Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meet a M.O.M (Mother of Many) Tuesday: Amy Christensen

I'm thrilled to share something new for this blog -- on select Tuesdays, I will feature an interview with another mother with her hands full. One reason I started blogging was because I found the early years with my large family so lonely and intimidating. It was hard to know how to do it all and how to do it well. I graduated in Family Science and read every parenting book I could find, but still felt the need for more guidance. Welcoming more children into my home when most people assumed I should be "done" was lonely.

So, with a younger version of myself in mind, I'm hoping to open up this blog to more perspectives. I've invited a good friend to help me prepare content and I have begun to invite some amazing mothers to contribute their voices. We'll kick off the new "Hands Full" blog with an interview of one of my new favorite people. I haven't met Amy in person yet, but I'm hopeful we will get that privilege in the next few years (When she told me I probably won't like her because she's a bit of a geek, I had to break to her the news that I am also a bit of a geek).

Enjoy! Please leave her some comments and appreciation for her time.

So tell us about your kids -- what are their ages and gender?

I have one boy and seven girls, with another gender-unknown baby due in December. The girls are 13, 12, 9, 7, 5, 1, and one in heaven who would now be 3. The boy is 10.
 

If it's not too personal, tell us a bit about Rissa and what her loss has taught you about being a mother.

I am from a family of seven kids so I was overjoyed to welcome our 7th child into our family. She was a delight... so beautiful and sweet and wonderful. When she was 10 months old, she began having a little bit of raspy breathing, but she didn't have other symptoms so I didn't think much of it. It didn't go away and got much louder. I took her to the doctor one day, and she thought it might be bronchiolitis, so she gave her a nebulizing treatment. That didn't help Rissa's oxygen levels, so we waited a bit and had another administered. When that didn't help, we were taken to the hospital for observation. They continued to treat it the same way for a day and tried a few other things.

Finally they did a chest x-ray. The doctor came back in, deathly pale, and said she'd be right back after calling the specialist. Soon I was face to face with a pediatric cardiologist. My daughter had contracted a virus that had affected her lungs some time ago, but then it had spread to her heart. It had ravaged her heart to the point where it had swollen so large that it collapsed her left lung. He immediately set up a LifeFlight transfer to Primary Children's hospital. They did all sorts of testing and poking and prodding (she needed two transfusions after all the blood they took from her tiny body).

They got her somewhat stabilized to where she was looking so sweet and happy. All the nurses kept saying, "She's the healthiest looking baby on this floor!" Well, they thought that until they saw her charts, anyway. After a week of trying everything, we were informed that she would need a heart transplant to survive. My husband started feeling like she wasn't going to live to see that transplant. She wasn't even stable enough to have the sedation required for some of the testing they wanted to do, so how could she survive such a major surgery?
 
We wanted to take her back home so her brother and sister could see her one last time. Before we could decide if we really wanted to do that, the doctors told us that miraculously an opening had just popped up and that we could have some tests done that would put Rissa on the transplant waiting list. Not wanting to condemn our child to no chance at survival, we submitted her to the procedures that had become available right then, that afternoon. She was to have a "heart cath" (where they put a tube up through her leg and all the way up into her heart, checking for pressure and also taking some tissue samples) and then an MRI, both of which she'd have to be sedated for. After the heart cath, the doctor said she was not stable enough to endure the MRI right then.

We went with her back to our room, where her heart stopped and wouldn't stabilize for 24 minutes. My husband and I sat outside the room crying our eyes out. After a time we felt her spirit leave the building. The doctors got her heart beating again, but testing the next day revealed that her brain was completely destroyed. She would be paralyzed, unable to "maintain airway" on her own, and the neurologist assured me that because of the massive amount of damage to those areas of her brain, the cognitive part of her brain was completely gone. He also said that her little body would not be able to endure surgery. The cardiologists told me she would not survive the month without a transplant. She was being kept asleep because being awake was too hard on her body. She was spiking a high fever (despite being on Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and a cooling pad), which I was told was very dangerous to her already damaged brain. And I already knew her sweet spirit was gone.

I begged and begged Heavenly Father to just take her home. I knew He wanted her back, so why wouldn't he just take her? I got the prompting that I would have to give her back, so we decided that we would unplug her from all the equipment that was forcing her body to keep living. My sister, dad, stepmom, former roommate, and aunt were there when she was unhooked from all the tubes and wires and placed in my arms.

We sang her some songs and I just held her. The spirit in that room was too precious and sacred to describe. I knew I had been blessed with one of the most perfect of God's children and that because of the sealing power of the Temple, I would see her again.
 

