Portrait Photographer | Los Angeles | Southern California 

Laura LaBerteaux

Dear Mama; Holly’s Story

The Beginning

Being a mom has always been at the top of my must do list, so much so; my younger sister had to endure years of me working out my mothering techniques and parenting skills on her (thank you Mattie).

Oh how I wish motherhood was as simple as I thought it would be all those years ago. The truth is my journey has been different then I expected or planned. Before I could even be a mom I had to lose a substantial amount of weight and get my autoimmune disease (hypothyroidism) controlled. After weight loss surgery, clean eating, and working out for 2 hours a day 6 days a week for a year, I was given the green light to start growing our family. Only now I wasn’t as ready as I thought, for the first time in my adult life I was well under 200 lbs. I had loads of energy and a busy life full of adventure with my best friend and soulmate. That, and I was still struggling with body pain that started when I was 22. After some discussion my husband and I decided to continue on birth control and revisit the topic in 6 months. One month later on my daily walk home from work I was feeling like maybe I ate something bad. When complaining about it to one of my close girlfriends she jokingly said “you sound like you’re pregnant”. A sea of thoughts flashed through my mind; “how could I be, I would only be 3 weeks pregnant who feels a pregnancy at 3 weeks” and also “I had never missed my birth control and even changed it a month back because the doctors said the birth control pills weren’t as effective after my past surgery”. After talking to my husband about it he decided to stop off and pick up a test. Then 2 minutes later we were staring at a plus sign- faint but visible- we were ecstatic and beside ourselves. Since I could only be 3 weeks pregnant we made an appointment for an in-office pregnancy test. Two weeks after positive test we had our first ultrasound that confirmed we were expectant and we were having twins!! This is where my Journey to motherhood started.

It has been happiness and joy sprinkled heavily with anxiety, pain, and depression.

Shortly into my pregnancy my dad was diagnosed with dementia and was struggling. After some prayer, my husband and I chose not to renew the lease on our place and instead started prepping a space for us at home with my parents so I could be close to my dad. This would also provide a way for me to stay home with my kids -which is what I always wanted- and leave the workforce. I truly felt at that time that I was fine, however looking back I was definitely dealing with some pretty big emotions. But life was moving at such a pace I didn’t even have time to think about it, let alone take an internal poll of my feelings. Those first few months with the twins were filled with love, joy, and exhaustion. When they were six months old my stress and exhaustion hit an all-time high and after a few back to back ER visits for excruciating full body pain, my doctor then referred me to a rheumatologist. She quickly diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. All the tests came back clear I was told I could not begin treatment until I discontinued breastfeeding. Not ready or willing to wean my children I chose the holistic path using transcendental meditation and any other natural remedy recommended to me. All of this helped to greatly reduce my anxiety and even some of my pain. Before I knew it the twins were 11 months and starting to wean themselves. As their first birthday approached, I felt like it would be marking the end of my struggle with pain since I would be able to take medication. Instead of that happening, I found out I was 6 weeks pregnant!! I was excited to be pregnant but afraid to go through pregnancy with the amount of pain I was in; and all and all I was pretty overwhelmed the whole time. I pressed on but soon found myself depressed as I watched all the weight I had lost before having the twins crept back week by week, as doctors tried their best to help me stabilize my thyroid; which they finally did 75 lb later and well into my third trimester. All the stress and anxiety I had felt prior, were nothing compared to how I felt after giving birth to Roy. My Mother-in-law passed suddenly, one month after Roy’s birth and it hit our family hard. My husband is an only child so I took on the main responsibility for all off the funeral arrangements so that my husband and father-in-law could walk through their grief together. I was struggling to keep it together with two kids under 2 and an infant. My rheumatologist strongly urged me to switch to formula so that we could get my pain under control, but I had always produced more than enough milk and couldn’t imagine not breastfeeding. I spent the next year staggering through motherhood in a bit of a foggy haze just trying to make it through each day. I did my best to have a brave face so nobody would know what a hard time I was really having. Then when my baby was 11 months the day finally came for me to start taking antidepressants and seizure medication to help control and reduce my spasms and pain. I couldn’t wait; finally I could get back to being the mom I wanted to be. I had been struggling for months with different medications but they weren’t the help I had imagined them to be.

Life dealt another blow.

