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Lives of love: The true beauty of moms, in four movements

This Mother's Day, meet a mom who's parenting despite advanced cancer, a mom who raised her dead sister's kids, a mom who lost three limbs to an infection and a mom raising three disabled children.
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News Modified: May 8, 2014 at 10:16 pm •  Published: May 9, 2014
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Demographers say there are 2 billion moms in the world — and that doesn't count the women who are not biological mothers, but who nonetheless nurture and raise the world's children.

Each mother has a story as different as she is. Some wrestle with physical challenges; others carry mental or emotional burdens. One mom may struggle to feed and shelter her kids, while illness has turned another's expectations of motherhood on their head. But they all share the desire to love and nurture a new generation.

This Mother's Day, the Deseret News introduces four women mothering in unusual circumstances. One has lost limbs, another is raising her dead sister's children. A third has children with disabilities, while the fourth is battling advanced cancer. Each is a testament to the depth of mother love and its profound influence in the lives of children and mothers alike.

These are four extraordinary women.

Floating and flying

Lisa Speckman is swimming with Hannah, 12, and Lily, 9, and the sounds of laughter and splash are providing background music to a joyous family outing. It is here, as she swims with her girls, that she feels lightest in all senses of the word.

“It’s like flying, it’s like walking again,” said Speckman, 52, of Salt Lake City.

She slices through the water — just her — without an artificial arm or legs. On land, she has both, the result of damage from invasive Strep A infection after Lily was born in 2005.

A routine delivery became a near-deadly crisis for Speckman, a former emergency-room nurse whose story the Deseret News first told in 2007. She developed necrotizing fasciitis and Streptococcal toxic shock. Blood clots strangled her limbs. Doctors removed whole organs and sections of others. They cut off her dying legs in repeated surgeries until they ended inches below her hips. She lost her right arm above the elbow.

None of it shaved a hair’s width from her spirit.

“Lisa puts on her legs and her arm every single day. And every day, the girls see her walking and doing things that any other mother would be doing on a so-called ‘normal’ day,” said her husband, Steve Speckman. “She drives every day. She rides horses twice a week with the National Ability Center. She skis in the winter. She swims at the Jewish Community Center. She cooks meals for the family. She sometimes does more housework than I.”

Every day her children see her “love of life and living it to its fullest. Our girls have witnessed how much someone can do with only one hand, a lot of creativity and determination to be self-sufficient,” he said.

Speckman herself is the first to acknowledge a gap between the kind of mother she planned to be and the mother she actually is. She was aiming to be an “action Jackson mom" who loved travel and physical activity, like her own mother. She's still active, but said, “I am a much better listening, watching mom than I would have been. I show up for the girls and I have their backs.”

She finds motherhood both difficult and routine. But while she misses the action and identity of being an emergency room nurse, she is, she said, “a mother and spouse, first and foremost now.”

Speckman often helps out at the school where the girls are in third and sixth grades, although she had to brace herself for how folks would react until they got used to her. “It’s hard to walk in the first, second, third time,” she said. “Those initial looks are not just seen by me, but by my kids, too.”

Now people are used to her, the looks gone. “I can show up and for the most part finally just be somebody’s mom,” she added.

She volunteers for field trips if they are to wheelchair-accessible locations. She walks on artificial legs, but not all terrain is suited to it and she tires if distances are long.

When Lily was tiny, they hired a nanny, but as Lisa got stronger the nanny phased out. In those days, everything seemed to take the impatient mom forever, from healing to getting things done. Years and repetition have streamlined processes. She can get up and be out the door in 15 minutes to drive the girls to school. She slips on her “easy” arm, which is quick and less complicated than another version. She may drive in pajamas. She’ll change everything when she gets home and isn’t racing a clock.

Lisa sometimes cooks, bakes and does a bit of housework. “You can’t waste your limited energy on housework,” she added, if you’re prioritizing what matters when endurance is in short supply. In the kitchen, she uses tricks and tools like a cutting board with nails to hold food still. She treasures her little garden and the me-time it provides.

She’s the parent who helps with math and science; her husband is a writer and photographer, those areas his domain.

Lisa is not a fuss-with-the-hair type mother — never has been. She couldn’t care less about matching clothes and thinks people waste time on unimportant things like shopping and impeccable housekeeping. She takes risks and admits she doesn’t always take her disability into consideration, citing a time she got stuck in the snow with the girls. On the bright side, they’ve learned to problem solve, too.

She thinks her kids would call her a crazy mom — in the spontaneous, fun, unpredictable sense.

Her husband sees a powerful role model. “They have seen their mother walking (not rolling) around the Alhambra in Malaga, Spain,” he said in an email. “They’ve gone swimming with their mother in Mexico. We’ve ridden horses as a family outside Zion National Park. As much as the girls have had to endure by having a mother who looks so vastly different than others — and there have been limitations, setbacks, the staring, etc. — they are realizing and appreciating more and more how special and inspiring their own mother is. ...

"Inside the home, she is warm and loving to the girls, always ready with a hug or a snuggle and one of her much-anticipated stories at bedtime. It’s a home full of life these days, with a dog, two cats, three chickens and a beehive in the backyard.

"Full of life — that would describe Lisa as a person and a mother.”

Powering through tragedy

It's the kind of question siblings ask each other: If something happens to me, will you raise my children?

So when her sister Lori asked in 1995, Lisa Salberg said yes without hesitation — but also without much thought. She was pregnant with her own child. Of course she and Adam, her husband, would step in if her nephew, John, then 13, or her niece, Stacey, 10, ever needed her.

"Ever" came two months later. Lori Titus died, the result of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic form of heart failure. She was 36 and had been divorced for some time. She wanted her kids to have a relationship with their father, but trusted her sister to raise them as she would have.

A month after Lori died, Salberg's daughter, Becca, was born. And the Rockaway, New Jersey, woman began her foray into motherhood with not one but three children, two of them grief-stricken by their mom's death, which had broken her heart, too.

The disease that felled Lori runs rampant through their family, Salberg said. It's an autosomal dominant genetic disorder that's common — about 1 in 500 people — and Salberg and several relatives also have it. As a result of her sister's death, Salberg founded and runs the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, online at 4hcm.org.

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