Happy Friday or FriYay as some of you call it!
Guys, I don’t even have the words to tell you how surreal it is that I’m going to be able to share this momma’s story with you for today’s interview!
For one, this is a woman who has known me since my lanky teenage years yet, for some odd reason, she’s stuck with me ever since. She’s become more than a friend, she is a cherished sister. I have the utmost respect for her and admire how amazingly talented she is. As my best friend, she truly is a God-send in my life.
I’m also honored to share her interview with you because of the sacred space today’s theme of Motherhood and Suffering holds for her. I have personally seen her walk intimately with suffering over the years. And quite honestly, I wasn’t even sure how she’d respond when I nervously asked if she’d allow us to enter into her journey. The fact she agreed is a testament to her gracious openness and willingness to be wholly authentic.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add she’s also my “crazy person” with whom I can totally be myself. Side note: If you don’t have a “crazy person” already, I suggest you go get you one…just know, mine is taken! ;P
Oh, and by the way, did I mention she opened a WHOLE school last fall??? (Kanye shrug)
Like for real y’all, who is this beast of a woman?!
But that’s a story for another day…anywho!
Seriously though, without further ado, I introduce to you my dear, dear sister and friend Efe Odeleye…a giant of strength, sacrifice and faithfulness!
How has suffering touched your motherhood journey?
My daughter, Tamilore (Tami for short), was a premature baby, born at 28 weeks. She was in the NICU for 3 months and had 5 surgeries on her brain by the time she was 7 months old. This was due to Hydrocephalus. She also had several other surgeries to address a brain bleed. She did every milestone later…walked later, talked later, etc…needed occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy…she’s still in therapy. She has epilepsy and multiple diagnoses…a Global Development Delay and Autism. At birth, she had optical degeneration in her eyes, so we weren’t sure how much sight she had lost or how well she would see.
In having a child like Tami, I wonder what kind of mother I’d be if she was on a different scale. I can imagine I’d be a super busy person who’d push her kids and expect them to meet every challenge. If it weren’t for Tami I wouldn’t have been challenged to grow, think and be a more robust person socially and emotionally. When she started to have seizures, it caused me to put my own schedule to the side.
Now, I’ve had to modify what I think life should be like instead of thinking everyone should be a super achiever. (But Tami is an achiever because I think of the milestones she’s met.) When I think about the mother I would’ve been had she not had these challenges, I don’t think I’d be a mother who is in tune. Tami forces me to focus on her. Being her mother has caused me to have to know that everything else really isn’t that serious, everything else could go. I wouldn’t have learned that lesson if I hadn’t been her mother.
What has God shown you about Himself through suffering?
This is such a big question. I feel like my journey with God went from being “Is there really a God?”, when I was younger and a teenager, to when I was in college saying, “Thank you God for redeeming me”. I was so grateful…just loving him and thanking him. There was a period when I felt like everything I did was “winning”. Then I got married, moved to Nigeria, had a fire in my house and had complications during pregnancy. I’ve learned that the presence of pain and challenges doesn’t mean God is absent. He’s grown my patience and faith through challenges.
I used to think the height of my faith was before these kinds of challenges. But now, there are prayers I don’t pray anymore because I just believe. I believe God heard me. I’m going to keep “knocking”. I know that its in God’s time. If he does it, “Praise his name” and if he doesn’t do it, its not because he can’t but because he’s chosen not to. This journey with suffering has helped me so I can talk to anyone no matter what their pain is. I can listen even if my experience doesn’t exactly line up to theirs. Without it, I never would have had the patience, interest or heart for those kinds of conversations.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned thus far in being a mother?
I have a new found capacity for love. I always knew I was selfish growing up but I know that I’m not that same selfish person anymore. Motherhood has been humbling – I’m the chief nanny, the chief cook…sometimes I’m like, “Who’s going to do this?” And then I’m like, “Oh yeah…me!” There’s certain things you can’t outsource as a mother. I may have to clear my schedule of something but it has to get done. I now have a deeper capacity for love and understanding that motherhood is sometimes eating “humble pie.” You’re “it” and sometimes you don’t want to be “it” but you still have to do it and trust the Lord is with you.
Where do you find refreshment?
I find refreshment in talking to women of God and talking to my best friend. Sometimes I just get stuck in this work trap and all I have to do is pick up the phone or see a text from you or my sisters or my mom…my inner circle. Watching movies…putting stuff aside…sitting on the floor and eating Skinny Pop.
How are you best able to face what you know God is doing but has not completely done yet?
Sometimes you have to trust the process and know you’re not the first person to face this. I hate to say there’s people who have it worse, but to know this journey has been walked before is comforting. Sometimes even a quick 90 second devotional or going to church, staying connected and protected by staying in your Word, just staying in that routine helps…also being connected to the community of people who are praying for you.
