I thought I knew so much from my years in childcare, but I was in for a surprise. I quickly learned that there was so much more to motherhood than I had anticipated.
Children have always put a big smile on my face. I knew as early as my teenage years that motherhood was something I had to experience. Parallel, however, was always this desire for more education and successful career. I wanted it all, but was never quite sure how to balance the two.
After graduation from UBC (April 1980) my career path in education opened many avenues. Eventually (Dec 1981), I chose entrepreneurship and dove head first into realizing my dream of an educational childcare centre.
I was 26 years old and in my mind there was plenty of time. I was more excited to build my own learning centre for other people’s children and the idea of having any of my own took a back seat. My days were packed. I was constantly trying to keep up with a stiff learning curve and managing 10-plus hours of caring for dozens of kids. I laughed and played everyday, and was invigorated by the success of watching my business grow.
In my personal life, the pressure mounted from my father and in-laws. It became a weekly discussion piece: “When can we expect a grandchild? Is there something wrong? You have been married for five years now!” My husband, Hans, never did much to deter the questioning. He’d always just defer to me, saying: “It’s up to her.”
By June of 1982, I was pregnant. My business was seven-months-old and I felt a mix of overwhelming emotions. There was happiness, but also worry and frustration that I was going to have to sacrifice all my hard work. Then, I miscarried at eight weeks. It started with cramping and spotting, and within a few hours it turned into serious bleeding. My doctor confirmed that I had lost the child. She told me “these things happen” and to rest and try again. It just “wasn’t meant to be,” she said. I remember walking to my car stunned. I started sobbing. The loss hit me out of nowhere. The potential for a miscarriage didn't even cross my mind. Not because I didn't know it could happen, I just never thought it would happen to me. I had taken possession of the idea of being a mother, despite my worries, and it was taken from me. It was emotionally very disturbing.
Pregnant with Mitchell - April 1992
Now, I really wanted motherhood, and we tried again. By November, I was pregnant again. This time there were no complications and by the twelve-week mark I started planning the details of baby’s arrival. We had a hot spring/summer that year, so I naturally showed up at my surprise baby shower in a bathing suit. My girlfriend, Janie, had planned it perfectly and my husband did not ruin the surprise as he drove me to her house in my maternity two-piece. It was boiling and everyone was sweating in their nice dresses, except for me.
At my surprise baby shower - May 1983.
My due date was July 31, but my baby wanted to see the world ten days early. My water broke at work as I was vacuuming the classroom after lunchtime with the children. Miko, a six-year-old student exclaimed: “Sigrid, you peed yourself!” My colleague, Diane, organized the children and explained the happy news as I climbed into my 4x4 standard truck, the kids waving from the window. Life was about to change, big time.
It was a forceps delivery after twelve hours of hard labour with a few complications. I did not dilate to the required 10 centimetres, the baby had the umbilical cord wrapped around it's neck, and was in distress.
The head obstetrician was called in and made the plan of epidural, forceps and C-section, if required.
Before that all unravelled, I had managed the pain quite well, breathing and focusing on the clock on the wall, watching that hand tick away second…by…second with each contraction. I had found the predictable pattern. Then, I started noticing a new pain developing and something didn't feel right.
I learned later that the sharp pain was the pounding of my baby’s head on my pelvic bone. He was stuck.
I got very scared and frustrated with the nurse and my doctor as they ignored my description that something had changed in the pattern of labour. Thirty minutes went by, the pain increasing to the point that I thought I was going to pass out. I remember shouting at my doctor: “Something is really wrong! Why won’t you listen to me?” That’s when they turned on the monitor and checked on the baby’s heartbeat which was now in high distress mode.
Within 45 minutes, Peter was delivered, all thanks to modern technology. An at-home delivery would have most likely resulted in tragedy.
Instead, I was able to take a deep sigh of relief and experience the incredible wave joy as I held my first baby boy in my arms and our eyes locked together. He stared at me intensely with his big blue eyes. I will never forget this moment. Mother nature and biology has a wonderful way of allowing us to bond so deeply and so quickly.
This magical and painful experience was repeated two more times with the birth of my sons, Carl and Mitch. Each time the labour time reduced by half, to six hours and then three, and both without any complications. My body had learned what to do.
