“I admittedly felt robbed of my own personal work and passions …”

“I admittedly felt robbed of my own personal work and passions …”

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.

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    • Carmi says:

      What a touching story! Courtney, you are doing an amazing job as a mother and writer, therefore, never, ever, doubt your capabilities. This story reminds me of the story of my own mother’s struggles in caring for my younger brother, who suffers from a severe form of Epilepsy and, just like you, has had to leave many things behind because of him. Sometimes, in her deepest moments of despair, she tells me I would never be able to completely understand her plight as a mother, and she’s absolutely right. Only another mother like you could fully comprehend the whirlwind of emotions that comes from having an ill child.
      But keep up your excellent work. I’m going to share this article with my mom, too.
      And thank you Anne for passing this story on to us!

  1. Anne says:

    Hi, Courtney! Thank you for sharing your story on MMD. I loved reading about Brenna’s journey (what a strong little girl!) and seeing pictures of your lovely family. Congratulations on all your accomplishments. Your witness to accepting that work will always be there and choosing to step into joy is inspiring. And I’m from central IL, too! Somehow, I’ve seen Brenna’s pictures before! 🙂 Best wishes!

  2. Jeannie says:

    Courtney, I admire how you’ve chosen to accept the limitations AND embrace the joys of this stage of life. Who knows what the future will bring? For now, you are doing the work closest at hand, and I’m glad it is so nurturing for you and your family. Blessings.

  3. Alyssa Zech says:

    Love this story. Finding a new way to be YOU during hardship.
    A heads up: I am picking up a formatting error today. The words run off the white, main part and into your background which is a bit hard to read.

    • A says:

      That’s funny. I’ve been getting the run-off on most posts with the new look. But this post isn’t doing that for me.

  4. Karlyne says:

    Isn’t it funny how such a small, five word sentence can change your life? I’m so glad that your dad uttered it-and that you heard him.

    Lovely story!

  5. This is so inspiring – I work as a pediatric nurse, and we don’t often get to see the lives of our patients after the hospital or the clinic visit. Your story is moving, especially as I’m also a mom trying to figure out this work-family-creative-life thing. I’m so glad Anne “introduced” you on the blog today! 🙂

    • I am glad to give you a little glimpse into life after the hospital 🙂 We have a lot of resident and others in the medical field who follow our blog – I think largely because it gives them a first-hand look at a family experience dealing with a rare condition and helps to educate them about different facets of such a condition.

  6. Marisa says:

    Loved reading your story as I had a similar experience. Marrying later in life meant I worked in the corporate world for some time as and Exec Asst for VPs and the like and when I had my first child I decided to stay home. Number two came along and I was still transitioning into being a mom vs. working and finding great joy if I was able to get a shower in any given day or go to the bathroom without company LOL! Wanted to stay home with the kids and my life took a huge turn when a mom in my daughter’s kindergarten class asked if I would watch her kids two days a week when she worked. Before I knew it I was running an in home daycare which NEVER in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would have done. Ten years later now that my kids are in high school I have finally re-entered the work force and would not have traded those ten years for anything 🙂

  7. Thank you for sharing! I know what you mean! I became a stay at home mom almost three years ago, and at first it was such a struggle. Prior to this, I was an English teacher, but I felt like being at home was not stimulating to me. I was lonesome, and I spent the day nursing, cleaning, and watching TV. Eventually I started reading again, and I work during the summers part-time teaching. Two years ago, between my two boys, I suffered a miscarriage, and my doctor basically told me to clear my schedule: no teaching, no working out, no nothing … I could only stay at home. That’s when I finally accepted that my primary role is to be a mother. All those other things I wanted to pursue (teaching, librarianship, etc) would just have to come later. Once I changed the way I thought, I began to enjoy staying at home much more. That led me to reading more, and eventually starting my blog: Mama Reader and Her Keiki. I also got the chance to pursue my passion of becoming a librarian by going back to grad school. It eventually all worked out! Thank you for sharing your story. You are an incredibly strong mother, and your children are so blessed to have you as their mom. I hope all is well!
    Mama Reader

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