This past month has been an amazing 31 days. I’ve asked people to share one of the most intimate parts of their identity, and have been humbled by their honesty and strength. As I’ve listened I’ve been surprised by how normal it is for people’s stories to be extraordinary. All of the stories have been about love. People have shared about loss, heartbreak, and challenges. A desire for connection, regret, and great sacrifice. So many stories of incredible strength, determination, and courage. I have heard stories that make me ask the question, “If I had been put in that situation, could I have pulled it off? Could I have had that much grace?”
The only thing that was surprising was how I loved my baby right away. How protective I felt. It’s like how God loves us. We do everything for them, when they get sick, when they’re upset. Also, how I love both of my children the same way. There is no difference. I was also surprised by how my body changed to get ready for the baby, and also how the body goes back - it’s like it’s meant to be.
Tell me about the birth of your daughter.
The same week I found out I was going to be deploying to Iraq, we found out we were pregnant with our first baby. I told my boss, and he told me he would try to get me back stateside for the birth. I arrived two days before the due date. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law were there, and the experience was unique. My mother-in-law prayed in the bathroom of the delivery room. My sister-in-law was running around taking pictures.
I’m surprised that you made it in time for the birth.
I was lucky because I got to Kuwait from Iraq, and I left in a few hours, but there were people who were there for weeks waiting for a flight. We induced the birth, and the baby didn’t come down for a while. The doctor told me I could go and get lunch. While I was out they called me to say that the baby was coming. I had to rush to the hospital. I was so amazed when our child came. My wife was in so much pain, but as soon as our daughter was born, it all changed. She was so calm, hugging the baby; it became something completely different. She was twisting in pain before and as soon as she came out, it was all forgotten.
I don’t think about the love, because I’m not lacking in love. If that child came into being, I would love it in a huge way that I can’t even imagine. The thing that I think about is: if I don't have children, I feel like I would have kept myself out of my complete development as a human being, because I would never have achieved this ability to love in this huge way. But it seems way too big a gamble. I’m sure when you have the kid, you couldn’t live without them, but all I can see is that they’re loud and draining. It seems too big a gamble to voluntarily give up the rest of my life, counting on -- that I’ll love it when it’s born.
I think in a lot of ways it’s unexpected how much you change, and how good the change is. You become a better version of yourself. You end up much softer, kinder, and compassionate - and you’ve never had to sacrifice and love people like you do when you become a mom. There’s a surprising benefit to being a mom that you don’t initially see. In the beginning you think you’re going to have a baby, how is this going to change my life, but it’s not really about the logistics - your whole outlook and trajectory about life changes. I love being a mom. I think everyone, if they have the chance, should experience being a mom.
I think the amount of love that you can can feel for your child is overwhelming. It was the biggest surprise. The force of emotion that you feel for your child. The other surprising thing about motherhood is how humbling it is. I always always confident in my capabilities as a person, but then motherhood comes, and it’s an equalizer. It’s going to knock you on your rear and take it out of you in a way that you didn’t think was possible. I thought I could do anything, but then I realized that I’m a crazy person who’s living on the edge.
I was a mom now. There was no time for a pity party. I focused on the positives—like being able to instill the Korean heritage in my biracial child—and did the best that I could. I gave caring for and breastfeeding my daughter my all. So many times I wanted to quit breastfeeding in those early days when we were struggling. But I stayed the course.
I learned that from my mom. Like I said, she was the only one there to help and be with us. It probably wasn’t very fun for her to be there (the first time in years for her) because we were just so unfamiliar with how to do life in Korea. It didn’t feel smooth yet and I didn’t really know where to tell her to go eat, shop, or do anything. But my mom came and she served us and she loved on us anyway. Now I know… she did it because she’s my mom. And in my family, that’s what moms do.
When my husband John and I met, I was teaching middle school, and I thought if I had children, the bell would never ring. We were both 24 when we got married, and we thought that was old. All my friends got married much younger. I’m from Clayton, North Carolina, and it was a very small town - 68 people in my graduating class. I grew up very differently from my husband who was from a military family. When we got married, it wasn’t that we didn’t like children. We just liked our freedom. We lived in Japan for two years, we travelled all over the Orient, and all our friends who had children couldn’t go on trips. We thought, why would we want to have kids? But then we turned 30 and we moved to Colorado, and we realized that there was more to life than travel and things. That’s when my daughter Jennifer came along.
