Saturday, April 27, 2019

the tornado- my story

I first want to say how blessed Dan and I are to be here on this earth and have each other! There has been so much love poured out upon us I feel like I’m swimming in love and prayers and it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. I can’t help but cry sometimes and be emotional and sad, but nothing brings me to tears faster than kindness shown to me. Seeing the Tide ‘Loads of Hope’ where they bring out about 30 washers and dryers and put them out on the main street and do peoples laundry for free- tears. When Jessica Koerner’s mom puts me on the phone with a dentist in Utah who wants to do all my needed dental work for free to me, a stranger- tears. When people write to me on Facebook and say the most heartfelt, kind, and expressive comments to me that make me feel humbled and inadequate for such a comment, but so thankful – tears. When old family friends overnight money to us and a card with uplifting words to show their love – tears. I can literally feel the prayers. It is real. Heavenly Father’s love for me is real. As real as and tangible as when Dan’s arms were wrapped around me protecting me in the bathtub. Going through an experience like this is humbling, for lack of a more powerful word. People refer to me as a ‘survivor’ and my first thought is, “Oh, that’s silly.” And then I think back about what I went through and I realize I am a survivor. And I am so thankful I am a survivor. But my thoughts quickly and repeatedly turn to the girl who I tried to save, who was not a survivor. Why her? Why her? Why her? Why her? She was young. She had so much life. She had absolutely no idea that typical Wednesday would be her last. She would have called her mom. She would have done so much. But she was not a survivor. I want to hug her. I want to express my feelings to her, that I wish she was still here with us. That I know it’s not fair that I was a survivor and she wasn’t. That she should be here, with me, cleaning up and moving on and trying to rebuild. She has moved on and I know she has peace. I know she can look down on me and I wonder if she does. Does she watch me and the things I do and think about me? Does the scene replay in her head of when she was lying that taking her last breaths and I was desperately trying to save her but I could not? Did I do everything I could? If a more experienced nurse would have been there at her side would she have been able to be a survivor? I can’t describe the massive, immense, empty feelings of helplessness I had. I couldn’t save her. I sobbed inside as she took her last breath but my cheeks were dry in pure shock and disbelief.

Code grey is a ‘severe weather alert.’ We had a code grey at work the night before. About 5:00 am on Wednesday morning, April 27, 2011. We begrudgingly moved all out patients out into the halls away from the windows. I thought nothing of it. Nothing came of it. It was like all the other warnings we had had before. A warning- no damage. No change in my life. I tried to protect my patients and did. We lost power but it came back up and all was well. The day shift nurses bustled in and were talking about the big tornado coming, that is was going to be the worst one in 16 years, and so many comments I can not even remember. I thought about how I’d heard it all before and I’m sure we would be fine. I had never been through a tornado before. I had never really been through a severe storm before. It wasn’t real. It was maybe going to cause some power outage 20 miles away in the country, but not me.

The traffic lights were out on my drive home from work around 8:00 am. Everyone at work had been so concerned I started to wonder if I should be. I had texted my husband as I walked out to the car… “Are you okay?” No reply. I thought nothing of it, arrived at home, and found my sweet husband sound asleep in bed like every other morning. I told him what had happened and told him to check the weather. I told him school might be cancelled and he could stay home with me! Nope, school was not cancelled. He saw some tornado warnings on the internet but it was nothing too out of the ordinary. I laid down and was asleep in no time.

I think I woke up once to go to the bathroom, typical. I checked my phone and had a couple text messages that mutual was cancelled that night. I had a doctor’s appointment and had a call from them that the appointment was cancelled as well. I thought, okay, well I guess I can just sleep then and not have to worry about it. I snuggled back up in bed and quickly fell back asleep.

“RACHAEL GET IN THE TUB NOW!” Is the next thing I remember. Dan was screaming at me. I jumped up as fast as I could. I heard loud wind and trees rumbling and breaking. Dan closed the door behind me and I stepped in the still damp tub. Dan had grabbed a flashlight as the power had gone out. I huddled up as tight as I could and Dan wrapped his arms around me. I was crying because I was so terrified. What was happening? I don’t remember many details about what I saw and heard, more just how I felt. I was scared. I was so scared. It was so loud. It sounded like trees were falling all around and the wind was massive. It all sounded and felt so close. It had never felt so close. But our bathroom was okay. I think our frame fell but it was hard to tell with only our little flashlight. It was suddenly calm. Whatever it was had gone and passed. It was quiet. Dan says it rained briefly right after but I don’t remember it raining. I just remember it being dark and quiet and an eerie, nervous feeling. I don’t know how long we were huddled together in the tub. It didn’t seem like very long, maybe a couple minutes. Dan got up first and opened the door. I remember seeing some pink fluffy insulation in the hallway from what I could see from the bathtub. It was right by our utility closet so I thought it had just fallen out of the closet right there. Dan stood and started to wander in shock. I think he said something like, “Oh no.” But didn’t say much. I carefully stepped out of the tub, walked through the doorway, and saw the sky above me. It was a dark, cloudy sky. There was indescribable destruction. The roof and some of the walls of our living room were gone. The other walls were fallen down flat on or couches and everything else. It was hard to make anything out or distinguish what was what. There was glass and pink fluffy insulation everywhere. Chairs down. Walls down. Roofs gone. Chips of wood. Big pieces of wood. Bricks. Debris. Everywhere. I was utterly and indescribably speechless. I took a step back into the bathroom so I wouldn’t step on any glass. I asked Dan to help me get me some clothes and shoes.

