(Photo by Sarah Libby Photography)
When I was in the final semester of nursing school I was carrying Annie and dealing with her devastating diagnosis of anencephaly. We were planning for her birth, her tiny little life, and her death all at the same time. I was due 6 weeks after graduation, and that is when several of my classmates were planning on taking the NCLEX-RN (National Council Lisencure Examination-Registered Nurse). I had discussed with a few of my teachers and agreed with their advice to plan on taking my exam around 6 weeks after Annie was born, and at the latest by Labor Day. That would give me some time to grieve, process, and then study. I honestly thought that would be plenty of time…
Before I knew it, Labor Day was a distant memory. I thought, lets just get through our first holiday season without Annie and then I’ll take my exam. After Christmas I still wasn’t ready. Then we became pregnant with Iva, and I turned around and we were celebrating Annie’s first birthday. Iva’s pregnancy was so overwhelmingly emotional for me, and when she was finally born I just spent every waking moment soaking her up. Then, another holiday season, my big girls birthdays, and I realized I was rapidly approaching the 2 year deadline. If you go past 2 years you can still take the exam, but you have to repeat your clinicals first. (Uh, NO WAY.) So in true Abbey Ahern fashion, I waited until the very last minute and registered.
It isn’t cheap to register, and I also had to pay for an online review course because I had forgotten everything. I was carrying so much stress and guilt because if I failed this test I would have felt like I just took that money away from my family for nothing. I was feeling guilty for waiting so long to take the test, thinking maybe I should have just sucked it up and done it earlier, and just having a whole lot of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” conversations with myself. When I recieved my email approving me to test it gave me a window from April to July to schedule and take the exam. Again, in true Abbey Ahern fashion, I waited to schedule.
My husband has been in the process of becoming an Air Force pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard for the past year and a half. It normally doesn’t take nearly this long, but he’s an old man by AF standards and had to get approved for an age waiver (He’s 32, you have to be <30 when you begin pilot training). He finally got approval and received his start date for officer training, and was scheduled to begin on May 5. He graduates in July, after my NCLEX window closes. In other words, if I didn’t get this test over with before he left town, I would be studying and taking the biggest test I’ve ever taken… on my own with 3 kids. (Please note: I am so blessed with more family and help close by than I deserve, but my testing plans were top secret. If I failed, I didn’t want the added pressure of having to tell everyone right away) I got online to schedule the exam and there was an opening on May 1. I scheduled it, then burst into tears and felt like I was going to barf.
Robert was incredible. I had two and a half weeks to relearn everything I had learned in two years of nursing school, and he understood that. He took the kids and left me alone at home to study as often as he could. He made excuses for me when I didn’t show up to family dinners. Dylan’s kindergarten field trip was the day before my exam and he took Harper and Iva along and chaperoned. I also think he saved several babies from the tiger that escaped that day, but left before the news could interview him… 😉 He also was an emotional support for me, which has been his role for such a long time. I would take a practice test and do terrible on it, then cry because I was convinced there was no way I could pass. He would wait for me to finish my outburst and then build me back up by telling me how proud he was of me and how he was positive I could do this.
The morning of my exam I woke up early and was getting ready. I poured an extra large mug of coffee because Iva decided she wanted to party with me the night before. I realized I wasn’t too incredibly nervous so I tried to psych myself up. I thought “ok, this is the most important day of the past two years.” Then I stopped and almost laughed out loud. That is in no way true. Then I thought, “this is the hardest thing you’ve done in two years.” Again. Absurd. I kept trying to think of how to phrase it, and then I gave up. I realized this is just a test. I either pass or fail. If I fail, I’ll take it again. If I fail again, maybe 3rd times a charm. I just really hoped I didn’t end up like My Cousin Vinny and have to say, “No, for me six times was a charm.”
I arrived at the testing center at the appointed time. They take people back one at a time, and I was the last one to go back. I stood by the window and looked out. It was a gorgeous morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and there was a single hot air balloon flying fairly close to the building I was in. The following is my train of thought, and it’s super weird and happened in like, half a second. So don’t judge.
-Oh, how pretty!
-I want to fly in one of those!