My mother-in-law, Charlotte, arrived from Germany a week after Peter was born to help us through the newborn stage. She wanted to be helpful, but I remember having very mixed emotions, a lot of sadness and, eventually, resentment as I went off to work a week after giving birth to care for other children.
I was also overwhelmed with the thought of my in-laws living with us for six months - something I had not planned or approved.
After four months of this, working eight-hour days, shopping for groceries and making dinner every night for the family, I spoke up. It was time, again, that I regain control. I told Charlotte I would take Peter to work with me three days a week and shorten the other two, and I expected her to do the cooking every other day. She was upset at first but came on board with the change when she saw I wasn't budging.
At work, I found a young woman to come in for a few hours each day to help take care of Peter while I worked in the classroom, and the rest of the time he would sleep in his crib next to my office desk. I could breastfeed, play with my baby boy, rock him to sleep, and then get back to my tasks.
I learned to multitask and I made a childcare plan. Peter grew up in my office from four to eighteen months, and then he transferred into the toddler group at my childcare centre. I began to appreciate the luxury and beauty of this arrangement. I did not have to deal with separation anxiety or the guilt of leaving my child with a caregiver. By the time Carl arrived two years later I implemented this plan from day one, and insisted on shorter visits from my in-laws.
Carl was a very happy and easy going baby, and quickly adapted to sleeping through the night. This helped tremendously as my marriage was going downhill fast. I was exhausted from the long days with little to no support from Hans. He made it very clear from the beginning that taking care of babies was not within his comfort zone, so not only the long days but also the sleepless nights were mine to deal with.
My childhood swing - With Peter in Germany - March 1984
Actually, the only person who ever helped in caring for Peter and Carl during the night was my dad. When he came to visit he would change diapers, bottle feed, and rock them both to sleep. I had forgotten that my dad took care of my brother and pretty much was a single parent while my mother was unwell, which was his whole life. He knew what he was doing when it came to children and it gave me a few hours to rest. Sometimes it was the sleep that saved my sanity.
By the summer of 1989, Hans and I separated and the journey of single motherhood began. I was relieved and it was long overdue. Finding out about his last affair when I was seven months pregnant had cooled our intimacy to ice age proportions and there was nothing left to save.
To be honest, life got easier for me for a while as I enjoyed my boys, now six and four years old, without their dad in the picture. There was no more arguing, instead their was peace.
It’s interesting how we often protect our children from harm and pretend everything is fine, even when it’s not.
My dad with Peter (left) and Carl (right) - May 1990.
There was a lot of tension in our home when Peter and Carl were little, but they probably couldn't recall much of that as both of us were hiding it. Once the separation took place, there was no more hiding anything, and even though I felt relief, my boys felt the impact as the safety of their home collapsed. Everything we had worked so hard to keep behind closed doors spilled out onto the rest of the family.
The initial custody arrangement was one week on and off. The week with the boys was busy and hands-on. I filled the week with fun outings and a few longer trips with Janie and her two children, Kelli and Kyle.
Our children are all grown up now and still connection by a friendship was fostered over decades. Recently, in the fall of 2017, just before Janie passed away, we sat together and reflected on those years. Her beautiful words will stay with me: “Raising our kids was the most important job we ever had, and we did that. They have turned out to be amazing and kind adults. Both our moms were troubled and needy, and not the best role models. We changed that cycle and that makes me so very happy.”
Custody changed in the summer of 1992, the year I got married to Mark and, my youngest son, Mitchell arrived shortly that same year.
Kelli and Kyle (left) with Carl and Peter (right) - June 1987
Mark took parental leave for 10 weeks after Mitch was born and took a keen interest in participating as a proud dad. This was a new experience for me, watching Mark play with our baby boy. It made my heart melt.
We had bought a townhouse in Deep Cove and Peter and Carl would see their dad only every second weekend and Wednesday nights.
I was happy. Peter and Carl enjoyed the tranquillity of the quiet neighbourhood and made lots of friends. The kids would all walk to school together and play in our backyard. Three years passed with little upset, except for the expected wildness of young boys and their ongoing accidents. If they were not falling out of trees or off trampolines they were ripping off toe nails or getting splinters in their bums. I still distinctly remember the images of a whole group of kids waving goodbye to Carl as we drove to the doctors to have a 4-inch splinter removed from his backside after sliding down the docks.
