The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 11, 2014

COLUMN: Extraordinary stories of the strength of motherhood

It’s funny how affected you can be by the stories of people you don’t even know.

Last week, I got teary-eyed at least twice while scrolling through the newsfeed of a social media site. Two stories, two women on opposite sides of the world, two mothers who gave so much of their selves so that their children would live.

I have geographical ties to the first story and several of my Facebook friends shared it, as that’s where my own family was stationed during my high school years. A soldier and his wife, stationed at Fort Drum, New York, tried everything they could to conceive. Eventually, Brandon and Jenna Hinnman were expecting twins, little girls. Everything was fine until Jenna’s 30th week of pregnancy when she went into premature labor. By emergency c-section, Kinleigh and Azlynn were born and rushed to the NICU. The Hinnmans only saw the girls as they were quickly carried out by the nursing staff.

But then Jenna couldn’t catch her breath. It was odd. Doctors thought she had somehow contracted pneumonia. But it was far worse than that. As Jenna’s life was in the balance, doctors found that she had an extraordinarily rare form of cancer, the pregnancy-related choriocarcinoma, and her lungs and body were filled with tumors. She was placed in a medically induced coma as doctors administered as many treatments as possible to combat the cancer, infections and internal bleeding.

All the while, Kinleigh and Azlynn were getting stronger day by day, cuddled together in the same incubator as close as they were together in the womb. After several weeks, the twins would go home with Jenna’s mom while Brandon split his time between his daughters and sitting by the bed of his wife. Jenna showed some very positive signs of recovery.

But on Monday, Jenna passed away.

The thing about choriocarcinoma is that while extremely rare, it is a very treatable form of cancer. The survival rate is very, very high for the mothers. But for the unborn, the survival rate is very, very low. In fact, only about 15 percent of infants born to mothers with choriocarcinoma survive.

“The type of cancer she had almost always claims the life of the child, not the parent,” her best friend wrote the day she died on the Facebook page that had kept the community updated on Jenna’s condition since March. “Jenna sacrificed herself to save her two children. She defeated the cancer before it ever hurt the two most beloved people to her in the world.”

I didn’t know Jenna at all, but I know Jenna is in a better place now, watching over her beautiful babies. I know she didn’t make a conscious choice to give her life for her girls, but I hope her daughters grow up knowing that if Jenna was given that choice to make, she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The second story is one of the strength of a mother’s love and her touch. It’s not a recent one — it happened in 2010 — but was shared by friends several times last week probably because of the proximity to Mother’s Day. Kate and David Ogg were also expecting twins, but when the Sydney, Australia, mother went into labor at only 27 weeks, one of her babies was pronounced dead after doctors tried to resuscitate him for 20 minutes. Baby Emily was rushed to the NICU while their son, Jamie, was laid on Kate’s chest so the couple could say their final goodbyes.

“I wanted to meet him and to hold him and for him to know us,” Kate said. “If he was on his way out of the world, we wanted for him to know who his parents were and to know that we loved him before he died.”

After five minutes, Jamie began to gasp and jerk. The nurses said it was nothing more than reflexes as the body died. Still, Kate held him, skin to skin, and stroked his back and told him how Emily was going to be OK and how much she loved him.

Then Jamie opened his eyes. Since the couple had been repeatedly told that everything that was happening was part of his death, the Oggs were happy they got to see their son’s eyes before he died. But then he didn’t close them. Then he grabbed for his mother’s finger. She put a little breast milk on her finger and Jamie happily suckled it. This didn’t feel like death to them, but the doctor refused to come back into the room. So the Oggs lied. After two hours of watching their son come back to life, they told the nurse to inform the doctor they had finally come to terms with his death and asked if he would come into the room and explain it to them.

Instead of finding grieving parents, the doctor found a joyous celebration of a life they all believed was lost. Jamie was healthy and alive and soon was sent to be with his twin sister in the NICU.

Kate just did what felt natural to her. She didn’t know at the time that saying goodbye to the little man she carried inside her for almost seven months would mean that he would defy the doctor’s prognosis and not only survive, but thrive.

These are the extraordinary stories of the strength of motherhood. We don’t see these kinds of stories every day. What we see are reports of child abuse or neglect or drug abuse or death. While these instances happen too often, they are symptoms of weakness. And we forget the strengths that women in their day-to-day lives show.

There are strong mothers all around us who should be celebrated today and every other day. The woman who unknowingly goes to the office with a bit of spit-up on her shoulder and a spot of jelly on her slacks. The woman who works through her lunch break so she can leave the office in time to catch her son’s T-ball game. The woman who knows every word to every song in “Frozen” and will sing them with her daughter on long car rides. The woman who longs to buy that stylish pair of boots but knows her son needs a new pair of basketball shoes. The woman who hides her tears behind a camera as she takes photos of her daughter on her way to senior prom or her son walking across the stage to get his high school diploma.

From the messy-hair, sleep-deprived new mother to the one standing in the grassy area between two baseball diamonds so she can watch two children play games at the same time, there is strength in every single moment devoted to giving their children a better life. Baking cupcakes for bake sales into the early-morning hours, running to the store after midnight for milk for the next day’s breakfast, hours spent in emergency rooms or pediatricians’ offices, getting down on the carpet to play Matchbox cars despite a mile-long to-do list, it’s a strength that is tested every minute of every single day of motherhood.

And even when that mother feels broken, when things aren’t going according to schedule, when naps are missed and meltdowns happen, when things are spilled or broken or missing, when calls come from school or a not-so-great report card comes home, when hearts are broken, there is still strength in motherhood.

What the mothers around us do each day to ensure their children are strong, happy and healthy may never make a viral post on a social media site, but never minimize just how extraordinary their roles are.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Misty Poe is the managing editor of the Times West Virginian and can be reached by email at mpoe@timeswv.com, on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV or by phone at 304-367-2523.

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