WINNING STORY- Perfectly Imperfect
So, we finally made it! We have found our winner. The truth is that when we launched this competition my website had only been up and running for a few days!
Over the course of the next few weeks… we were honestly overwhelmed by the number of stories that came flooding in and each and every one of them was so inspiring in different ways.
I have written to everyone personally who took the time to share with us and now I am so excited to present our winner… the amazing Rene Steelman!
On her instagram page she always looks so glamorous. Smiling, happy, carefree, leading the good life. But dig a little deeper and you will be amazed by the reality of her world. I know I was.
To me this is a story of our times. We all do it…. scroll through instagram accounts where everyone seems to be living a charmed life. A happier life, a better life, a richer life and this is, in part, what makes Rene’s story so relevant.
Her optimism and positivity touched me deeply and I feel that she is so deserving of this valuable prize which I hope helps get her new business as an influencer, off to a fantastic start.
She will be working with designer, Catherine Allen (who designed and created my entire website and branding) to create the branding of her dreams. I know that she is in very good hands!
I hope that you will read Rene’s story below, be inspired, and join me in supporting her as she begins this exciting new chapter.
We are all behind you Rene. Here’s to new beginnings!
By Rene Steelman
Mother of six, grandmother to fourteen you have to wonder how Rene, 66, manages to look so glamorous in her instagram pictures. But dig a little deeper and you will be truly amazed by the reality of her world. Here she shares her story.
I've always been an optimist. and that's a quality that's served me well my entire life.
It allowed me to board a plane when I was just 18 and fly to the Orient to begin my tour of duty in the U.S. Navy, where I served as a photographer, never thinking anything could go wrong.
It allowed me to date a man for just two months and know he was the one for me, heart and soul. We’ve been married for forty five years.
Most importantly, optimism allowed me to chase my lifelong dream - bearing and raising children. Motherhood was the most important thing on my "to do" list.
I hoped for a large family. My mother had seven siblings and my childhood was enriched with cousins and aunts and uncles that made up the perfect village.
“First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes Rene Pushing a Baby Carriage”, the American Nursery Rhyme promised - and I believed it!
After a full year of marriage, and no sign of a baby or carriage, I began to wonder whether my dream would ever come true. I didn't realise at the time that taking a year to conceive is not unusual.
Well, my dream took its time, but it did eventually come true.
It was while we were staying in the guest room of my parents’ home, situated near their swimming pool, that I found myself feeling more and more nauseous. I thought it was just the smell of chlorine, but I was wrong! I was pregnant at last and this was just the beginning!
I was so lucky to have five natural births, with no need for medications or episiotomies. The babies were all healthy, three boys and two girls, and I was hoping to tie the score - three of each! - when I became pregnant with number six, due around Christmastime.
Well, this pregnancy was a little different. During prenatal care my physician warned me that I seemed to be measuring larger than normal. He said he would keep an eye on me and not to worry…he would be there for the delivery in December.
All of my babies had arrived a few weeks early. This was before ultrasounds were the norm, and due dates were based on Mom's memory!
So, when my water broke and labor began two weeks early, I was thrilled! Who wants a Christmas baby anyway? Someone had already claimed that day and would always hog the celebration!
Even the fact that my sheets and mattress were soaked in blood when my water broke didn’t alarm me. Why? Well, partly innocence and naivety but also that dang optimism! What could be wrong? I was an expert in this area. I know “sump’n about birth’n babies.”
My husband took me to the hospital and soon healthcare professionals were talking about fetal monitors, haemorrhaging, and maybe an emergency caesarian. This was not my norm, but at this stage being put to sleep and waking up with a baby sounded great!
When I awoke from my drugged state, my husband was standing over me, telling me the baby was being rushed to Oregon Health University for emergency surgery.
Even then, I refused to be downhearted. I remember thinking, “Oh don’t be such a worry wart, the baby is fine, wake me up when they bring him back” and I fell back into a dazed sleep.
By the time I woke up, I was in a more coherent state. A nurse wheeled my son to me in an incubator and told me this might be the last time I would see him. “He has a twenty percent chance of survival”, she told me.
I was stunned but kept thinking, “he is beautiful, he looks perfect. What could possibly be wrong?” I hadn’t even been able to hold my son but I noticed he had a cleft in his little chin just like me.
Reality finally set in when the doctor explained that my son had been born with a diaphragmatic hernia and had suffered oxygen deprivation.
Our world was forever changed that December morning in a way I could never have imagined. My lifelong trait of optimism was about to be put to the ultimate test.
One month later, when my baby, T.J. finally came home from the hospital, he had been diagnosed with brain damage and severe cerebral palsy He would never be able to walk, talk or see. He would be unable to do anything independently, and would require twenty-four hour care for the rest of his life.
Life as we knew it was drastically changed and we didn’t know what to expect or how to navigate the next step.
For his first three years I took care of T.J. 24/7, I wanted to do it myself but it was challenging to say the least as I adapted to this new “normal” and with five other kids in the mix.