The next little while is a daze. We wandered around looking at things trying to fathom what had just occurred. There was debris covering our entire house. Every window had been shattered. There was no roof on our closet and the roof in our bedroom had a massive crack in it like it would collapse at any time. There was a craft picture that looked like it had been made by a child in the corner of our bedroom and other people’s pictures. The kitchen looked like it had been completely destroyed. It looked like there was mud all over the floor, covering our cutting boards and spatulas and everything else that was strewn all over. There was broken glass everywhere. The wall between our neighbors apartment and our own was gone. I looked out over the complex and the destruction was so massive and incomprehensible. Climbing over wooden beams and walls and destroyed objects trying to get from one room to the next. A boy who looked like he was in his early twenties came around, “Is anyone hurt?” “Anybody there?” At that point I had not even thought of trying to find others. I was in a shock and a state of stupor. Dan starting running around with this other man trying to find anyone who was stuck or injured or needed help. A few minutes later I heard Dan yell up to me “Someone’s dying. A lady is dying.” He got a little closer, “Rachael, hurry down here, someone’s dying.” I ran into the second bedroom and grabbed my first aid kit as fast as I could. I stumbled through the apartment and climbed through the kitchen window as that was the only way to get outside, being careful not to cut my hands on the shards of glass. I ran over the tumbled down bricks and made me way down the stairs, over the immense piles of rubble, and made it around the corner. I saw Dan and that boy who had been running around with him standing over a woman. I ran over as fast as I could to try and assess her and see what her condition was. She was unresponsive. She was breathing. She had a faint pulse. But she was breathing. “I should be able to save her. I can save her. I’m a nurse. What do I do? What do I do? Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.” These were all thoughts going through my head at the same time. “Find out where she’s bleeding from…” I told the boy. There was blood on her head, her face, and her whole body. She was actively bleeding from the side of her abdomen. We gently turned her over and there was a large, maybe 6-inch open wound with her internal organs hanging out and massively bleeding. Dan handed me gloves from my first aid kit. I had him search through it and find ACE bandage. We wrapped her abdomen and sides all the way around to cover her bleeding and apply pressure. I tried to calm myself and get my thoughts together… “ABC’s. ABC’s.” She was gurgling on her secretions. I turned her on her side so she wouldn’t choke, trying to secure her airway. Her respirations began to slow and before I could even think of what to do next she was gone.
I can’t explain the helplessness and disbelief I felt at that moment because even I don’t understand it. I found out a couple days later after talking with my apartment manager that her name was Nicole and she was 21 years old. I think about her many times throughout the day. The only thing that brings me hope is that I know she is Heavenly Father’s hands. I know that it was her time, or she would not have been taken. I know that she is in a place without destruction and despair and she is safe. When I say prayers I talk to Heavenly Father about her and pray for her and I feel a sense of peace.

We covered her body with a tarp and started to look for anyone else who may be in need. We couldn’t find anybody. We were confined to a small area due to trees being down blocking the road out. People were wandering in disbelief, just staring. I stepped on a nail in the rubble, it went through my old vans slip-ons and drew blood. I took my shoe off and cleaned it out as best I could with the alcohol swab I had in my first aid kit and put a band aid over it. I never knew how much that hurt! For days too.

We could not find anyone who was hurt or injured or in need. We went back up to our apartment and moved our clothes and other salvageable items into the bathtub so they would be safe from rain. We packed up a suitcase and a backpack with a couple outfits, our important documents, some money we had stashed for emergencies, Dan’s scriptures (I couldn’t find mine), and whatever else we thought was important. The sun was started to go down so we knew we had to hurry. It was hard to think clearly at that time to think of what to grab, but I really didn’t care about any thing at that point. We had been trying to make calls out to see if people were okay and I wanted to talk to my parents. The phone lines were so overloaded we couldn’t make any calls. One of my friends from work was able to get through to me, I think because she was near in distance, and made sure I was okay. Our home teacher was also able to get through to us after a little while. He had been at his parent’s house about 15 minutes outside of town in Duncanville, AL and him and his dad were going to come get us. We were one of the last people at the apartment complex and as I climbed through the kitchen window to leave I remember looking over at the destruction and just feeling the most surreal feeling I’ve ever felt. I felt like I was in the movie I Am Legend or Deep Impact, just because I have never experienced anything even close to this in real life. I wore the backpack and Dan brought the suitcase. We made it through the window and over the bricks and debris across the walkway. Thank goodness the stairs survived. We passed by our car on the way out and took some pictures just in case. We took any important documents we had in the car since all the windows were shattered and anybody could get and took some pictures just in case we wouldn’t be back. We were careful as we stepped over large trees and under downed power lines. We made our way our of the apartment complex and started walking towards where the Blowers were going to meet us. I had been trying to get a hold of my parents. I didn’t know whether they would know what happened yet, but I just needed to talk to them and heart their voices and let them know I was okay. I was finally able to get through to my Dad. I got the usual “Hey sweetie! How are you?” with so much love and happiness in his voice that he was talking to his little girl. I tried to keep my voice together as I said, “We got hit by a tornado. But we are okay…” His voice instantly changed. He couldn’t believe what I had told him. He immediately gave thanks to Heavenly Father for sparing the life of his little girl and her sweet companion and he knew we were literally spared by the hand of God. We just felt grateful that we could talk on the phone. That we were safe. That we had each other. The ruined car that was graduation gift from my dad, the demolished apartment, and the crushed belongings were of no importance. We talked about how not a prayer goes by that my parents do not pray for the safety of their children. That sometimes it sounds repetitive when they pray for the same thing every prayer, every day, but how real it suddenly became.