Our split level home offered lots of play space and privacy for all of us. We had a large sundeck and a huge salt water aquarium, a work out room and an office space. I was beginning to relax and truly enjoyed being married and having all my children under one roof for most of the time. It felt so good, but, unfortunately, it was too good to be true.
Mark became restless and overwhelmed with the energy of three young boys. In addition, he wanted to climb up the ladder in his aviation career.
Buying our Piper Warrior aircraft a few years earlier had been pure joy, and our trips across the Rockies and the many trips south have left me with incredible memories. Sadly, our personal trips in our four-seater plane had come to an end.
Eventually we became partners with another pilot and then sold him the plane completely. As the flying slowed down and the family responsibilities increased, the health of our partnership began to deteriorate.
My three boys - July 1995
I was shocked when Mark asked to take on a job with Cathay Pacific and become stationed in Hong Kong, but quickly realized how important this was to him. I was ready to sell my business to make him happy, I pleaded with Hans to let the kids go with us, and offered to come back for visits every six months. I took it to court after our personal discussions failed. The judge did not give the green light, and the move to Hong Kong was scrapped.
Instead a new idea was born and by summer of 1995 the new chapter unfolded. Our happy Deep Cove days came to an end. Mark took a job out east and I began the first leg of what was to be a long-distance marriage.
I agreed to sell our home and rent a place, moved Peter and Carl back to our original neighbourhood, found a part time nanny for both of them, and traveled with Mitch for 12 days every month to Thunderbay, Ontario to be with my husband, who was now flying out of that province.
Every time I would drop off my boys and drive away with Mitch to the airport my heart would break a bit more. Peter would try his best to console Carl. Both boys would wave with tears running down their faces, and more than once Carl would say: “Mommy, please don’t go.” Every time I would cry in the cab and Mitch, who was three at the time, would hand me a tissue to wipe my tears.
I knew my boys would be well cared for by their nanny, who was a friend and coworker of mine with lots of childcare experience, but this was definitely not the way I had envisioned our lives.
The silver lining of those eight months in Ontario was my time with Mitch. For the first time in my life I did not have to go to work, except for bookkeeping tasks that I brought with me from Vancouver. By now, the daycare had grown to 155 families and three locations with lots of staff and even more challenges.
When my husband decided to end his career in aviation the news came as a shock and a blessing. In hindsight, I should have asked more questions, but I was too relieved to care. I offered my husband to become partner in my business, another move that would result in layers of complications in years to come. The beauty of hoping for the best kept me going.
We settled back in to North Vancouver life and rented a big house in May 1996. My husband was re-adjusting to parenting three children and I was adjusting carving out a new role for him within the childcare setting. Complicated when there is an all female staff and a business of over 14 years at that time. It was tough to find a role for him within an already well-oiled machine.
Carl and I while I was training for my pilot's license - October 1989
With two high-maintenance fathers, a full-time business, and three little boys, there was no time to slow down. It all failed quickly, and the day came on July 22, of the same year, Peter’s 13th birthday, when my husband delivered an ultimatum: Splitting the family or separating and fighting over Mitch. He couldn't handle parenting two boys that weren't his own, the demands of work, and fast-paced city life wore him down. He asked me to move to Sechelt with him and Mitch, and go back to an on-and-off basis with my sons on the North Shore.
Mitch and I in Sechelt - September 1997
I was devastated and scared. Strangely, I was not angry right away. I felt compassion for my husband as he was battling his own demons. The thought of another divorce and fighting over custody was unbearable. I agreed to his terms of splitting the family.
This decision would have the biggest impact of my emotional life and would result in long-term damage for all of us. For years, I carried a lot of guilt about my decision to go along with this plan, but never talked about it. I remember feeling so much anger inside of me at times, or waves of sadness when I watched the disappointment in my children’s eyes. I was in severe turmoil. I had sold my soul. This was going against everything I believed in. I wanted to be the best mom and never have my children feel abandoned, and now I was doing that by dividing up my time between my two families.
