Mom Talk: Parenting Through Great Tragedy

Written by

Maja Arnold

10:00 am
04/27/18

Natalie Bowen Brookshire, Photographed By VANESSA MONA HELLMANN

We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life, to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Maja Arnold recounts the unfathomable moments of trauma her family endured and how she grew and pursued her career in spite of them. -JKM

Many mothers-to-be experience nerves at some point in their pregnancy, perhaps even the entire duration. I was no exception. Becoming a mom for the first time was something I was incredibly excited about, but also very nervous. Little did I know how hard and emotional the next few years would actually be.

It all began with a difficult pregnancy. I was having twins, and was required to spend the last eight weeks of that pregnancy in the hospital. Not only that, but twelve weeks prior, one doctor told my partner and I that there was a very high chance one of our twins would not survive. It was heartbreaking to say the least, and not to mention scary. In fact, the entire pregnancy was a tumultuous, up-and-down rollercoaster ride. As it turned out, both of my twins were delivered via C-section eight weeks early. We had a boy named Lukas and a girl named Isabella. Each weighed two pounds and needed to spend the two weeks following their birth in an incubator. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful, but eventually we were able to bring our son home, with our daughter following suit a few days later. Two weeks after that, however, we lost our Isabella to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I wish I could articulate into words the devastation; it was by far the most difficult time in my life. It was only through the support of our friends and family that we were able to push forward; I had to remember that I had a new son that I needed to focus on and care for, too.

Somewhere around 18 months later, my partner and I started thinking about opening our hearts again and having another child. Our doctor had previously expressed that it would be nearly impossible for me to get pregnant naturally, so we started seriously considering the In Vitro process. Much to our surprise, however, I did become pregnant naturally, and we found out that it was another baby girl. To this day, I can’t quite express the joy we felt after experiencing the nightmare that was losing our infant daughter just a couple of years prior. Unfortunately, as life sometimes goes, the joy didn’t last long. Soon, our family was hit with another wave of sadness and grief.

On New Years Eve in 2011, our son was diagnosed with stage three kidney cancer, and had to be rushed into emergency surgery. The operation lasted nine hours and resulted in the removal of one of his kidneys, along with a tumor that had grown to become the size of a baseball. Lukas survived the surgery, but over the course of the next 12 months, our family’s entire focus was on helping him survive. He was put through countless chemo and radiation treatments to help him beat the cancer that was attempting to take over his body. He threw up daily, and eventually had to go on a feeding tube to receive proper nutrition, as he would no longer eat. There were so many moments where I felt helpless as a mother. I would watch my baby boy writhe in pain and agony almost daily. My second daughter had arrived during those months, too. So, I also had to focus on being present and loving for her. I write these words and still can’t quite fathom how I got through that time.

Although our family experienced so much sadness and grief in those early years, I am happy to report that my son is now ten years old and cancer-free. My eight-year-old daughter is also happy and healthy. And, once our family was able to find solid ground, I was actually inspired to pursue my career. In fact, it was those first tumultuous years in motherhood that encouraged my path. It all started when I wanted to find something to wear in memory of my Isabella; something to remind me that she was still by my side. I searched and searched, but couldn’t find anything that quite resonated with me. So, I decided to create it myself and become a jewelry designer. I realized that everyone has a story—everyone has something or someone meaningful to them—and I wanted to create a wearable piece that was non-traditional, but also deeply spiritual that each person could use to express their own stories, whether they be about hardship, celebration, or life’s little moments in between. Because I had a child who passed away and a son who has battled cancer, I understand that sharing my story—and the brave, incredible stories of other people—can truly help others. In the end, everyone deserves to honor their story. No matter how painful or tough, it is special because it is yours. After all, motherhood is no easy feat. When you add hardship and trauma to the mix, some days feel nearly impossible. Know that you are not alone, and that your story is important.

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1 comment

Kristin

After receiving some potentially devastating news yesterday at 32 weeks pregnant (not yet sure how it’s gonna go), I am so grateful to read this. Your implicit reminder that people get through things, life continues on, acute pain is temporary — even in the worst imaginable cases — means everything.

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