Jodi Sampson was a typical girl growing up in a small community by the ocean. She dreamed of falling in love and a life full of good health, great times, and lots of love. Everything seemed to be on track when she married her high school sweetheart. She had some pregnancy troubles, but she hung onto her faith and had two beautiful daughters.
But her sense of normalcy vanished when her brother died unexpectedly during her third pregnancy. Despite high levels of stress, she didn’t miscarry. She knew from early on, then, that this child, a son she named Michael Francis, was going to be a fighter—a trait that became a double blessing when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor while still a toddler. Soon, Jodi’s own health was threatened, too, but she relied on exercise, nutrition, and family to help her cope.
Join Jodi as she proves that never giving up and relying on faith can lead to The Face of a Miracle.
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The Face of a MiracleA Mother, a Son, and the Journey of Life and Faith That Lies in All of Us
By Jodi Sampson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Jodi Sampson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Dream
I grew up in the seventies in what would be considered a very typical house in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Winthrop is a small community on the water overlooking Boston Harbor. Houses in Winthrop are like clusters of grapes, and everyone knows everyone. Growing up there, not much went unnoticed. You might say it was very similar to Mayberry RFD.
Winthrop was a great place to grow up: a beach around the corner, a great neighborhood thriving with other kids and safe yards in which to play. Downtown Boston was a ten-minute drive or a short subway ride away. During the summer all the kids would spend the day at a local beach. If it wasn't a beach day, we played on the street: kick the can, dodgeball, hide-and-seek, or baseball. We were all called in for dinner at the same time, and we all came back out after dinner. Curfew was when the streetlights came on. As a kid back then you didn't travel far; if you did, it was on your bike. Your bike took you everywhere. Parents didn't have two cars, and moms certainly wouldn't drive you anywhere unless it was a special occasion. Bike or walkthose were your choices.
When I was older, my friends and I would take the Blue Line into Boston to shop. We would go the Filene's, a department store, or Wild Pair, a funky store with great shoes. Even today I can remember a particular pair. They were platforms with a rope heeland about five inches of heel at that! Being only five-foot-two, I loved them, and saving my little paycheck from working at a clothing store was worth it. It was so much fun, and it felt so independent being in the big city!
My mom stayed home, and dad worked. I was the fourth child out of five. Frankie, Tommy, and Anne were older than I, and Paula came five years after me. Growing up, I have to say my mom made it look so easy. She cooked, cleaned, and generally took care of the house and the kids, pretty much on her own.
My dad, Frank, owned his own company, Eastern Flooring, in the next town over, in East Boston. It meant Dad working six to seven days a week. He would arrive home for dinner but didn't really help out much with us. It was a time when fathers provided money and support, but they weren't expected to really participate much in their children's lives.
I remember one night my mom had to go out to a PTA meeting. She cooked dinner beforehand, of course, and had us all bathed and ready for bed. All my dad had to do was walk us upstairs and put us to bed. Well, when mom came home later that night my dad was asleep on the floor and all the kids were watching television. My dad had suggested that we all play the "nap game." That was my father's idea of watching the kids: playing the nap game, which he always won!
Living in a house with four teenagers was not always easy. My mom often tells me today, "Jodi, raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-O to the wall." I now know exactly what she means. To me, though, being a teenager was fun! Anne was two years older than I, with a small build, long and full blonde hair (think Farrah Fawcett), and lovely blue eyes. She and I got along pretty well, except when it came to borrowing clothes. That was like World War II. If she caught me wearing anything of hers without asking she would get so mad. Clothes caused many battles in our house. However, we did not share the same friends or boyfriends, so the battles stopped with the clothing.
In addition to the clothes battles, Anne was messy and I was neat, and that caused problems, since we three girls shared a room. Three girls in one room seems difficult, but it gave us ample opportunities for late-night conversations. We would talk about friends, boyfriends, and things we hoped Mom would never find out about. The living arrangement developed a definite sense that we three would always be there for one another, an unspoken agreement that was realized later.
