When Amelia Bell and her husband were faced with financial and physical trials that required a change in perspective, she turned to her Heavenly Father for direction and was able to move forward with faith and purpose. This interview was conducted in 2015, six months prior to her graduating from a Physician’s Assistant school that was located 2,400 miles away from her husband and four children (two with special needs). They are finally back under the same roof and Amelia is happily employed at a neurosurgery group as a PA, with her boys thriving under the intensive in-home therapy they receive daily.
Please introduce yourself and your family.
My husband, Phil, and I have four children, Brianna, Audrey, Quinn and Milo. Their ages range from 6 to 12. Brianna is a very talented writer with a fantastic sense of humor; Audrey loves gymnastics and is my little firecracker; Quinn is 9 and Milo is 6 and both have a rare genetic condition named PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome, and have been diagnosed with autism. Quinn is in the severe range. He is non-verbal but he is a wonderful, sweet, gentle, loving boy and I am privileged to be his mother. Milo is my little monkey. What he lacks in language he makes up in climbing ability. He is also autistic, but has a little better social and communication skills than his brother and I have hope that he might live independently one day.
We currently live in St. George, Utah. My husband is a tax accountant and works from home. I will graduate in August with my Physician Assistant degree. Although my first choice, of course, was to go to PA school in Utah, I was turned down there and eventually I was offered a place at Pace University in New York City. After looking at finances and what made sense, we decided that I would go to New York by myself and the family would stay here in Utah. This was only a possibility because of the tremendous support system of our families and ward members.
What made you decide to study medicine?
My father is a physician and our house was the triage unit for the neighborhood kids. When someone cut their chin or had an ingrown toenail, they came to Brother Rowland’s house. We would visit my dad in the hospital and I knew what he did was important. I was very proud of him and he obviously enjoyed his work. Fast forward many years and I’m married with children, my husband is going to school and we’re needing to supplement income. I always gravitated towards working in healthcare. Then the recession hit. My husband lost his job and was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I had to look at what I wanted our future to look like as a family, and I thought “What is the one thing I love and has always been a part of my life?” And it was medicine. It kind of felt like coming home. Unfortunately I only had completed a few general classes, so I knew there was a long road ahead of me.
With your role as a mother, a student, a wife, what does your life look like when you feel you have achieved a good balance? Does it ever feel that way?
Really, I knew in some nebulous way that this was going to be difficult because that’s what everyone says, but part of me was very arrogant because I thought ‘those are other people, they are not Amelia Bell. This isn’t going to be hard for me, mother of four kids, two with special needs. I have a work ethic that they just don’t know about.’ I came into the program knowing that it was going to be hard but thinking that I was going to be okay. But it really has been very humbling and not always in the best way. There’s humbling like ‘I learned a lesson today,’ or there’s humbling like ‘The rug just got swept out from under my feet — I’m flat on my face. What am I doing?’ Part of my vision of a balanced life is being able to come home, have a meal with my family, see my children wake up every day — and these are things I’ve really missed. I think a balanced life is unique to the individual. Even though I’ve been absent from my family and not functioning as a stay-at-home mom, I believe that considering everything, for me, my life is fairly well-balanced because at the end of the day I look at the strength of my family and marriage and am happy with where we are. That is going to be a different picture for each individual.
Did you ever face a setback and almost give up, or was the determination always there? What got you to push through?
At the very beginning of my studies in New York, I surprised my girls by taking them to New York to sight-see for a few days before leaving me and going back home. I was pretty worried about having my girls with me. We arrived late at night and as I got a cab, I remember thinking that the driver better take us exactly where we needed to go without any extra run around. He stopped and said, ‘This is it’, and I said, ’No…this isn’t!’. He told us to get out after a brief argument. We did have to walk for a ways but we finally found my apartment at about 1:00 a.m. After I got the girls to bed on the air mattress, I went to my room and thought “what am I doing?” If my girls hadn’t been with me I would have gone home. It was an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. I was terrified. But I thought, I can’t leave, my daughters are so excited to be here, we are just going to have a good time. Good thing my girls were with me. Everything was so foreign but the next morning I decided to just take it an hour at a time. And of course later there were times during the semester when things didn’t go well and I wondered why I was there. Whenever I got very low, I would call my husband and he always supported and encouraged me. I think everyone who has ever faced a challenge has wanted to give up and go home. But my feelings were never as overwhelming as that first night with Brianna and Audrey, when I was just terrified.
I always knew that my choice to return to school and to get a PA degree was the right thing to do for my family, but I was very discouraged each time I was rejected by a PA school. I knew it was going to happen, and I figured it was going to be a time frame that really wasn’t up to me. The beginning of this journey started after a particularly hard time. My husband had lost his job, we were almost losing our house, and he was getting sick. To top it all off I had two boys with special needs! I had a really rough night one evening and after everyone fell asleep I went to my knees and asked “what am I supposed to do?” The answer didn’t come right away, I felt some peace but I did not have a plan at all. The next day I was looking online and just had a strong feeling that I could get a degree in medicine. Not only that, but I could be really good at medicine, help my family, and I could find fulfillment in my career as well. It wouldn’t just be a paycheck so I could get some services for my sons or treatments for my husband. It would also make me a happier person, and therefore a better mom and better spouse. So all of those rejections weren’t horrible, but were more like setbacks that moved me forward.