It was awful. I felt so sad and pretended I was fine, and within a couple of months became physically ill. It was like the flu: weak and dizzy, and I started vomiting after eating. My body just felt weird. I could not explain my symptoms. Nightmares of my childhood were returning more frequently. I kept pushing my emotions down, telling myself I had no choice but to make the best of a bad situation.
I rented a one bedroom basement suite in North Vancouver, close to work and the boys school. It had been renovated and had new carpets. We moved in with the boys bedroom all set up and myself on an air mattress in the living room for the first three weeks until the futon arrived. I will never know exactly how much the emotional stress or the mold exposure under the carpets contributed to my deteriorating health. I started to faint, had massive dizzy spells, lost 15 pounds, and developed allergies and food sensitivities.
That night as I laid there awake in the hospital bed listening to the nurses talk: “Tomorrow the bed in 8A will be open as we move Mrs. Lightfoot into the psych ward. I wonder what happened to her, there is no real explanation, but she is definitely anorexic.” I could not believe what I was hearing. Nobody believed me, not the doctors, not my husband, and now they were planning to ship me off to the psych ward. Once again, I was alone.
It was 4:00 a.m. and I made a plan. By 6:00 a.m., I got dressed and walked to the nurses station and said goodbye. They told me I couldn’t leave. I told them: “Just watch me” and walked out.
With Mitch in the hospital - May 1992
I called a taxi and went home. My husband was stunned, too. I walked into the bedroom and packed my suitcase. Then, I emptied all the various prescription meds into the toilette and flushed.
I told my husband I would not return for a month and would take care of myself in North Vancouver.
And I did. I endlessly researched online, went to a naturopath, a dietitian, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist, and an acupuncturist. I lived on juicing vegetables, chicken broth and apples for a month - the only foods I could tolerate without vomiting. I developed a vitamin cocktail to deal with my compromised immune system and sinus issues.
Within three months I slowly started improving, but it took two more years until I felt half-way normal, at least physically. I still feel I lost those two years and my kids did, too. We were barely getting by, and I hated being a burden to my children, my husband, and my staff. I was supposed to be strong, superwoman, yet I was falling apart. I resented myself for being weak, for being dependent, and I learned that I had a difficult time receiving and accepting.
I feel my children were robbed, too. They were forced to adapt to the issues of the adults surrounding them. My big boys were just entering their teenage years and learned to help with shopping and cooking as my energy level was so low. Mitch, just six years old, did not really understand the full picture, but I remember him being extra attentive with big hugs when I felt so lousy.
I was fighting to recover physically but did not deal with my emotions, however, instead burying them deeper. They could not be suppressed forever, a sea of sadness and resentment was inside of me brewing away. Only after my divorce did I tackle these issues. I went into counselling and eventually accepted those yoyo-years of leaving and coming as part of my motherhood journey. I started forgiving myself.
20 years later I have poured myself into being the best mother possible and am finally at peace with the decisions I made early on.
I feel strongly now to share this journey, to shine the light on the complex aspect of parenthood, from both sides. My father was a very caring and loving person, with a great ability to listen to my deepest thoughts. He was also a fixer and an enabler in some way, but he did it all for love. He truly cared about my brother and I, and I thought for the longest time that every father would have that ability. In many ways he dished out double the love that my mom withheld. In time I learned that every partnership is different, imbalanced in their own ways. I had to learn that we are all are guided by our life experiences, that the events of our past deeply impacts all of us in unique and at times subconscious ways.
I expected my husbands to enjoy the fatherhood role from the day that our children were born, and naively thought they would act and interact with our sons like my dad did with me. It was very different. This does not mean they did not care, even though it seemed like it at times.
My first husband, Hans, developed a strong bond with Peter and Carl being in the outdoors. That place was his joy and he was in his element to share and to teach all he knew about the wilderness. Our now-adult sons still thrive in and experience the outdoor adventure life now. It is a passion only he could have given them. Their brotherly bond is strengthened when they are together on their hunting adventures. They, in turn, gave their love for the outdoors to Mitch over time.
Mitch who was not supposed to enjoy that life of hunting because his dad is very much a pacifist. There were lively discussions in my second marriage about this topic. “To live and let live” and “to differentiate between trophy killing and hunting for meat with love for the habitat.” I watched Mitch tiptoe very quietly around this topic as he did not want to upset his father, but loved sharing this with his brothers.