With five years between us, my younger sister, Paula, wasn't as involved with my daily life as I got older. She turned out to be taller than I, about five-foot-five, and had a muscular, solid build. We tease her that she looked a lot like Jennifer Lopez, except without the butt.
My two brothers, Frankie and Tommy, were always there for me. Frankie was eight years older and Tommy was four years older, so our parties and friends never really did cross paths. I sensed their care from a distance.
Frankie was the resident babysitter, I think mostly because he did not play sports and was around more than my brother Tommy, who was always playing hockey. My parents only went out on Saturday nights, and Frankie was the sitter ... well, Frankie and his friends. They would sit around and listen to Carole King and Three Dog Night and Carly Simon and The Beatles, and let us do our thing.
Frankie had thick, curly brown hair, and he often let my sisters and I play with his hair and even put curlers in it. He had a great smile and was so easygoing and patient. I guess it was his way of controlling three young girls. With his medium build and brown eyes, he looked a bit unassuming, but he was our big brother, and he was the one we all went to with our cares and concerns.
I remember one Christmas Eve in particular. I was young and still believed in Santa Claus. Frankie had come home from being out that evening with friends and noticed I was still awake.
"Can't you sleep, Jodi?" he asked.
"No, because Santa Claus is coming!"
"What are you thinking of especially?" he asked.
"I want a new Barbie doll and clothes for my doll." I showed him my cut-out pictures, lovingly scissored from the Sears "Christmas Wish Book" that had come in the mail weeks before. "And new bell bottoms!"
"I'm sure you'll get a lot of things on your list," Frankie assured me. We talked and talked and laughed about funny family memories, and I eventually fell asleep, my big, strong brother watching over me.
His advice was always logical, and he had an amazing way of putting everything in perspective. You always left him feeling better. The oldest, he was the first to get a car, the first to get into a car accident, and the first to get caught drinking. He paved the way for the rest of us. As I look back, he was not a bad teenager at all.
I think the three girls were the real test for my parentsor maybe just Anne and me! We managed to get into trouble on a weekly basis. I played intramural basketball after school, and worked at a nursing home in the kitchen. It seemed like I had a lot of extra time on my hands, though, and that is when I would get into trouble. My friends and I would steal beers from her dad's fridge and go down to the beach and drink. We always got caught; that, however, did not stop us. I enjoyed just hanging out with my friends, in the neighborhood or at the beach, listening to music and talking about boys.
Tommy was a hockey player and had the build to prove it. He was six feet tall with straight brown hair and a handsome face. His amazing dimples stood out when he smiled. It seemed he was always at the rink, and my mother was always driving him and his friends to a game or practice. My sisters and I also got dragged to the hockey rinks, forced to endure the cold bleachers and early morning hours. We didn't mind it if one of my brother's cute friends was playing.
He didn't give my parents much trouble at all. As a teenager he was pretty focused, and hockey was his thing. He knew if he got into trouble, my parents would take his passion away. Tommy was the quietest of all five of us. When he did have something to say, though, it was worth listening to, and he chose his words carefully.
Today my family is still close. Each summer we celebrate Cava Fest somewhere in the New England areaNew Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, or Cape Cod. Each sibling takes a turn organizing the get-together, and all our families attend. We kids pair up and each take a night to prepare a meal, complete with themes, costumes, accessories, specialty drinks, and games, and at the end of the weekend there's a vote on the best meal. One year we had a Tex-Mex theme, with margaritas, ribs, and piñatas all around. We did spaghetti and meatballs one year for our Italian theme. The winner has bragging rights for the next year. We are all taking different paths but value the camaraderie and respect we have for one another.
