Parenting,  Personal Writing

Maybe math does have all the answers

Being Quinn Del Val’s mother has been the greatest gift of discovery, joy and challenge of my life. Nearly everything I am today is because of the start of this epic journey, 25 years ago, when the solid path I thought I was walking on disintegrated right out from under me like a giant sinkhole and left me scrambling to hold on to the slippery edge so as not to be swallowed whole. I held on, and with time, grit, privilege and pure determination, I crawled out and found a new path—one that hasn’t been straight or smooth, but one that has brought me joys I never would have discovered on the other path. And one that has defined and refined who I have become.

It was dark out when I woke up this morning, which is hard to do in late May. It means I was up incredibly early—before 5am. I woke up and had a dawning realization that it is the quarter-century anniversary of the most significant day of my life: the day I discovered I was pregnant…unhappily, unplannedly, unwantedly pregnant.

I remember that Saturday like it was yesterday. I had been in St George, Utah, for exactly one week on Saturday, May 27, 1995. I had been a college graduate for exactly eight days. And while I didn’t confirm it until late into the evening of this day, 25 years ago, I also had that dreaded, sinking feeling all day that I was 11 days pregnant, or 11 days a non-virgin, depending how you want to look at it.

Oh yes, I was one of those girls…one of those ridiculous, at that point three days away from having a college diploma, girls who kept her virginity until well into her 22nd year of life. I was one of those girls who used math as birth control. MATH!

Just to illuminate the faulty logic of that choice: I failed the last quarter of Algebra II my junior year of high school—and my teacher and I were both trying to get me through! I mean, to be fair, this math didn’t involve two trains going different directions at different speeds, nor was it , but still…

So of course, when the time came to consider this sexual finale with my then longtime boyfriend, it is inconceivable (ha!) that my go-to method of birth control was math, but it was. I quickly added the date to when the last time I was pretty sure I had had my period and concluded that I wouldn’t be ovulating for at least another week—something I had never tracked or paid any attention to until the evening of May 16, 1995, when, in the heat of the moment, I said, “Let’s do this.” with such conviction that my boyfriend stopped kissing my neck and said, “Really?!?!” He was giving me an out. But numbers don’t lie, and my equation was obviously fool-proof, so away we went.

And once again, math let me down.

It’s actually more accurate to say that, once again, I failed math. And I thought I was trying!

But this morning, as I am at the 25-year anniversary of that epic Saturday, the tremendous fear, the torrential weeping, the horrific realization that I will not be moving to Los Angeles in the fall to become a movie star is not all that interesting to me. It’s actually a tragically comic scene, and it would be the kind of movie moment that is both heartbreaking and hysterical—because I was just so dumb and dramatic and young and silly and naive and afraid and devastated and surprised and not at all surprised. And my best friend, who was in Utah doing theatre with me, and my poor roommate, who’d only known me for seven days, stood in that hotel room and must have wondered what kind of insane summer they had unknowingly signed themselves up for with me.

But that’s a post for a different day.

What is much more interesting to me now is to consider who I am today because of that terrible night, exactly 25 years ago. What is worth digging into is how I pivoted from that + sign on a stick.

Waiting for the results of the pregnancy test in my best friend’s hotel room.

Because every single moment since that + appeared has been a pivot, a refocusing of the lens through which I view and move through my life.

I am a mom. And I happen to be Mom to an amazing young man. I know, everybody thinks their kid is the best, but mine, in so many ways, is. I don’t actually talk in any depth about Quinn very often because his success is almost embarrassing: his birth delivered such a stunning basket of riches to me, and I have never been quite sure I deserve it. I’ve always been a little bit afraid I’ll jinx it by talking about it.

Over the years, I have stood in circles with other moms who complain about their kids, how they are failing this class or addicted to that drug or missing curfew or…whatever. And I have stood silent because Quinn is none of those things. I rarely comment on him until someone in the circle says, “Well, let’s be honest, we don’t all get a Quinn Del Val, do we?” And all eyes turn to me.

