Telling my stories and having you read them used to be my biggest Momastery honor. That’s still my joy- but my biggest honor is now reading other women’s stories and sharing them with you. You know my favorite quote – The most revolutionary thing you can do it introduce women to each other. I’m an introducer. And a listener.
It’s Holy, Holy work – listening.
Real listening changes us through and through. It is my life’s work – listening. I hold women’s stories inside of me like white light that warms me from the inside out and spills through the cracks in me to warm others and light the world up.
Reading is listening.
Today it is my brutiful honor to introduce you to Kate Leong. Gavin’s mother. Gavin’s mother- The Ultimate Warrior.
Listen to Kate. Don’t hide from her story. At Momastery we are First Responders. We run toward the pain- because we know that hearts broken open change the world. A broken heart is not something to run from – it’s something to strive for and then wear like a medal of honor.
Monkees – Meet Kate.
I was so honored when Glennon asked me to do a guest post on her blog. And, admittedly, scared out of my mind. I thought I’d take the easy way out and send her one of my favorite blog posts; but Glennon specifically asked me to write something new – tailored to the Momastery audience. So I am showing up today – for myself and for anyone else who has been hiding their truth. I hope that my story inspires someone, somewhere, to come out with their story and shake off the unnecessary shame. My name is Kate and this is my “MamaStory”…
Growing up as the youngest of five, I often got lost in the crowd.
Born with a quiet voice and a sensitive heart, I could barely get a word in at the dinner table and often got my feelings hurt. In elementary school and even high school, I stayed a quiet observer. I didn’t fit in any group, really, and most times was okay with that. I hated watching others get bullied and would often feel compelled to reach out to them. I think I was born a natural caretaker… but that came with a heavy price. I learned to take care of everyone but me.
After suffering sexual abuse as an adolescent at the hands of a teacher, I went down a road of self destruction. This quiet, tender hearted girl with a big, loving family kept every dark secret inside and tried to slowly self destruct. My journey included an eating disorder all through high school that nearly killed me… a suicide attempt that nearly broke my parents hearts into a million little pieces… multiple hospitalizations in facilities with the kind of doctors who try to talk you well and medicate you silent… relationships that were wrong on every level – but that conveniently put me in the role of caretaker so I could feel normal while I helped him with his problems… a rape while I was on an overnight as a flight attendant… and alcoholism, which was how I chose to cope afterwards. I drank for close to five years – and nothing could have made me stop. Not even my big, loving, accepting family. But one day I was given a choice – marriage or vodka. Lucky for me, I had a choice. Lucky for my family, I chose wisely. I knew that I always wanted to be married and have children. And I wanted to do it right.
One would think, in a perfect world, that the story would go on to have a happy ending after this much turmoil and heartache.
Well, that would depend on your outlook, I suppose.
We tried and tried for a baby and found ourselves at the mercy of an infertility specialist. Soon, with a little help, we were pregnant with twins! Before we could find out if they were boys or girls, we lost them one by one. Imagine our surprise a few months later when we naturally conceived – twins AGAIN!! I held my breath at every ultrasound… until I exhaled into a deep wail when one heart stopped. I thought for sure the other baby was not far behind – that he wouldn’t survive without his sibling. I underestimated this baby. He not only survived a very difficult pregnancy… but he survived a very traumatic birth. This child is our son, Gavin. Born with severely low tone, feeding issues and “dysmorphic features” – we did not get a lot of encouraging predictions for his future. Six days before his first birthday we were told he has Cerebral Palsy. One of his doctors told me that he didn’t expect that Gavin would ever be able to sit up on his own – his tone was so, devastatingly low and his head was so big and heavy. This same doctor loves to tell that story every time he sees Gavin – especially now, at 5 1/2 years old, when he confidently walks into the exam room. I named my blog “Chasing Rainbows” as a testament to how Gavin has defied the odds that were stacked against him. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t chase rainbows. And if they do, remember my sweet little boy. Along with the Cerebral Palsy, Gavin has an undiagnosed genetic syndrome and will likely need our care his entire life.
People definitely raised their eyebrows when we were pregnant with our second child. Gavin was only six months – had just come home after a three month hospital stay for RSV and Botulism – and he was on a feeding tube and oxygen. After a shaky start (doctors suggested I abort my pregnancy – that the child I was carrying would never make it), Brian was born on a beautiful December day. Having our boys so close together was the best thing we ever did. Brian is Gavin’s best therapist… and some days his best friend. It has been such a joy watching them develop side by side. Unfortunately, I was stricken with Rheumatoid Arthritis shortly after his birth which has been rather difficult.