We continued to walk down the street when we saw David and Cody Blowers walking towards us. Cody put his arms out and we hugged each other. We started to walk towards their car. They were unable to drive very close to us because the downed power lines and trees everywhere were blocking the road. I continued to talk to my dad as we walked. My mom was working in the temple that evening so my dad called her and told her what happened. She called me and I will never forget the calm in her voice. She was not frazzled or frantic. She was calm and peaceful. She said she immediately said a prayer in the celestial room of the temple, thanking Heavenly Father for protecting her children. She knew we were safe and protected with God as our keeper. She knew that she did not need to worry because we were in the best hands we could be in and what could be more comforting than that.

David and Sherry Blowers took us in to their home like we were family. We felt so comfortable and loved and taken care of. We felt safe and that was the best feeling we could have. They lived far enough out of town that they still had power and didn’t have to especially conserve water. We got to take hot showers and eat the most delicious hot meals that Sister Blowers made for us. They went grocery shopping just for us. She busily cleaned the bathroom and got our room ready. She continually told us how thankful she is that we are okay. That we are so blessed. I could feel her genuine and honest care and concern for us in her voice. I am so thankful for the most humble and kind family who took us in and let us stay for as long as we needed. Who let us wear their pajamas and socks and leave early and come in late and drive their truck and borrow their moisturizer and medicine.

Those first two nights were hard. We didn’t sleep too much. I slept better than Dan because I took cough syrup and Benedryl. After two nights of not sleeping at all, I finally convinced him that a little Benedryl was okay when you needed to sleep and you would be up working hard all day. We would wake up multiple times in the night and have to relive it all. I would wake up and realize where I was, that I wasn’t home, and would have to play the whole event back in my head. I would just hold Dan so tight and could hardly have him leave my side. I wanted to be with him. He is my safe haven. It doesn’t matter what has happened or where we are or aren’t, if I’m with him I am safe and I need no more.

The next few days all we did was work. The day after we were able to sneak into our apartment and salvage some belongings. There was a gas leak and it was not structurally safe to be up there so we only had a few minutes before they kicked us out. Looking around at my painfully destroyed apartment trying to think of what to grab was horrible. Every time I went back there every feeling came back and I lost all rational thought. My eyes teared up and I would just wander with no rhyme or reason. I just couldn’t think straight. So decide now what you would take if ever faced with a situation like that. Because when the moment comes it’s a little too overwhelming. Dan wanted his surfboard and fishing poles. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know or care. I grabbed the bookshelf. My reasoning was that it was one of the few pieces of furniture we could save and it was expensive. I can’t remember what else I grabbed or what rational thoughts did not enter my mind..

Tuscaloosa was chaos. Every streetlight was out. There was destruction everywhere. Everyone was driving around, probably just to see what had happened so traffic was ridiculous. No body knows that when the streetlights are out it’s a four way stop. The gas stations were all out of service. The grocery stores freezers and fridges were out of power so they were losing all their frozen foods. We were able to get a rental car that insurance covers for a month. For the past week we have been working all day. We first took care of our ward members who were affected and helped move them out of their apartments. We’ve been cutting down and moving trees and eating at the moose lodge. It has been a blessing to be able to spend all day every day with our dearest friends. It truly is medicine to the soul! We have all just wanted to be together. After going through something like this, we all suddenly aren’t too busy anymore and we prioritize our friendships above all else. We ate dinner together every night for probably four or five nights at the Richards house. They were safe so they have been kind enough to let their house be the “home base.” We kept all of our things there for a while and Josh and Kimberly Mays have been staying there. They are our dear friends who also lost their home. It has been good for us to have people to talk to who really understand that it’s just hard sometimes! Those nights of just hanging out and laughing and eating good food were very good for us.

The day after I got a call from "Jill from CNN." She had me tell her 'my story' and then said "Do you want to be on live national news with Wolf Blitzer in about 40 minutes?" UHMM... like I hadn't been through enough emotional trauma... it was too stressful. Fumbling over my words. Trying to find pictures to send them. Trying to tell friends and family to watch. I mumbled and fumbled and barely got through it... but I got through it! Wolf and everybody else were really nice. It was my 15 seconds of fame. I'm thankful I was at least thinking straight enough to give Heavenly Father the credit! I am now all over "" and "" and all these other Christian websites... "Girl who survived tornado gives glory to God." It's the best. Here is that story.
Dan and I were also interviewed and photographed by the Associated Press. Here is that story. They did a really awesome story intertwining the stories of five different people/families. They were also very kind. We had our picture taken by one of the photographers, which was a funny experience. They wouldn't let us get into our apartment so we settled for some other rubble. I liked one of the other pictures he took more. He would chose that one. Gee whiz, I almost dreamed about a day when my picture would be on the cover of newspapers around the country and I at least thought I would have my hair and makeup done and not be wearing taped up hiking boots from DI. SIGH. Life had much different plans for me. I was also interviewed by a girl in the other ward and my story is in the Milford Times (Milford, NE). I felt the need to share because my family roots are from Nebraska so I wanted to represent the James name. Hopefully somebody will read it and say, "Oh, that's Garth James' son Syd's daughter!" So I have told my story far too many times. I'm done with it.

