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April 17, 2018

Mothers are Strong :: Part One of Brooke’s Story

Brooke has been a close friend of the 31 Bits’ team for years. She’s lived more life in the past year than anyone we know, and as we started planning our Mothers Day Campaign, we asked if she would feel comfortable telling her story… (this might be a good time to grab some tissues.)

“Becoming a mother has been the hardest experience of my life and yet in contrast, it’s also been the most joyful and fulfilling experience as well.  The pain was so great because of the love: that deep kind of love that flattened me out, then rebuilt me.  Of course, it didn’t start that way. At first, it was buried in my soul. I didn’t know if I even wanted kids and anyways, I had to live my life before motherhood would dare to infringe on my freedoms. I wouldn’t let it limit me until I was ready, but when I was ready, motherhood wouldn’t have me.

We started trying casually because I thought I would have children easily since fertility runs in my family. Then a year in, I started getting hopeful. I watched friends get pregnant and assumed we would be pregnant together.  Then I held their babies.  Two years in and we starting testing. The end of every month came with knots of hope and dread and ultimately crying on my bathroom floor. Three years in and work and travel stopped satisfying me.  Friends had second pregnancies and I held their babies again. Then on a staircase outside my office, I was told we had a 1 in 3 million chance of having our own child.

It broke my heart in a way I didn’t know it could be broken.  It was a dream of a daughter, it was blue eyes that would never be.  Yet the loss felt tangible, as if she was somehow already here and we had lost her.

Relief came when we got pregnant after a year of Dr.’s appointments and three rounds of IVF. We went to Paris to celebrate the miracle and the beautiful fact that we had woken up from our nightmare. I really deeply felt like a mother already.  My arrogance about living my life just for me, dissipated into joy. I was happy to sacrifice freedom. This new adventure felt like the most important thing I could do with my life. 

Because of the miracle that she was, I was very afraid during the early part of my pregnancy. I held onto the fear as if it could somehow keep her safe. A delusion clarified by that fact that we almost lost her.

When it all started I remember our doctor having to raise his voice above my sobs.  The last ultrasound photo was frozen on the screen behind him as he explained our daughter’s condition.  With compassion in his eyes he gave her low chances of survival and very low quality of life, if any.  He held my hand when he encouraged me to terminate. I sobbed when I let it cross my mind.

My pregnancy was full of fear and the unknown, but against odds she came to us on July 4th, 2017 with a loud cry and head full of dark hair.  Her name is Colette Iva Hoehne.

We spent five months in the hospital scrambling to keep her tiny body alive. Over and over again we almost lost her and we had to release our hold on her.  We found ourselves kneeling by a hospital bed begging that by the grace of God she would survive. We had to let go of fear, or do our best to hold it at bay.  We had to choose hope when medical staff called it hopeless.  We had to keep showing up with bleary eyes and exhausted minds because we were fighting for her.  We had to keep praying when tragedy felt inevitable. 

Our early memories with her are full of IV lines, blood transfusions, false diagnosis, fear, monotony, Dr.’s worried faces, x-rays, and emergency surgery because she wouldn’t have made it through the night.  But I also remember the first time she smiled, and the way her nurses loved her.  I remember my first time holding her and feeling everything fall into place.  I remember our family surrounding our surgeon as he reviewed the positive results.  I remember the assembly line of people down the hallway as we walked her out of the NICU.  I’ll never forget how big her eyes got when she saw the sky for the first time. And I’ll never again know myself without knowing myself as a mother.  She has become such a part of me; it’s the first time I’ve known selflessness as such gift.

Although I’ve had a slightly traumatic introduction into motherhood, I think there are a lot of universal truths I’ve learned.  Loving a child is so all encompassing that it’s a great risk to a mother’s heart.  But I think a mother’s love was designed to carry with it the strength to endure the hardships. The love is too great, so it comes to us with the empathy that allows us to comfort, the concern that empowers us to protect, and the joy, which bears the weight of it all.  As feminists we often portray our strength through our careers, our leadership and our independence; and yet as true as those things are, for me I think the greatest strength and most relentless hope I’ve seen in myself has been awakened by loving Colette, by being a mom. 

I’ve come to believe that motherhood, in all the forms it takes and no matter how it comes to us, is some of the most enduring and tenacious and powerfully feminine work on the planet.

I am Mama, hear me roar.”

Stay tuned for Part Two. You can find more of Brooke’s writing at Brookehoehne.com.

Photos by Shannen Natasha :: Shop the Mother’s Day Collection that Brooke is wearing HERE.