Peter and Carl at my wedding party - February 1992
My second husband, Mark, took an active role in supporting Mitchell’s hockey development. We both took turns driving our son to the early practices at 5:30 a.m. with him eating his breakfast in the car. He learned to skate at age four, never getting discouraged, always eager to prepare and lay out his clothes the night before next to the fireplace. In time his skillset stood out and he needed more development, but difficult to achieve on the Sunshine Coast with limited resources. Mark and Mitch would set out once a week to Langley in the afternoon to meet up with a hockey trainer there. He learned a lot and his skating skills neared perfection at the end.
Even today, now as a hockey coach and trainer, I love watching his speed, his skill and his glide on the ice so effortlessly.
In October 2010 my first husband passed away from cancer and in 2011 my second marriage ended. All my sons were forced to actively deal with these life events. I remember that October evening in detail. There was relief that his pain and struggle had ended and finally he could be at peace. There was sadness and numbness in my older son’s eyes, there was compassion in Mitch’s eyes for the pain his brothers were going through, even though he had no connection to this man. Actually, the opposite. He had been told all his life about this man’s shortcomings by his own father. At the same time Hans pointed out the negatives about Mark to his sons. I am writing this not to make my husband look bad, but to bring out the complexities and difficulties that exist in so many blended families. All through my career in working with children I have seen so many different families going through divorce and living in blended situations. It is never clean or complication-free. There are tremendous emotions going on all the time, so many layers of unspoken problems, so much guilt, so much pain, so much anger. It’s rare to witness a family that is not in denial, tackles the challenges, and encourages love for all.
Healing had to happen for my boys, and it did.
Mitch at the ferry terminal - May 2001
The night Hans passed away, I dug out the video from Christmas 1986 - a family trip to Hawaii. Carl was crawling in the sand, Peter was chasing the waves on the beach of Maui, and their dad was healthy and vibrant. The ongoing chatter of three year old Peter, the sound of the surf and the rustling of the palm trees filled the room, the smiles of the content family on the beach brought smiles and tears to all of us watching the images.
It was the start of letting go of the negatives and embracing the positive moments of the past 20 plus years. I can only speak from my perspective, but I have seen my sons dealing with their pain in their own unique ways and slowly recovering.
Peter and I in Hawaii - Nov 1992.
Another lesson would have to be learned by me, and my boys watching with skepticism but remaining respectful of my choices. After starting the process of ending my second marriage in July 2011 and the harsh financial negotiations, an agreement was reached in October, and it was time to move on.
Reflecting back on these days, I can now see how all of us have waves of break through and waves of severe doubts. Fear can become our biggest obstacle, paralyzing us completely at times.
It happened to me that November, when I chose to take a one week trip to Tahiti. I thought experiencing these islands I had read so much about as a child would be a wonderful celebration of my new freedom and satisfy the travel bug inside of me.
This trip confirmed the beauty of the land and offered more adventures than I could have ever imagined. It also brought out the fear of loneliness and abandonment to the surface, as I sat crying at the beach, staring at the turquoise water. All I wanted was to have Mark back in my life. There were a number of men that week eager to console my broken heart, I sent them all away. Instead I emailed my husband and asked him to meet me in Hawaii on New Years Eve. He agreed.
I did not tell my sons right away as we were all vacationing in Hawaii together for two weeks over the Christmas holidays. They all left for Vancouver on New Years Eve on that WestJet flight that Mark arrived on. It lasted three days.
I phoned my sons and told them that I would stay another week to ground myself. That week spent in complete isolation on the island of Molokai I finally started taking stock and facing all my fears. I will forever be thankful for the kindness and loving care of my sons and my daughter-in-law, Emilie, for months to come. The roles were reversed now. They gave me incredible unconditional love and I began to heal and grow stronger and learned to trust myself.
Wyatt, Carl, Natalie, Mitch, Peter, and Emilie. May 2011
Motherhood has brought me tremendous insight, and I realize now that when we bring a child into this world, all our instincts and character traits will be tested over time, actually for the rest of our lives.
My boys are now all grown up, and I feel very blessed that we have weathered the many storms of blended family life, the home schooling chapter, the teenage years of more extreme behaviors, the fostering and the letting go. Good communication and trust are the cornerstone of our relationships.
