MamaCon Changed My Life (Really)!
We moved to Sammamish from Ottawa, Canada in January 2006 and hadn’t made many friends before my husband left in March for a business trip to California. I assured him I was fine being five months pregnant and caring for our son Alex, age 4, and Nicole, age 2. We made it through dinner and bedtime routines smoothly and I cuddled in with Nicole and quickly fell asleep for the night.
It was dark when I woke up with the sudden urge to pee and looked at the clock: 2:13am. I felt dizzy when I stood up and within seconds, I blacked out and fell on the floor. When I came to, I opened my eyes and saw the clock still read 2:13, but I couldn’t move. I was completely paralyzed and terror gripped my heart. I tried to move for hours, but I could only lay on the floor and watch the minutes pass and the panic set in hard.
Just before 5am, my arms and chest started to burn and vertigo consumed my head and miraculously I could move my body. I stood up slowly, shaking and fearful. I touched my belly. Did I fall on the baby? I poked him several times and when he finally kicked back I let out a huge sigh of relief and started to tremble. I woke the kids, fed them and we went to the hospital.
From that day for the next four months, I had every non-invasive test and brain scan you could imagine. And as soon as Michael was born in July, the testing intensified. Doctors in all specialties were called in to figure out this mysterious condition. One doctor thought it was epilepsy, then Meniere’s disease, or was it blood clots? Multiple Sclerosis? Maybe a brain aneurysm or a tumor. “Oh wait, did you know you have a hole in your heart?” a cardiologist asked.
I’ll never forget the autumn day I went to see my neurologist to hear the final diagnosis from all of these experts.
“I’m so sorry,” she began to say, blinking back tears. “I can’t tell you what you have, but whatever it is, it’s going to kill you very soon,” she said heavily.
“Soon? I just had a baby! Actually, I have three babies! They need me!” I cried.
“Leanne, Thanksgiving is next week. Go home, be thankful for everything you have and get your affairs in order,” she recommended.
“My birthday is on Thanksgiving this year! I’m having a party with my kids! I’m going to be 35! Are you saying I should be planning my funeral instead? How much time do you think I really have?” I asked terrified.
No more than five years. I sobbed in her arms. All she could do was guide me down a path of medications and treatments. I tried every possible drug and procedure to calm the symptoms and soothe the angry neurons that continuously misfired in my brain.
The next few years on those powerful drugs scared the hell out of me. I was losing memories very quickly. I had neon pink flashes flying across my left eye. I had twitches and electric jolts in my face and arms. I was unable to calculate numbers or follow instructions. The word ‘overwhelmed’ can’t even describe the utter emotional devastation as I sat on the floor weeping because I couldn’t open the cheese string wrapper or didn’t remember where we kept the diapers. Out of my five years to live, I had spent three of them drowning in confusion and despair.
Like many stories like this, something happened which completely changed my trajectory. My mother-in-law was visiting from Toronto. She is a small firecracker from Poland who is incredibly helpful, but is very blunt and direct. She saw me struggling with something small and with so much certainly, she declared:
“Leanne. Don’t worry. When you are not here, I will move in and raise the children.”
What? My children? Hell no! I waited my whole life for them! I deserve to raise my children! I will not leave them because of this stupid, mysterious, ever-changing brain thing that doesn’t even have a name! No! Just no! I am raising my children myself! My new chant became ‘I am not going to die from this.’
The next morning, I threw out every medication in my closet and I went for a walk and I decided that this was not going to be my end.
I ate better, exercised, made crafty things for the house and practiced yoga and kickboxing. But no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, my expiry date planted in my mind haunted my every breath.
Life went on and my five years had passed. In July 2011, I crossed off every date on my calendar and whispered a prayer that I would live through the day. And you know what happened? July became August, which turned into fall, then winter came and went and I was still alive. I was alive yes, but not truly living because I sat alone every day and kept my eye on the calendar.
In May 2012, a woman I barely knew at my son’s school offered me a free ticket to an upcoming event which I politely put in my purse and ignored. Somehow, I took the very bold step and went to the event all alone. When I arrived at the hotel, the music blasted and the women started to cheer and this party called MamaCon was officially launched! Being very shy, I sat in the back and watched from a safe distance.
Exciting and dynamic speakers shared how to overcome common parenting struggles and offered tips for raising great kids, they taught how to thrive on this complex motherhood journey and they offered sage advice on how to clean the messes in our hearts and homes. Over one hundred women spent the day learning, sharing, eating, laughing, getting pampered in a fabulous spa and at the end of the day some very brave women stood up and revealed their a-ha moments that had us all in tears.
I had heard about connections, or communities like this before, but I had never seen it in action.
At our table, strangers became supporters as we all hugged and reached out to each other and it was phenomenal! That day, I felt a stirring in my soul and I knew I just had to be a part of this experience.
Afterwards, I emailed the two women who ran the event and asked with an open heart if I could be a part of the team. They were nervous at first – they had never heard of me before but they were so gracious and kind! We met, we shared stories, we tried new flavors of tea and then together we strove to bring the MamaCon magic to every mama every year.
The funny thing about change is that you can’t just change one thing.
Becoming a part of the MamaCon community brought me so much joy that my “MamaCon Love Cup” overflowed to other areas of my life. I immersed myself into my kid’s schools and made a difference for so many kids and families. I set a goal that I would travel to 50 countries by the time I turned 50 to celebrate the enormous gift of living life to its fullest, plus it gave me a new number to focus on!
Most importantly, I promised my three little darlings every night as I tucked them in that I would be there to love, honor and teach them everything they needed to be kind, generous, resilient, compassionate people, grateful for every single moment, for as long as I lived.
2016 marks the 10-year anniversary of my first brain-crash. But 2016 also marks the first year that I have the incredible opportunity to lead the MamaCon experience for our mamas. I can’t wait to continue our traditions of building community and connections as we walk the walk together.
And know that I will be the first to applaud the incredibly powerful and brave mamas who decide to truly live their lives with love and who want to thrive with their kids, their girlfriends and their partners, and who hold out a hand when they can and grab on tight when they need to.
We are the MamaCon community, and we are stronger together.
So very grateful for you,