Motherhood has shaped me.

It sounds cliché, I know, but beyond my wildest understanding, my desire to be a mother has paved my path in life.

When I was a kid, as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be “mommy” when I grew up.

I always had a pillow under my shirt, telling everyone that I was “pregnuts.” Leaving for the grocery store was a task as I didn’t know which one baby I should take with me—after all, I had too many “children” to count. I was obsessed with all things involving babies though I had very little understanding of what being a mother meant and even where babies came from in the first place. I was just drawn to the whole idea of caring for people and loving them so much. Plus, even as a child, I was not immune to that famous baby smell.

And as time passed, my yearning to be a mom only grew. I wished my childhood away and anticipated the moment I would have children of my own. Some of my friends had dreams of being nurses, teachers, or lawyers, but I was happy being a mom. My passion wasn’t ignited by a specific career path but by thoughts of having a big family someday. Some people belittled me for this, saying that being just a mom wasn’t a goal, but it was a goal to me. It was my biggest dream, and that desire shaped me into the person I became—the careful observer, gentle speaker, meticulous planner, and cautious-minded “mom” of all my friends.

Before I knew it, I grew up. I graduated high school. I got my associate degree. I moved out on my own. I got married. In the blink of an eye, it was time for us to start the family we’d dreamed of having someday. “Someday” was now.

And then someday passed.

A year went by. No baby.

A year-and-a-half . . . “Are you pregnant yet?”

Doctors and medications intervened . . . “Is there trouble in paradise?”

We passed the two-year mark, and we were encouraged to pursue other ways of becoming parents. We started looking into adoption.

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My emotional state was poor as my greatest wish seemed to crumble before me. My identity was compromised, and I felt I had nothing left. I became a walking shell, just going through the motions of life. My fiery pursuit of motherhood gave me tenacity. It brought me to the edge of my own personal world and shook everything I had in me right out.

Three years came and without the funds needed to adopt a child, we considered fostering, and at the same time, we began more aggressive treatments to begin our biological family. I was empty and tired, but we took one shot with six eggs implanted in hopes one would become fertilized and grow to term.

Three years and five months later, wouldn’t you know, I was pregnant with one baby who was created with a little science and so much love.

We were over-the-top ecstatic to be expecting our first child. We painted his nursery, we found out he was going to be a boy—by the way, and we planned every single detail to be perfect. I read every book with the word “pregnancy” in the title and followed it like Christians do the Bible.

I had given up a lot during my years of infertility treatments but was even more serious now. No sushi, no deli meats, even no scary movies or haunted houses. Maybe I went a little overboard, but our journey to this point was so tumultuous I wasn’t going to risk a thing. I was a walking marvel, and my body was a temple growing a miracle.

Out of nowhere, however, the temple started to crumble. At my routine doctor’s appointment, I had labs come back so exponentially abnormal my doctor assumed they were incorrect and sent me directly to the local emergency room for a retest. The original results were correct, and they were unsure how I was alive, let alone standing.

I had, suddenly and severely, developed preeclampsia and our baby was going to be delivered three months early.

That weekend, Flynn was born weighing just over two pounds and slightly over a foot long. I felt as if my body had sabotaged me, yet again, as my baby clung to life in the NICU where he spent his first months. I was angry at the universe for giving me the thing I wanted most in the world, only to try to take it away in the cruelest way. Flynn was a fighter, though, and showed me not to be angry but to live in gratitude, which I did for a few days . . . until the unthinkable happened.

At 24 years old, I had a stroke. The cause was determined to be pregnancy.

After every appointment, medication, injection, procedure, ache in my heart, and a lifetime of dreaming, my desire to be a mother was almost my undoing. I was almost taken, but I guess you could say it wasn’t my time. I was needed here, and Flynn was, too. We were fortunate to be one of the families who got to come home from the ICU and NICU together.

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I wish I could say how I survived and recovered well enough to be writing this today. I wish I could tell you it was the burning fire of maternal love in my heart or that I had the stubbornness in me and will to live running through my veins or even that I had a higher power on my side cheering me on. A lot of people with more at stake than me do not make it through circumstances like this. So, to those who wonder how, I just say I’m incredibly lucky to have received a second chance.

I get to raise my child with love and nothing else.

I get to try to make a difference in the world, especially for families of premature babies and children with disabilities.

I get to stand here—alive—and tell people that the life they’re living is a gift. It is hard, and it sometimes isn’t fair, but it is precious and yours to live.

I get to live in gratitude.

Yes, being a mother has taught me a lot about life. I’ve learned countless things from my son.

But it was my desire and my path to motherhood that has shaped me.

Originally published on the author’s blog

Kristina Mulligan

My name is Kristina Mulligan. I'm a wife to DJ and mama to Flynn. Our family lives in Hudson Valley, NY. I love crafting, listening to podcasts, and obsessing over true crime. DJ and I met in 2005 when we were in seventh grade and always dreamed of getting married and what our someday family would be like. We were married in 2013 and were ready to start having children, but life had other plans. For three years, we went through procedure after procedure, attended appointment after appointment, and took countless pregnancy tests as we struggled with infertility. We were finally blessed with a pregnancy in 2016 through IUI, which gave us Flynn. Flynn arrived into the world at twenty-eight weeks gestation, weighing just over two pounds and slightly over a foot long. After a lengthy NICU stay, we were launched into a world of specialists, therapists, Early Intervention, and the eventual diagnosis of periventricular leukomalacia and cerebral palsy. Since becoming a mom, I've used my superpowers for good, not evil, and have worked a lot with advocacy and raising awareness for disabilities, prematurity, and inclusion.