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NICOLE STANALAND

WITHOUT using labels, who are you?


 I am a helper, comfort-pusher, Cancer sign, middle child, and rule follower. I am nostalgic AF and remember every face and name. Driving alone, windows down, sunshine, and my favorite songs really grounds me and reminds me of who I am and who I've been. I am most myself in nature. I am refueled by social interaction and being with my friends and other women bring me so much joy. I think I have power that I haven't fully realized or released yet - which is scary and exciting. I am still discovering who I am every day. Looking back, I was always told from a very young age that I would be the best mother and wife, because you know - women are valued by how they take care of others. Somehow my nurturing, wise ways always made me the mother of my friends. Looking back now, I wish I had been more carefree and selfish in some ways.  I wish I showed myself the same care and grace that I show others, but I'm a work-in-progress. 





Describe your kids.


 My girls are twins, but are different in almost every way. Isn't it funny how their personalities even as new infants really is similar to the people they grow into? Laurel (baby A) is very observant, has an incredible memory, and loves to make people laugh. Similar to me as a child, she's very vigilant and takes a while to warm up, but once she opens up to you - she's loyal and your friend forever. Laurel is very active and has always preferred engaging with others for play. She's very sensitive and curious. She loves animals and hopes to be a vet one day. She is a helper through and through - this one is a hard one for me. I am also a helper which sometimes looks too much like people-pleasing. It's especially concerning because we don't want Laurel to feel parentification by having a sister with disabilities. Laurel has a very high EQ and is very fiery - which I LOVE for her, but also can be tough while she's in my house! :) Juniper (baby B) has always been our zen child. Her patience, resilience, and gentle spirit shine in everything she does; however, I often wonder how much of it is nature vs nurture.


 June's had to overcome so many hard things. Feeding issues at 5 days old, seizures at 6 weeks old, and a really rare genetic disorder (STXBP1) that has brought on developmental delays and medical issues. Being nonverbal and not able to walk (YET!) means she has to work so hard to do the things we all take for granted. Juniper is sassy and loves direct social engagement and cuddles more than anything (well maybe not more than Super Simple Songs). Juniper rarely cares to make choices, but will very firmly let you know if there's something she doesn't like. Juniper loves her furbrother Townes (I think they are kindred spirits) and thinks her sister hung the moon. She reads energies and always knows when someone needs attention and she loves nature (she could watch leaves blow in the wind and used to be calmed only by wind chimes). Despite their differences, they both radiate kindness and are both old souls. I am beyond lucky to be their mama.


Describe your household. 


Busy. My husband and I both work from home so the house is never empty. With full time jobs, we have an INCREDIBLE nanny who picks up our girls from school. Once she's back with the girls in tow, Juniper has some private therapists that come to our home so most days there are multiple cars parked in front of our house and people coming and going constantly. It's a gift. I love the song "Crowded Table" by the Highwomen and I honestly wish we had more friends and family coming by more often. With a 1500 sq ft home, you can hear everything in the house at all times and our small (original 1953 kitchen) is where you can find us most of the time (Laurel asking for snacks and Juniper trying to get out the back door to the playground)! Oh - can't forget the plants (courtesy of my partner) EVERYWHERE. 





What is something you’re proud of so far in your motherhood journey? 


Learning to ask for help. When we received Juniper's diagnosis, our world felt like it was collapsing. We were told she'd have no quality of life and were made to believe she'd almost be in a vegetative state for her whole life. Suddenly everything felt so scary and overwhelming. Instead of just isolating ourselves, we began sharing our story and telling people ways that they could help - food, diapers, hand-me-downs, and just holding the girls while we slept. The way people showed up for us is something I will never forget. We are still so lucky to have family, friends, and a community that continue to show up for us. I am not good at asking for help and don't like feeling like a burden, but motherhood has been humbling and I truly believe it takes a village. Reese Witherspoon was on the "We Can Do Hard Things" podcast a few months ago and she said that friendships are like bank accounts - you can't take withdrawals unless you make deposits. This really resonated with me and I try to make deposits to give back to my friends and family whenever possible. We are all doing the best we can afterall. 


When do you and how do you feel totally relaxed? 


Reading a book or going on a hike are my typical go-tos for relaxing. Being able to unplug and lose myself in a story or nature allows me to quiet my mind. I've recently gotten back into dance classes and it's been really magical. For one, it reminds me of the person I was before kids (and that I still have solid moves + rhythm)  but also I can't think about anything but the next move. Moving my body to amazing music with other women (and their energies) is the absolute best way to focus on myself. Plus I get to enjoy the solo drive home (with the windows down)!


What is something that makes you cringe? 


Unfairness. Exclusivity. Lack of inclusion. I really believe that you should always treat people the way you want to be treated and it amazes me how many people don't act accordingly. 

We always say that Juniper is our meter on whether someone is a good person, because so many people hardly ever acknowledge her directly or engage with her. It's their loss honestly -  she's pure sunshine and sees into your soul. So many of our systems fail people with disabilities, people of color, women, or anyone that doesn't fit in a specific box. I try to advocate and do little things every day to teach others about inclusivity and that differences should always be celebrated.