We were really guided in getting into a new apartment. So many people are displaced and have no where to live. We immediately began contacting people and looking for a place to live the night of the tornado because we knew it would get crazy. We found an duplex right by campus that we love. We were so blessed to be able to contact the girl who we are subleasing from and get our papers in and get our background checks and take care of everything quickly so we could move in. She was kind enough to leave all her furniture and cooking and cleaning supplies and toilet paper, paper towels, etc here for us to use for the summer. The lease is only for three months so we will have to find a new place to live come August. But we could not feel more thankful to have a place to call home now. There is something special about having your own place. Somewhere to sleep at night where you can just let out a big sigh when you get there and know your home. The apartment is two story with a spiral staircase. The upstairs is just one big bedroom and a walk in closet. The downstairs has a nice living room and kitchen with a bar. And to top it all off the bathroom has a Jacuzzi tub! It is divine. We feel like we live in a hotel. We are trying to make it feel like home. It’s hard with someone else’s furniture and art and everything. When you have to move in 45 minutes it’s much less than organized, so unpacking has been tedious. We had to wash all our kitchen appliances and dishes and everything before putting them away because they were so filthy. We have to wash all our clothes before putting them away because they are filthy and have the ‘tornado smell.’ Less than pleasant. Andrew and Kelly Batteen gave us the key to their apartment while they are out of town so we could do laundry. They are such sweet friends to us. We went grocery shopping the other day at Target and got the basics so we have some food now. We didn’t have to buy food for literally a week after the tornado because everybody was giving away free food and drinks all day long to people who were out working. And the Moose Lodge. It has been incredible to see the community come together.

We are recovering and rebuilding every day. We are trying to keep moving and be positive and keep working. But it is hard. Dan hasn’t quite been his same light-hearted self. The littlest thing brings me to tears. But relatively we are doing well. We have come a long way in a week. We have learned and are still learning so much about life and love and death. We will forever be changed from what we have gone through. My dad said in my baby blessing that “You would live to see the day when there will be destruction all around you and your life would be preserved by the direct intervention of the Lord.”

I have never gone through such a humbling experience in my whole life. To be the one who is receiving help and support is very humbling and just makes me quietly thank my Heavenly Father for his constant love and the tender acts of kindness shown to us every day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


I want to write down memories of each of the kids. Time is so fleeting and I swear I’ll never forget the little things they do, but I do forget! It’s quite heartbreaking, actually. I am thankful for videos and I have been taking videos, but I have not been journaling hardly anything. So here I am going to record things I want to remember about each of my boys.

Jude- Jude is such a loyal, tender-hearted, good little boy. He wants to badly to choose the right. He is a loyal companion to his mama and would follow me anywhere. He takes everything I say to be gospel! I’m so grateful he’s my first-born son. He is tender and nurturing to his younger brothers and a good example. He loves nothing more than sharing tender moments with William and Woodrow when they give him hugs and kisses or they are playing together and laughing. He savors those moments. He has really been enjoying his school lessons. He has learned so much these last few months since we have been doing school consistently and he is enjoying learning. The other day after we finished our lessons, he turned to me and almost looked like he was holding back tears and said “Mom, I love doing school with you. I love you so much. You’re the best.” It made me feel so grateful that we are homeschooling. It has been confirmed to me time and time again that homeschooling is right for us. It has been wonderful to finally be in a place we are consistently doing school and enjoying it for the most part! We love The Good and the Beautiful curriculum. I shudder to even imagine homeschooling without it! He absolutely loves spending time with Dan and gets so sad every morning when Dan leaves for work. Their favorite thing is to go to the bike jumps together and bike around. Jude, Abraham, and Dan are always going on camping and fishing trips together. They’re the best of friends.

Ian Reynolds Photography

Jude loves reading books and listening to books on tape. He is a sponge and has an intently focused look on his face as he absorbs the information and then asks 100 questions. We absolutely loved reading Swiss Family Robinson together. He never wants me to stop reading. If it was up to him we’d read for hours! He has an inventive mind and will surprise me with the smart ideas he comes up with. It is not uncommon that I realize he is getting smarter than me! He is a critical thinker.

He loves nature and frequently thanks Heavenly Father for the trees and the flowers and the pollinators and “our beautiful earth.” He is very obedient. I’ve talked to him about bad pictures and things on the internet that can be harmful to us that we don’t want to look at and he is very conscientious about it. If he sees a picture that makes him feel uncomfortable he will talk away or turn it off. If there is a part in a movie that is scary to him, he will refuse to watch the movie (I’m talking movies like Lion King and The Good Dinosaur!) He is sensitive to the Spirit. He is a very good example of reverence in Primary and is impressively knowledgeable about the Gospel. I wish I had been writing down more details and quotes of things he says and does. He is always making us laugh. Like when he does that new dance move that Dan taught him or his singing.

He learned how to ride his bike so fast and is now on a pretty good-sized bike. He loves riding his bike and exploring nature. His favorite thing to watch (and essentially the only thing he will watch besides a few movies in the car) is “Jonathan Bird’s Blue World” on YouTube.

He is always watching out for his brothers and is very protective of them. He is Abraham’s keeper and is constantly telling me what Abraham is up to (because Abraham is very frequently sneaking or getting into mischief). I can count on Jude to keep an eye on the younger boys and always let me know if something is wrong.

