BOUNTIFUL—When Janae and Eric Wilkins welcomed their first baby Natalie into the world 18 years ago, like all parents they were delighted with their sweet little daughter. Little did they know in that moment, that they were about to embark on a long and difficult journey -- not only with Natalie, but with two other children.
“Before I was married with four beautiful children, had someone approached me and said I would be blessed with four children, three of them with special needs, and that I would learn, grow and find joy in that journey, I would have certainly told them they were beyond crazy,” said Janae Wilkins. “I would have told them I wouldn’t be able to handle even two of those challenges, let alone an entire list.”
But much to her surprise, that is what she’s doing and although there are many tough days, she is grateful for her blessings in spite of her trials.
“Even in the early times in the beginning I started to understand that I basically had two choices,” she said. “I could make the best of it and find gratitude and joy in learning new things or turn inward and ask ‘why me?’ “why us?’ and have a pity party. I’ve gone both ways – I’m human. I found when I made the choice to find joy, positivity and turn to the Lord, that it made all the difference. It actually made the challenges much lighter.”
It all began when Janae was pregnant with their daughter Natalie. “Everything appeared to be fine, but technology 18 years ago wasn’t what it’s like today,” she said. “We started seeing some signs of problems shortly after she was born. When she was about 16 months old I noticed something on her nose. They did a CT scan and found a tumor-like cyst on her brain. She had brain surgery. She continued to have problems and I was in denial. I attributed her delays to the surgery. It was about four years later when I realized that things were going to be a different normal for us.”
At the age of 5, Natalie was diagnosed with autism. By then, the Wilkins had welcomed a son Carson. When he was two, the couple decided to try for another child. “I had three miscarriages in a row,” said Janae. “With the last one there was nothing wrong with the baby so I started having hope. But then one morning I woke up and was very sick. They did an ultrasound and the baby was gone. It was a crushing blow. It shook up my world. It took several months for me to get back to normal.”
Janae said she petitioned heaven saying she could handle anything except losing another baby. “I got pregnant with Kyle,” she said. “While he was in utero, they could see he had club feet. I thought, ‘I can do that.’ He was delivered a little early and they found he had a massive tumor in his tongue. I remember thinking ‘you can’t take him.’ Then I thought ‘the Lord has kept his promise, now you have to keep yours. It doesn’t matter what he’s born with. We can deal with anything.’”
During a follow-up visit at Primary Children’s they discovered his tumors had doubled in size. The doctors determined the 3-month old needed a trach tube placed to support his airway following surgery to remove the tumors. Again, Janae faced fear and uncertainty but Kyle survived.
Her last child Cameron was a bit of a surprise, she said. But due to the complications with her other children, the doctor monitored her pregnancy closely. “When I was about four or five months along, they found he had hydrocephalus and chromosomal abnormality,” said Janae. “It was a time of devastation when we realized he would have special needs. I had so much going on. Kyle was headed for a major surgery and my grandma died. I thought to myself that I couldn’t do it. I prayed for some sort of strength and again felt unseen angels there to help. By the time Cameron was born, having gone through it already I didn’t have such a hard time.”
The Wilkins children are now 18, 14, 11 and 7. Although their family isn’t perfect, Janae said they strive to look at the positive. “I’ve tried to teach my children to take the higher road and look beyond themselves,” she said. “I encourage them to serve others. There’s always someone who may have a challenge harder than you’re facing so go find a way to lighten their load. It will make your challenge easier to bear.”
Janae firmly believes that anyone can go through what they’ve gone through. “It comes down to finding the joy in the journey and making a choice to do so,” she said. “It’s choosing to accept those challenges with an open heart. I can’t stress it enough – I do believe we’re given what we need when we need it. It’s only when we choose to accept the gifts we’re given. I feel so blessed that we have been given the opportunity to be the parents of these four sweet miracles.”