-No wait, they’re dangerous. Mom and Dad crashed that one time.
-How cool would that be if this was a sign from God?!
-But hot air balloons mean nothing to me, so I bet it’s not.
-Except for Mom and Dad crashing… Am I going to crash and burn???
-Maybe I should SPECIFICALLY ask for a sign.
-But they are about to call me back!
-He wouldn’t have time to give me one.
-I just made God so small.
-Stop thinking about signs and remember all your dang lab values! Focus!
-Holy crap. They’re calling me.
Thankfully, time and time again, God shows me that He is so much bigger than my doubt, fear, or time restraints. The very first question on my exam was about anencephaly. In my hours of studying and the hundreds of practice questions I had done there was not a single mention of anencephaly, or any neural tube defect for that matter. (to be fair, I only skimmed the OB/GYN review section. I’ve had 4 babies, I know almost all of it from experience) God was with me. He called me to become a nurse and He loved me through it when life got hard. The question of rocked me for a minute and I teared up, but was able to continue without any big episode.
Two days later I got the results of my test. I freakin passed. I honestly never thought I’d see the day. For two years when Rob and I would discuss his upcoming career change and the possible gaps in pay and training, he would reassure me. He would say “well, worst case scenario if we really need it, you’re only one test away from being able to work as a nurse, so we’ll be ok.” Something that was just a possibility for such a long time is a real, legit thing now. It’s weird, and I don’t really have my mind wrapped around it just yet.
The timing of all of this was so divinely laid out as well. I took my test and was able to get my results with my husband right before he left for his training. Now, the next two years while he is pursuing aviation, I will be able to support him in the same ways he supported me during nursing school. I love that man more than words can say. During the past two years any time someone asked if I had taken my boards yet I would experience a rush of anxiety, guilt, and pressure so I avoided talking about it at all costs. Robert NEVER asked me. He gave me the greatest gift after we lost our daughter. He gave me freedom. He had set our family up financially where we would be fine if I didn’t work. I had the freedom to stay at home with our children. I had the freedom to grieve for as long as I needed to and in whatever way I needed to. I was able to heal from the inside out, so there is no risk of re-injuring that deep emotional wound. The scar is still there and will never go away, but I have such a confidence about the way I have been able to heal. I was able to grieve in a very complete way, and I can’t thank Robert enough for all he has done to help me. He is also going to look super hot in his flight suit, so don’t be surprised if there’s a 5th little Ahern someday…. 🙂
Life is good these days. So good. But the pain is always lurking in the shadows. It’s always unexpected too. We took family pictures recently (yeah, I know, we’re obsessed with ourselves) and my sister had an idea for my parents to sit on a bench and watch all of our little individual families playing. She suggested that my family be playing on Annie’s quilt. It was such a great way to acknowledge her, but it was awful at the same time. We were all playing with 8 happy healthy kids (and a sweet pup) and Annie’s gorgeous quilt was just a glaring reminder of her absence. My family is different. We have a quilt. I held it together for a few shots, but then I just burst into tears and buried my face into Iva’s squishy cheeks. I’m so grateful that we didn’t rush the grieving process, because those waves are manageable. I can rarely anticipate them, but my feet are sturdy enough that they don’t knock me down. Praise God.
(Photo by Sarah Libby Photography)
I have also decided to begin a new blog so I can continue to write. I made this decision for a few reasons. Blogging has been such a great form of expression for me, and I love writing. Something I have heard several times is how much people have appreciated the honesty/transparency in this. People really dig the truth, you know? My new blog will be just that. I am guilty of the “picture perfect” social media facade and I think that’s ok, to an extent. The new blog is not an attempt to air all of our dirty laundry or anything, but there is something really refreshing about women being truly honest with their life struggles. I hope it’s a bit more light hearted than Tomorrow Will Be Kinder, but who knows what life is going to throw my way? I hope you read it, and thank you all again for your support these past few years. It has been a true life line.
Abbey Ahern, RN (<—OMG!)
***Our dear friends are still waiting. If you would like to help them please pray both for them and for their son. If you would like to make a donation you can do so here: http://www.gofundme.com/homesweethoma