You would think we’d quit while we were ahead, but we still wanted a third baby for so many reasons. We worried about Brian. What if Gavin never talks? Would Brian be lonely? What if something happened to us? That’s a heavy burden for one sibling to carry. All of these fears and worries led us straight back to the infertility specialist. It did not go well. The end total to date – nine miscarriages and the traumatic stillbirth of our beautiful and perfect daughter, Darcy Claire. She was born after five and a half days in the hospital attempting to deliver her body and arrived just hours before the calendar announced it to be “Mother’s Day” in 2010.
I have absolutely gone down the road of – “Seriously, God?” And I’ve also gone down the road of – “There must be something wrong with me…something I did to deserve this.” Why would so many difficult things keep happening to one person? It doesn’t make sense!!
Or does it…
I often say on my blog that when Gavin came along, he saved my life. I want to explain to you why. The obvious reason is because I was sober a little over a year when I got pregnant. It definitely kept me on track! And, after years and years of self absorption and self destruction, isn’t it ironic that I was handed a baby that required ALL of me? Gavin saved me from myself.
But it was something that was said to me along the way – while I was knee deep in feeding tubes and therapies and serious medical issues with Gavin – that changed my entire outlook. I had years and years (and years) of therapists – both good and bad (and really bad) that couldn’t bring me to this revelation.
What if you chose your life’s blueprint before you were born? What if your soul sat with God before you arrived here on Earth and decided what your life should look like… what hardships you should endure… what lessons were the most important for you to learn… how your journey could help others on their journeys? What if your life’s journey was actually mapped out - by you and God - for a higher purpose?
Just thinking about that changed the course of my life forever and gave me a new perspective when looking in the rear view mirror. It took me from a place of “why do horrible things keep happening to me?!?!?” (with a couple WTFs thrown in there) to a place of power. If I chose to endure hard things in my lifetime – then I chose that for a higher purpose. I can use all of my experiences for good – and stop using them to shame and punish myself. I realized that all of these years I had been doing it wrong. I thought I was taking care of everyone… but since I wasn’t taking care of me in the right way, I really wan’t helping anyone at all!
Glennon often describes herself as a “shameless truth teller.” That is exactly what we all need to be. When we let our secrets out – whatever they are – we shake off the shame that’s attached to it. They say you are only as sick as the secrets you keep. I was choosing to be sick for so many years.
So, I’m no longer embarrassed about my history. I’m no longer shameful about the ways I chose to cope with the hand I was dealt. In sharing my burdens, I hope to ease the burdens of others who might be keeping similar secrets. But mostly, I see the higher purpose in all of this – to learn. I have learned without a doubt that I can do hard things. I have learned that in sharing ALL of myself, I can truly help others. I have learned that openness leads to healing. I have learned that, for me, writing is my best therapy. (And lucky for me – that therapy is free!) People ask me all the time how I remain so positive amidst so much misfortune. My answer is – it’s a choice. I choose to believe that my life is unfolding exactly as it’s supposed to. And I choose to be an avid student of all the lessons it is placing in my path. My blog is my “MamaStory” and it’s an honor for me to be vulnerable and open when I know that it can touch someone who needs it.
But the most important part of my “MamaStory” is my sons. My blog is my legacy to them. I want them to know that their Mommy was a human being with flaws and tragedies and triumphs and hopefully a little bit of insight. I want them to know that they can choose how they see their own lives. That adversity can make them either bitter… or better. That they won’t have to look far to “find their destiny” because their destiny lies right there in their life’s journey… just like I found my destiny in mine.
And just like you’ll find your destiny in yours.
I wrote this guest post for Glennon and sent it to her on April 3rd – a little nervous as it revealed so much about my personal life experiences. Eleven days later on April 14th, my 43rd birthday, my husband and I said goodbye to our precious son, Gavin. He suddenly and inexplicably suffered three cardiac arrests after a seizure on April 10th and we were lucky enough to spend four days with him before he died. During those days we slept with him, sang to him, loved on him and bathed him.
An incredible Child Life specialist helped his younger brother, Brian, come in to say goodbye in a sweet way and begin to process that his brother would die. Gavin was a helper and a healer – to us and to others – so it made perfect sense to us to donate his organs after his death. Now, his story has made him a helper and a healer all over the world to so many who have been moved and inspired by his journey. This little boy who never uttered a word is changing people. Imagine that.
I thought about this post several times during those days – and drew on my own words for strength. I delivered a eulogy to Gavin using some of the very words I wrote in this post. “You truly can find hope and inspiration and important life lessons in your own lives… even when the path seems impossible to walk, like this one for us. Gavin taught me that. I’m just the messenger.”
This little boy of mine saved my life. And his story could profoundly change yours.
He’s changed mine. Kate. He’s changed mine. Love, G
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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