“‘Don’t just settle, 17-year-old’s aren’t supposed to get married! You’ll ruin your life!!’
‘College with a child is not likely to work.’
‘The normal family just doesn’t have more than 3 children!’
I guess I’ve been going against societal norms my entire adult life, but this is us and I love our story. October 2006 was the month I walked down the aisle as a young 17-year-old girl who was proposed to that summer by her sweetheart. Friends were skeptical, ‘Don’t just settle, 17-year-old’s aren’t supposed to get married! You’ll ruin your life!’ Stubborn and crazy about each other, we pushed forward.
Originally, we had fantasized about an early June wedding the following year; atop the bluffs of Round Top Ranch at sunset, but then…life roared to a halt.
‘Pregnant,’ it read.
Well, there’s your climactic Hollywood plot twist every good story needs. Wife I was ready for, but mother?! I stared at the test for far too long. ‘Let’s be honest here, am I truly good enough to be your mommy?’ My soon-to-be mother-in-law was the first person I told. It must have been written on my forehead, because as I walked from the bathroom, she knew. We talked, we cried, we pretended to watch Drew Barrymore in the movie ‘Ever After,’ but the world stood still.
I’ve always had a strong faith in Christ, but my faith was tested. On one hand we were ECSTATIC, we had created LIFE together! But, reality on the other hand told me, ‘I’m not supposed to be a mama yet!’ I never once doubted that our little one had a purpose and that God’s plans for me would far exceed my own, so eventually I wiped my tears, walked into the room and said, ‘WHAT ABOUT THIS MONTH, LETS GET MARRIED?!’ Part of me was kidding and the other part was 100% serious. My father gave permission for us to marry before my 18th birthday and escorted us to the court house for our marriage certificate. I remember him pulling me aside at the front entrance saying, ‘To be perfectly clear, I’m not giving you away because you’re pregnant, I’m giving you away because you have the same look in your eye when you look at Robert that your mama had when she looked at me.’ My heart swelled. He understood me. He believed in us.
An October wedding it was!
Although many were shocked, we were blessed by a wonderful family support system in the months following our marriage. Those who thought we were looney, in large part, kept quiet and remained anonymous. Our families both helped us prepare to be parents, and on April 3, 2007, after a quick ‘necessary’ induction, we welcomed a screaming and hungry little boy!
‘You did it, my Clara, you are exactly where you’re supposed to be!,’ my mama wept as Robert sat next to me gazing at our son. Mom and I both took part in the quintessential happy-ugly cry over this beautiful new life. Those blissful moments are some of my most cherished memories, but they were whisked away in a blink when our little baby was taken to the NICU.
‘We’ve found your son to be several weeks premature and we’ve also discovered a mass.’
Oh our hearts, I can feel the shatter to this day. We paced the hallways of the NICU for hours. I remember crying and pleading with God. Why hadn’t they seen this before? Is it something I had done?
It seemed like an eternity passed as they ran all of their tests, but our prayers were answered when the tests came back concluding the mass was a large curdled ball of amniotic fluid and colostrum; this needed monitoring, but would be easily resolved! A few days later, bundled up in his car seat, we headed home to start our new journey.
Navigating that first year of motherhood and finalizing my plans for college were two rivaling tasks at times. ‘College with a child is not likely to work,’ I remember my Papa stating with pessimism. He didn’t know it then, but those words lit a fire in me that day. He’s been known in our family to never be wrong, but (respectfully) this time he was. My husband, a year older than me, was not far from completing his vocational degree, so we quietly began making plans to move closer to my university of choice after his graduation. Though, we had to make things interesting… now, as you get to know our family, you will find a distinctive pattern; we like a good plot twist and that twist usually comes with 10 fingers and 10 toes. This particular one came in the form of two, simple, yet powerful, words when put together. ‘Irish Twins.’ Simple math put them 11 months apart. I looked down at our son sleeping in my lap and felt at peace this time, nothing had to change. College was still a go, moving was still a go, my husband’s graduation was still a go, and we’ll just add a birth and a lot more love on top! Naïve, perhaps, but I wasn’t going to be disappointed about a baby’s timing. I made that mistake once. I didn’t know it at the time, but God was working on my heart.
Shortly after our move our second son was born, 10 months apart from his older brother.
