Parenthood: The Happy Years
When and why did you decide to have children? How many did you “plan” to have?
I always wanted a lot of children. Growing up, there was a tradition/myth that had been passed down through the family for years. Over the course of several generations, it had never been inaccurate. Basically, you thread a string through a ring and hold it over your wrist. The ring will begin to move all by itself, supposedly predicting the number and gender of your future children. As I said, it had never been wrong. And it always said I would have 3: two little girls followed by a boy. I wanted four. So my “goal” was three or four. Then life sort of just happened. I didn’t really “plan” Breathe. My life plan said I would be married first, and I wasn’t married, so I didn’t expect to get pregnant. In a whole lot of really significant ways, even though I was 22 at the time of conception, I was still very naive. One day, I just felt different. I “knew” I was pregnant before I ever took the test. I wasn’t surprised when it said I was pregnant, I was nervous and excited. But the older Breathe became, the more I wanted another baby. My sister and I are best friends and I could not imagine a child growing up without a sibling. I specifically, and whole-heartedly, prayed for Alight. Breathe was the realization of a dream and the start of personal healing; Alight was an answered prayer and healing fulfilled.
What was the first pregnancy like? How, when and where did the birth occur? What about subsequent pregnancies?
Breathe’s pregnancy was easy as pie; Dr. Moran even called it a “textbook pregnancy.” And then I hit 30 weeks. At 30 weeks of pregnancy, my body sort of just freaks out. I developed pre-eclampsia and was having such violent contractions all the time that I was regularly sent to the hospital by my doctor to be monitored. This was exhausting. Finally, one day, at 34 weeks pregnant, I went for a normal check-up. The contractions were killing me, so he told me to go to Baptist to be monitored “for a few hours.” By the time I got to Baptist, he had changed his mind from having me monitored to having me induced. This was a surprise. I was given magnesium sulfate which not only induced me but made Breathe’s heart rate plummet. The nurses kept freaking out, which made me freak out. Finally, Dr. Moran walked in, exasperated. “What is going on? Y’all have paged me fifteen times in five minutes.” When he looked at Breathe’s heartrate, he told me he needed to get her out via C-Section. This made me cry. I had spent 9 months buying relaxation CDs and fully relishing and preparing for a natural birth, and my sister was running around trying to get me my big ball I’d purchased to rock on. But what made even more scared was the idea that Breathe’s heartrate had dropped so low so fast. So, scared as I was, I was reeled into surgery. My mom came into the operating room with me and, at 1:09 pm, just about three hours after we had been admitted, Breathe Hayleyann was born at Baptist Hospital by Dr. Sam H. Moran on February 23, 2004. When they put her into my arms, she immediately stopped crying, and she was perfect.
Alight’s pregnancy was extremely, traumatizing-like difficult from day one. I was told she could have Down Syndrome. There was a twin…. and then there wasn’t. And, at 30 weeks, my body, as it had with Breathe’s, freaked out. I started contracting almost all the time and, eventually, Dr. Moran got just as tired of it as I was. I had been prepared for a VBAC. But my cousin had one of those and ruptured. She ended up in a coma for two months. And that rather scared me. I decided it did not matter how the baby was born, just as long as she was born healthy. Eventually, a C-Section came about. This time, my sister came with me into the operating room and, as they got started, I remember telling her that I would not really believe this baby was healthy until she was put in my arms. Then, at 3:23 p.m. on January 15, 2007 at Baptist Hospital, Dr. Moran delivered Alight Bella-Grace. I was overwhelmed…. and full.
How did the first child change your life? Was being a parent what you expected?
I truly believe I was created to be a mother. I remember being surprised at how easy it was. I expected it to be hard, especially during the newborn, sleep deprived stage. But it wasn’t. It came so naturally to me. Not only was it natural, it was what I thrived on. Suddenly, I had this tiny baby who needed me and who depended on me but who also seemed to just like me. She would smile when I picked her up. I was totally overwhelmed with humility: what in the world had I done to deserve such a gift? In regards to routine, daily life, that sort of thing, it didn’t really change my life that much. I never “went out” anyway and had never wanted to. So being at home changing diapers instead of “hanging out” with “friends” simply did not apply to me. Actually, what I worried about the most, other than that she would not remember me, was the fact that I have never worn makeup and I kept having this nightmare that she was twelve or thirteen and I didn’t know how to teach her to put on makeup. While it didn’t really alter my schedule that much, it drastically changed my life in monumental ways. See, I didn’t care enough about me to speak up about my past. But I did care enough to do it for this baby who trusted me to take care of her: nothing was more important than her safety. So I told my mom. And that opened the door to all kinds of healing, including public speaking, writing freely about my memories and just having dialogue about it. I remember one day when she was five, she was playing and I stared at her as though I had never seen her before and the thought ran through my head, “She could burn this house down and it would be an accident. She would not deserve…. anything like what happened to me. And I wasn’t born an adult: I had to have been her age once upon a time too.” She made me question the shame and guilt for the first time. Ultimately, she inspired a transformation within me that is difficult to describe with words. For the first time, I saw that the grass is really pretty; butterflies were magical and every small thing we saw were reasons to embrace peace and hope.
