You Have To Know Your Why: Jacqueline Tisher on Motherhood, Loss, and Building Hope’s Home

Article published at: Feb 4, 2020
You Have To Know Your Why: Jacqueline Tisher on Motherhood, Loss, and Building Hope’s Home
All Know Her Stories

When Jacque Tisher’s first daughter, Acacia, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus—birth defects involving the spinal cord and brain—she knew her experience of motherhood was going to be drastically different than what she’d always imagined. As Acacia underwent thirteen surgeries in her first year of life, Jacque lived at the hospital. “Watching her struggle with life and come close to death in infancy was terrifying—it was such a different experience,” says Jacque. “Even so, I had the opportunity and ability to bond with her very strongly.” 

Jacque—pronounced like “Jackie,” and named after Jackie Kennedy—knew she had a choice: to be bitter, or to make the world better. She chose the latter. “I’m very solution-based at living. If you see a problem, you come up with a solution.”

As a new registered nurse planning to start her career in emergency, Jacque decided to change direction and specialize by becoming a pediatric and neonatal intensive care nurse.

“I wanted to be able to help other people’s kids like they’d helped mine.” she says. 

Working in a unit where babies with complex medical needs were born, Jacque became increasingly bothered by the fact that many children lived their whole lives in the hospital. (Back then, it was very challenging and in some cases impossible to take children home if they required life support or round-the-clock care.) Jacque often argued with doctors about what quality of life truly meant, advocating for kids to have a life outside the sterile, ten-by-ten rooms they’d been assigned.

“These kids would have 65 nurses they thought were their mom. They grew up institutionalized because of their health needs, looking at a TV and never touching the grass, seeing the stars, or feeling the warmth of the sun.”

The solution—or at least a partial one—was for Jacque to become a foster parent to children who would otherwise be confined to the hospital, and who lacked families of their own. Inspiring this decision was Jasmine, a little girl who’d been living in the hospital for two years. “I saw her every day when I came to work. I fell in love with her and thought, I want to take her home.” 

But about a month after Jasmine joined the family (then made up of Jacque, her husband, and daughters Acacia and Victoria) she passed away. Adding to Jacque’s grief was the subsequent loss of two infant children of her own, both of whom had been born prematurely and hadn’t survived the complications. Despite these losses, Jacque’s desire to be a mother never wavered, in part because she has always conceptualized motherhood as an opportunity to care for a special gift from God—a child.

“A child is never really ours. They’re their own person. We get the gift of loving them unconditionally, guiding them, being part of their life, and developing that precious life.”

Jacque went on to have a son (Isaac) and fostered several more children with special needs, one of whom was Hope. But bringing Hope into the family meant advocating for in-home medical support so that Jacque could sleep through the night and still go to work twice a week. “All families should have that support. If you have a child on life-support or that has complex medical needs, health care should step in and help.” But 24 hours after Jacque got the support she asked for, Hope passed away. “I thought, this isn’t okay. So, I decided to become the voice for other families who needed care like I did and started Hope’s Home.”

Beginning as a small home daycare for children with complex medical needs, Hope’s Home was originally run out of Jacque’s own home. Jacque wanted to change the reality of what it meant to have a child with special needs while trying to pursue a career.

“All my decisions come from raising my little girl, Acacia, and understanding what it’s like to be a mom while trying to maintain employment.”

With Hope’s Home up and running, it soon became apparent that Jacque had tapped into a huge community need: over the course of 14 years, Hope’s Home grew from a privately-run daycare to a multi-million dollar non-profit with 230 employees spread across caregiving facilities in Regina, Prince Albert, Saskatoon, and Warman, Saskatchewan.

Today, Hope’s Home operates a number of early learning & childcare centres to support both children with complex medical needs and typically developing children. Along with medically-safe, Monday-Friday daycares staffed by nurses, early childhood educators, and developmental workers, Hope’s Home also operates several supportive living homes for children in foster care. 

