As if motherhood was not a hard job already, throw in a pandemic. Press Publications set out to find three mothers from different communities and share what they are facing in these strange times. Although the three moms are around the same age, they all have very different stories to tell. One is a stay-at-home mother of three, with a husband in the military; another is a kindergarten teacher and mother of two 4-year-old twins and a 6-year-old; and then there is an expectant mother who had to take a leave of absence from her job in the health care industry.
3 moms, 3 journeys: Lauren Shegstad
By Shannon Granholm/Lead Editor
You could say Circle Pines resident Lauren Shegstad, 31, has her hands full —That’s an understatement.
Lauren is married to Staff Sgt. Nick Shegstad, who serves full time in the Minnesota Air National Guard. The Shegstads will celebrate eight years of marriage in September and have three children, Landen, 6, Kinsley, 3, and Cedar, 1. Landen and Kinsley both have autism.
Nick has been in the military for 12 years and works in Aerospace Ground Equipment. He just returned from his sixth deployment, this time to Kuwait, the first week of March.
“We have been thrown for several intense curveballs,” Lauren said. “My kids are my absolute greatest blessing, as hard as it is with having two that are autistic …. God has completely blessed us. He knew that I could do this and he knew that I could handle this. I was meant to be their mom. I am so grateful for that every single day.”
Lauren always knew she wanted to be a mother. “That was like my life goal,” she said. She also knew she wanted to raise her kids exactly how she was raised, by parents with a solid marriage (34 years and counting) and a stay-at-home mother.
“I know that the journey is completely different for everybody, but I didn’t want to have kids and then pay somebody else to raise my children,” she said. “My mom is the matriarch of our family. She is our stronghold, she holds all of us together, and she has been absolutely incredible.”
In addition to her mother, Lauren has relied on friends, family and the area Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Networks for support during Nick’s deployments. From snow plow service to Christmas gifts to ductwork cleaning, they have helped with it all.
“I honestly could not have done it without my faith, my family and my friends. You have to have a good support system and be willing to take help when you can get it. You can’t let any of your pride get in the way,” Lauren advised. “I had this mentality that I was going to ‘kick this deployment’s a–” and then you are in the thick of it, and I thought ‘I can’t do this’. I remember bawling to Nick on the phone and telling him ‘I quit. Get on a plane and come home.’ But it doesn’t work that way.”
Lauren had high hopes for Nick’s return from Kuwait. “I thought I could go to a hotel, rejuvenate, go to the hair salon and not be with my kids for 48 hours,” she said. But none of those could come to fruition when COVID-19 hit.
After coming home, Nick had to self-quarantine for two weeks, so Lauren never got the break she hoped for. Even though Nick can now help out, the pandemic has brought on more challenges, especially navigating distance learning and trying to keep up a family routine. Kinsley’s speech therapy and physical therapy has also been put on hold.
“It has been a complete whirlwind. Having that routine thrown off is more insane than your typical scenario,” Lauren said. “Our kids really rely on that routine.”
Despite the challenges, Nick says Lauren remains “the anchor” of their family. “She keeps us going, knowing all of (our) schedules and who needs what. Throughout my deployment, she was here alone with the kids. Not only did she manage the day to day stuff (but) she made sure our kids made their specialty appointments.”
He added, “That really helped the development of our kids. My daughter who was nonverbal when I left, was speaking in sentences and my oldest son was doing great in kindergarten. She has sacrificed so much for our family to make sure we all have our needs met.”
3 moms, 3 journeys: Nicole Bruley
By Elizabeth Callen/Shoreview Editor
Nicole Bruley, 27, never imagined that she would have to give birth during a global pandemic. But with only a few weeks to go before the due date of their daughter, Finley, she and her husband, Matt, don’t have another option.
Formerly of White Bear Lake, the Bruleys relocated to Woodbury last year. Both of them are health care workers who have found themselves on the frontlines since COVID-19 struck Minnesota; Matt is a firefighter/paramedic, and Nicole is a radiology technologist.
Working in health care creates a whole new set of uncertainties for the soon-to-be parents.
“I don’t know what worries me more: delivering (Finley) into this scary world where right now, hospital restrictions are so strict that only Matt could come into the hospital with me during our stay,” Nicole said. “Or carrying her around with me (and) exposing her to everything I come in contact with or her dad brings home with him from work every day in a job full of unknowns.”
In March, just as COVID-19 began to worsen in the U.S., Nicole’s doctor alerted her that Finley had developed a heart arrhythmia and was running on the small side of her size percentile, which made for a high-risk pregnancy. Nicole has since gone on a medical leave of absence from work, and though the financial uncertainty has created additional stress for her and Matt, she says it’s ultimately worth it to protect their baby.
