By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published October 25, 2012
On the first Sunday of October 2002, as I was covering the annual Life Chain, I photographed Jill Hoover, holding a sign in one hand and her 2-year-old son in the other. She also had a 4-year-old son at the time.
Today she and her husband, Thomas, have five children—John Paul, 14, Peter, 12, Benedict, 7, Claire, 8, and Catherine, 4. The sons are named after popes and the daughters after favorite saints.
The Hoovers attend St. Brendan the Navigator Church, Cumming, and four of their children go to Pinecrest Academy, the nearby independent Catholic school. I recently asked Jill Hoover about her experiences of motherhood in the decade that has passed since I took her photograph.
Q: Ten years have gone by since the original photo and now you have five children. What has the experience of motherhood been like for you?
A: I’ve been blessed in many ways but also asked to sacrifice. I’m able to be a stay-at-home mom and am grateful for that, but running a house with five children is no picnic! What surprised me the most is the way it started. My husband and I experienced a renewal of faith a couple of years into our marriage. Finally understanding the Eucharist had a huge impact on our lives. We decided to make Christ the Lord of our life in every respect and that required us to let God “plan” our family.
Our firstborn had a serious illness that put us to the test right away. Thankfully, he survived but then later required another painful surgery. We decided one day at Mass to give him his first Communion by sharing a piece of the host with him. (We know this is not licit, but we believed so strongly in the Real Presence that we thought maybe God would heal him.) Turns out it worked. Two weeks later, we canceled the surgery.
So motherhood started out wonderful, then scary, and frankly has been the greatest roller coaster ride ever since.
Q: I’m sure you’ve heard the expressions, a baby is a precious gift or babies are wonderfully made and children are a gift from God. What’s been your greatest blessing as a mother?
A: Recognizing that each one of our children was handpicked for us, unique and special, a well-thought-out gift just for us.
Q: Do you have a favorite saint? If so, who is it and why?
A: I have had lots of favorite saints during different times and trials. Right now I really like St. Faustina. Shortly before having children, a priest gave us a holy card of St. Gerard Majella, the patron of expectant mothers and unborn children. Shortly after that, our first child was conceived.
Q: In the Catholic Church, October brings the convergence of Respect Life month, the month of Mary and the rosary. Do you do anything personally or with your family to acknowledge either?
A: We’ve participated in the Life Chain and made a trip as a family to an abortion clinic to pray the rosary. That was a truly sorrowful experience, and you could see it in the eyes of our older children.
Q: Mary was the ultimate mother. She gave birth to the Son of God and she also had to carry the pain of his death. Have there been any personal obstacles you’ve had to overcome or endure that have required you to call on your faith?
A: When I was 7 years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Thanks to modern health care, a diabetic can lead a mostly normal life. I’ve never looked at it as a cross, but being pregnant definitely raises the stakes, so to speak. Each one was a struggle, but I’ve found the greater struggle is to continue to remain open to life. It’s both a physical struggle and a moral struggle. I’ve managed diabetes really well most of my life, but the pregnancies took their toll and I’ve had two seizures over the last couple of years that have scared us and our families and put our faith to the test. Many people have shared their advice to close this chapter of my life, rather than taking any more “risks,” but doing so would be contrary to my faith and I can’t live with that. Natural Family Planning has worked well for us; it’s been four years since our youngest’s birth. Had I followed the advice of others, there would be two or three empty seats at the table. What great gifts we would have never had!
Q: What has been your proudest moment or achievement as a mother over the past 10 years?
A:I am grateful to have the little moments together as a family. I think overall, I’m very grateful that our children have the gift of Catholic education at Pinecrest Academy.
Q: Being a mother is a fulltime job, but when you have those moments of leisure or “me time” what do you like to do?
A: The simple pleasures. Back porch, coffee and a book.
Q: Do you have any hopes or aspirations for yourself and your family over the next 10 years?
A:To help our children realize the full potential God has given them and continue on a path to heaven. That is our ultimate goal, to be a family in heaven.
Q: What advice do you have for expectant mothers?
A: Keep it simple! You don’t have to read every parenting book. And seek out other mothers around you. We were not meant to be isolated.
Q: In the original photo you were holding a sign that says, “Abortion Hurts Women.” As a mother of five children can you complete the following sentence: Giving birth to children …
A: Giving birth to children provides no regrets.