When I was pregnant, I wanted Sydney to have it all. The best car seat, the best swing, the cutest room—she deserved it. I also wanted to have it all. I wanted that perfect pregnancy, where I glowed through every trimester. I wanted to decorate the nursery alongside my husband; I wanted him to talk to my belly at night. I wanted it all, but one thing got in the way: deployment.
My husband deployed when I was six months pregnant. On June 21, 2011, he kissed my forehead, rubbed my belly, and walked to the taxi that would take him out of the state, out of the country, and to a place of total unrest and rabid violence. I was left to wait, and give birth alone.
I wasn’t scared, though. We had been through two previous deployments, and since his particular job didn’t require him to leave the base, I was never that concerned. We chatted back and forth on instant message. I shopped online...a lot. I ordered tons of custom nursery stuff for our little girl. (Etsy became my new best friend.) I was staying with our general plan of her “having it all.”
She was born on September 28, 2011: 1:05 p.m. Texas time, 9:05 p.m. Iraq time. My husband listened to her first cry over the phone. As I told him over and over how beautiful she was, they put her on my chest for the first time. That evening, he called to tell me even more good news: He had been chosen for a special job that would put us only two hours away from my family. For an active-duty military family, two hours away is about as good as it gets. It was one of the best days of my life.
That was the last I heard from him for six days.
This was really unusual. We communicated every day, without fail. Hours ticked by. Then entire days passed. I became increasingly more scared and confused. After Googling his location, I was near the point of hysteria. The violence in his area had escalated immensely. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. We just had a perfect baby girl; we had a daughter to raise.
Then he finally called me. They had been on lockdown due to a fatality. Every last nerve was on edge, but I had never been more grateful to hear his voice.
That’s when I realized that having it all is not about perfect pregnancies or cute nurseries. Having it all happened on November 18, 2011, when my husband held his daughter in his arms for the first time, and I put my arms around him. This was everything I ever needed.
Rachel Engel lives in Burleson, TX and is the mom of Sydney, 18 months
As I place my daughter in her high chair for breakfast, I see a business call coming in on my cell phone and rush to answer it. Phone on my ear, I pour her cereal and appreciate that she’s a happy, patient toddler this morning. While still on the call, I hand the feeding duties over to my hubby and head upstairs to my home office.
As I dive into discussion with a client, I take a quick glance at my agenda for the day: launch a marketing campaign, do the laundry, pitch a news story, pay bills online, respond to pressing e-mails, and pick up a few groceries—all before heading to the cancer center to volunteer at a Look Good Feel Better class for newly diagnosed women.
Some days it’s still hard to believe this is me. Being a momtrepreneur, juggling both motherhood and business, was never my intention. I never even wanted it all. In fact, two years ago I was a perfectly happy, childless 30-year-old woman with a budding career.
That was until the week that changed my life forever. Just days after receiving the surprising news that I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of a sudden, I was forced to make several life-changing decisions. And unexpectedly, that was when I discovered that I wanted it all.
I would go on to fight for my life and the life of my unborn child. My treatment plan entailed a mastectomy and chemotherapy, all while pregnant. Early in my battle, as I recovered from surgery, I was terminated from my job. Having always placed so much emphasis on my career, I struggled with this loss more than the loss of my breasts and hair. To help combat the sorrow, I used my time between medical appointments to volunteer, do freelance work, and prepare the baby’s nursery for her arrival.
After seven rounds of grueling chemo, I went into early labor and delivered a beautiful baby girl. Born premature but perfectly healthy, Serenity arrived to let me know that we had won our fight. A month later, scans declared me cancer-free.
Somewhere along my journey with breast cancer and on the road to motherhood, I connected with my innermost thoughts and desires. Determined to find a happy balance between motherhood, my health, and a fulfilling career, I launched my own business and became a work-at-home mom.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes clients are more difficult than my toddler. Sometimes playtime with my daughter steals all the hours of my day and I must work into the wee hours of the night. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing.
At the end of the day, I’m doing what I love. I have my health, a wonderful partner, a supportive family, and most of all, I have my Serenity. That is truly having it all.
Roxanne Martinez lives in Fort Worth TX and is the mom of Serenity, 23 months
For many, “having it all” means the biggest home on the block, the newest SUV in the neighborhood, or outfitting their kids in the latest designer clothing. For us, it took losing everything to discover what it means to have it all.
In 2009, while I was pregnant with our first child, my husband lost his software-engineering job. We had no idea how bad the recession would be, that we would lose our home, live year-round in a camper, and end up waiting in line for food stamps. We had no idea that we’d still be living in a camper not only after our second child was born, but also our third. We had no idea we would end up sleeping in RV parks, truck stops, public rest areas, front lawns, and Walmart parking lots.
By being a stay-at-home dad, my husband has had the kind of quality time with our kids that most fathers—let alone both working parents—don’t get to enjoy. He continually impresses me with his ability to come up with creative repair solutions. Had we not been in this situation, I may never have noticed or appreciated all his gifts, skills that have literally kept a roof over our heads. And as a formerly career-minded professional, I learned that my real life fulfillment would come from being a wife and mom.
Working alongside each other in tight quarters has also further demonstrated our compatibility with everything from changing diapers to corralling toddlers to keeping each other encouraged and motivated.
By not having a “real” home, we have found that home is really where you are, not defined by the material things surrounding you. Our happiness is not in granite countertops or wood floors, but in our children and each other. Through these hard times, I’ve learned we can face any challenge as long as we’re together.
Rebekah Cater lives in Tacoma, WA and is the mom of Johnny, 3, Makhailah, 2, and Tristan, 6 months
Doesn’t the phrase “having it all” conjure up a Sarah Jessica Parker-esque woman striding down the streets of New York in killer heels? If Morgan Freeman narrated her life, he’d tell us that she gracefully juggles the demands of a successful career, happily cares for her two perfect children, and still has time for exercise and going out in the evenings with her charming husband.
If you’re anything like me, you hate this woman in your mind. She’s an ever-present reminder that you’re not quite there. She probably doesn’t stuff the remainder of her toddler’s grilled cheese sandwich in her mouth because she’s running late for carpool, hasn’t eaten, and realizes that it’s Wednesday, which means the MasterCard bill is late. This woman doesn’t have to decide between having tan, fit legs and getting the laundry done. Don’t you see? She has. It. All.
The trouble is, we all know this woman isn’t real. In our logical minds, we understand that it’s impossible. But in our inner dialogues, aren’t we still assuming that she’s out there? That it’s a sister-in-law, neighbor, or woman at the office?
In this world where we can compare our lives to others’ through social media, we have to be honest with ourselves and redefine what “having it all” really means.
Having it all is possible, just not all at once.
Sometimes I’m Super Wife. I’m caring and forgiving with my husband, but short-fused with the kids. Other times I’m crazy patient with my children—cleaning up spills with a smile and disciplining in such a way that would qualify me as an expert on Dr. Phil—but I’m so tired by the end of the day that I’ve got nothing left for my man. One week I’m dicing, marinating, and plating amazing, healthy dinners, and the next we eat cereal for dinner.
I used to chide myself for being inconsistent and not getting it all right at once. But I’m starting to realize that life as a parent is an ebb and flow of success and setbacks. Getting it right all the time would rob me of important learning experiences and of daily reflection. I want to be humble and remember that I’m human and can learn from my mistakes. I want to appreciate the good because occasionally I experience the sucktastic. And I want to love myself for fighting the fight.
Having it all means waking each morning. It means holding our loved ones. It means getting the chance to try, try again.
Lana Shumway from Mesa, AZ is the mom of Tatum, 10, Dane, 6, and Crew, 3