I was a medical assistant at an internal medicine clinic, working for a wonderful doctor, and people would ask what I was doing, and I would tell them I was applying to PA school. One patient told me “You would make an excellent PA.” She was very sincere, saying that it was such a good idea, and that I was a great medical assistant, and had a great bedside manner. I thought that was so nice hearing this from someone who didn’t have to say anything nice but did, and would think of her whenever I felt discouraged. Once, after getting yet another rejection, I was crying and talking to my mom at her home. I was really discouraged feeling like I made the wrong choice. The doorbell rang and when I went to the door there stood the woman who had given me the compliment that meant so much to me about two weeks previously. She was lost and rang a random door that happened to be my mom’s house asking about a baby shower that we knew nothing about. After she left I was in kind of a daze. I felt that Heavenly Father knew, and sent the one person who had made a deep impression on me that had given me such wonderful motivation to remind me that everything was going to be okay. It was pretty crazy. I think that was the first experience that I’ve had – you’ve heard that Heavenly Father knows you – and knows you by name – and that He answers your prayers. But this experience was spot on, to the minute. I was reminded that He really does know me. It certainly motivated me to move forward.
I feel like one of Satan’s biggest tools is fear; fear of ridicule, fear of judgment, fear of failure. Everyone probably feels the same way. One of my biggest fears was the judgment of my peers. I was in this predominantly Mormon community where moms just don’t do this. I feared what my neighbors would think. Also I was terrified that something would happen to my children while I was gone. I thought I would never be able to forgive myself if something did. I had to dig deep and know that even if the worse case scenario did happen I would be able to overcome it through prayer and through family. That was pretty powerful for me. This meant that I could pretty much do anything I set my mind to. I also knew that I couldn’t lie to myself and couldn’t deny the feelings I had after the prayer that I had said. That overwrote all fear. I had to remind myself of that all of the time. I had my answer and even if by some cruel joke it wasn’t, I was moving forward. My life had some direction and momentum. To be stagnant or to not grow in any way is not how I pictured living my life. I am all about learning by experience.
Where do you find, or what are your biggest sources of strength?
Every day, it’s really my husband, my children, my parents and of course my Heavenly Father. I tell people this, because inevitably people find out how many kids I have and what I’m doing, and ask how are you doing this, and my answer has always been my husband. I’ve married an amazing man and I’m sure they think ‘yeah, whatever’, but he is the main reason I am about to graduate from Physician’s Assistant school and the only reason why I even felt that I could do this, that I could go across the country by myself. He has such a, sometimes misplaced, faith in me which I don’t understand, but which I’m extremely grateful for. I don’t know many men who could do what he’s done. He has totally stepped up to the challenge of being a single parent of four kids, two of whom have special needs. Someone has to show up every day and he has shown up every day without fail. Also I have amazing parents. Their encouragement, babysitting, carpooling, and love for my children have been a huge help. I know they were instrumental in my husband’s ability to maintain sanity. And my ward has rallied around us in so many helpful ways, I feel surrounded by angels and knew that my family was never alone.
What has been the most satisfying aspect of your journey?
I feel like we’ve taken a dose of steroids in our marriage, and where it could have gone absolutely horribly wrong, instead it has been very satisfying to see my husband grow as a father and as a spouse. He’s had a huge challenge in learning to cook, clean and discipline the children but he’s done that.
It’s been very satisfying personally when I look back at what I’ve done to know that you can really do anything. It’s so cliché, and you hear that all of the time, but it’s especially important as a woman to hear that, because we feel like we have all of these barriers. I had these ridiculous barriers! I was returning to school after having four children! It was very satisfying to see that I had the intellect and self-discipline to learn huge amounts of information in a very short time, and also to stay strong spiritually and to maintain my marriage and even see my marriage improve. I believe my girls will also benefit from seeing how much I value education. When they consider whether to go to college, they will know that it was so important that their mom went across the country for two years to achieve this. They’ve had to be so strong during this, and I hope that they’ve learned that while I’m always going to be there for them, really the responsibility and their own strength is from themselves and their own relationship with their Heavenly Father. They can do anything too, but they have to find it within themselves. They have done amazingly well; they have seen that the next day will bring another sunrise and sunset and you can get through it. There have been angels watching over my family every day, and after all of this, we will be together again.
At A Glance
Name: Amelia Bell
Location: Heber, Utah
Marital History: Married
Children: Brianna (13), Audrey (11), Quinn (10), Milo (8)
Occupation: Physician's Assistant
Schools Attended: Dixie State University, Pace University
Favorite Hymn: Be Still My Soul
Interview Produced by Sabrina Bird