But, honestly, I was in denial. I kept thinking “he will get better.”
My other children were wonderful with T.J. They held him and played with him…they loved their baby brother.
When he turned three, T.J. was able to enter a special school system… a routine that would be available to him until he turned 21. For those years the yellow bus picked him up at 7:30 and brought him home at 3:30.
This gave me the invaluable time I hadn’t had since his birth. Precious time when I could go grocery shopping and even have the occasional lunch with friends.
I also took up running. It took me a month to work up to being able to run a mile and three months to be able to run 3 miles. It wasn’t long before I had the energy to start weightlifting classes and fun aerobic classes at a local gym. It was wonderful.
Once I started on this fitness journey 37 years ago I have never stopped. Obviously there have been times when I had to put my fitness aside but I have always picked it back up again.
It has become a part of my life that I refuse to let go because I know that my fitness is what has made it possible for me to care for my son… to lift him, to bathe him and care for him daily.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I had five other children before I had an extremely disabled child. His brothers and sisters have increased the joy and quality of his life so much. They included him in their school activities and in their friends groups. They even sat with him on the occasional evening so my husband and I could have a date night.
But I was only too aware that this situation would not last forever. I was desperate to build something for myself career wise. I knew that I had to be an entrepreneur so that I could set my own hours because of my home situation.
I loved interior design so, when T.J. started high school I went back to school. I loved it but I was also frantic, as I knew that I had limited time to study and get my business up and running.It all had to happen before T.J. turned 21.
I even managed to open a small interior design shop but, unfortunately, it was short lived as the school had to call me so often about my son that I was forever cancelling appointments! I had to let it go.
When T.J’s schooling finished, everything changed again. By now, his siblings had grown up and moved away, getting married and having children of their own as it should be.
My youngest found himself at home with mom now, all day, everyday. He was depressed, I was depressed. I no longer had any time for self care I just broke down.
I realised the only way forward was to put my introvert personality aside and allow strangers to come to my home and help with my son. I finally accepted I needed help and there was no other way. And that’s how we managed.
Two years ago my husband retired and we moved to Arizona. Now, we share the care of our youngest child, but it's still too much. After all, we're not kids anymore.
But, we were so lucky to find a wonderful young man, Fernando, who comes to give me respite care every three days or so. He has even taken T.J. overnight so I can experience what being an “empty nester” might feel like!
He is amazing and without him I would definitely be on strong anti depressant medication. He gives me the precious time I need to recover and enjoy a little bit of life independently.
It’s not easy being a full-time caregiver but I have always tried to have outside interests and hobbies. When we lived in Portland Oregon I even signed up with an agency as an extra and worked on the movie “Terror In The Towers” starring George Clooney! It was such a fun experience.
You're probably wondering: how can she still be an optimist, after all that's happened? How can she greet each day with the same spirit she's always had, making sure to eat right and exercise regularly?
Well, consider the alternative. I exercise daily because I lift a one hundred pound man daily. I eat carefully because my youngest son’s health depends on me being healthy. He counts on me for that. But the joy T.J. gives us far out weighs the burden. He is a happy young man and his happiness revolves around being with his family. Though he is technically nonverbal, he says momma and daddy, and gives kisses.
He also has a devilish sense of humour and his smile and laughter are so sincere and loving.
True, it's not easy. Some days I'm depressed, others eternally grateful for his existence but that's how it works when you're challenged by a burden of care for a child who is also a beautiful blessing.
That's how it works, when you're a mother.
My daughters have already explained to me that they will be T.J’s caregivers if he lives past our time. It gives me such great comfort knowing that he will always be with family and that we will never have to put him in an assisted living or nursing home situation.
In terms of my life…for the past 45 years I have been my husband’s companion, advising and supporting him in his career.
Now I feel the need to accomplish something for myself while continuing to care for my son.
I started my GoGrayDame Instagram account because I craved something that was all mine… an outlet that doesn’t involve my role as a mother or my role as a wife, something that I have accomplished by myself.
I would love to be an influencer and I recently landed a contract with a local modelling agency which is so exciting and I have great hopes for the future of my business.
Looking back at my life, I don’t regret any of it. Bottom line, I love what my life has given me, both the ups and the downs and I truly hope that by sharing my story, it might help others to live a joyful life and thrive even in the most overwhelming circumstances.
When TJ came into our world, he brought the spark into our family. It took time. Lots of time, laughter, tears, reflection, anger, doubt, frustration and love but he became the splash of colour that stood out and yet, at the same time drew everyone closer together.
The truth is…my youngest son is perfectly imperfect…just like all of us.
To support Rene in her new instagram adventure, and I really hope you do, follow her on: Gograydame
As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Rene together with her family created a non profit: The Steelman Family Foundation. To find out more go to: steelmanfamilyfoundation.org
To read Rene’s book:
Heaven Sent And Bent: Becoming A Mother Of Strength BUY HERE