Family Matters: On Mother’s Day

By: Claire Mullen

There is a Hallmark version of Mother’s Day.  It begins on a lovely spring day with Daddy sneaking out of bed as soon as he hears little footsteps coming down the stairs to allow the day’s honoree the forgotten luxury of sleeping in. 

While Mama pretends to rest through the banging and clanging coming from the kitchen, her clan prepares breakfast in bed – a tray, presented precariously and proudly by pajamaed kiddos, complete with a pink bud, hand-picked from the backyard, in a small vase.  Mama chuckles as she savors her hot coffee and pretends not to mind that she’s only left with the crust after her little ones each beg for a bite of her jelly toast.  

 This special day progresses leisurely, and could include dressing up for Sunday service (a pretty corsage for Mama), lunch at her favorite restaurant, a surprise solo sneak-away to the spa courtesy of a forward-thinking husband, and dinner waiting on the grill when she returns.  She hasn’t had to cook a meal all day!  

 Then there’s a fancy store-bought cake and presents.  A gift certificate to a cute local boutique.  A macaroni noodle necklace handcrafted at preschool.  A miniature canvas displaying brightly painted flower formed out of little handprints, and the words, “Thank you for helping me bloom”.   

 It really is a perfect day.  And for many, it’s a departure from reality.  Mother’s Day can be a stark reminder of those mamas who are no longer with us.  For those who’ve struggled to conceive or have lost children along the way, it can feel like a heart-wrenching exclusion.  Through the course of my adult life, I’ve fallen into each of those categories and have also subsequently celebrated my share of idyllic Mother’s Days with my husband and two young children.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that the single-most powerful source of hope in the years when that particular Sunday in early May felt just plain sad, was the brave women who willingly shared their less-than-storybook experiences with motherhood.  Stories that didn’t glaze over things like heartbreak, loss, and disappointment, but had happy endings, nonetheless.  Stories like Celia Everett’s. 

 Years ago, Celia, then Celia Carpenter, was my college roommate at UNC-Chapel Hill.   A pretty Sanford native from a hard-working family, standout student, and outgoing sorority sister, Celia was the total package.  In May 2004, she was a few final exams away from finishing her freshman year at Carolina.  Then Celia got sick.  An undiagnosed genetic disorder known as Wilson’s disease sent my friend into acute liver failure in a matter of days.  Without a liver transplant, Celia would die.  Her family gathered in her hospital room at UNC and hoped desperately for a miracle.  And then came the news.  A liver.  From a 25yearold mother of a toddler.  After this young woman was killed in a car accident in Tennessee, her family had already made the decision to honor her wish to donate her organs when doctors requested that they expedite the surgery in order to provide a life-saving organ for a 19yearold critically ill woman in North Carolina.  Celia’s transplant surgery began on May 8, her mama’s birthday, and ended successfully on Sunday, May 9, 2004.  Mother’s Day.  

 Celia went on to fully recover from her liver transplant and returned to college as planned in the fall.  Shortly into her sophomore year, she went on a blind date to a fraternity cocktail party.  As Celia tells it, after her date fatefully abandoned her at the party in favor of bar-hopping on Franklin Street, a handsome senior saw an opportunity and asked Celia to dance.  In Celia’s own words, “the rest was history”.   Scott Everett and Celia dated through the rest of her undergraduate career, and their relationship progressed in spite of several years of long-distance courtship as Celia remained in Chapel Hill to attend UNC’s pharmacy program, and Scott relocated to West Virginia for medical school.  In the fall of 2010, their future together looked bright.  They’d been engaged for over a year.  Celia was in her last year of pharmacy school, planning for her new career and looking forward to reuniting with her fiancé, when once again, in an all-too-familiar fashion, life threw her a curve ball.   