I wrote this down in November of 2017- “While massaging my feet he sang me this song – Oh Mommy, I love you so much. You are so beautiful. I love your face and your nose. I love everything about you except your crossness. That is literally the only thing I don’t like…” (He sang that to me!!!!) While watching the choir sing at Conference (April 2017) he said, “Look at those two girls. They’re so beautiful. Lots of girls are beautiful.”

We were driving in the car and he was just asking a bunch of questions. He asked, “Satan doesn’t have a body, right? Because he didn’t choose the right.” And also, “I wish we knew who Heavenly Father’s father is.” And then Abraham said from the back of the car, “Heavenly Father has night vision.” And Jude said emphatically, “OH YEAH. (Nodding). HE DOES.”

On March 12, 2017, Jude said “Woods bit me and it hurt but I smiled and said thank you because I wanted him to feel happy.”

That just encapsulates the preciousness of this little boy! He is never happier than when he’s with his family doing something outside. Yesterday we were eating dinner outside and he said, “This is my favorite time of the day. It’s just so beautiful out here.” They have a couple girls that are about 13 that babysit for them and whenever I ask him about it he says, “Oh, it was great. They are so cute.”

It has been so wonderful to watch him grow over the years. He used to be really “shy” (which I actually think is completely normal for young children and I don’t like it when people label their kids and say “oh he’s shy” in front of them, like something is wrong with them). Anyway, he used to be “shy” and scared of taking to older people, etc, and he has really grown and I am so very, very proud of the boy that he is.

Ian Reynolds Photography

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Prime Mental Real Estate

Prime Mental Real Estate.

Wow. I had absolutely no idea how much prime mental real estate social media was occupying in my brain. Like, the thought literally never crossed my mind. I "quit social media" for so many reasons, but this was a benefit I didn't expect.

My mind feels SIGNIFICANTLY lighter. I feel free-er. Like my mind is sighing in relief and saying "ahhh." As the woman I am, I make things personal. I take things in. I internalize everything I see. I worry about people. I think about them.

There's nothing wrong with that to a point, of course, but I was constantly bombarding myself with the inner workings of hundreds of other people's lives. Lives I couldn't necessarily affect or help or serve at the moment, so I was just filling my mind with so many thoughts. Idle thoughts. They were just running around my heart and head like millions of tiny  toddlers trapped in a fish tank.

I never recognized it but my mind was tired. My mind would be tired anyway from having four little boys within five feet of me all the time, but then add on everyone else's kids and their thoughts and their daily doings and comings and goings and it was just A LOT.

Now that I've freed myself from social media, it's like my mind can relax.

There are some more amazing things that have happened from this. Maybe I'll share those another day. Maybe I'll start blogging more?! The possibilities of what will now take over this newly listed real estate is endless!


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Life's Hard, Accept It & Keep On Truckin.

I was raised in a quintessential home with a loving family and anything I could have every wanted. I did not go through a lot of difficult challenges or very hard things. This is great, of course. I am so grateful for my loving family and the wonderful childhood that was a gift to me and it shaped me into who I am today.

I got married and starting working and life continued to be fine and dandy. Of course, there were challenges, but overall I was able to deal with everything and maintain my naturally happy-go-lucky attitude.

Then I became a mother. And my child had extreme food allergies linked to an autoimmune disease and asthma. Along with some other challenges, those first couple years of motherhood were tough for me. My perfect little world was rocked. Then my second little boy was born, my oldest son was still not healthy, we had just moved to Texas away from family, and we were dealing with other challenges. (Aren’t we all?!) I was trying to keep it all together. I was trying to be that perfect mother and take care of my children and do all those things I felt I was supposed to be doing. I was started to taste a little dose of that thing called life.

I wasn’t succeeding. I was flailing with my head barely above water, realizing I thought I knew how to swim but I didn’t. I was madly in love with my two little boys, but wondered, “how does one person do all this?” I would talk to my mom on the phone about how hard it all was and just in an overall quandary about how I was supposed to make all this work. She felt for her daughter and wanted to help, so she would come out and visit every few months. I was stressed and busy and worn out and tired, and then my mom would come and everything was better and easier and I could relax a little bit again. I would go to the grocery store alone while she stayed home with the boys and I would enjoy a salad from the salad bar. I would go to the library and make lists of how to try to do all that I wanted to do, that I was currently nowhere near. Then she would have to leave and the day she left I was stressed again. Was I missing some piece of the puzzle!?

We would go on a little family trip and I was APPALLED at how much time and effort it took to prepare for the trip and just be on the trip. I kept thinking, “my parents did all this for every trip we went on?!”

I was waiting for life to get easier. It felt like every single thing I had to do was more difficult that what I expected. Everything took longer. Nothing was quick and easy. I thought that if I could just be a little more efficient or work a little harder or manage my time a little bit better, then I would be okay. I would be able to do all that I needed to do, and take care of my children, and provide them healthy meals, and teach them, and love them, and balance it all… and not be so stressed all the time and just be happy.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, that things changed. I know it didn’t happen all at once. It happened slowly as I tried to figure out the formula. I asked one friend “how do I do it all?!” and instead of telling me how to try to make myself more, she told me to make “it all” less. I didn’t have to give my kids a bath every night. I didn’t have to dress them in matching pajama sets every night and change their outfits into day clothes every day.

I didn’t have to “do it all.”

I had been asking myself the wrong question. Instead of asking, “how do I do it all?” I needed to ask, “what is most important for me to do? At the end of the day, what really matters? What can I stop worrying about?”

