Bérengère Doby says she has always had an altruistic personality, and looks for ways to put love into practice. Her childhood in southern France led to her mission service in Switzerland and then a career in health care. Now she has put a career in podiatry on hold to raise her young children. Bérengère talks here about how the lessons she learned as a missionary prepared her for marriage, motherhood, and a life of service.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Southern France in a little town called Espalion. I grew up there until about the age of eight, when my parents divorced. I had a good childhood at first, but because my father was an alcoholic, it was difficult later on, especially for my mother. In order to protect us, she separated from him. We moved into my grandmother’s house in La Marne à Châlons-en-Champagne. During that time, my mother became friends with a member of the Church who told her about the Church. My mother was baptized, but she left us with the choice to be baptized or not. She told us, “I’ve been baptized because this is the choice I’ve made.” We were nine, eleven, and my little brother was six. A year later, in 1988, my sister and I decided to be baptized and become members of the Church. Our younger brother waited until he was eight years old.
You decided to serve a mission?
My mission was difficult for me. My mother didn’t want me to go on a mission at all. She had become less active a year before, so she tried to prevent me from going for a year. Eventually I made the decision to submit my mission papers. I said, “Okay, I’m an adult now and I’m going to go on a mission. This is how it is.” So I left for a mission in Geneva, Switzerland. After I returned from my mission I learned that my mother had telephoned my mission president almost every day saying, “I want to talk to my daughter! I want to talk to my daughter!” Oh, that poor president.
My mission was the most marvelous experience of my life. I learned what a home could be like, a home grounded in the Church and in the gospel. I had brothers and sisters in the gospel, which I had never had. Leaving the mission and coming back to normal life was really, really hard for me. It took about a year and a half, or even two years, until I could say, “I’m no longer a missionary, I am regular member.” My mission was truly wonderful though, even if there were some things that were very difficult at times, like companions I didn’t get along with, or people we’d run into who would say unkind things to us. These things were difficult. But missions are marvelous. I wish everyone could serve a mission, including all the young women. It’s really a fantastic thing.
Were there things that changed you during your mission?
Yes! During my mission, I learned more about myself. And I learned who I didn’t want to be once I got married. I learned that I have a special nature. I learned that could be a very good friend and have very good friends. One of my companions came from Mongolia. The customs and the relationships between people are completely different there, I realized. I saw this during one little experience. We took photos all the time on my mission, and one day I was looking through some photos. There were some of the two of us, but my companion didn’t think she looked pretty. The next day, I found my photos all cut up and I said, “Sister!” I was so angry that we had a fight. She explained to me that for her, in Mongolia, her picture and her body belonged to her, so she had the right to cut up the photos. I was so angry that I yelled. But then I said to myself, “Oh my, I don’t want to ever to that again, especially when I’m married.” That experience was an enormous help in understanding how to try to change from the natural man and truly be someone more humble, submissive, and closer to the Spirit.
How did your mission influence your faith in the gospel?
My mission is what made my testimony grow. It was small then it became enormous. This can’t be explained; you really just have to live it. I think that you don’t necessarily have to have a testimony for everything when you leave on a mission, since that’s not possible anyway. But going on a mission helps you to learn. You learn an enormous amount even before teaching other people and before sharing the gospel with them. And when you teach people it’s not you teaching. There are things that you don’t know but that you’ll teach because the Spirit testifies to us in the very moment when people need it and that is marvelous. You grow at the same time that you teach people. And it’s those moments that are fantastic.
Do you think there were some things before your mission that were preparatory for you? Or do you think that your mission prepared you for some things later on in your life?
There were some preparatory things that were very necessary for me to receive. The only real testimony that I needed was to have a testimony of The Book of Mormon and that Christ came to the American continent. I already had a testimony that the Church was true and that The Book of Mormon was true, but it was not as strong as what I was able to receive just a few months before I left on my mission. In fact, that was a really an important experience for me. I’m someone who doesn’t like to read at all. But I decided to read The Book of Mormon. So I spent my days reading The Book of Mormon. My mom said, “This does not happen. You must be sick.” Page after page, I read for a month in order to know every line of this wonderful book. It was a need, an internal drive to read, to learn, to understand, and to receive what The Book of Mormon needed to give me. When I came to 3 Nephi when Christ arrives and he visits the children and all the people gather around him, I cried and cried. I was all alone in my bedroom and I thought, “I hope no one comes in right now. They’re going to think something is wrong with me!” It was that moment when I received a profound testimony of The Book of Mormon and of Christ coming to the American continent. I needed that in order to have strength during my mission, I think.
