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Nora Swango Stanger: Mother’s sacrifices taught strength

If you ask my siblings, they will tell you what I wanted most to be when I was a child was a mother.

I had aspirations to do great things with my life, but the most powerful, demanding and enduring effort is being a good parent.

For my mother, it all started at the age of 19. She shared a story with me of her first delivery. In those days, they aestheticized women in what they called “twilight sleep,” rendering the mother in a dream like state, still aware of the pain and the goings on around them, but unable to respond.

Hers was a frightening, difficult delivery and, for hours, the pain seemed to increase exponentially.

She did not have her mother with her to comfort her, or a husband to support her.

It was a lonely, scary time.

In her heart, she began to bargain with God. “If you just let me live through this, I promise never to have another child.”

At the very moment her first born was delivered, a baby girl, she saw eight circles above her head.

One circle was brightly lit, while the other seven were grayish and dim. She thought it was a side effect of her drugged state.

Her life would never be same. She went from being a flirtatious, energetic, dream-believing teenager to one of the greatest warriors earth has ever known. Her focus was to care for her children, of which there would be many more.

At 27, she followed her military husband to Germany with five children in tow. Being so far from her family was extremely difficult. She suffered homesickness as well as a troubled marriage. She had moments of desperation, but, always, God was her comfort.

She told me of a time when the difficulties were overwhelming that she lay on her bed in a daze and a quiet calm came over her as she heard a choir sing, “God will take care of you.”

As hard as it was to have so many children depending on her, it was her children who gave her purpose and the power to get out of bed each morning.

Three years later, she returned to the states with seven children. Going through the airport, the only adult with so many small children, must have been a sight to behold. She carried one baby in her arms, one in a duffle-type bag, then had the oldest child lead the four remaining children in a line, much like a mama duck with her ducklings.

At one point, a man in a turban said to her, “In your children lies the goodness of the future.”

She said she didn’t know whether to take this as a prophecy, or as a foreign man just appreciating the journey she was on.

Much to her amazement, she was pregnant again at the age of 31. However, this would be a very difficult pregnancy.

She was informed that she had cancer and there was a significant chance that she, the baby, or both, would not survive.

Can you imagine her terror? After processing this news, she told her doctor that she wanted this child to survive.

However, if it came down to her or the child, she had seven other children to care for and she must survive.

With God’s sweet grace, she was able to carry the baby to full term. With much fear for the future, she lay in the military delivery room, awaiting the arrival of this child.

She told me that delivery rooms were the loneliest and most despairing places she had ever been. Long lines of beds holding women in labor, without family members with them, were in one large room. You could hear the cries of pain throughout the hours.

When her time finally came to give birth to her baby, again in a drugged state, she was amazed to see, for only the second time, the eight circles over her head.

Only this time all eight circles were bright and strong. That was her message from God that no matter what difficulties she had to endure, her babies were meant to be and her efforts were to be put into helping them survive the journey through their lives.

Emma Jean Mitchell Swango survived the cancer. She moved her children back to Lawrence County as quickly as possible and, for decades, suffered the trials of this life beside her children.

My mother is not perfect. She made her share of mistakes. But what parent hasn’t?

She and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on life, but she has always given her best for her children.

Now that I am a parent, I try to imagine the hardships she had to go through and it grieves my heart.

Because of her efforts, her struggles and her sacrifices, I can say I am a strong woman.

I am a good wife, mother, friend, and professional, because of what my mother taught me through extreme difficulties.

I am grateful for you, Mom. Your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren stand on the shoulders of a pretty amazing woman.

Thank you.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.