What is something you've recently ate/listened to/read/watched that really captivated you? 


"The Midnight Library" had a really powerful ending that made me really reflect on the paths we take vs the ones we didn't. I'm so nostalgic and can sometimes look back with too much rosy retrospection. What version of our life would we pick if given the chance? It is really fascinating and humbling. I absolutely love the "We Can Do Hard Things" podcast - I always feel less alone, validated, and get a good laugh!





What is one tiny victory you’ve had recently?


 I recently started a totally new job after being with my last (and first) job for 16 years. I worked really hard and feel like I've really lucked out to have joined such a great company and team. Feeling appreciated and valued has really been such a victory for my family and my mental health. 

 

What do you dream of for yourself? For your children? 


My dream is a simpler life. Some days it feels impossible honestly. We always dreamed of living out somewhere (like Costa Rica) or in the mountains on a lot of land, but it's hard with a medically fragile kid. We had NO idea how lucky we were when we bought our home in Decatur right down the street from Emory and Egleston. We are working to slowly find ways to incorporate more simplicity, but thankfully Juniper is really great at reminding us (especially me) to slow down since I'm wired to be on the move constantly. For my girls - my dream for them is to live a full, happy life surrounded by love. That they feel so supported that they are able to really be brave and feel safe. I want Laurel to live her dreams and not have to worry about being a caretaker or stuck in any one place (physically or literally). I hope she takes her huge heart and does some really cool stuff for herself and the world. I want Juniper to have independence and joy. I hope Juniper can walk to better access her community and live in a world that sees her for her heart and mind instead of her disability. With the state of things in the world, I mostly just hope they will have a peaceful, meaningful life that is filled with love, inclusion, and each other.


How did you feel about being pregnant? What do you remember most about pregnancy? 


I absolutely loved being pregnant, mainly seeing reactions to telling people I was having twins. I've always loved attention and human connection, so having the opportunity to share so much joy with everyone (including strangers) was lovely. Every Sunday morning before getting out of bed, my partner and I would read the new week's updates and I loved knowing how big the girls were and where they were in development. I have so many fond core memories during that time. Every time I had an ultrasound (which was very frequently since I was considered high risk), they would comment on how perfect the girls were and that they were always, like, the same size. I remember feeling so proud and calm. I am so thankful that none of the genetic tests or scans alerted us to Juniper's genetic disorder, because I can't imagine the anxiety that I would have felt and then somehow blamed myself for any future delays or issues. I never had any morning sickness (I know that's a major gift!), pain, or worries - my body just felt like it was meant for pregnancy in a bizarre way. I had no idea what future lay ahead, but I just remember feeling strong and able to take on anything which is humbling to reflect on now. 


What, if anything, do you want to remember about your birth story? Early motherhood? 


When I went in for my 35 week ultrasound (I was scheduled for a c-section for week 37 since Laurel (baby A) was breech), the doctors noticed that I had high blood pressure. I was informed that I wouldn't be leaving the hospital until the girls were born. I ended up getting admitted and put in the perinatal section of Northside Hospital (which fun fact - both my husband and I were also born at Northside) and was on bed rest for a little over a week. At the time, I was annoyed, but looking back - I had a whole week of rest and was being cared for by amazing nurses! After the girls were born, I had to be put on magnesium (high blood pressure was still an issue) which meant that I was put back in my original room. It was an interesting perspective to still be the patient (instead of just having nurses focus on the girls), but also I got to learn how to care for the girls with these nurses who had become friends. One crazy memory that I'll never forget is that since I was on magnesium, the doctors had to really monitor me after delivery/ surgery. Juniper had breathing issues and was whisked off to the transition area and Jason went with Laurel. I was moved to a random hallway area and left alone for an hour - which was completely surreal after going through such a huge life change and operation. I felt so lonely and isolated which wasn't how I pictured the first few hours of motherhood; I didn't get to hold the girls to my chest right away or see my parents' reactions like other mothers typically do. I also wasn't able to see Juniper again until she got her oxygen stabilized about 8 hours later. I suppose it was good training in learning that life would never really be about me anymore!





Any deep or humorous or urgent thoughts on…


Healing (body, mind, and/or spirit)?


Aging? As I approach 40, I still feel like a young adult at times. Maybe it's because I'm still so cool (or at least my friends still are). Only recently have I started to notice changes that I'm realizing are here to stay - skin spots, wrinkles, and body aches. It feels cruel somehow that it takes us so long to find ourselves and love ourselves. Just as we are feeling more confident in our minds, bodies, and self, everything starts to change rapidly in ways that we've always heard of from other women - only now it's real. I've been going gray for a few years and it's now getting predominantly gray - which is exciting but also kind of scary honestly. I don't have the time for upkeep that constant dying requires, so I think I've decided I'll just wait for it to turn all gray and then just start doing the wash in crazy colors...gotta stay punk somehow right? 

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