My mission did indeed prepare me for my life afterwards. We forget things, but missions prepare us enormously for parenthood, for marriage, for life with other people, for our whole lives, in fact. Everything that will come afterward. Missions prepare us for relationships with friends, and with people we will meet, and even for work. When I came home, every time I’d undertake something new in my life, I succeeded. Not because I had studied, not because I had the knowledge, but because the power I had gained during my mission was there. People around me could feel it. Missionaries have something special with them afterwards and it’s wonderful. It’s possible to not succeed after a mission, but in my life I certainly needed that power. I went to school for three years and did well in subjects that were normally not at my level. I was able to do them because I had acquired strength and power. Maybe this is just a lack of humility. However, my mission really has helped me enormously.
What did you study after your mission? What sorts of professional things have you done?
Right after my mission I worked in a center for cancer. I liked it, but since I didn’t like to see death, my goal was to move on to other things. I worked as a care giver, but after this I was able to find a position in a hospital for people with Alzheimer’s disease. I worked there for four years. While I was there I observed the patients and noticed that they fell down a lot. I asked myself why they were constantly falling. Was it their disease or was it a physical problem? I realized that in the center, the patients’ toenails and the feet were in bad condition. So I said to myself, “Why not study more so that I can cure these people and become a podiatrist?” I applied for a school and I studied there for three years. I received my podiatry degree in 2008. Since then I’ve worked a little bit, but I became pregnant so I decided to stay at home and take of my daughter. And now my occupation is mommy.
What was your experience working with people with Alzheimer’s disease?
I’ve always had an altruistic personality. I’ve always loved going to people and helping them. Even my husband says, “Stop already!” But I don’t. Sometimes I go over the top in serving and helping people. Being close the patients was a way for me to put that service into practice by taking care of them and to giving them lots of love. I wasn’t always patient. It was difficult because they’re not the most conscious people in the world so they’d act like one-year olds sometimes. We had big bay windows and when the patients tried to go outside they would often knock into the glass. On the other hand, there were moments when we were very close, when I had the impression they wanted to send us a message saying, “We’re okay despite everything. We’re happy, even if this may seem strange.” It’s really interesting to care for people who have problems like that, even if it is also very difficult. It’s both at once. The gospel gives us the opportunity to be able to understand these things in another way.
In France, we have a problem with a stigma towards disabilities and mental illnesses that classify people as “not normal.” We have a big problem with that. It’s still taboo. It becomes a tragedy for a family to have someone with a physical or psychological disability. But for us, the gospel helps us with that in France. Even if it’s difficult for us to be in that situation, we have a different perspective.
What was your experience becoming a mother for the first time?
The day I gave birth was incredible and a little crazy. Throughout my pregnancy, I slowly came to realize that there was a tiny baby in me. You can feel the baby and that changes your perspective and your desires. You imagine what life is going to be like with a baby. On the day that I gave birth, right before my daughter came, I said, “This is it! I am going to be a mother!” The doctor looked at me in surprise, and my husband too. No one understood the change that happened in me. It was that moment that I really became conscious that I was going to be a mother. That was wonderful.
In France, there’s a blood test to see if babies will have Down syndrome. My blood test did not look good. We had the choice to abort, do another test, or to just continue with the pregnancy. I chose to do the second test because I wanted to know the results to prepare me for the future. When you want to become a parent, it’s not certain if you will have children in good health—or what is considered to be “normal.” What is certain is that you’ll have the children Heavenly Father entrusts you with. It was this experience that helped me recognize the responsibility parents have towards the children they are entrusted with. It’s not, “Yes, I’m going to have a baby, a little doll. I’m going to be a mom because that’s my position as a parent.” No, it’s more than that. You’re going to be a parent and you have a real role towards your children. It was then that I realized the spiritual mission of parents. I was afraid, though, and I said to myself, “I’m not going to be able to raise a handicapped child. A normal child is difficult already.” But afterwards, it was really Heavenly Father who confirmed to me that the child that was coming was my child and I already loved her. Love was already there. Since I already loved her, why think of even more traumatic things than having a child who may not be normal?