When Tami was in the NICU, I went through this period when I was so low, I didn’t want to even answer people’s calls because I didn’t want to talk about where I was. I couldn’t explain that my daughter wasn’t home. I was pumping breast milk and doing kangarooing with my daughter who literally could fit in the palm of my hand. I couldn’t even pray during that period. I felt defeated like I couldn’t offer anything. I went through the valley and came out of that with time. But through my sisters, my parents, you…my circle…I was relying on the people of faith who were praying for me. Sometimes when I knew I couldn’t pray, I would just call my mom and ask her to pray. All I could do was “amen” in my spirit.
I also have to remind myself Tami is a work in progress. I picture her future self and I speak that to her.
For instance, even tonight, I couldn’t call you on time for this interview because I was dealing with a behavioral issue with her. Sometimes I may want to say, “Haven’t you learned already? Why do you keep doing this?” Instead, I will say, “You’re smart, you learn, you have a bright future, you’re the head and not the tail.” I say what she might not be yet but what I’m believing she’ll be.
What do you hope for your daughter?
As a “Martha”, my bar for success can be set pretty high. But recently, I met a woman at the airport and she said her son was a civil engineer and her daughter was a lawyer. However, when I think of my descriptors of what makes Tami successful, its a little different. Looking at an IQ test, my daughter falls under the bar, she could be called Mentally Retarded. But I don’t treat her that way.
But I also don’t think I push her to what she won’t be. Because my indicator for success used to be if she got into Harvard.
But now, its does she love God? Does she change the environment around her? Is she able to take care of herself? Does she have a social life? Is she able to have a family?
I hope for the quality and the impact of her life, not what she puts on her business card. My hope is she’ll have a full life where she is independent. Where she’s able to love and have a family if she so chooses…makes friends and find her own place or way and not be hindered by labels and boxes that we might want to put on people who learn differently.
What do you hope for yourself?
I honestly hope I’m alive long enough to see how far she’s come…to see her life round out. I want to see her have her own kids. I want to be there for that. There’s lots of things I could do. I don’t worry about what I could do professionally. I’m most curious about what growing old and seeing Tami older and what will that look like. What will our relationship look like? What will life look like for her? I have more questions around that versus “will I break the glass ceiling”? **insert sarcasm and excessive laughing**
How has joy shown up in the midst of your journey?
I have joy coming home after a long day and seeing Tami’s face. She makes me feel like a star…doing a dance and chanting, “Mommy, Mommy!”
Also, reflecting over the long term from ages 0-6 years old, that’s joy for me.
Looking at the short term, with having a husband who travels often, I find joy in the things that are going well. If not, I’d be lamenting. I look to the small daily joys and the big joy of knowing its not over yet. I find joy when Tami meets a milestone. Even when she says a new, original thing.
Today for instance, I said, “I have to take a shower.” And she said, “No don’t take a shower, lie down in the bed”. A typical 2 year old would say that but today my 6 year old said that for the first time and that gave me joy. I’m satisfied with the small daily joys.
What would you say to a mother facing any level of suffering in her journey?
I would say, “Don’t suffer silently”. This is not a burden you are supposed to carry by yourself. Its an unfolding journey and its going to feel dark and heavy and you are going to need people to pray for you, with you or in your stead. You’re going to need so much so don’t go it alone. Don’t think you’re the only one. Don’t think you’re cursed or its because its something you did. I’m no Job [from the Biblical story] but I used to read it and it’d make me think. But God allows things and sometimes He doesn’t answer why. So until He does, He’s with you. And if you aren’t strong enough to know this to be true or you can’t pray from a sense of strength, find your inner circle. Something has to change and it has to be the way you exist because this suffering may not go away. The reality itself doesn’t change but how you choose to perceive the reality…you can change that.
Whenever people get Tami’s charts they’re always like *pause* “She’s a hot mess!” But when they see her, they’re confused because she doesn’t match what the charts say she is.
At the discharge from the NICU, the nurse said, “I have to give you this chart because its my job. But don’t read this because this isn’t your daughter, she doesn’t match this.” I remember that the file was just so thick, it looked so bad. It really was a “Hot Mess Express” on paper. The nurse also said, “Don’t look up a lot of stuff either, you’re going to be tempted to look it up and Google and play doctor.” She was a veteran NICU nurse and she told me that the parents who obsess over that aren’t in a good place.
I took her advice.
I don’t even know where that file is now. Even today, I have the same approach. I want all the therapies and help for her we can get. But I know that’s not her.
She defies the odds.
What a journey. What a testimony. THANK YOU EFE for sharing a piece of your heart and a bit of your story! And thank you for reading! Until next time my friends…
**If you want to catch up on the rest of The Motherhood Series, you check them out here: Motherhood and Networking (Part 1), Motherhood and Singleness (Part 2), Motherhood and Marriage (Part 3). Or, if you’d like to read the post that was the springboard for it all, you can read Motherhood Discipleship.**