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From infertility to Mother of the Year: One LDS mom’s journey of gratitude

SHARE From infertility to Mother of the Year: One LDS mom’s journey of gratitude

As the California sun shines through the windows of her home, Natalie Kjelstrom folds the large piles of laundry that her family of seven generates. As she folds, however, she isn’t thinking about what a drag it is, or how much she hates doing laundry for so many people. Instead, Kjelstrom said she thinks, “Wow, I have this laundry. Children live here. I’ve been blessed with these children who need clothes.”

LDS mom Natalie Kjelstrom was recognized as American Mothers’ 2017 California Mother of the Year for her outstanding motherhood. The reason is simple: gratitude.

Kjelstrom and her husband struggled with infertility for several years before being able to conceive their first daughter.

Kjelstrom’s first three pregnancies developed ectopically, meaning they developed in the wrong place, threatening her life and requiring surgery. After those three, three rounds of in vitro fertilization didn’t work. She then had a series of miscarriages. Her body was left damaged and barely holding on.

Now, as she folds the shirts of her four little girls, two of them matching for her twins and the one tiny shirt of her small son, her position is not lost on her. She knows what it is like to have an empty washing machine. She knows what it is like to have a footprint-free floor, an empty dishwasher, and a corporate, quiet, professional job.

She once asked herself what she would give up to have children, after long years of sitting in fertility clinics and hearing hard news.

“Over four years of all of those surgeries and my fertility journey, I realized I would give everything," ” Kjelstrom said in an interview. "I would give financial, emotional and physical, I would just give it all. By the grace of God and through science, I now have these five little miracles. And I feel like this gratitude undergirds my real philosophy on mothering, like the fact that I am here, and I have such gratitude to the Lord for blessing me with these children.”

Kjelstrom’s relationship with her Savior was challenged when children didn’t come as soon as she had planned.

“I felt at certain points I went through my own challenge of faith, like ‘I’m being obedient, what is the deal?’” Kjelstrom said. “I’m doing X, Y and Z, and I’m not getting the gifts that I want.”

In other ways, she enjoyed her life. She and her husband enjoyed traveling, she loved her job and she loved being an aunt to almost 50 nieces and nephews.

“But still it was lacking the fulfillment,” Kjelstrom said. “Not for lack of desire, but it lacked what I wanted. And I know why I’m here and I know what I want, and that is to be a mother and to raise these spirits that I have been made a steward over. And to let them know how much I love them, how much their Savior loves them, and hopefully have them feel like they belong to His family, and that they belong to mine.”

Waiting for those spirits to come, however, wasn’t so easy. After struggling to continue treatments and endure a hard journey of guilt and grief, Kjelstrom clung to a revelation she had years earlier in the midst of difficulties on her mission to Wisconsin: “Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not right.”

“I feel like that stayed with me,” she said. “Through my fertility journey, my journey to motherhood...and you know if the Lord had said ‘Stop trying to have kids,’ I would have listened, but I still felt good about it even though it was really hard.”

Kjelstrom kept her head up, held on, and did everything in her power to enable children to come, but she decided she was going to be faithful no matter how long it took.

“If I get back to my Father in Heaven with zero children in my house, I’m still committed,” Kjelstrom decided. “If I get back there with one child, or if I get back there as a widow, whatever it takes, that is my goal, to be there and to be faithful in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I decided this is what I wanted. My decision was to be committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of the blessings that came or didn’t come...I had determined I was in, no matter what.”

This decision changed Kjelstrom’s testimony and the way she thought about her actions. “I think my obedience had to shift from ‘I’m being obedient because I want a blessing,’ to ‘I’m being obedient because this is what Heavenly Father wants for me, and I’m doing this because I’m dedicated to Him,’” she said.

As Kjelstrom waited to be a mother, she had no shortage of examples of motherhood to look up to. She has six older sisters, and every one of them is a stay-at-home mom. Two of them also happened to have been named mother of the year in other years and states.

Kjelstrom said her sisters share some of the philosophies she believes in.

“The Lord has blessed us with talents,” Kjelstrom said. “And we are going to strive to make those strong and these specific children were sent to our families for a reason. Our set of strengths and our set of weaknesses were specifically picked out for these little spirits.”

Her mother and father also set the pattern. Her mother was a stay-at-home-mom of nine in Los Angeles. “She knew she was different,” said Kjelstrom. “She knew she obviously stood out, but she also was confident in that. She didn’t pretend or act like she was less than, I always felt that her family was important and that she did what she knew was right.”

Kjelstrom also called her father a “champion for motherhood.”

“Growing up he was very verbal about the importance of mothers, not just lip service, but very much active and (he) spent a lot of time really cheering on the importance of a strong mother in the home.”

Now, Kjelstrom and her husband have their own five “little miracles.” As she raises them, Kjelstrom said she focuses on "deliberate" motherhood, and teaches them the lessons she learned on her journey to becoming a mother.

“What’s important to me is teaching them about hard work and teaching them a relationship with their Savior, and so I spend a lot of my days doing those two things...We work hard, have scripture study each day. I try to tell them why I love them.”

As the 2017 California Mother of the Year, Kjelstrom sees a bigger picture as she folds her laundry. She doesn’t see a mound of chores from a messy family, she sees evidence that she has a family.

"Even though the world’s view of 'just' being a mom has gone south a bit I’ve always felt very confident in my decision, that I could do anything, and that this is what I’ve chosen," she said.