And I have to kind of dismiss his greatness or qualify that actually, while he’s been nothing short of miraculously successful from day one, he lost dozens of mittens as a child, or he never sends Mother’s Day presents or something like that. I feel compelled to make other mothers feel better about their own kids, or the decisions they have made as parents, at the expense of mine. And, ultimately, I am doing it at the expense of the sacrifices and decisions I made to try to give him the best life I could while not entirely losing myself in the process.

And I guess that’s ok because my pride in him and, really, my pride in myself, is immense and unwavering. Quinn is a stunning model of nature and nurture; he’s a complete left- and right-brain thinker. He is both highly masculine and intimately feminine—equally comfortable playing video games as he is having conversations about feelings (to make super broad generalizations about male and female stereotypes). He writes with his right hand but plays all sports left-handed. He has degrees in math, engineering and physics and composes music and plays the violin and piano. He is by far the most balanced human being I have ever met. And yes, he was most definitely born with much of that, but I fostered, I encouraged, I instilled much of it in him, too.

And while I was fostering, encouraging and instilling those qualities and traits in him, new qualities and traits were building in me as well, many at Quinn’s introduction. And I developed my own stunning basket of riches.

I don’t know where I would be today had math not let me down nearly 25 years ago, but I do know that I have been (mostly) grateful (nearly) every day since he was born that I failed math that night.

Become a mom + have an amazing kid + do the best you can + time = a path I never would have pursued on my own.

I never dreamt of being a mom; I dreamt of being a movie star. That didn’t happen, and I have spent these last 25 years trying to overcome that disappointment: some moments more successfully than others. I also never dreamt of having a Master’s degree, of being a CEO, of getting married, of being a community leader, and I have spent these last 25 years adjusting to and enjoying those gifts that showed up on this path.

Did I have to pivot starting late in the evening of May 27, 1995? You bet. Has it always been easy or what I wanted? Definitely not. Am I grateful for it? Absolutely. Do I wonder, “What if?” Yes, but it doesn’t destroy me as much to think about it as it used to.

A quarter of a century has passed since my dreams were abruptly shattered. But now, I can look back on that night and see what I never could have seen then, and this morning, I am filled with gratitude for that path that appeared in the dark.

And I think there’s a story problem to be created somewhere in all of this: A woman stands looking at two parallel paths: one appears smooth and one is filled with bumps and unknowns. What speed will she need to walk the bumpy path to arrive at her destination on time?…

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.


  • Erin Gillett

    Aw, I love this post for so many reasons. You have been one of my mom-models ever since Quinn was a toddler. You speak honestly about your choices and how they impacted your dreams and goals. And you are a successful person and parent.

  • Carol Honcik

    God had a plan for your life long before he asked you to accept an unplanned pregnancy. Your light shines in today’s world Dayna. Be proud of yourself, every step of the way.

  • debfargo

    Well said. It seems we think we must always make the best decisions at every juncture so that we will succeed in life and be happy. But life is far more complex than that. Your life (and I would also say the same for mine) has benefited from some missteps that led to wonderful outcomes for us and for others.

  • debbielamedman

    At the risk of sounding like a cliche, you don’t always get what you want; but you do often get what you need!

    You needed Quinn in your life and obviously he needed you. I think your current life sounds much more layered and complex than if you had become a movie star! The world still gets to view and enjoy your talents in a different (and more noble) way!

    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing, and happy 25th anniversary!

  • Renee Mindt

    I remember when Quinn was born. I was working as a receptionist a the nursing home and as he got older he always wanted to come behind the desk and help me. Sweet memories. Amazing how time flies so fast. It is hard to adjust to life’s different paths. My life didn’t turn out the way I had wanted but I guess there are reasons for that. Loved hearing your story.

    • Dayna Del Val

      Renee! How nice to connect with you after all these years!!!!! I love your memory of little Quinn. I had forgotten about that! Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope you are well!

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