“At the end of the day, we had to sit down and decide if we can afford for me not to go into work, if this risk worth the money,” Nicole said. “We decided that she’s more important and my health is more important than risking going into work every day.”
Though many check-ups have switched to online or phone appointments in the wake of COVID-19, due to the risk associated with her pregnancy, Nicole has had to keep her in-person visits. But due to tightening hospital restrictions, she’s had to go through them alone.
“(Matt) hasn’t been able to come to the ultrasound I had last week or any of the other appointments,” she said. “He’s just kind of dropped me off at the door.”
When Nicole does go into labor, Matt can come with her, but he’ll be the only guest she’s permitted during her stay.
“He’s still allowed to come, but (the hospital) has told us there will be a ton of restrictions. Like, you have to go there, and you can’t leave, so we’re packing for any circumstance,” she said. “I didn’t have a doula planned or anything, but they told me if I did, I’d have to choose between my husband or the doula.”
Nicole added that she and Matt already have plans to share Finley’s birth with their families and to tell Finley the story of her unprecedented birth when she’s older.
“We were never planning on recording labor or anything, but we went out and bought a camcorder, because we were like, ‘Well, if family can’t be there, we’ve got to have something to remember this,’” she said. “We’ve joked about that the first time (Finley) sasses me or something, I’ll be like, ‘Do you know what I went through for you?’”
In the meantime, the young couple is doing everything they can to keep themselves and their daughter safe. Nicole jokes that the mudroom in their house has since become a “quarantine room,” as it’s where Matt strips down to immediately wash his clothes when he returns home from work.
“Most of his calls are medical calls, and he doesn’t know what any patient has and usually never finds out,” she explained. “So, he comes home, and it’s like, ‘Alright, strip down, drop your clothes in a garbage bag,’ and then we bleach everything and he showers. It’s kind of like a routine now.”
With so much still unknown about COVID-19, Nicole said she is encouraging everyone to take precautions to keep one another safe.
“This plea is not because of the inconvenience it may cause,” she said. “It’s to protect our first responders, frontline workers and the families they come home to.”
3 moms, 3 journeys: Christy Fletcher
By Elizabeth Callen/Shoreview Editor
Christy Fletcher’s days in quarantine are best described as a balancing act. The Forest Lake resident is a mom of three (a 6-year-old, Silas, and two 4-year-old twins, Hattie and Hazel) and a kindergarten teacher at Forest View Elementary. Since COVID-19 made its way to Minnesota, Christy has found herself on both sides of the distance learning line, navigating how to teach not only her students from afar but also her own son in their home—all while keeping her young daughters entertained.
Like a lot of teachers, Christy misses her students, especially because this time of the school year is typically full of realizations of the progress they can make in a year.
“Especially in kindergarten, you do so much work helping them grow. They go from not being literate to learning to read,” she said. “The most exciting time is the spring (because) you get to see all that work come to fruition, and so that’s sad for me, because I just love to see how far they’ve come and how much they’re learning.”
On top of keeping her students academically engaged, Christy has been working to keep them connected to one another. Zoom, she says, has come in handy for that. “(Recently) we did a talent show, and I would say half of my class met on Zoom, and everyone had prepared something, either an art project or show or a bike trick. Some girls did their gymnastics moves,” she said. “I’ve been trying to think of how to keep them socially connected to one another like that. I also wrote letters to send to their houses, just to keep them feeling like a part of the community.”
Christy’s husband is a teacher as well. The sudden switch to distance learning, she said, has been difficult for them as educators but also as parents, trying to help their son Silas, a first-grader, stay on top of his own learning, too.
“He does well in school. It’s not incredibly difficult for him, but it’s been hard for him to switch gears and take me seriously as a teacher,” she explained. “Even though I am a teacher, I’m just not his figure of authority for teaching, and so I think he’s just not doing his best work for me, like he would be at school.”
Having two 4-year-olds in the house also makes for constant interuptions: “Like yesterday, I was teaching my son, and I went into my bedroom, and (the twins) were rubbing my expensive face cream all over a stuffed animal,” Christy said. “Things like that, when you’re just trying to do everything all at once.”
And yet despite the challenges and the chaos, Christy can see the silver lining in the clouds.
“I try to remind myself that (about) a month before this all happened, my daughter fell at school, and she was hurting really badly, but I didn’t go pick her up because they thought she was fine. And that night, she was like, ‘You never came,’” Christy said. “I remember lying in bed, crying and feeling that mom guilt that working sometimes means I can’t be there for some of these moments. I try to remind myself to be grateful for this time at home, the gift of extra time.”