Besides family love, I met my Prince Charming early on. It was June 10, 1977, and I was fourteen years old. I knew Mark because he played hockey with my brother Tommy. I also was friends with his sister, Pam. It wasn't until Pam and her brothers had a party that we actually talked and got to know each other. Mark was sixteen, and I was immediately attracted to him and his beautiful blue eyes. I was nervous because he was older and very handsome. As the night progressed and we continued to get to know each other, we both sensed a mutual attraction. I sat on his lap, and our first kiss was like a fairy talemagical.
With this background in mind, it was no surprise I was married at twenty-four to my prince and wanted to get pregnant right away. Like many dreams, this one took longer than I had planned.
Early on in our marriage, Mark and I lived in a second-floor apartment. There were many stairs to climb to get to our apartment. When I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I placed fresh carnations, blue and pink alternating, on each stair tread. That was how I told him I was pregnant.
I was so happy and just couldn't wait to tell everyone. I did wait until twelve weeks, and everything seemed fine, so I told my family and friends.
But three weeks later, I felt a slight twinge and pain in my lower stomach. I brushed it off as nothing and continued in to work. As the day progressed, the pain stayed; it never got worse, but it never subsided either. I didn't tell anyone, but I was scared that something was wrong.
When I finally got home and told Mark, I started to cry hysterically. Deep down I think I knew what was going on but just didn't want to admit it.
"Do you want to wait and see how you feel in the morning?" Mark asked me.
Reluctant yet worried, I nodded. "Yes, if I don't feel better then we'll go into the doctor's." The next day I started to bleed. I sat in the bathroom, holding my face in my hands, crying and shaking.
My worst fear was coming true.
I had a miscarriage. I was devastatedno explanation, no reason. It just was. The doctors said, "It wasn't meant to be." Boy, did I hate hearing that!
"Wasn't meant to be?" is what I wanted to scream at them.
"Try again" was the reply. They seemed to have no clue how devastating a miscarriage was and how much it impacted a couple. For me especially, with my lifelong dreams from childhood about raising a family, it hit me really hard.
Of course we would try again. They tested Mark and me to see if we had anything genetic that would cause a miscarriage, but everything tested fine.
After the miscarriage, I felt inadequate, as if my femininity or womanhood was somehow less than other women's. One "friend" stood next to me at party and said, "Look at it this way. At least you can drink alcohol!"
The statement felt rude and uncaring.
With so many of our friends having children, I just wanted to be part of that world. I remember seeing pregnant women everywhereat the grocery store, at the mall, in restaurants, at the movies. They all looked so beautiful, happy, and radiant!
Why is it so difficult for me? I remember asking myself. Why are they pregnant and not me? Why is something so natural so difficult? I began to doubt my body, my faith, and myself. I realized that I would never be able to get any answers, and therefore lived with the unknown. Just let it go and trust God, I kept telling myself, so we did, and we tried again.
In February 1989, we were living in East Boston, still in our small newlywed apartment. This time, I bought no carnations. I simply told Mark, and we waited fourteen weeks before I told others. Two weeks later, I had my second miscarriage. No reason, no answer, no baby. This time I thought to myself, My dream was not supposed to be this difficult.
I can remember praying, asking God for help and guidance and His plan for my life. I felt that I had trusted Him and let it go, and He had failed me. I was madder, sadder, and more confused. I knew I would be a mom somedayI visualized myself pregnant and carrying my childrenbut on those days, the image was hard to hold on to.
The doctors performed more tests, and this time told me to wait a few months. Six months later, in August, I was pregnant. I thought, How long before I tell anyone? I had two ultrasounds and heard and saw the heartbeat, so figured I was home free. Around fourteen weeks later, I again shared my news with friends and family.
I learned through two miscarriages just how difficult and trying life as an adult can be. I had to dig deep and find myself, my faith, my strength, and my courage. I had friends, family, and Mark to comfort me, but this was the first time in my life that I had felt so sad and lonely, that I needed to help me get me okay again.
I thought I knew how hard life could be, but really had no idea at how deep I would have to dig and how far I would be tested.