For you, as a mother, what is love?
Oh, it’s not even explainable. It comes from inside. It’s because of love that I stopped working because I couldn’t give my child over to someone else. It’s me who is the mother. We shouldn’t hover over our children, but it’s me who has the responsibility to educate them, it’s me that has the duty to teach them the things of life. I hadn’t thought of myself like this before. It’s hard to manage everything, but in the end I say to myself, “It’s me who gets to do this. I do it with love and I show them the things which to me seem best for them.” It’s a heavy investment in the life of a mom. It’s not easy, but in the end I’m happy to do it. For me it’s not finished yet, but I’m happy to do it.
What are the joys of motherhood?
The first time that your kids say, “I love you.” Oh, it’s fantastic! Or the first word, or the first look that says, “Mom, I know what you are doing for me and I love you.” Sometimes it’s a look from the baby who can’t speak yet, or seeing your kids happy. These are the best moments. They are wonderful.
Is the Church a part of your motherhood?
The Church is fantastic for parents. We try to pray regularly. It’s not very easy, but every evening we make sure to pray together. There are times when we forget or we don’t think about it but then I hear, “Mommy, are we going to do prayers together?” We can’t put it to the side otherwise it would set a bad example to say, “No, we’re not going to do it tonight because we’re tired.”
Sometimes my kids come home from Church and say, “Mommy, I learned this.” There was a Stake activity for the Primary children and Léna was part of the Russell Ballard team. She told us a little about Russell Ballard then said, “That’s Ballard there, mommy!” It’s little things like that which she’s not completely conscious of, but she’s learning. She always wants to sing “I am a child of God.” She sings it in the car and it’s so cute. And now Adam, who is in nursery, folds his arms and says, “Amen.” The first time he said “amen” it was like he said “I love you.” It was the same feeling. We said, “Oh wow! He said ‘amen’! He knows we’re saying a prayer.” I thought it was me who taught them, but it’s the Church and it’s really good because it teaches me too.
Is it hard to teach and be an example?
I hope I am a good example for my children. But teaching them is difficult in the sense that if we do not regularly study the scriptures or say prayers then it will be difficult to teach them these things. These are things I’m always re-examining. The more my children grow the more I can see that they are a replica of the faithfulness of their parents. Their expressions, their attitudes, their habits, are reproductions of us.
How do you define motherhood?
I believe that there isn’t a definition. Motherhood is a gift of giving your complete self. It is the gift of oneself. I think that a mother forgets herself completely in order to be able to raise her children. For me, it’s like that, even if we do keep our personalities as mothers. Motherhood is an extreme joy. There are mothers who don’t live like that; the hormones are sometimes difficult to put back in order after having a baby. But for me, motherhood is an extreme joy. I’m happy to be a mother. And for now, that means that I am mommy. I want to give one hundred percent to my children, without forgetting my husband.
What is the contribution of your husband in your family?
I have a very invested husband. But we’re learning every day in our family. My husband wanted children but he was never around kids so it wasn’t always easy. He found that you are busy and you have to manage things, but it works out well. Little by little we’ve put our goals in place and now he takes the kids, he goes out with them, explains to them things about the Church, he takes on responsibilities that he didn’t necessarily take in the beginning. Little by little we complete each other. There aren’t defined roles for each of us. We are a team together and we try to work well together. Little by little we build our home, we make mistakes, we have successes, we have joys and pains, but above all we do it with a lot of love and the Church as our guide.
At A Glance
Location: Montigny le Bretonneux, France
Marital status: Married
Children: Two, son age 3 and daughter age 5
Schools Attended: College of Podiatry
Languages Spoken at Home: French
Favorite Hymn: “Le Jardin”
Interview by Ashley Brocious and Lauren Brocious. Photos used with permission.