The Rainbow After the Storm: Stories of Hope
Christina Cubilo: A Rainbow Miracle
In 2007, I suffered a traumatic miscarriage. When I found out I was pregnant again in 2013, having a baby was extra special to me. I was over the moon excited! I’ve always wanted to be a mom. But I also felt really nervous and scared because of the miscarriage.
The journey to being a mama was challenging. I had a difficult pregnancy and spent time on bedrest. Then at 29 weeks, my beautiful rainbow baby son decided to make his appearance in the world: 11 weeks early and a tiny little preemie. He weighed only 3 pounds when he was born.
He stayed in the NICU for months. Having a baby in the NICU is the hardest thing I have ever faced. I remember crying when I was discharged from the hospital and couldn’t take my baby home. We visited every single day. The NICU nurses and doctors are the best, they helped me and reassured me in every way possible. Seeing him fight gave me the hope, strength, and resilience to know that not only would he be okay, but that I could be a better person and a better mama to him. Still, at the end of the visits, it was so difficult to leave him there and go home.
My son is now 6 years old. He’s healthy and doing great! We do the March of Babies walk with the March of Dimes every year in honor of him and to give hope, love, and support to other women and families who have gone through similar situations. I share my experiences and story with other women to give them hope and to let them know they aren’t alone.
This Hope bag is special to me because it gives me hope that we are not alone in any of the situations we are going through. It represents building communities like my NICU/preemies community or all the beautiful people in the Nena community. This Hope bag is so much more than just a bag and to me it really represents sharing my story and hoping that it touches even one person and makes a difference in their life!
Janice Quella Hicks: “Everything Will Be Okay”
I was three when my immigrant mother got sick and I was five when she passed away. That night, she visited me in a dream and told me “everything will be okay.”
My father consequently sunk into a deep depression that manifested in violence and addiction. He moved us across the country, away from our extended family, and eventually I was placed into children’s shelters and foster care. Growing up as one of the very few people of color in the South at that time was brutal. But I held onto my mother’s words that “everything will be okay.”
I knew from the years I spent growing up in a hospital beside my sick mother that I wanted to work in healthcare. In high school, I joined an apprenticeship at a local hospital as a nursing assistant. The first time a patient hugged me and told me how much I helped them, I was so sure this was what I wanted to do for my career.
I focused on getting the best grades in school and upon graduating high school, moved on-campus at the University of Arkansas to pursue a degree in nursing. In the second month of my freshman year, my heart “short-circuited” and an ambulance was called to my dormitory. The paramedics had to give me medication to stop and reset my heart. I was diagnosed with an electrical dysfunction in my heart.
Coincidentally, I was a nurse assistant on the cardiology unit in our hospital. However, because I didn’t work enough hours, I didn’t have health insurance. The medical bills snowballed. This electrical issue in my heart was random and unpredictable. It was also unable to be controlled through medication. Surgery was my only option. I had to withdraw from the university to have surgery.
Without family, my hospital co-worker family rallied around me for my recovery. My medical bills had now totaled over $70,000. I remembered my mother’s words, “everything will be okay” and held on to that hope.
I signed on for two full-time positions at the hospital while enrolling at a vocational school to become a licensed practical nurse. I lived in my car and surfed on friends’ couches to pay off my debt. I clung to the hopeful words of my mother from my dream, “everything will be okay.”
Over the next ten years, I paid off my medical debt, got married, went back to school to become a Registered Nurse, and faced my next obstacle – becoming a mother.
My husband and I were married for five years before we were finally able to become pregnant with our miracle rainbow daughter. We went through a lot of sadness and disappointment but she was absolutely worth the wait.
However, she was born with severe hip dysplasia and we were told that she would likely spend her childhood in casts and braces and that she may not be able to walk without assistance, if at all. Again, I held onto our faith, and those words my mother left me with, “everything will be okay.”
At two weeks old, the orthopedic surgeons put our daughter in braces to help positioning for the work they would have to do. They in no way expected it to work much, if at all. At an appointment to schedule her first surgery, they were blown away that a miracle had occurred. The braces they placed her in had fixed her complex issues!
Our daughter is now almost five years old and you cannot tell that she ever had anything wrong. Everything was okay, just like my mama said from heaven twenty-five years earlier.
It has been an uphill journey growing up as a woman without a mother, and now as a mother without her own mother. But I never really am without her, because her words are the rainbow in my storms. I live each day trying to make her proud and honor her legacy.
At the age of 35, I am currently back at the University of Arkansas to further my nursing degree and hopefully obtain my Doctorate in Nursing. And I continue to face every obstacle remembering my beautiful mother’s words of hope; “everything will be okay.”
Every Nena I have sought out is incredibly rainbowy. Along with my mother's words of "everything will be okay," I also use the mantra, "look for the rainbow" when navigating a traumatic circumstance. Rainbows are symbolic of the passing of a storm. They restore the hope and faith that beauty exists in this world after a darker time. This rainbow Womanhood bag is the manifestation of the perfect Nena for me.