It happened as I read books that gave me a new perspective on motherhood and life. I read about mothers in other cultures and realized the standard American way of motherhood was not only not the only way, but also not necessarily the best way. There is no “best” way. We are all just doing our best and we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

It happened as I turned to God and was inspired by incredible friends who helped me see better ways. I read one parenting book that really opened my eyes and helped me. It is (more than) okay to let your children struggle through things. It is okay to let them work their way through things. It is not my responsibility as their mother to prevent every tear and every skinned knee along the journey of childhood, but that doing so would in fact rob them of the growing and learning they so desperately needed.

It happened as I realized I wasn’t doing my children any favors by always putting myself last. I realized my emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health was of utmost importance to the well-being of my entire family. I had to learn to be a little more selfish. It is okay to do what I want to do sometimes. It is okay to develop my own hobbies and talents. It is okay to let my children watch TV when I really need a nap. It is okay to let my husband put my kids to bed so I can go out for a girls night. It is okay to feed my kids cereal for dinner. It is okay to get a babysitter and actually go out on a date with my husband. And most importantly of all, IT’S OKAY TO NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT. We give our all to our families, let’s carve out little breaks for ourselves here and there. And would it be absurd to not let our whole break be ruined by guilt and worrying about our kids the whole time?!

It happened as I learned to let it go, just let everything and anything go that I could. I stopped trying to be perfect. I stopped trying to create a perfect life for my children. I stopped trying to be the mother that I thought I was supposed to be.

And everything started to change. My stress levels went down. My joy in life went up. I grew in my desire to improve myself, develop my own hobbies, and take care of myself. I stopped waiting for life to get easier and I realized, it won’t.

(This was all actually very timely because shortly after I got pregnant with twins and those lessons because more valuable than I ever realized!)

Life will always be hard. If it’s not this stress or worry, it will be something else. I realized I couldn’t wait for my mom to come help me to be happy and carefree. I had to learn to find joy and peace and happiness in the midst of the trials of life. You know those people that are so happy and have great marriages and are great parents and seem like they have just figured it out? I used to think it was because they were dealt an easy hand, or they just married the perfect guy, or they just had perfect kids, etc. I have realized that those people just chose to make it work. They chose to be happy. They chose to put the time and work into their marriages and families and their priorities to be happy and satisfied with the life they have created.

I finally ACCEPTED that life was going to be hard every day of my life, and that was okay. And in reality that was the way I wanted it. A woman who is progressing and pushing herself and growing and learning and becoming the best version of herself is not going to have it easy. Now I expect life to be difficult. I expect setbacks. So when they happen, I just smirk and move on. When Abraham spills his freshly roasted vegetables or his smoothie all over the floor, I don’t mind. I knew it was going to happen! If not today, another day. I know I’m going to be tired. I know I’m going to have difficult days. I know there are going to be moments when all four of them are screaming, but I’m just okay with it all now. It’s all part of the beautiful mess of motherhood.

I stopped feeling sorry for myself for being so busy with little kids. Like, “WHEN DO I EVER HAVE A MOMENT TO MYSELF?!” ----> In ten years, move on. I stopped being a martyr. “I’m just so tired. The kids kept waking up last night…” ----> You signed up to have these kids, so if you’re tired, do what you need to do to get some sleep, stop complaining, and move on.

For so long I tried to FIGHT IT. I tried to fight the fact that life was hard. It wasn’t until I accepted it and embraced it that I have been able to find peace. My house doesn’t have to be picked up for me to enjoy the five minutes of peace I have while the babies are sleeping and the boys are playing quietly. Instead of busily picking everything up, I’m going to take these precious few minutes and do something for myself, or just sit and enjoy my kids. I have accepted that my house will be messy for the next fifteen years and I’m okay with that! I’ve accepted that the hardest things in life bring the greatest rewards and if I just stop complaining and give these kids and this life I have created EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, I won’t have any regrets. I have stopped waiting, wishing, and hoping for an easier tomorrow, when “the kids are a little older.” I have realized that the only way to feel better is to do the work you can do and at the end of the day be happy with what you’ve got… difficult days, disasters, and all.

Books referenced above:

How Eskimo’s Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood
Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Twin's Birth Story

I was thirty-seven weeks and three days pregnant with these little twins of mine. My perinatologist, Dr Gordon, wanted to induce me right at 37 weeks due to my cholestasis. I was able to get him to agree to pushing it back a few days so we scheduled it for Friday, June 17, 2016. Although I am opposed to inductions most of the time, I felt peaceful about my need to be induced and finally felt ready. 6:00 on Friday morning came and Mimi dropped us off at the hospital. I felt very calm. I had received a priesthood blessing from Dan a few nights earlier that was powerful and reassuring and confirmed to me in undeniable ways that I have a loving Heavenly Father who knows my heart. Staying true to my tradition of watching Ephraim’s Rescue right before labor, Jude and I had watched it the day before so I could draw strength from the examples of my pioneer ancestors (one of which, Elizabeth Bradshaw, is depicted in the movie). Dan and I also went to the temple the day before and I was touched by the words spoken there. Although all I really wanted was to end up with two healthy babies, however they came, I was filled with peace and faith that I would be able to have the birth I hoped for, even though it seemed to defy all odds.

We got to the hospital and waited for a while. I read my blessing again as we were waiting. I was wearing the same blue moo-moo that I wore when I went in to the hospital to have Abraham. The nurse got us set up in our room and got my IV started before her shift changed. One whole wall was windows and I loved how the sun shined through. The day shift nurse came in and she was a sixty-something year old lady who seemed less than enthused about the whole situation. I was also less than amused by her lack of enthusiasm.