One of the most striking and unexpected lessons I learned after Rissa's death came several days later. I found myself sitting on the floor by my diaper changing table. I was crying that I would never be able to change her diaper again. Having changed thousands and thousands of diapers over the previous 11+ years, I wondered why I would miss this not-always-pleasant chore. It came to me that the tedious, time-consuming, repetitive, boring, uninspiring, never-ending tasks that we do for our children are one of the things that makes us love them so much. We are so bonded and attached to these needy, dependent little children precisely because they need us and depend on us for these daily, hourly, "minutely" acts of service.

I came to understand that when Christ was washing the feet of his disciples, He did so because He knows that those tender acts of service increase their love for us but also our love for them. I try to remind myself of this when all the day-to-day, mundane chores seem overwhelming and fruitless.

What advice would you give to a woman experiencing the grief of losing a child?

I guess one of the hardest things was to give up my desire to be permanently sad about losing my sweetheart. A natural reaction to something so tragic is to want to keep it front and center... what you're always focusing on and always thinking and talking about. I had to actively CHOOSE to put those feelings away and only allow them out every once in a while when I needed a good cry. I could have easily allowed myself to wallow in misery and sadness and despair, but I knew that would destroy my family. I've often heard it said that the Holy Ghost is a Comforter, like a large warm blanket that wants to wrap you in love. The thing I realize now is that this Comforter cannot and will not force you to be comforted. You must willingly allow yourself to be enveloped in His peace and love. That is sometimes very hard.

How did you and your husband decide on having such a large family? 

While in college I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) and told that I would need serious medical intervention to be able to get pregnant. While I was devastated at this news, as all I ever wanted to be was a stay-at-home mom, I had faith that things would work out because my Patriarchal Blessing spoke extensively about having children. So when my soon-to-be husband and I were seriously dating, I told him about my PCOS and he said we'd just put it in the Lord's hands and accept the children He sent us, if any. We had our first baby 10 1/2 months after we were married. What a blessing it has been for us to have put this in the Lord's hands.

What are your favorite parts about having a large family?

Inside jokes! We are always quoting movies and shows to each other, bursting out into song together, and laughing at old answers to "The Game of Things". It is so fun to have a gaggle of silly geese. I also love how loving and kind and accepting my kids are of each other.

The world would have us believe that siblings are rivals that are bitterly jealous of each other and have to fight and compete for attention. I have not seen that to be the case at all. My kids do sometimes squabble, don't get me wrong, but they are quick to apologize and forgive. I am constantly amazed at their goodness and sweetness. And, in true mommy fashion, I couldn't be prouder of how smart and kind and beautiful (or handsome) they all are. :)

What are your least favorite things about having a large family?

I consider myself to be one of the laziest people on earth, so I guess I would have to say all the chores. :) But I am glad for the motivation and direction running a large household gives me. With no children, I fear my house would be equally messy because I would not have the constant need to be working on it.

What activities are your kids involved in? How do you handle the logistics of getting kids to all of their activities in the course of a week? How do you decide what activities are worth your family's time and commitment?

This may sound absolutely terrible in today's world of having-kids-involved-in-all-sorts-of-things, but the only things we do are church and Scouting activities. I also put a good deal of importance on academic achievement, as my children are very gifted in that realm. I love that my kids have down time. With the amount of homework kids get these days, they hardly have time to hang out and play with each other, let alone participate in all sorts of activities outside the home. And we as a family always save time for daily scripture study, which I believe is one of the most important things parents can do with their children.

(Alas, finances have never been such that we've had money to spend on fun things like dance lessons or extracurricular sports. And I don't think I would function well as the mom that's always in her car driving everyone around to things.)

If you could go back ten years and whisper encouragement to yourself at a younger age and different stage of life, what would you say to that young mom?

I want all moms of little little kids to know that life gets sooooo much easier and better once your oldest kids get to be a little older and more responsible and helpful. I almost quit going to church back when I had a 4-yr-old, 3-yr-old, 1-yr-old, and infant. It just seemed like we were distracting others and I wasn't getting much out of meetings because I was so busy wrangling kids.

Very specifically I remember one Sunday when I felt defeated. Remarks had been made from the pulpit about the noise level (to which my kids were definitely contributing) and the mess our congregation was leaving each week (right after my kids had crushed the snack I brought into powder). I turned my head in shame and told the Lord that I would stop being such a problem and keep my kids at home for a while.

Several minutes later, a dear man got up to give his talk. He looked puzzled as he said, "I don't know why I feel I should say this, but you are where you're supposed to be." I immediately knew that was for me and of course the Lord would never turn his little ones away, regardless of how noisy and messy they are. I persevered through those rough younger years and now I'm proud to say that we get compliments about how reverent our kids are at church. So hang in there, young moms!

19 comments:

Evaly said...

Thank you for the reminder that the little things are really the big things. The story of losing your little girl brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing- I needed to read this, it was a long day :)

Natalie said...