The Womanhood series is one that I have loved deeply, as finding my heart and soul in being a woman has been rather difficult without a mother. This community has really helped me plug into the powerful truths the bag symbolizes. Having a rainbow in THIS womanhood series speaks to me on such a deep and spiritual level - to remind me not only of the incredible legacy I was left by a magnificent, beautiful, and kindhearted woman, but that there is ALWAYS an end to the storms. The dark times aren't forever. The beauty in this world will again reveal itself and I will be stronger and more refined because I went through dark times.
Sara Wagner: Finding Her Voice
I have a beautiful life now, but that wasn’t always the case.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. I was living 1200 miles from home at the time. Throughout the court process, I never felt like I was seen or heard. I had no voice. I felt like everything had been stripped away from me. I went through the entire process alone, from the evidence photos to the hospital visit and the court proceedings. I had been beaten and my life had been threatened with a weapon, but my abuser was released with a slap on the hand and continued living his life as normal. I always wondered if my life would ever feel normal again. My vision of myself and my future was clouded by what had happened.
My family suggested I go to nursing school, so I enrolled in an LPN program. At first, I was working out of necessity. I became a single mother and I had to provide for my child, but I always wanted to do more. In 2016, I started back to school for my RN. I had to fight to get into the program because I was not completely finished with the pre-reqs. The dean of nursing did not feel I would be successful, especially as a single mom, but I wanted more for my daughter. I took a job as an ER tech and worked evening shifts to get by. It was a struggle but I never gave up the hope that a better future was possible for us. I graduated at the top of my class. I was hired into that same ER as a registered nurse and they offered the training to be a forensic nurse examiner.
I became a forensic nurse examiner so that I can not only care for victims of abuse, but I can also testify on their behalf in court. My hospital services a largely underserved population. I work with survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault.
I became the voice I never had and I am SO proud of that. I felt like I had no hope for the future and now I can reassure survivors that healing and growth is possible regardless of where they are today.
My life now is pretty amazing. I met my husband at work (also a registered nurse!) and we added two more little ones to our family. We have two girls, 7 and almost 3, and our rainbow boy after two losses. He is 4 months old and a big fan of Nena slings! The flexibility of my job allows me to be more present in my children's lives while still working on my future goals. I'm able to give my girls all of the opportunities I would have never been able to before and that means the world to me. I still have hope that my journey isn't over. I'd like to get my Master's degree in nursing education.
I love that this new release is going to be called Hope, because honestly what I have learned through my life so far is that Womanhood is hope. Women have an innate strength and resilience to overcome the unimaginable, but sometimes the current situation makes it difficult to remember that. Many of my patients are seeing me for the first time on the worst day of their lives, and I try to connect with them to remind them that their present condition doesn't have to become a definition. All it takes is a spark of hope that brighter days are coming to remind them of how strong and powerful they truly are. This bag will be a great reminder to be that person for my patients even when things get stressful.
Lexi Harker: My Story of Hope
Initially, I was feeling so excited and exhausted and ready to have my baby. Besides the physical stress, I was so excited. I was ready to be a mom. I always felt that I had a motherly instinct.
The week before I was scheduled to be induced, a friend of mine had a “failed induction”. I didn’t know that could happen. It had me feeling a little nervous. So the first thing I asked my labor and delivery team was what if this is a failed induction. They told me that would not happen and I wasn’t going home until my baby was here.
When I arrived, I was only dilated 1 cm. After they induced me I needed an epidural. Once the pain went numb, the rest of the hours became such a blur. I’m sure I slept some. But my body didn’t seem to be progressing. It was so frustrating, I was mad that my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. At the 31 hour point I was only dilated about 6 cm.
I looked at my husband Blaise and said I think I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. He was so exhausted and didn’t want to see me in pain anymore so he agreed. We told the doctors and nurses we wanted a C-section.
They got us ready and wheeled us back to the OR. I opted to be awake so Blaise could be with me when my baby was born. The process of a C-section for me was so traumatic. We were both so exhausted. They wheeled us into the recovery room and laid sweet Ivy on my chest. We did it! We had our sweet baby!
The pain was so intense... the nurses kept coming in to check on me, asking me how I’m doing. I could hardly move. I really think they thought I was being dramatic about my pain... I wish I was. Over the next few days what happened was such a blur. Test after test after procedure after procedure.
After three days I still couldn’t get out of my bed. The nurses and doctors would come in and say, “You need to get up and walk, you need to do all these things, or you’re not going to get better.” I knew that was the case, but what if I was just being dramatic? Does everyone go through this much pain? They can’t find anything wrong with me? Around day 3 I sparked a fever. More tests came. Where was it coming from? The pain was still so intense I couldn’t move. All while nurses and my sweet husband took care of my newborn baby.
My husband’s mother Jenn came to stay with us at the hospital because Blaise was exhausted trying to take care of me and our new baby. The morning of day 6 I woke up and things were getting better, so I checked out of the hospital. I was still in pretty hideous pain. I could not walk more than a few steps or get out of bed on my own. When we walked out to the car to leave that day I had to be wheeled out. Then trying to get in the car was horrible. A nurse and my husband had to help me. Was this normal?
