Gasping for air, I jumped out of bed at 3 a.m. during my seventh month of pregnancy with my firstborn. Before this jolt, I had been sleeping. Now fully awake, I forced myself to sit on the edge of my bed. Breathing was difficult, my heart was racing, and I felt an overwhelming urge to escape my house. I nudged my husband, and said, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” My husband had never seen me like this, and he agreed we should seek medical attention. We rushed to the ER as I reclined in the front seat, filled with panic.
When we arrived at the hospital, the staff immediately treated me, connecting me to various medical devices and asking me questions. The ER doctor soon approached my bedside, laid a hand on my arm and said, “You’re going to be just fine. While the symptoms are similar to those associated with a heart attack, that’s not what happened tonight. You suffered a severe panic attack.”
I instantly felt ashamed. I apologized for wasting the doctor’s time, and he said, “The heart racing, the shortness of breath—all of those symptoms are very real. You suffered tonight. Don’t apologize.” I asked him how I could suffer a panic attack while asleep. After all, I was asleep, so what could have scared me? He explained that pregnancy hormones—mixed with a predisposition to anxiety—never sleep. I experienced several more panic attacks during that pregnancy, once while happily watching my guilty pleasure, Dawson’s Creek. While I was preoccupied with my television, my subconscious was cooking up a different kind of episode.
The story of the 1912 Titanic ship—a beautiful ocean vessel that ended in tragedy—fascinated me when I was 14. I was horrified to learn that people had been mostly saved according to their social class. So, when my school’s English speech instructor asked us to choose a topic we cared about, my selection was easy. I conducted research, created note cards, and practiced my speech for weeks.
However, when it was my turn to speak, I walked slowly to the front of the classroom. That walk seemed to take an hour; my hands became clammy, my knees grew weak, and my mouth felt suddenly dry. I do not remember anything I said. I do remember feeling terrified.
Never wanting to feel that way again, I forced myself to try other public speaking opportunities, and when my dad encouraged me to briefly address our congregation about my church camp counselor experiences in the Black Hills, I reluctantly accepted. I eventually joined my high school’s oral interpretation team, which meant public speaking in a competition format. Oral interpretation mostly consisted of reciting memorized content, so that somehow seemed less daunting. While I still didn’t enjoy public speaking, each time grew a little easier. Continue reading Find your voice and advance your career
We know that women typically apologize more than men, but do we know why? Researcher Karina Schumann conducted a study in which 33 male and female university students, ages 18 to 44, maintained an online diary and noted whether they apologized or did something they believed warranted an apology. The participants also recorded how often they felt they deserved an apology from a friend. Women apologized more and reported committing more offensive acts. Women rated the offenses of others as more severe than men did, and women were also more likely to say the friend deserved an apology. But it’s not that men are hesitant to admit fault; men have a higher threshold for what they think warrants an apology. Women often have a lower threshold for what requires an apology because they are invested in the emotions of others, and they strive to maintain harmony in relationships.
My husband and I are expecting a baby boy in early July. While my pregnancy is fairly obvious, I still mention it when relevant. During a salon appointment, I mentioned it so my stylist would know to use a pregnancy-safe product. Then, in making the small talk which is typical in salons, the stylist asked my age. When I revealed I was 40, the hairdresser responded, “Wow, you started having babies late, huh?”
Late. While looking forward to my new baby, “late,” is the last adjective I would ascribe to his upcoming birth. Despite my understanding that the stylist intended no malice, I immediately felt like I needed to defend my decision to have a baby at 40. Instead, I did not say much, and the topic faded. The topic shouldn’t fade, though. The burden was on me to reframe the conversation, and I didn’t.
I did not meet my husband Tim until my early 30s. We married after more than a year of dating, and I became pregnant the following year. We were both thrilled. It happened quickly, and I soon began planning the nursery theme. But at the six-week mark, I experienced complications and was admitted to the emergency room. The medical staff could not detect a heartbeat. The doctor spoke to me in a kind tone and said, “There’s a small chance the calculations are incorrect, and you aren’t as far along as you thought. But, more than likely, this is a miscarriage. I am sorry. My wife experienced six of these.” Tim, always hopeful, thought positively. But I instinctively knew the outcome.
*Trigger warning: This column describes a car accident.
My dad often says that it is important to find ways to turn a negative experience into positive energy. That sentiment has helped me reframe Sunday, April 8, 2018, the day my little family survived a car accident. My husband Tim had turned 40 on April 6, and to celebrate, we traveled with our four-year-old son Weston to visit Tim’s childhood friend in Joplin, Missouri. We were returning to Monroe on Louisiana Highway 425 near the Log Cabin Road intersection at around 8 p.m. I was in the passenger seat, listening to an audiobook with Tim. Weston was sitting behind me in his car seat, wearing his favorite red headphones, and watching cartoons on the Ipad. I snapped a photo of him wearing his blue shirt with white stars and yellow stripes on the sleeves and texted it to my mother, knowing she would appreciate his ensemble.
