• Kristy Gnibus

Life: Zoey Nicole

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

Zoey means life in Ancient Greek, and nothing could be more true.

Anyone that knows me knows I don't sit idle. I overflow my plate with as many challenges and activities I can. I was always active. I had big aspirations to get my undergraduate degree in Family and Consumer Sciences Education and then my Masters degree after that. I wanted to live in a big city. I wanted to have a big city life, and a side life somewhere near an ocean or mountains (preferably both). I wasn't really certain I wanted children at all at this point in my life. “Chill” was not in my repertoire.

Center, blue dress, crazy curls- Erie County Fair Pageant 2002

There wasn't much I didn't like to be told I could not do, or a challenge I would not accept. I graduated with high honors and a departmental award for Family and Consumer Sciences. I applied to multiple schools and was awarded multiple scholarships and awards, but I wanted to save as much money as I could while also being only a few hours from home.

I could tell hundreds of stories that led up to where I am now, but one of the most important ones happened in my junior year at IUP. The second week of the semester, my then partner and I found out I was pregnant. At this point, I was a 3.5 GPA student, a member of Sigma Kappa and on the path to graduate a semester early.


I was only 20. I wasn't even sure what I believed at that point as far as pro-life or choice. I was just confused, and before long, I was alone.

To spare the details that no longer matter, I went through this pregnancy without my partner. After my fall semester, I thought it would be best to transfer to Mercyhurst University, which was closer to home. I luckily still qualified for part of the scholarship that Mercyhurst had previously awarded me, and because I was a mom-to-be, I got a discounted rate as an "adult" student. I was due at the end of May, so I went to work full-time that spring at Wegmans and took the spring semester off, set to start again that summer in June at Mercyhurst.

Wait – did I mention this was no normal pregnancy? My first ultrasound, as I lay on the paper sheet awaiting to see a wiggling heart beating worm on the black and white screen, something else appeared. Were they twins? No...it was a tumor – a really large tumor on my right ovary;or rather, where my ovary was, next to my baby. Due to the tumor, I was deemed a high-risk pregnancy early on. I had to make choices. Real ones. Ones that could mean life or death in a sense. I was an "adult." I had to choose whether to terminate as soon as possible, have surgery my second trimester to remove the tumor and possibly go into preterm labor and lose her, or to wait till after I gave birth and schedule another surgery to have it removed, all while risking it rupturing and the exceptionally painful, and possibly deadly, consequences that came with it. I was 20.

There was no epiphany – just a gut feeling. I wanted to wait. I figured if I could make it to 32 weeks, my baby could make it. I didn't even think about myself. I never felt scared. I don't really understand why now that I look back on the whole thing. I just didn't. Perhaps it was being naive or so caught up in the upheaval of my extraordinarily planned life. Or perhaps I just knew it did not matter. Whatever was going to happen would happen.

The plus to having a high-risk pregnancy is that I was getting ultrasounds every two weeks until the end. I really felt connected, and I fell madly in love with my daughter watching her grow, wiggle, and develop right in front of my eyes. I also had to watch my cystic tumor grow as well.

June 1st of 2005 came, and I went into labor around 2 am. By 8 am, I was on the way to the hospital with my mom and sister by my side. I was told and under the impression that I would be able to birth my daughter naturally. So I tried, and by late morning, it was apparent that I wasn't dilating enough. Though my contractions were strong, and 2-3 minutes apart, it wasn't progressing. With no pain medications and pure grit, I was relieved when they told me I was going into surgery for a cesarean. I was desperate to rid the pain and to meet my baby girl.

When Zoey was born, within moments of hearing her cry, I felt this immense feeling of joy. Finally, after all the cancer scare and the risk of the tumor rupturing, we made it. We both made it.

My sister Nikki was my birthing coach and the first person to hold Zoey

How I spent the first year of Zoeys life when given the chance between work and school

Two weeks later, I started summer courses at Mercyhurst University. Waddling up the stairs to my class with a fresh incision horizontal across my abdomen, wearing an oversized t-shirt, nothing could stop me with a new sense of responsibility and outlook on life.

I graduated on time and with over a 3.5 GPA. Having my daughter in the way and circumstances that I did catapulted my life into another direction, one where I still over-fill my plate with activities, school, jobs, tasks, and social opportunities, but I discovered what loving someone more than myself feels like.

Graduating Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor of Science in Family and Consumer Sciences Education

Maybe becoming pregnant saved my life. Not only because the sonogram discovered the cancerous tumor, but because I was so set on such a specific type of life – one of self-interest and without interruption.I cannot imagine what life would be if it went any other way. Parenthood is not for everyone, and certainly not the way it happened to me, but I truly feel becoming a parent created the person I am today. I will always think:

what if I never became pregnant? Would I have found the tumor in time? What if I continued down the path I was on?

Though my path was difficult and scary, the path I am on now is so much more than I could have ever imagined and I have a beautiful gift I get to see every day to thank for that.

Zoey Nicole- You are the first true love of my life. You saved my life. You continue to save my life. You introduced unconditional love into my heart and an understanding that the unexpected is perhaps what I should look forward to.

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