I loved every word of this. Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom, Amy.

Kristen said...

Christina, thanks for opening up your blog to other moms. I really enjoyed this post. I cried through the story of loss. I can't even fathom the heartache and sorrow that would bring. Also, I was happy to read that you don't put your kids in a bunch of extra activities. My oldest is 4, and I just haven't felt right getting started with soccer, or gymnastics, or whatever else there is. It's nice to not be alone. Sometimes I think I'm depriving them, but it seems to be what works for our family right now. Thanks again for sharing!

jenifer said...

Amy, you are wonderful!! I'm glad we're friends!

swedemom said...

Your realization about the diapers really struck me. The other day it struck me that when I attend to my children's needs I am doing a service for them that they cannot do for themselves. And if I do it with a grudging manner, they will think that I don't love them or that they aren't important to me.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Tristan said...

What a fun series! I love the idea. I know having just 7 kids under 12 I'm the biggest family in my ward and have never known anyone with more than 5 kids. It is so weird that with my young family I still have moms asking me for advice on handling 2 or 3 little ones! I think it is amazing the variety we find even in a 'large family' demographic.

To Amy -

Thank you for sharing your story. It amazes me the things Heavenly Father can bring us through. I look forward to meeting your sweet Rissa in the Resurrection!

I have been there in the 'why go to church with all the littles'. Okay, so I'm still there some days as I still have 4 little boys age 4 and under...LOL. Having added a special needs child most recently I have been learning hard lessons I resisted like accepting help and even asking for help when I need it. God keeps us humble!

Greg "n" Laura said...

Amy, you're an amazing, wonderful, selfless woman! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

The Wright Family said...

Wow. Thank you! Beautiful and honest.

bjahlstrom said...

I loved this!

Robyn said...

I'm bragging a little when I say that I'm lucky enough to be Amy's sister. She really is amazing, and an inspiration to me most every day.

I was squeezing my own baby so tightly when I was reading about Rissa that he probably wondered if he'd ever get free. Thanks for reminding me what's important. I'm glad we'll be able to see Rissa again.

Keep up the good work, moms!

Taryn said...

Thank you...beautiful and encouraging!

J and C said...

I have missed your blog posts and finally just got caught up on the last few!
I am so sorry you are dealing with Hashimoto's. My husband and all of his siblings and his mother have it too. We have definitely had our share of ups and downs with it. The exhaustion thing is overwhelming for everyone. I know for me its frustrating to always have a tired husband as we try to figure out his med balance, but it is also frustrating for him to not have energy to participate.
I love the guest spot! Your family is beautiful and we are so lucky to have eternal families! The Gospel is such a huge blessing!
I too have more than the norm. I would love to keep having them but I have to convince my husband :o) Number 7 came in JUly and he is a doll baby. Only one other family in our ward has 7 and sometimes we get the "you are crazy" looks from people. So sad too, when we are encouraged to be different from the world, but somehow in terms of child-bearing we are becoming all to like the norm. I love to see big families. It makes me happy!
Your family is an inspiration (both of you)! Thanks!

Jana said...

Amy is also my sister and I want to grow up to be like her. She is always calm and cool and collected no matter what situation arises. Plus her kids are so lovable and goofy and fun to be around that I love it when my kids get to play with them. That's it Amy, you need to move here! :)

An Ordinary Mom said...

My heart aches for your loss! But what a blessing to have the knowledge of eternal life to keep us all going when tragedy strikes!

Thank you for your beautiful and wise words!

Julie said...

Thank you for you comments...I needed to hear them today. I too am a M.O.M. I have 7 and our 8th will be added in the next 6 weeks (give or take). I get lots of looks and questions, but I wouldn't trade it. I needed to hear the part about the never-ending tasks being a way we show them we love them, as I am trudging through a LOT of laundry today. My family is important to me and although some days are harder than others, I don't feel like my hands are full.....just my heart with all the love that they bring to our home.

Anaise said...

I have tears in my eyes after reading this. I'm so glad for this moment of quiet inspiration. Thank you.

Katie said...

Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing such sweet and intimate details of Rissa's journey with us. I look forward to more MOMs posts, Christina!

Liz Wheeler said...

This post was just for me. Christina knows that my baby boy has brain cancer right now. We don't know if we are going to be able to keep him or we will have to send him home. I had to read some of your post to my husband as it really really was personal to us. I wish I could have more children right now, I have 4, but I feel Heavenly Father has asked me to give my little guy who is now special needs and my 3 others every drop I can give them right now.
Thanks for posting this.

mama boss said...

Loved this. My 4th was born just one month ago, my oldest is 5, and things can be pretty crazy. It is always wonderful to read the words of someone who has "been there, done that". :) Thank you for sharing!

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