At 8:00, they did an ultrasound and baby B was BREECH. That was the last word I wanted to hear. I was disappointed and confused. Why had I felt so confident and peaceful about my birth working out so well? This was going to greatly increase my risk of having to have an epidural and possibly a C-section (they will not deliver a breech baby vaginally). I was bummed but tried to stay positive and hope that maybe he would move again. (A few days earlier at my appointment he was head down.)

She hooked me up to all the monitors, one for contractions and the two that monitored the heart rates. So I had three monitors strapped to my super slick, super round tummy and they would not stay put. First of all, the babies would not stay put and then the monitors themselves kept sliding off the slippery slopes. She kept coming in and trying to get them to stay. Because of this, I couldn’t move at all. If I moved even in the slightest they would come off, and she would not start or increase the Pitocin if the monitors weren’t picking up. So I had to stay completely still if I wanted to move forward! Dr Suber, my OB, came in at 8:42 and was upset that the nurses hadn’t started the Pitocin yet. She checked me and I was still 3 cm, 70% effaced, and -1 station. She encouraged me to get an epidural because in the event of a C-section, if I didn’t have an epidural they would have to put me under general anesthesia and I would not even be awake to see my babies being born. We had previously talked about the option of just getting the epidural placed but not having any medication administered so I told her I would think about it.

The nurse started the Pitocin at 9:00 at a rate of four. She increased the Pitocin by four every half hour until it reached 12. At that point my contractions were steady enough and she felt like she didn’t need to increase it any more. I was grateful! My nurse grew on me. She was laid-back and gave me my space. If I had to go to the bathroom, I would just unhook myself and go and then take my time and she wouldn’t come in and get on my case. She would give me some time and I really appreciated that little bit of freedom! Dr Suber told me she would come back in around lunchtime and break my water so I was anxiously waiting. Up until that point, the contractions weren’t too bad. I started to feel them and was rudely brought back to a remembrance of when I was induced with Jude. It still wasn’t too bad so I knew I couldn’t be too far along yet. Dan was by my side working on a paper he had to write for school.

Dr Suber came in at 1:30 and broke my water. I was only four cm so I knew I still had some ways to go. She was a little upset that I hadn’t gotten the epidural yet, but I just wasn’t in a rush because I knew I still had time. Things started to pick up. My nurse didn’t need to increase my Pitocin any more because the water breaking got things moving enough on it’s own. The next few hours I was just in my zone. I went to YouTube on my phone to listen to one of my jams and it asked me if I wanted to download YouTube Red music player. I agreed and it ended up being totally what I needed. I searched for my songs and liked them and it automatically put them on a playlist and no ads! There was a little Taylor Swift, a little Anthony Green, a little Rihanna, a little Justin Bieber, amongst others. I had Dan’s big headphones on and was just in my zone. Time passed quickly. I had a little paper with my “tools” on it to help get me through the contractions that my good friend, Brittany, had helped me write. The one that really got me through was “soft face.” Whenever a contraction would come, I would focus on keeping my face soft and every muscle in my body relaxed.

The contractions were getting more intense and I was definitely using my tools and just trying to stay in my zone and stay relaxed. I talked to the nurse about getting the epidural placed and she said she would call the anesthesiologist. He came in a few minutes later and asked me if I had any questions. I explained my situation to him and told him I would like to get the epidural placed in case of an emergency but did not want any medication administered. He seemed slightly confused but was happy to oblige me. He did warn me that in the event of an emergency or STAT C-section, they would not know if the epidural had worked and without that knowledge, would have to put me under general anesthesia. There is always a risk that the epidural won’t work so if mine hadn’t, they would not have enough time to know if it had or not. I thought about it for a while and felt peaceful that it would be okay and I didn’t feel like it would come to that. I told him I felt comfortable taking that risk and did not want any medication administered.

My mom arrived just as the anesthesiologist was placing the epidural. I had lost track of time at this point but sometime after that the nurse checked me and I was 6.5 cm. I was still coping well at that point so I was feeling good. I knew if I could get that far I could certainly go the rest of the way. Things started to get real at this point. I would have Dan massage my feet as I was getting a contraction to take my mind off of it. I had my headphones on and would just focus on relaxing and he would rub my feet. Mom came behind me and was rubbing my temples for a little while too. The nurse came in around 3:45 and asked me if I wanted to get checked. I told her I didn’t want her to because I didn’t want to be disappointed. She said she was just going to sit over in the corner of the room. I was getting to the point where I was thinking I couldn’t do it any more. Within a few minutes, I started to feel the urge to push. I told her she better go ahead and check and I was 9 cm! She immediately picked up her phone and called Dr Suber, “Twins are a 9!” She pulled out her walkie-talkie and starting summoning the troops to help her wheel me into the Operating Room and get things set up. (I had to deliver in there in case of a C-section.) Dan had gowned up into his white suit and donned his surgical hat. My mom wasn’t allowed to come in just because there were already going to be so many people in there. I was pushing as they wheeled me in and just praying it would all be over soon. We got into the OR and I had to slide myself over to the miniature stretcher they needed me to be on. Things kind of turn in to a blur at this point but I’ll do my best to remember!