Give the names for your children. How did you choose their names?
All I knew for certain when I got pregnant with Breathe was that I wanted a name that meant something, a name that had a story behind it, a special name, a unique name. There were ideas in my head. I had always said I would name my first child Storeigh Elizabeth. But when I actually got pregnant, I kept thinking to myself, “But she’s not a story. She’s real and beautiful.” Then, one day, I was driving down Mt. View Rd when the song “Breathe” by Faith Hill came on the radio. It was not the lyrics to the song that stopped me cold. It was the use of the word “breathe” as a title. By the time I got home, goose bumps were on my arms and I knew for sure that that was my daughter’s name. Without breath, there is no life, so in a real sense, the name means “life.” Life is abundant. It is rich and full. Beautiful and tragic, all at the same time. No matter how hurt we feel, life itself is a gift. We all hear that but, when you really stop to think about it, choosing to view life as though it were a gift from a treasured friend that you unwrapped on Christmas morning changes the way you react to life’s events. If you are enjoying a gift, then when something bad happens to you, it is a bump in the road, much like a scraped knee: it hurts, but it does not destroy you. I wanted Breathe to remember that she has been given the greatest gift of all: life. Every morning she wakes up, the Sun is in the sky. Clouds. She can feel the breeze or go sit and relax in front of an awe-inspiring beach. Caterpillars become butterflies. Sometimes, when you least expect it, you meet somebody who catapults your day out of the dump and into the sky. Because you don’t know the future, you get the privilege of believing in hope because, after all, it might be about to happen in the very next minute. Whatever else life is, it is not a race. I wanted her to remember that, if she ever felt scared or stressed out, to just breathe: to take one minute and focus long enough to remember that, regardless of the situation, ‘ Everybody thought I was crazy but the really funny thing is, when Breathe was born and placed into my arms, even my sister said, “I don’t know how, but that name fits her.” “Hayleyann” took more thought. Hayley means field. When I first read that, I thought of a wild, grassy field in which children run, holding kites in the air and laughing. An open field is an image of freedom for me. And the word freedom…. I could write for days on that topic. But it wasn’t enough…. until I thought of the word “Ann.” Depending on which country you choose, Ann means “favor” or “grace.” It can also mean “priceless.” In other words, “Hayleyann” really means “graceful meadow” or “a favored field.” Thus, the name, Breathe Hayleyann.
Then I got pregnant with Alight.
I thought of Symphini Elizabeth because music has always been so healing and beautiful in my life. But it wasn’t quite right. Then, I started thinking about light one day. When I’m cold and I step out into the sunshine, there’s a moment when the Sun first hits me, that I feel warmed from the inside out. Light provides a way out of darkness. When I can’t sleep, I will turn on a light because the brightness not only chases away the fear but also makes me feel warmer. In a very real way, hope is a lot like a light: hope floods the heart with a sense of purpose. I wanted my daughter to know that she is a light, she doesn’t have to be anything she isn’t. She doesn’t have to become a doctor or a scientist or a C.E.O. in order to be accepted or loved. I wanted her to know that, no matter how dark a phase of life may seem, she has the power to shine light on it by holding onto her faith in God and by being a light to others. Soon, I knew without doubt that this baby’s name would have the word “light” in it. But I didn’t really like the name “Light” by itself: it was too…. short, stark. Ironically, it didn’t sound “warm” like a light really is. Plus, I wanted a verb: a word that did something. I had a vague sense that I liked names that start with A. So I got out the dictionary and began looking through it. Soon, I came to the word alight. It means “to come down.” As I read that, a warmth filled my being. God sends babies, just like He sends light (and hope) to us. Jesus, the greatest light of all, came down from Heaven. Tears filled my eyes as I sat there holding the dictionary and I knew, just as I had with Breathe’s, that that was this baby’s name.
I knew I wanted the name “Grace” in Alight’s name but I didn’t like “Alight Grace.” I love the French, however, and I’m not sure what first popped the word “bella” into my mind but it only took a moment for me to combine the two: “Bella-Grace” or “beautiful grace.” And she is that. Thus, the name Alight Bella-Grace.