These live-in homes weren’t originally part of Jacque’s plan. “At first I wanted Hope’s Home to be a daycare and to offer some respite. I wanted kids to go home with their families at night.” But this goal proved to be slightly idealist—because not all kids have families, or even foster families, to return home to consistently. Take Hope, for example, whose mother’s circumstances and lack of ability rendered her unable to care for a daughter born with complex medical needs. “There are times when parents truly can’t provide care,” says Jacque.  

There are also situations in which caregiving can become too big a task for a single set of parents to handle—no matter how dedicated, loving, or capable they may be. The Trudels, for example, are a family of five in which the youngest child, Thomas, has a genetic condition undocumented anywhere else in the world. Parents Shianne and Ivan were thrown quickly into a world of complex medical devices and admittedly scary drugs. Questions like “When should we give him morphine?” and “When should we give him Ativan?” became part of their everyday lives.

Recognizing they did not have the capacity to care for Thomas while working and parenting their other two young daughters, Shianne and Ivan sent Thomas to live at Hope’s Home in Prince Albert. “[Shianne and Ivan] are still Mom and Dad and part of his world, but they recognize that we’re here to be an extension of their family,” says Jacque.

Helping families like the Trudels is exactly why Jacque is so enthusiastic about her working life. “They’re a beautiful example of why we do what we do, and why our staff shows up to work everyday.” She is also buoyed by the memory of Acacia, who passed away in 2011 at the age of eighteen.

“I always say to people: you have to know your why. So, why do you get up in the morning, why you do what you do, and why are you passionate about your job or what you do in life?”

Acacia is Jacque’s why. “I think of her as an angel,” she says, adding that, as an organ donor, Acacia saved five lives after she passed. “She’s my hero. I would not be who I am if I wasn’t her mom.”

Even with such a powerful why fueling her mission, Jacque’s work with Hope’s Home can be difficult—emotionally, physically, and even from a business standpoint, as Jacque is trained as a nurse and not a business expert. “I didn’t know it was going to be a 14 million dollar business with 230 staff! But yeah, that happened,” she says, as if still in shock over those numbers. “I have taken many leadership courses to mentor, lead and coach my staff.  Recognizing gaps in knowledge, I even took a course called Accounting for Dummies! Because I had to have a better understanding of my financial records.”

Jacque is not the only ladder-climber in her family. She describes her mother, Jeanie, as an absolute worker.Growing up, my family ran a restaurant, a bowling alley, a pizza place, and a youth centre where all the kids hung out,” she says, adding that, since her dad was a preacher, her mom took a lead in running the business—without any formal education. Jeanie later got her GED on a whim (she was forty and aced it) and, after her divorce, worked her way up from cook to Flight Chief at the Minot Air Force Base. “She’s just an amazing woman with a business mind, and I believe I have that same mind. She is my mentor and best friend.”  

Jacque’s inherited business savvy continues to drive Hope’s Home toward new opportunities, but her working life has not eclipsed her individual wants and needs. For example, she’s working on a book, The Journey of Hope. “The story needs to be told,” she says, adding that the book is largely about Acacia. “The things she taught me growing up…she really was an incredible daughter.”

Jacque is also getting remarried this year. She has been divorced for fourteen years (amicably so) but it’s only recently that she’s been open to partnership again. “I thought, never again, my whole life is work and children, I don’t have time for that. And then I met this guy. I thought, oh my gosh, this is amazing.” 

Jacque is taking a no-big-deal approach to wedding planning. “I’ll get a dress and it’ll be fine!” she laughs, adding that the wedding will be held on her family’s acreage in North Dakota. “We’ll all cook the food and we’ll have family and friends to share the day with. I’m sure all the neighbours will show up, too.” 

Her kids will also be there—three from her side, and three from fiancé Jason’s. It’s evidence that Jacque’s best talents are building families and being a mother.  

Writer: Mica Lemiski
Photography: Taryn Gibson