‘We need to take him to the NICU for observation.’ My heart sank, the NICU sounds became repetitive, and I was starting to doubt my abilities in the pregnancy and delivery department. ‘Maybe I’m not made for this.’
Despite our tired eyes, a week later they let us break free from the NICU and we took our sweet baby home to meet his ‘Irish Twin.’
Our first apartment near the university was small and fairly barren. Robert couldn’t fathom the idea of putting his family on assistance, so he worked overtime hours 6 days a week while I attended night classes at the college. We laugh when reminiscing over our old savings hacks. For dinner we would turn off all the lights and eat by candlelight…romantic AND it cut back on our electric usage!!! Entertainment was learning to play a mean game of cards, ‘Best 6 out of 10?!’ or chasing each other and the babies around at the park! We were both 19 at the time and didn’t see much of each other those first years, but we were crazy about one another which was all we needed! If there’s one thing I can say about my husband, it’s that he has always put our family first and provided tremendously, this has never faltered over the years.
‘Sweetie, the boys are in bed, dinner is in the oven, and I have a term paper due at midnight.’
Those words left my mouth more often than I’d like to admit. I adored being a wife, and I truly loved motherhood, it suited me. The joy, the exploration, the curiosity – it brought a sense of happiness I’m not sure I had ever experienced. However, being a student wasn’t nearly as thrilling, but my children awakened a new passion in me. In fall of 2008, I made the decision to major in early childhood education; another checkpoint where I felt God’s hand saying, ‘I’ve got this, buckle up tight!’
The weeks turned into months and those months into years. Life had slowly grown a wonderful routine. ‘Maybe we are finally becoming boring adults!’ Oddly enough, this was something we strived for!
By middle of 2009, I wanted a ticket aboard the crazy train! Before we were married we had always talking about 2, MAYBE 3, children, but only if we were feeling exceptionally crazy! (insert hysterical laughter.)
Finding out we were pregnant was heaven on earth, we were so grateful for this new precious life! My pregnancy was largely uneventful, but by April of 2010 my body was ‘failing’ me, once again. I ‘needed’ to be induced early. Our 3rd son was born silent and it took time for him to pink up and attempt a cry. The minute I saw him I begged, ‘Help him, please!’ Our nurse, Alicia, worked on him and kept us calm. At this point I was a professional at NICU life. I could take a temperature and weight blind folded despite the cords and infant CPAP masks. He was little, but oh he was feisty – he was ours!
After our littlest son came home to complete our set of ‘3 Musketeers,’ I immediately returned to school at night to finish out the semester, and my husband was immediately scheduled for a vasectomy. ‘3 children, 3 and under, is perfect, no one could ask for more,’ a college classmate told me as I pumped behind a restroom stall. She was right, right?! Between night classes, Play-Doh filled days, and keeping up a decent love life, it seemed like the responsible thing to do. We were 21, married for nearly 4 years, and our family was complete.
However, I never took into account our growing faith. 2010 was a turning point in our faith, a point where we became actively faithful instead of just vocally faithful. For Robert, this was a time of tremendous growth; he took seriously his roles as daddy, husband, and provider. The night before his vasectomy he called me into the living room as the boys were playing. ‘We need to talk,’ he said. I can hear the conversation like it was yesterday.
This was that pivotal moment in our lives. This was when everything aligned. This was the moment which opened the door to where we are today.
‘This isn’t it, we aren’t finished…’ and just like that, his appointment was canceled.
‘What was he saying? Can we really do this? Is this truly our family’s calling? The normal family just doesn’t have more than 3!’
All those questions were silenced at the BEAUTIFUL sight of two pink lines.
‘Your body does not agree with having babies.’
We moved to our first house and built our first playscape the month our first daughter, and 4th child, was born; just 9 months after her brother and by cesarean. We officially had 4 children under 4 and could not have been more grateful!
A nurse noticed us in the NICU hallway on our way to see our freshly born daughter and stated, ‘Oh, you’re back for your annual visit.’ That stung a bit, but we knew it wasn’t intentional. Though, something no longer felt right about my doctor’s words, my body is NOT BROKEN!