Suddenly, another driver sped through the stop sign at the intersection, struck the passenger side of our Toyota 4-Runner, and threw us 250 feet across the median into the opposite car lane. Later reports indicated our car flipped about eight times. Tim saw the other driver accelerate toward our car, but I did not. I remember a loud noise and staring at the digital dashboard, trying to make sense of what was happening as our car began rolling. Continue reading See the light
As a teenager, I disliked my hands, which were not slender and feminine like my mother’s. Mine were shaped like square blocks, part of my Germanic build, I suppose. One day, my dad held my hands in his and said, “I like your hands. They are strong and sturdy.” Although that was not exactly what a 17-year-old girl might want to hear, I felt comforted by his words, and as I grew older, I worried less about my hands and even started to embrace “sturdy” as part of my Midwestern identity. Then I learned of the need to be sturdy emotionally, to deal with adversity.
My first experience with death was at 16, when I lost my grandfather, whom I loved differently than anyone else. In his kind, benevolent, grandparent mind, I was always “a good girl.” Clark Woodard was a big, broad-shouldered man, and while he was soft-spoken, he had a large personality that drew people to him. He was endlessly patient, and always hopeful, with a sense of humor that could lighten anyone’s burden. He was diagnosed with cancer when I was young, and he chose treatment mainly so he could “stick around” for his grandchildren, and he did. When he died years later, I ran to my favorite park, a few blocks from my house. I sat on one of the swings, out of breath, and looked at my hands. I remember thinking how much my hands resembled his. My hands were smaller, of course, but they were sturdy, like his.
I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005, two weeks after moving from South Dakota to Louisiana. I had to wait a week before finding out whether I had the less aggressive cancer or the kind that would end my life in six weeks, according to my surgeon. After receiving this news, I sat on the bed in my new Louisiana home and stared at my bedroom’s pale yellow walls. I remember thinking, “This does not make any sense. My body is strong. I am only 27 years old. I’m not ready.” For the first time in my life, I felt truly alone, because I knew no one could experience my cancer for me, although my mother expressed her desire to do so. Continue reading Women are resilient
I must have tried on my senior prom dress—a satin sheath with a v-neckline—at least a dozen times before the big event. I was 17, but I remember thinking I looked at least 22. A few days later, my high school boyfriend stopped me in our school’s hallway and asked my preference in flowers. “To be honest, flowers kind of make me sad because they die so quickly,” I replied immediately. As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt guilty and foolish. “Why would I talk to him about dead flowers?” I thought. He did not respond; he just smiled and left for his next class.
The evening of prom, I watched from the kitchen window as my boyfriend approached our driveway. I quickly met him outside, trying to avoid an audience composed of my parents and siblings. As he exited his car, I immediately noticed his boutonniere, which was crafted of felt flowers. He presented me with a matching wrist corsage, also made of felt flowers. Then he grinned and said, “These flowers will not make you sad.”
Now, to be candid, my lush bouquet of fresh peonies at my Louisiana wedding remains my favorite. But when I reflect on that moment in South Dakota, the kind of moment that has even more impact during one’s formative years, I remember how important it is, especially for women, to ask for what we want—without fear or guilt over how it might be received.
While my 1996 memory is an example from my personal life, I can think of instances throughout my professional career when I should have voiced my concerns or expressed my preferences. For example, when I was offered one of my first newspaper jobs, I accepted the position and salary without question, even though I knew the responsibilities were not consistent with the salary I was being offered. I did not want to risk offending my new boss. Continue reading Express your ideas—on flowers, on everything
New Year’s Resolutions thrilled me as a child. I imagined January 1 as a reset button, a chance to accomplish everything. My resolutions changed over the years: filling my sticker album with Strawberry Shortcake in the 1980s, attending Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair in the 1990s, and moving to Minneapolis to pursue my journalism career in the early 2000s.
Before I gave birth to my son Weston, I devoted most of my energy to my work. He changed everything. My New Year’s resolutions before his birth in January of 2014 included this sentence: “Try to have it all.”
Striving to “have it all” has caused significant angst among women, including female celebrities who are frequently asked how they manage work and family. Actor Keira Knightley famously responded: “Are you going to ask all the men that question tonight?” I believe the question is usually innocent, but still, it induces guilt, especially in mothers. It is impossible to devote 100 percent of one’s life to both career and family, yet mothers are often subjected to unrealistic expectations.
I have experienced many challenges, but perhaps none greater than the first time I left my 10-month-old son at daycare. I can still hear him, in a confused tone, crying out: “Mama? Mama?” I quickly walked to my car, as the teacher instructed me to do. Then I cried driving to work. This pattern continued for at least three months. I did not want to leave him, but I also wanted to succeed in the professional world. One day, coming home from a successful photo shoot at a surgical hospital where I directed communications, I found three-year-old Weston crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he said: “I just missed you, Mama, and you weren’t here.” My light mood dissipated as I looked into his big blue eyes and saw his tears. Continue reading Redefine “Having it All”