The next few days I still was not feeling well. I had lots of visitors at the house but still couldn’t walk much or really take care of Ivy. I felt pretty sick, and eventually started having a fever. I called the hospital and they said it’s probably something small, but if you're worried then come into the ER. After all that time in the hospital that’s the last thing I wanted to do. My baby was 9 days old. I didn’t want to be away from her any more. I decided to wait. When I saw my doctor a few days later, my vitals were normal, they did labs, and checked my incision. I was still having upper stomach pain that was pretty unexplainable.
She said to me, “You shouldn’t still be having pain, I want another CT scan.” This would be my fourth CT scan in 10 days. As I left for the scan, I noticed liquid pooling at my legs. My incision began leaking a large amount of fluid.
What do I do? Do we call an ambulance? My dad and Jenn wrapped me up real good and we rushed to the ER. The hours we were there seemed so long. A couple doctors and nurses came in and told me, “We have to open your incision to see what’s going on.” They numbed me and gave me anxiety medicine, then took a scalpel and reopened my incision. My memory gets spotty here. I don’t remember what happened until I was in the OR with an oxygen mask on. I asked the tech if we could take a break because I was feeling so claustrophobic. She kinda laughed and said they were putting me under.
Next thing I know, I’m awake. I have a huge tube down my throat, and my hands are tied. I’m so foggy. I can’t talk, or use my hands. Blaise was sitting next to me. He seemed calm but I had no clue the night of hell he had just experienced. He just kept telling me, it’s okay. You’re okay. It took a few hours but they finally took me off the ventilator and got me into a normal room. When we got there Blaise sat by me and said they had to do some things to you but I’ll let the doctor tell you. How could he have the heart and heaviness to break the news to me?
My doctor came in later that day and broke the news. My uterus was gone. They couldn’t save it.
My sick self couldn’t even comprehend what she was telling me. I feel like the first week after surgery was such a blur. Family and friends came and stayed with me. Jenn helped so much with Ivy. It had been 2+ weeks and I hadn’t even gotten to put her to bed, change her diaper, make her a bottle, nothing. What kind of horrible mother was I? After the first week things were getting better. I was starting to feel better, could get in and out of bed easier, was able to pay attention to my daughter more.
I was so happy to be feeling better. I never wanted to let go of Ivy. I wanted her by my side every moment I could. I remember looking over at Blaise and seeing him crying. I asked him why he was crying. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m just happy to see you getting better.” We still had not talked about the trauma he’d been through that night of surgery. I was oblivious to everyone who sat in the waiting room that night until someone told me my family thought I was going to die. Wait, what? Why? What happened? I was so focused on myself I didn’t realize how much pain everyone else went through. When my dad came to visit that night I asked him, “Why did you think I was going to die? What happened that night?”
He said they waited for hours without any news. Four hours into a one hour surgery, they told my family I was septic and my pelvis and intestines were full of abscesses. That any more time would have killed me. And that 3 teams of surgery doctors were trying to save my uterus, but couldn’t.
I think I cried for the next three days. I told all my family how sorry I was they had to go through that. I told them all how much I loved them. And how grateful to have their support and love through such a crazy time. I honestly don’t think I’ve experienced that kind of love and gratitude ever in my life before.
After 10 full days in the hospital I was healthy enough to go home! Finally! After basically a month of being bedridden and sick I felt weak. I was told I couldn’t carry my baby or anything heavy. I felt so helpless. I couldn’t be the mom I was so ready to be. I have always been a confident, independent person. I hated feeling no control over my life at that moment.
Without Jenn I don’t know how we would have survived. Blaise had to go back to work to pay our mortgage and put food on our table. And I know he felt guilty leaving us. I still felt guilty having Jenn there taking care of Ivy and I. Getting us food. Making sure I showered, took my pills, and was eating. Doing our laundry, cooking, and keeping the house clean. What would we have done without her? She stayed at our house every night for 4 weeks. I always thank her for being so selfless, and uprooting her world to take care of us.
It took a solid 6 weeks out of the hospital to become more of a functioning adult and be able to somewhat take care of Ivy on my own. I think she was at least 2 months old before I spent a day alone with her.
When my drains and IV came out it was a much better life. I was free! Finally feeling like I could do things on my own, and be the mom I wanted to be for so long. I was able to get back to work very part time and really focus on all the things that were important to me. I thrive off of people’s energy, so being able to do what I love made me feel so much stronger.
As the months went on I got asked by several clients about my birth story, new clients asking if I wanted more kids, and friends who knew what happened asking for more details. I always told the truth. I didn’t want to hide it, it wasn’t me. I always stay positive about my story.
Everything happens for a reason, I truly believe this. We don’t know our reason yet, and I still question it most days, but I know when the time comes, we will know what’s right for our family.
I don’t want you to sit here and feel bad for me. I’m here to tell you that we made it! This doesn't define me. But it shapes the woman I have become.
I hope my story can empower other women and mothers to know that they are not alone, and you do have the strength to keep moving forward!
I’m so grateful to my community, friends, family, and strangers who donated time, money, thoughts, and prayers. We wouldn’t be here without you.
You can get to know Lexi and read her full story on her blog.