourself and recharge?
Ever since the triplets were quite little, Brad and I have made our marriage and alone time a priority. We pay a LOT for babysitting (well, we did before our oldest could do it himself). I said it before and I’ll say it again- taking care of myself IS taking care of my kids. And that starts with not forgetting about my partner. We are a team that are doing this together and no one knows what it’s like except for us… Maintaining our adult friendships is really important to us as well. We love cooking with our friends, hiking and being outdoors, as well as sneaking off for the odd vacation or two (without kids!). Being a stay at home mom of younger children can be a strange combination of being busy and bored at the same time. Spending time with other adults gives our brains a chance to switch gears for a while and recharge. Literally, I think.

1. Tell us a bit about your kids- maybe a one liner about each?
Matt would be 17 this year. He was a very gentle boy who taught us all how to be still and that when you care for someone who is completely dependant on you, your heart grows softer to everyone else in the world.
Mya is 14, she’s smart, disciplined and independent. She walks with a confidence we all admire. She loves music, art and books and is a huge Harry Potter fan.
Hudsen is 12 and is smart, witty and kind. He loves sports and makes friends very easily. He may be my very favourite person in the world to have a conversation with.

2. Can you tell us a bit about Matthew, his birth story and some of the struggles he faced?
Oh man, how much time do you have? (wink wink)
Matt suffered a severe brain injury during his birth. Birth asphyxia. He was completely dependant physically and suffered with uncontrollable seizures. He had reflux issues and no muscle control. His poor little body slowly contorted from all the muscle spasms. He was on a ton of medications and had more doctors visits and therapist appointments than you could imagine. He never crawled, walked or talked. He was cortically blind too. He was in pain all the time. In other words, he had it really really rough.

3. What did a typical day with Matthew look like?
One of us (my husband or I) would get up early, get Matt from his bed and change him, which usually included a bath and some laundry. He needed a host of medications and then his breakfast. I did nurse him for the first three months and then gave him a bottle and eventually pureed foods. One feed would take over an hour and then he often brought it back up. He wasn’t thriving and so we had to start feeding him with a feeding tube when he was three years old. Once he was 5 he did go to school when he was able, he went on the bus which I was very grateful for with two other little ones. His school had an amazing resource room and a staff that adored him. When he got home he often needed another bath, he loved the warm water anyway but he also had terrible eczema so we had to be careful. He often missed school because of one reason or another, whether he was too sick or had one of the many trips all over the lower mainland where he had a host of medical appointments. Sometimes he would cry for hours on end and we couldn’t figure out how to help him. Sometimes he was happy and made the most delightful sounds. Each day was a little unknown.

4. What advice would you give to a mom with a child with special needs?
Oh man, hard to know if I could give advice. Only because each child is so unique and us moms can be pretty protective of them and maybe even a little defensive. I will say that I’d hug them if they’d let me! And ask them all about their child so we could rejoice in their happy times and we could cry together over the challenges. I would tell them to take one day at a time if they could, maybe some days one hour at a time. I would tell them that their child blesses this world! I would tell them that it’s completely acceptable if they eat fast food more than they care to admit or leave the laundry longer than they’d like. I would tell them it’s good to get help. We were blessed with a wonderful care family which saved our family from getting worn out. And when you accept help you become a better caregiver and give your child the ability to bless the other people who are caring for them.

5. You lost Matthew just before he turned 10. What carried you through the darkest time in your life?
Jesus. No apologies there. But to give you a longer answer, I will say that I mourned my sweet boy his whole life. Cried nearly every single day for years and begged the Lord to make him well. I felt like a total failure as a mom, I logically knew it wasn’t my fault but I also carried huge guilt that I failed at bringing him safely into the world and failed to find a way to make him well. When he died I wasn’t there and I felt like I failed him yet again. I wondered if he was scared and wanted me. I questioned why I never got to say good-bye. I still struggle with these emotions and thinking of it makes me cry very easily. But early on Jesus gave me peace even amongst my hurt. When Matt was a few days old and the doctors told us of his grim future, God placed a song on my lips “it is well with my soul”. I knew that no matter what we’d face that God would never leave me. And He didn’t. It was very humbling and I knew I could be very sad and still have tremendous joy. The grace that poured on me in the years of Matt’s life still amazes me.

6. How do you find joy even though you’ve lost your son?
I can answer this easily now but it took me a few years to figure it out. The answer is gratitude. Throughout Matt’s life I made a point to speak my gratitude. Admittedly it was out of desperation, not wisdom. I was drowning in busyness and sorrow so I would give thanks to God for all things, big and small, as a way to cope. After Matt died I stopped doing this. I didn’t feel very grateful for one, but also my life suddenly got a lot simpler and I wasn’t so desperate. A good friend gave me a book about gratitude that took me too long to actually read, but once I did it became very clear that my joy had gone not because Matt had died, but because I had stopped being grateful. I started the daily practice of giving thanks again and joy came back to me. I can see a very clear correlation between joy and gratitude. (or the lack there of!) It’s not the same as sadness, it’s totally possible to be sad and have joy in your heart at the same time.

7. How were you able to parent your other two kids and counsel them though the loss of Matthew?
Oh boy, I’m tempted to skip this question. But I feel because I can hardly answer this that I probably shouldn’t skip it. Answer is I’m not sure I did! Kids are really resilient! My kids were going into grades 1 and 2, they were so little. Their teachers were really exceptional and I feel as though the three of them, (the kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 teachers) played a huge part in their stability. Especially their grade 1 teacher. She considered retiring after Mya’s year but went on to teach one more year. I know Hudsen needed her. She was so loving and gentle and understanding. I never told her that, so Mrs. Loewen if you ever read this, thank-you for staying that extra year! Also Matt taught us not to sweat the small stuff. Sometimes we (mostly me) forget that but we have a lot of fun, always eat dinner together and talk about all things. My kids and my husband give me a lot of grace thankfully!

8.What’s your favourite thing about being a mom?
Oh this makes me cry too. Being Matt’s mom opened my whole world and heart right open! I fully admit he changed how all of us view people and our lives. And with Mya and Huddy, well, I realize there are many people who will cringe when I say this but being a mom kind of defines me. I love being in my kids presence, I love their hugs. I love how they are so funny and nice. It’s an enormous gift! Those of you who cringed might be wondering what they heck I’m going to do when they leave home, um, good question! I promise I’ll allow them to spread their wings, even if it bruises my heart a little.

** The legacy that Matthew has left is incredible. And one that continues to touch so many. Together, Andrea and her husband, Doug, had a dream to create a place where children like Matthew could come for a time. Where families could experience a couple days of respite but also a place where these children would be loved and cared for by experienced and compassionate caregivers.  Matthew’s House was a dream that they hoped to bring to fruition.  Sadly, Matthew passed away before the completion of this house and yet Andrea and Doug continued forward. Today, Matthew’s House serves to be a home away from home for many children with complex care needs. Click here to learn more about Matt’s House.  – Laurel xo