My mother’s routine hernia repair had major complications leaving her in a medically induced coma for 4 weeks in the ICU. Each day I worked to keep my house running (with the love and support of my husband and others who brought meals and prayers) and at night I would sit and talk to my mom, not knowing if she would ever be able to speak back to me. My heart ached from all the uncertainty. My sister’s first child was only 3 months at the time. She would breastfeed in the lobby and we would take turns being with my mom. I felt so much guilt. I needed my mom and so did the rest of our family. I felt deep sadness at the thought that my children could lose both Grandma’s in less than two years. Thankfully my mom recovered from the complication, but she still had an unrepaired hernia. Back to work she went because they wouldn’t be able to attempt another repair for at least 6 months (not that she was in a hurry to go back under the knife). This is about the same time I discontinued  all of the failed medication I had been using. I was losing hair, sleep, energy -but not weight that was all gain- losing hope that anything could ever really help. From that point on I went back to all the holistic care treatment and joined a support group for others dealing with similar conditions. I still wasn’t happy about my weight gain or daily pain but with a lot of prayer and support from my husband, I felt like I was adjusting to my new norm. I had even slowed my bathroom cry sessions down to once or twice a week instead of two or three times a day. This is about the time my husband asked me to pray and consider having another child. It was a tough time for us, and he was adamantly in favor and I was adamantly opposed. I couldn’t fathom going through another pregnancy. All I could think is “how much weight would I gain, would my pain get worse, would my thyroid spin out of control again.” After a good two months of being annoyed and frustrated that he would even ask me such a thing I decided to take it to the Lord, it was the first time I truly felt I received an answer automatically to a prayer. I knew that we were meant to have another baby and I would have to put all of my feelings and concerns and worries aside. Shortly after getting pregnant with baby number 4 things took a turn. My morning sickness never went away; I was throwing up all the time; and was soon after diagnosed with HG. I didn’t have to worry about gaining weight because I was losing a minimum of a pound a week for my entire pregnancy. I had to be on IVs to stay hydrated and was given nausea medication just so I could drive. I returned to my daily cry sessions in the bathroom (which was convenient since I was throwing up anyways). Then a little over halfway through my pregnancy my world grind it to a halt. My mom was diagnosed with amyloidosis- a rare cancer that was attacking her heart. She went from a strong train engineer to someone fighting for here life. It was a fight from day one, patients in the past had a life expectancy of 6 to 9 months. My whole family rallied to support her in anyway we could, and since I lived on the same property I naturally became her main care assistant during her more than two year long treatment.

Serving others didn’t take away my pain, but being concerned with the lives of others and serving them took me out of myself.

During that time I gave birth to our 4th: Oliver. I still struggled with all of the same ailments except none of them bogged me down the way they had previously. Through those years I clung to The Tender Mercies that I received, I realize God’s commandment to love one another, was one of the greatest blessings he could have given us, I was unable to live in my pain because I was too concerned for my mom’s care and for loving and helping those around her in the hospital who were also experiencing life threatening illnesses. I was no longer worried about my weight or whether my kid’s had grilled cheese for the second time in a row for dinner. I still had a guilt at times that my kids weren’t participating in as many fun organized gatherings, and the majority of our homeschool sessions took place in my bed, the car or park; while we waited for Grandma(my mom) during chemo. 

I learned to come to peace with things that were out of my control.

  My pain never went away, my anxiety never completely disappeared, my sadness came in waves but because I was no longer focused on me it wasn’t debilitating this time. It didn’t sink me into the depression I had felt in the past. Instead I felt determined to soak up every bit of happy news that came our way, I leaned into my faith finding comfort in my Heavenly Father divine plan. I learned to come to peace with things that were out of my control. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t cry in my bathroom daily or have a pit in my stomach every time I had to relay negative news to my siblings about my mom treatment. Or that I didn’t feel guilt for not being able to juggle caring for my mom and my children in Facebook worthy fashion on the days I layed in bed because my fibromyalgia was flaring up.  It just means none of that was able to drag me down because I could now see clearly what was truly important what was superficial.

My mother is still here with me today, two and a half years later, far past the six to nine-month life expectancy. She is still fighting to have stable health but we are hopeful and moreover grateful for the last 2 years together to make memories that matter.

Dear Mama,

don’t give up when you can’t see the other side of the wall that you’re up against. When you focus on those sweet spirits entrusted to you, you’ll find purpose and joy. Maybe not all at once, but little by little. Keep your eyes and heart open, God is sending you little loves notes everywhere you are. -Holly

October 18, 2019

  1. Kaeley

    October 18th, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story! It’s beautiful!

  2. Laura LaBerteaux

    October 19th, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    Thank you Kaeley!! Love you, girl!

  3. Susan Wall

    October 22nd, 2019 at 5:06 am

    You are one amazing lady and I love you as a daughter. I am always good for at least a hug. Never hesitate to reach out if I can help.

  4. Liz Meas

    October 25th, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    The photos not only show how beautiful you are on the outside but after reading the story, those photos glowed even more because your spirit shined through. I truly believe we have angels living amongst us and you are absolutely one to your family-your mom, your husband, your father-in-law and most importantly to your legacy, your little cuties. I appreciate your sharing your story to the world and being so vulnerable. It was obvious you were one strong mama but this blog painted the picture with color. You’re an inspiration!!! Sending you and the family tons of love and support!!

  5. Irene Bruce

    October 25th, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Amazing story. We all know you get your strength from your mom and all the struggles you’ve been through have made you into a strong and wise woman.

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Laura LaBerteaux