As they wheeled me in, with my legs in the birthing position, there was a man in his thirties waiting in the OR room at the end of my bed. I introduced myself and asked his name because it was just a little awkward. He introduced himself as the OR tech and I sound found out his job was to prepare the area and keep everything clean down there. I obviously didn’t care that much at that point but thought it was an interesting employee choice and felt kind of bad for him for all he was about to experience.

Before I knew it I saw Dr Suber was standing at the bottom of my bed. I was pushing and as she put on her gloves, she said something like, “there’s the baby!” That was good to hear. I pushed a couple more times and there was Baby A! He was born at 4:25 pm. They put him right on my chest and I was just in shock by this little man! He looked nothing like my other two babies! I had expected another little Jude and Abraham and was surprised to see a new little face! I held him up to get a good look at him. He was not crying so I started patting on his back. I did not want them to take him away from me. 

I was pretty unaware of what was going on down there and don't remember any details of how I felt. There were literally fifteen people bustling around the OR so it was chaotic. Apparently baby B was transverse at this point. Dr Suber stuck her arm up to her elbow up there and grabbed him while the other doctor manipulated his body from the outside. Dr Suber broke his water and flipped him to head down. They were having trouble getting a heart rate on baby B and the doctor was getting frustrated. They ended up putting something on his head that was able to get his heart rate. The doctors said something about how baby B’s heart rate was lower than they wanted it to be and I needed to push now or they would have to do a C-section. The assisting doctor, Dr Hahn, was yelling at me “Push! Push! You can do this!” I didn’t feel an urge to push at that point, maybe because he hadn’t descended down the birth canal yet. At this point I was still holding Baby A. So now I’m on this miniature stretcher that has no handles or side rails or anything to get a grip on and I’m holding my newborn baby and they want me to PUSH. I kindly asked if someone could hold the baby so I could actually push! I said I was afraid I would squeeze him and that got the nurse’s attention so one of them ran over and grabbed the baby. I grabbed Dan’s hand on one side and another lady’s hand on the other, pushed with all I had, and after a few pushes, baby B was born at 4:36 PM, eleven minutes after his brother.

This little babe was a carbon copy of Jude and Abraham at birth so when I saw him I thought, “I know you!” I held him for a few minutes before they took him to weigh him. I was okay with it because I was so worn out.

Relief and exhaustion were my two most overwhelming emotions at that point. I wished it was over but unfortunately much still needed to be done. This is the part of natural birth where I feel like you should be done and then they have to stitch up and do that fundal massage like there’s no tomorrow. The placentas were fused together so they came out together after baby B. Dr Suber was really excited to send them off for testing because of my cholestasis. Must be a doctor thing. Dr Suber had more of an adrenaline high than I did! She looked at me and in all seriousness asked, “How did you do that?! How did you do that?!” I just kind of looked at her puzzled and don’t think I even responded. How do you answer a question like that?! I don’t know, I just did?!

After they got me all fixed up, I got in a wheelchair and had a baby in each arm. They wheeled me back into the labor room and within a couple minutes, Mom had brought Jude and Abraham into the room. That moment when we were all together as a family for the first time was one of the most special moments for me. The boys were so intrigued and excited and sweet. They just wanted to be by the babies.

I, yet again, didn’t have that adrenaline rush or “high” people describe after natural birth. I was too tired! I wanted to take a nap. I was extremely grateful and humbled how everything worked out. There were about a million things that could have “gone wrong” or just not the way I planned. I had my heart set on a natural, vaginal birth and going into labor on my own. I wasn’t able to go into labor on my own, but I realize now that was a blessing in disguise and a loving Heavenly Father’s way to save me from myself. I had talked my doctor into letting me go to 39 weeks pregnant as opposed to the normal 37 or 38 weeks they let twin moms go. My babies were already so big, had I gone to 39 weeks I’m afraid they each would have been 8-9 pounds each and my delivery wouldn’t have gone so well. I can only imagine the complications and recovery I would have had. Looking back, I am grateful for the induction as I have had a ridiculously amazing recovery. I felt incredible within a couple days and had NONE of the recovery issues I had dealt with previously. After birthing a 9 lb 15 oz tank, these two were easy as pie! Thanks for paving the way, Abraham!

I had felt so peaceful in the few days before they were born that I was going to be able to have the birth I wanted. I did not have fear. Even when it seemed to defy all odds, I felt that Heavenly Father, for some reason, was granting me this wish of mine to have a natural birth. Besides the initial reasons that interested me in natural birth (feeling it was best for the health of my babies and myself), I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel the birth of these babies that were my miracle. I wanted to experience everything my ancestors and all mothers past have experienced. I wanted to be able to look back on my life knowing I lived every day and every experience as much as I could. I did not want to numb myself from feeling something that would undoubtedly be one of the most life-changing, unforgettable experiences of my life. I knew I could do it. I knew my body could do it. I had gained a lot of confidence in myself after having Abraham naturally. I wanted to birth without fear. I wanted to let my body do what I knew it could. I wanted to be brave like my pioneer ancestors. I wanted to remember them in those difficult moments and think about their sacrifices and what they went through and feel that in a small way I was making my own sacrifice. I had Googled “induction without epidural” or something like that a few days earlier and the main paragraph that popped up said it’s extremely difficult and all but impossible. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that society told me I couldn’t. We, as women, are made to do this. Our bodies are made to birth the babies we create. I want women to feel empowered by pregnancy and labor and delivery, not fearful. I want women to gain courage and strength and confidence by their role as childbearing women and embrace the power we hold.