So, my mom and I didn't always get along, my whole childhood. When my dad died in 2009, was kind of when we became friends, because I feel like we kinda both needed to reach out to somebody, and my brother, he's in the Army, so he's not around all the time. So we kinda connected at that point and started spending more time together and taking trips together. It's really interesting to get to know her in a totally different way--because I've known her one way for most of my life, and now it's in a totally different way, and I think most people do that as they become adults. It depends on the personality types, too. And she and I are very different personalities. We'll get mad at each other for stupid things, but ultimately, we respect each other more now as adults and as people. I think I inherited certain things from my mother that cause us to butt heads a bit. I got her stubbornness. My mom and I on trips are really funny. So my mom is so rigidly a planner, that if she could, she'd put me on a bus in the morning, tell me when to eat, tell me when to do these things, and tell me when to get off the bus. Whereas me, to an extent, I like the structure, but I don't need it like that...
She's made a ton of sacrifices day-to-day to serve her family and has enabled my sister and I to pursue our passions around the world, even though our adventures may worry her at times. Her sickness only magnified to us how important she is to us, and it taught us the importance of community, as we had lots of friends and family help us out and support us during that time. She's changed since she got sick- she's now even more sincere. And without needing to fill her day with a day job - that stressed her out - she now can focus her time and energy even more so on serving and encouraging others.
My mom had big dreams - huge dreams. As a child I remember thinking her dreams were too big. She dreamed of us speaking multiple languages. Being educated, traveling to Europe and China, living in beautiful homes. We lived in a really small home in Jamaica, and we had very little. She dreamed of us not being as impoverished as we were. Dreams about us having healthy fulfilling lives. She dreamed about her business, owning a pharmacy, our family having multiple businesses, which are all now a reality. She built a pharmacy, and it did really well. They took that money to buy a pharmaceutical supplier, and now the business is a major pharmaceutical player in Jamaica. I wish she was here to see it. She dreamed of us working at the World Bank. I worked at the World Bank. I've worked at J.P. Morgan and Wall Street. She had those dreams and spoke them, and they became an audible vision board that was ingrained in my mind as a young child. It guided certain principles that allowed me to get to where I am today.
Labor and birth is a most amazing process. It is a privilege and hard work. It is also an incredibly personal and vulnerable moment in a woman’s life. As I experienced my third pregnancy and birth, I thought a lot about the birthing process. As a woman with education, family support, dedicated training in birthing, with previous birthing experience, I was made to feel irresponsible for trying to make decisions about my own experience. It made me wonder about what other women are going through, in all the hospitals and birthing rooms around the world. I hope that more women can be treated with dignity and compassion in this and all parts of their lives.
We had many fertility struggles to have our first child, and in the process of thinking about a second child I felt like I needed to let go of my desire for control. I felt God telling me to give it up, like Abraham being asked to give up Isaac. It sometimes felt like I couldn’t breath. You can’t control your own fertility. When I gave up that control and started truly trusting God's plan for our family, which I thought at that time was adoption, I discovered that I was pregnant with my son. I had always been told I couldn’t have children naturally. I’m just so thankful. Now, our third one is due in a few months, and he was also a complete surprise. It was my greatest fear from the age of 18 - that I was never going to be a mother. Now I am overwhelmed by the abundance of God. I’ve definitely changed for the better because of them. But also because of the process to have them. Looking back, I'm glad it wasn't easy because now I can empathize with others who are similarly struggling and offer encouragement and comfort. I now also trust God more, not because He gave me my heart's desire, but because He carried me through the pain and struggle and gave me peace in the midst of disappointment. I know He is real and hears our cries, prayers. That's my testimony of grace!