Do you have any special nicknames for your children?
I call Alight “Light-light” and Breathe is often called “Baby Breathe” and, sometimes, “Breathe-ee.” I also call them both “snugglebunny.”
How did your family celebrate holidays?
Christmas and birthdays are our most revered holidays, and we do each really “big.” Christmas is a time to remember Jesus and what He did, first and foremost. In our house, it is also a time to enjoy each other and celebrate this precious and oh-so-fleeting time in their lives: childhood. We celebrate by doing things. Baking cookies, decorating multiple Christmas trees and enjoying the events in our city. For example, we look forward to and thoroughly enjoy Walk through Bethlehem; a local church re-creates the feel of the small town, complete with crafts and food and scrolls of the Scriptures that ends with a live nativity scene and real animals. Authentic looking “Roman” guards roam the area, too, adding to the feel of being in a crowded area. We also greatly anticipate our church’s awesome Christmas concert each other—–the last few years, they have put on a live performance of “The Little Drummer Boy” that you would never forget. We usually go to ICE at Opryland. We decorate gingerbread houses and shop as much as we can. This year, I started very early: I bought the first Christmas gift in August and now, mid-October, have all of their “big” gifts purchased already!
Birthdays are huge around our house! A birthday is the one day of the year designated to remember that you matter. Your life matters. No matter how many people there are in this world, there is only one you: no one else has your fingerprints or your exact DNA. Why? Because each of us were created for a specific purpose, one that, if fulfilled, brings great glory to God and service to humanity. Maybe it’s being a world-renowned scientist and finding a cure for a terminal illness. Or maybe it’s being a mom. Whatever it is, it is important. And remembering that you are important is important. We spent about three years having birthday parties at Sweet’n’Sassy where the kids got all dressed up and had their hair done, got to participate in a runway fashion show, etc. Then we moved on to Let It Shine parties, where the kids get to do things like zip line and jump into foam pits. Wherever the fun, it usually concludes with a sleepover at our house. Normally, there are a ton of kids at these sleepovers but we always have lots planned and stay very busy. We look forward to birthdays.
Describe a typical family outing.
I laughed when I read this question. Oh my goodness. We go somewhere almost every day of the week. We maintain annual memberships at all the cool places in and around our city, including the Discovery Center, The Adventure Science Center, the Zoo, the YMCA, Creative Discovery Museum, the Aquarium and Beech Bend to name a few. Combine those places with others like numerous fantastic parks, creeks, libraries, Chuck E. Cheese and the like and, well, we spend a great deal of time playing. This may sound like it is all fun and games. And, in a way, it kind of is. But it is also way more than that. It allows me to really engage with them. I don’t go to a park and sit on a bench while they place. I play to. This means that I get to really know my children—and they get to really know me. It creates a unique and very special bond between us that, I hope, they will carry with them into adulthood. When we aren’t going somewhere, we play creative games at home including things like Elephant in the Jungle, Human Obstacle Course, lemonade stands, puppet shows and runway models.
Did you take your children on regular vacations? To where?
We have gone to Gatlinburg about every other year and stayed in a cabin for a few days. We love it up there and it is always lots of fun. We also went to Pine Mountain, GA and stayed in a cabin, where we enjoyed a safari and other adventures.
Do you and your children attend regular religious services together?
All the time.
I teach Sunday School every Sunday morning, and I teach their class on Wednesday nights too.
To be honest with you, I didn’t used to attend services every week. I attended synagogue every week for a while but then stopped that too. Until I got pregnant. And then I made a very conscious decision that church was going to be a priority. Primarily because it would help me teach them about the Bible. When I was little, God was the reason I made it through the night. He would always hold my hand. I remember praying to Him and asking Him to put His armor on me. God was the only person who I knew without doubt would never abandon me; He was the Father. But also because I wanted them to grow up with an extended family, one at which they could meet friends and have mentors. So I just stuck to it. I started going every week and then I threw myself into the Children’s department as a volunteer.
And, let me tell you, God really, really does come around when you seek Him.
Not only did I grow closer to God than I ever have been but, also, I learned more about His word. And -I- found mentors, too. My church truly has evolved into a place that I feel safe in, that my children love and where I can always go to feel close to God.
Did your children have any serious medical concerns?
My oldest daughter is allergic to everything, even grass. In addition, she has asthma, which has been a very ugly thing in our lives. I have watched as her lips turned blue because she could not breathe correctly. But, way more scary, was when she was 8 and a half months old, the doctors discovered that her skull was not growing correctly and she needed surgery on her skull. That was terrifying.
What is the best part of being a parent?
The only thing I know to say is….. everything!