Weeks went by. The longest we had ever remained neonatal intensive care occupants. My heart hurt. My research began. Nights now consisted of tucking 3 precious boys into bed and studying for exams sitting next to an incubator. My goal was for everyone to have me, everyone needed me, and I needed all of them.
Our family is large and so is our story, so let’s fast forward a bit. By early 2012 we were 23 and had become good at moving. We relocated to a lovely home near my final teaching assignment. Daily life ensued, but our oldest daughter’s birth led me on a secretive, and slightly obsessive mission to find answers. Certainly, I wasn’t actually ‘bad at having babies,’ but maybe my body just wasn’t a standard textbook.
I was preparing for my final year in university. Everyone felt it. There was an undeniable excitement, alongside chaos, but a ‘beautiful chaos’ – actually that term stuck around as a daily family motto. Our family had developed a good routine over the years which transformed into our ‘family constitution.’ As a growing family we knew we needed organization, parental checks and balances, and expectations for our household. We slowly but surely became a well- oiled machine! With my background in early childhood education, homeschooling became a top priority for us. We wanted to travel and adventure with the kids, I wanted to learn alongside them.
As graduation grew closer, I began to grow bigger! Our 5th little one was brewing and we had BIG PLANS. Plot twist ahead!
‘You’ve lost your mind. The second I feel something is off, I’m pulling you from the pool and calling 911,’ my mother proclaimed.
I planned a home-birth. YES, an arguably psychotic move from a mother with 4 previous NICU stays. I figured, if I went into preterm labor then my midwife would simply transfer me, but I wanted a chance. I never felt in labor before being induced, so I was on a mission to prove to myself my body could do this!
Our family was open to more children, but I was not going to be an annual resident in the NICU and neither were my babies! This little one was going to change things!
Putting the finishing touches on my degree course work, before baby, was a family effort. Our oldest turned 5, my husband landed his dream job, and while everyone was growing up and progressing, my only complaint was I still looked like I had just stepped out of a junior high locker room. I prayed for a gray hair or wrinkles.
‘Certainly these aren’t all your children.’ ‘You’re so good with all of them, do you nanny full time??’ Or, my personal favorite, ‘I can’t believe your mother left you in here with all these younger siblings!’
All of a sudden our family was drawing attention, and my baby face wasn’t exactly matching our growing family, but I took everyone’s comments as curiosity – no one was out to harm us.
The year came to a close quickly and we reached FULL TERM. Did those words really just leave my lips?? I did it. WE DID IT!
Our 5th child’s birth at home was an experience I still struggle to find words for. The best word I can come up with is JOYOUS. Joy filled the walls. He was the first baby I had the chance of holding indefinitely. He was breathing, he was perfect. My mother, having worked in a hospital for the majority of her career, stood in shock, she marveled at what she had witnessed, and was forever changed.
In the months following his birth, I graduated university with a Bachelors in early childhood education and also a degree in psychology. We celebrated the end of an era and cheered to new beginnings with my husband, 5 children, parents, extended family, proud Papa who admitted to being wrong, and once again a growing belly…my husband tells me it was my early graduation gift. Ha!
‘Mommy, you made it all the way!,’ my freshly 6-year-old boy exclaimed. We had ALL made it!
After college we bought a small cattle ranch in central Texas and it’s where we continue to grow, homeschool, and raise our family to this very day. In December of 2018, at 29, we welcomed our 10th precious baby at home, bringing our count to 7 boys, 3 girls, 3 (arguably 4) sets of Irish Twins ages 12 (this month) to 4 months.
This year Robert and I will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary, but I’m the one that reached a big milestone in March…I turned 30!!! Fortunately, I have finally aged some! Unfortunately, it has only progressed me to the looks of a young college student, so most people are still quite confused when they see me out with the children.
Though we may attract quite a bit of attention, we are blessed by a positive community of friends and family. We continue to use our ‘family constitution,’ derived all those years ago, to this very day as a valuable source of organization, expectations, and parental accountability! It isn’t always pretty, but our party of 12 enjoys a life of immense love, majestic nature, adventurous travels, belly laughs, playful messes, limitless curiosity, and of course, beautiful chaos.
However, the most important point I want to make clear is: I did not settle. I have never settled. I conquered. We conquered. We are living a BIG life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Clara Nollkamper of Texas. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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