I look back at so many beautiful memories. The early childhood years of reading stories, making play dough, and having our special Sunday trips. Some of them not so beautiful, but I can’t help but look back and laugh. I remember one time I had taken all three boys to Castle Fun Park. It turned into a challenging car ride home, as first Peter and Carl were arguing about cheating during mini golf and then 4-year-old Mitch was acting out in the restaurant. My patience was running low as I strapped him into the car seat. The traffic was thick and slow, the kids got bored and agitated each other, and I lost it. I stopped the car on the highway in a safe spot and told my older sons to get out of the car and sit in the grass and keep their mouth shut. We were all stunned. There was silence and eventually I could hear Carl asking his brother: “Is she going to drive away?” He replied simply: “No.” And, of course, he was right. Five minutes later, all of us back in the car, and a ride in silence back home.
There are the memories of teaching my young men life skills, like practicing to aim inside the toilette bowl (which, by the way, improves quickly using Cherrio’s as a target) or teaching them how to use a condom by practicing on a pickle.
There are the memories of healing heartbreaks after loosing a girl, followed by the emotional overreaction of my 15-year-old son who insisted to leave the house after 11:00 p.m. and "walk it off". The only solution I could come up with at the time was offering to have a beer with my underage son. It wasn’t necessarily the most socially accepted method, but it worked. He did not leave the house and he was safe. We both sat in the bathroom, shared a beer, he talked, and I listened. These were the lessons I had to learn alongside my growing men.
Every parent wants their child to be safe and it is heartbreaking to watch them go through physical and emotional pain, but it’s part of the journey.
There have been two incidents where I was rattled to my core.
Peter, Carl, and Mitch - 2011
At seven years old, Peter fell out of a tree in the front yard and landed on his back, in pain and not moving. I was shaking as the paramedics placed him on the backboard and loaded him into the ambulance. I packed Carl into the car and followed the ambulance. I remember saying over and over again: “Dear god don’t let him die”. Eventually, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw Carl sobbing. I had completely freaked out my younger son. Another lesson in parenting … keep your emotions in check. Thankfully, Peter was okay and I learned to always keep my cool, to the best of my ability, at least.
The other accident involved Mitch during a hockey game in February 2009. I had just come home from work when his coach called and said: “Mitch is cut, we have called 911,” and hung up. He said nothing about where he was cut or if it was life-threatening. I stormed out of the house and drove the car past the fire hall and passed the firetruck, hoping it wasn't for him. As I ran into the hallway I saw Mitch on the bench, he was waving at me with his cheeky words: “I’m alive mom”. There was a cut above the ankle, not much blood but very deep, and I could see the damage. Mitch asking me: “Is the Achilles cut? I can’t move my foot.” And with a heavy heart I said: “Yes”. The firemen arrived, they confirmed, and one of them even said: “You must be the woman that passed us on the road.” I nodded and he smiled.
Panic sets in when your child is injured, but what’s worse is seeing their dreams threatened. It was a long recovery journey with surgery and intense physiotherapy for many weeks. Mitch was incredibly determined to heal, and each day we would take the boot off and I would massage the scar. He was back on the ice for try-outs by August and he made it into the top team.
My boys are all grown up now, they have become amazing men and Peter and Carl are now fathers as well. The four of us are a team and we have refined our recipe for success over many years. We all enjoy doing things together and our family time is always a rich experience, now even more so with the addition of partners and three grandsons for me to love. Watching Peter and Carl raising their sons brings it all full circle.
My journey as a mother will never end. They still need me, in different ways now but my role in their lives will never end.
Peter, Carl, and Mitch - Summer 1995
Just as they taught me patience as young men, they’re now teaching me the beauty of balance - offering my support without overstepping, and I am also learning about what it takes to be a grandmother. I am grateful for all my experiences, some were painful and took work to understand, and some were beyond my wildest dreams.
Children always need you. The heartbreaks that could happen... could happen in the future to any of my sons. The beauty of parenthood is that you will always count on one another. When I was going through the divorce, my sons were there for me in their own unique ways. Peter listens as we talk over scotch. Carl brings me beautiful flowers. Mitch writes the most thoughtful cards. These are the gifts they give you back.