Entrust your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3
Chapter TwoThe Plan
On May 8, 1990, my first child, Jordan Ashley Sampson, was born, and my long-held dream of family life finally began.
Jordan was delivered via C-section. We tried a vaginal birth, but she was facing the wrong way. Babies are supposed to be delivered facedown, headfirst. Jordan was faceup. Doctor Testa, my obstetrician, would come in and turn her so she was facedown, I would push, and she would turn herself around again, faceup. That should have been my first indication: Jordan was not going to be an easy child!
And she wasn't. She ate well and slept well, but the minute she could talk and walk I was in trouble. She was everywhere and into everything. Once she had a full vocabulary there was no stopping her. I think I actually washed her mouth out with soap once. She said the F word, so I put liquid soap on a facecloth and put it in her mouth. She never said that word again.
Every babysitter we had, she tortured. She would call them names, act up, and cry every day I dropped her at daycare before heading to my job as a patternmaker for Susan Bristol, a clothing company. I would peel Jordan off me and run out the door. She didn't like me working. At daycare she would push other kids and take leaves and throw them on others' heads.
Jordan had to be made aware of everything that was planned for the day, from breakfast to lunch to dinner to activities. If I wasn't the one to pick her up from school, I had to let Jordan know. One day I was running late from work, and my neighbor got Jordan for me. Of course, Jordan didn't know the plan. When I got home she was so mad, yelling and screaming.
When she was six, we took her to a "talk doctor" (a counselor), looking for strategies to work better with Jordan's temper. We made sticker charts, mad pillows she could punch when she was upset, and key words I was to use to help Jordan when she began to be mean to other kids. We employed hand gestures, daily charts, and positive reinforcement involving small tokens. It was a lot of work! Somehow I couldn't help but think that spanking a child wasn't so wrong.
We all learned, grew, and worked our way through it. I knew Jordan's feistiness would be a benefit to her as an adult, if she learned to channel it properly. However, her feistiness was not a good quality for a six-year-old. But Jordan grew to be a very mature, organized, and focused teenager. She was still a bit difficult, but in a manageable way. I enjoyed her as a teen. She would share everything with me, even things I didn't particularly wish to hear.
Jordan knew I wasn't a "parent talker" and would not share with other parents what she told me. I was the "vault." I also did not overreact to the situations she told me about. I would use them as tools to see where she was and what she was thinking. I would say, "Well Jordan, what do you think about what he said?" or "How would you have reacted differently?"
Not long after Jordan was born I knew I wanted more children. It seemed I had the perfect life. I worked a few days a week, and my husband, Mark, had a great job as an outside salesperson for a software company. He sold to hospitals in the Midwest and traveled every other week, three nights at a time, but was always home on the weekends. The plan I dreamed of was in place and working. We were saving for a house, and we lived in a nine-hundred-square-foot apartment in the meantime. It was challenging, keeping it all together.
My next child, Kaitlin, was my Christmas gift! She was born on December 17, 1992. Again we attempted a vaginal birth. I pushed, her head would crown, and then back in she would go. We did this for several hours before deciding a C-section would be better for Kaitlin, as her heartbeat was becoming erratic. We used the same surgical site, and out came Kaitlin, silent and a lovely shade of purple. I couldn't see anything because a curtain covered me, but I heard Mark gasp. Moments later we heard a cry; Kaitlin had had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Again we had an indication of what this child would be like: resilient and tough as nails.
Excerpted from The Face of a Miracle by Jodi Sampson Copyright © 2013 by Jodi Sampson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
There Goes a Tractor....................23
Why, God? Why?....................27
Hospital as Home....................34
Walking the Journey Together....................46
Beginnings and Endings....................60
Running for Life....................65
What Is Normal?....................69
The Colors of Our Lives....................94
The Stars Have It....................107
Life Goes On....................124
Running and Friends: My Own Personal Saviors....................135