I’ve told people many times, that if I missed anything, there were days where it would have been nice where was just someone who came along side me and said, why don’t you just go grocery shopping, and I’ll watch your kids. When the boys were young, we didn’t have transportation. I would put my daugher on my shoulders, and a baby on each hip. And then I carried the bagged groceries. We walked everywhere. When my daughter got to an age where she wouldn’t sit on my shoulders, she would walk and hold onto my pant leg. It’s not an easy time. I love my kids dearly. The only thing I would change is that I should have picked a better father for them. But my kids are amazing. Some people glorify single parenthood. They say, well, you don’t have a man telling you what to do, and that’s true, but you also don’t have what you need. Parenthood is hard with two parents. Parenthood is hard with one parent. Sure, you can do it by yourself, but it is hard.
Growing up as a TCK (Third Culture Kid), I always asked my mom, “Am I Filipino or Korean? If I had a choice I would always play with my Filipino friends rather than my Korean friends. I struggled with my identity because I felt more comfortable with my local culture. One thing that really stays with me to this day is that she said, “Why choose one when you can have both worlds? This whole world is yours - you don’t have to choose just one.” I felt like I had inherited the whole world - it was in my hands. It was a very memorable moment with my mom.
Tell us about your mom.
Growing up, it was a noisy house with family. And we’re always fighting really big, but then loving really big. My mom was definitely different than other moms. All my friends, they’d be like, “I’m having a sleepover at so-and-so’s house!” And that would be it for them. But my mom? Oh no. You’re like, “Mom, I’m having a sleepover!” And she would be ok with that, but she would drive you there, she would park and get out, and then she would go and have to meet and visit with your friend’s parents. Only then would she decide if you were *actually* having a sleepover. It was the same with going to the mall. My friends’ parents would drop them off—my mom? She’d be at the frickin mall with us. “I can go shopping, too!”
My mom always stood out. She was always dressed up, always put together. She is beautiful. And I was proud of her accent, too, because it was a representation of our Armenian culture, and that was important to me.
You lived in one place, but because your mom is Armenian, you also grew up multicultural. Can you tell us about that experience?
Being Catholic was a huge part of my upbringing, but it was a break in tradition. Armenians aren’t usually Catholics. But when I was a little kid, I was going to Armenian church and it was a dialect that’s different than the one we speak. I would just cry because I couldn’t understand anything. So we stopped going there. I feel like I missed out on Armenian. I understand why we stopped going to that church, since, you know, crying all the time. But I lost out on actually growing up with Armenian friends my age, outside of my family.
Where are you from?
We are Armenian, my family, from Iran. Growing up, England was almost like going to the beach. We were always back and forth, back and forth. So I went to university in England, to Cambridge. And finishing school there in my teens, maybe between age 17-20.
You did that on your own?
My mom was still in Persia. I mean, I missed her, but it was every holiday I saw her, so all the time. And I came to have an English family I lived with, and my little sister Frida, she came and joined me there, so it wasn't so lonely. My husband now, he's very lucky, and he feels very lucky! Sometimes Frida lives with us, stays a while, and she is so beautiful! So he got the two of us when he married me.
I have felt called to care for the most vulnerable people in society, the typically forgotten. It mostly centers around their social and emotional well being, and that comes from my mom. She always wanted us to feel special and cared for. But she does ask why I feel like I have to leave to do that work. She didn’t leave her mom or town, and no one else did either.
The part about my mom that has shaped my identity, was the fierce love for people that aren’t loved. That has stuck with me. All the empathy and compassion I have was taught by her, and that’s really cool. She’s been through a lot. Instead of being a victim, she is so strong. She’s an advocate for people. I see her when a client relapses, and she gets so sad. I just see that love that she has for people. Addicts are really hard to love, and she just cares so much for them. On the negative side, a lot of the decisions I’ve made since 16 till now at 19, have been a reaction to her. Conscious and unconscious decisions about what would piss her off.
Both of my parents died when I was a young adult. My dad died of a brain aneurysm, and five years later my mom died of a stroke. We were extraordinarily close. A mother and daughter could not be closer. I didn’t think I could live without her, and it was unfathomable to me that it would ever happen. I found out I was pregnant right after she died. None of us believed it, and the pregnancy stuck, but it didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t sometimes. We named our son Nathan, which means 'God has given' in Hebrew. His middle name is my mom's maiden name.