 After noticing a lump in her breast, Celia immediately scheduled an appointment with her OB/GYN.  Further testing revealed a diagnosis that the medical-savvy couple knew was always a possibility but had hoped to avoid forever:  post-transplant lymphoma.  Celia’s cancer needed to be treated immediately with inpatient chemotherapy.  The couple, on the cusp of beginning the next phase of their life together, was certain that they wanted to be parents one day and knew that Celia’s treatment would significantly decrease her ability to conceive.  They made the hopeful decision to harvest Celia’s eggs and attempt invitro fertilization.  Yet again, devastating news from her doctors:  the egg retrieval and IVF had been unsuccessful.  

 Celia and Scott faced these obstacles as a united front and went on to marry in 2011.  They focused their energy on settling into their new home in Ohio, where Scott was completing his residency.  After several years of emotional and physical recovery for Celia, the Everetts were living a busy, happily married life, and despite Celia’s complex medical history, held onto faith that conceiving a baby might not be entirely out of the question.  They scheduled an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist, who confidently put Celia’s chance of conceiving and carrying a successful pregnancy at less than 1 percent.   

 At this point in the story, a lot of folks might have to wonder how hope could still be sustained after so many years of being dealt heart-breaking news.  The Everetts persevered.  They approached the adoption process with their trademark tenacious optimism.  The couple began official paperwork through a small non-profit agency in Ohio in January 2014, and by March, had their portfolio hand-picked by a local birth mother.  On June 5 of the same year, Celia Everett held little newborn baby boy and became a Mama.  Brady’s Mama.  

 The next several years saw Celia and her new family of three through more highs and lows.  Shortly after Brady’s first birthday, Celia’s lymphoma reoccurred, resulting in another round of chemotherapy and a lumpectomy procedure.  With an infant at home and more health woes for Celia, the Everetts understood the value of moving home to North Carolina, closer to her family.  They settled here in Fayetteville, where Scott joined Cumberland Anesthesia Associates, and Celia took an inpatient pharmacist position at the First Health Hoke Campus.  And then, in midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, something miraculous happened.  Celia became pregnant.  The joy over this surprise twist of fate and excitement over a sibling for Brady was short lived, as this pregnancy resulted in a first trimester miscarriage.  However, knowing that they could conceive gave Scott and Celia the hope they needed to seek advice from a fertility specialist once more.  A new doctor in a new town gave them the same old odds:  less than a 1 percent chance, even through IVF.  Labs and an ultrasound confirmed that Celia had very few eggs remaining.  The Everetts drove home that day and contemplated Celia’s undeniable test results and the advisement of not one but two reproductive specialists.  Although their situation was more complicated than many could understand, the answer to them was clear they would not attempt a second IVF procedure.  Brady was the miracle that they had longed for and he was enough.  And that very weekend, they conceived their second child.   

 Quinn Everett was born on June 30, 2019.  She defied the odds and came into the world happily and healthily at 38 weeks with minimal complications.  Her mama playfully refers to her as “The Little Egg That Could,” but mostly likes to call her “Mighty Quinn.”  My friend Celia, the protagonist of this amazingly true story, will celebrate Mother’s Day for the first time as a mommy of two this year.  She and her husband Scott have an adopted son and a biological daughter who they both love fiercely and equally.  When Celia announced Quinn’s birth on Facebook, she wrote, our journey has been long and hard, but we are forever grateful for the paths that led us to both of our children.  My love for and connection to my son is every bit as strong and present as it is for my daughter, and I wish for both of them to always know how much we hoped for and love them.”  Celia shares the details of her life humbly and openly, all because she knows they might provide encouragement for anyone else who may be struggling with one of the many obstacles she’s overcome along the way.  

 Like so many other women, Celia’s journey to motherhood was not easy.  It was marked by uncertainty, loss and grief.  But for her, there was always faith.  And her journey led her to Brady and Quinn, two precious little children who just might want a nibble of their mama’s Mother’s Day breakfast this year.   On Mother’s Day and every day, may we remember those who came before us, celebrate those among us and offer hope to those who just might one day be.