Please join me in welcoming Courtney Westlake to the blog.
There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t hear someone comment “I don’t know how you do it.”
For me, the how is driven by the why.
My daughter Brenna was born in December 2011 and diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening skin disorder. Her daily health care is constant and often consuming – and always will be.
After a few years of working in the newspaper and public relations fields with my journalism degree, I decided to stay at home when our older son Connor was born, and pursue a freelance writing career, taking on corporate gigs and writing articles for local publications. I also opened a portrait photography studio, and both of those businesses flourished. Working from (mostly) home gave me an ideal opportunity to be home with my child while also exercising my creativity and bringing in income.
When Brenna was born, I felt like I was putting both of those worlds on hold – I was more of a nurse than a mom, and there was no time or energy for anything else.
Brenna’s body produces skin rapidly, and she can’t shed it fast enough, so it builds up thick and peeling, giving her the appearance of a terrible sunburn over her entire body. Her skin doesn’t do the jobs that our skin does, such as keeping germs out, keeping her hydrated and regulating her body temperature (she can’t even physically sweat)… so we essentially have to do these jobs for her, with a long daily bath where we gently rub off the excess skin and extra vigilance when it comes to temperature and germs so she doesn’t get overheated or an infection.
For the longest time, as I began to dedicate my days to learning each facet of Brenna’s complex health care, I admittedly felt robbed of my own personal work and passions when she was born.
As I spent most of my time in doctors’ waiting rooms and in therapy appointments, I felt like I was being forced to give up a freelance writing and photography career that I had spent years building up and that I found so fulfilling. But one day, when I was in the depths of self-pity, my dad told me something: “work will always be there.”
I made a decision then. I chose to step into my new world with joy and to celebrate the blessings of my life instead of the disappointments. We all have experiences of disappointment and loss, but we can make the choice to focus on the good, and that is what I strive to do every day.
Much of my “previous life” changed drastically in the three years following Brenna’s birth – I stepped away from volunteer committees and turned down photo shoots – but in that time, I turned to my life-long interest in writing and uncovered writing as a deep passion.
Writing looked differently than before, in the form of a personal blog sharing my family’s own story instead of telling others’ stories in magazines, but I found a way to make it work even in the midst of navigating my children’s different needs. Finding a way to write fed my creative soul and connected me with other mothers and families who were also experiencing similar emotions and health challenges.
The life I’m living now is so much more different than I ever expected as I began this motherhood journey. But every day, I’m discovering just how much beauty can be found in life in the unexpected and the different.
Courtney Westlake lives in central Illinois and is wife to Evan and mother to Connor (5) and Brenna (3). She is a writer, author and photographer, and writes Blessed by Brenna, a blog that details her family’s life after Brenna’s birth. She is also the author of Christian children’s book That’s How You Know and photography ebook The Spaghetti Shots.