Laura Smith: from mommy to Mrs. Georgia

Laura Smith May 2016 Photo by Marie Thomas

Laura Smith May 2016 Photo by Marie Thomas

Laura Smith believes in dreams, both the literal kind and the aspirational variety.

She’s found her path through life with the help of those dreams, and she’s come to a pretty special place. Not only is she the mother of seven children, she’s a small business owner and an ambassador for Wellspring Living. Oh, and let’s not forget that she’s also the current Mrs. Georgia! It’s an understatement to say she’s busy. It’s an even bigger understatement to say she’s happy.

A Fayette County native with two sisters and a brother, Laura caught sight of her future husband, Chad, at a McIntosh High School graduation. Though she was just 14, she told herself she wanted to meet him someday. Two years later, friends set the pair up on a blind date, and they married a week before Laura’s 19th birthday. For a while, they lived in Atlanta, where Chad worked as an investment advisor and Laura, who had always been drawn to the arts, studied interior design at the Art Institute. Within a couple of years, Chad received an offer to work on Wall Street, which was his dream. Since Laura had cherished dreams of acting and singing, it seemed like a great fit, and the couple moved to the Big Apple. Within a year, however, they realized that the lifestyle wasn’t for them and that their priorities would be better served by returning to Fayette County.

While they knew the move was the right decision, resettling wasn’t always easy. Chad had decided to start his own business, which is always a major undertaking, and Laura, pregnant with the couple’s first child, decided to put her personal dreams on hold to focus on helping Chad and raising a family. Soon, they had three boys, all close in age, and they felt their family was complete. Laura underwent a tubal ligation, but eventually began to feel like something was missing. She began having vivid dreams about a baby girl and, while she didn’t share those visions with anyone but Chad, friends and family started telling her that they, too, had experienced dreams of Laura and Chad with a little girl.

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Dress provided by J. Andrew’s Bridal + Formal, Peachtree City

The Smiths investigated adoption and considered many options, but after a lot of research and prayer, they decided to try having Laura’s procedure reversed. The likelihood of success was iffy, offering only a 30 percent chance of pregnancy post-reversal, but it felt like the right move. In 2006, Laura underwent the reversal procedure and, a few weeks later, she found out that it had, indeed, worked. Unfortunately, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Yet within weeks, Laura dreamed of a baby girl again and, soon after, the test read positive. A few months later, the couple got the news they’d prayed for. After holding on to a girl’s name for five years, they would finally get to use it.

Before Laura gave birth, however, she had another dream. In this one the message was clear: God wanted the Smiths to have another son. Her daughter was born healthy and, when she discovered she was once again pregnant, she made a decision. If this next child was a girl, she’d try again. If it was a boy, she’d be done – for good this time. But the baby’s sex soon became the least of the couple’s concerns. Laura developed a vascular tumor, which created a 50 percent risk of fetal heart failure. She spent the last several months of the pregnancy on bed rest, but her patience was rewarded. She carried the baby to full term and her second daughter was born perfectly healthy. At that point, Laura and Chad had five kids and an incredibly busy life. The two oldest were in school, Laura was homeschooling a kindergartener, and she had a toddler and an infant at home. “Mommy” had become her official title, her full-time job, and, at times, it seemed, her entire life. Still, she was incredibly happy, and she loved being a wife and mom. And there was still that unfulfilled dream of another baby boy. It didn’t remain unfulfilled for long, however. A year later, Chad and Laura’s fourth (and last) son was born. They were fairly sure they were finished, but they had one surprise yet to come. About 18 months later, in 2012, baby number seven, another girl, came into their lives.

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The Smith family, last December: “We were in our big van on the way to Atlanta to celebrate Micah’s 16th birthday,” says Laura. Laura and Chad with (clockwise) Max Waller (Laura’s nephew), Caleb, Baylee Waller (Laura’s nephew), Micah, Stephen, Rachel Shoemake (a friend), and Hadlee Waller (Laura’s niece).

“People ask me sometimes why I have so many kids, what we were thinking, how I manage it all,” says Laura. “But I dreamed about almost all of my children before they were born, and we really felt God intended us to have and love and raise each one. Sure, it’s a lot sometimes, but I have help. Chad is incredibly loving and supportive, and we work hard together. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

While none of Laura’s pregnancies had been easy, the last one was incredibly difficult. She was barely able to walk during the final trimester and she felt terribly ill after the baby’s birth. In the first 24 hours after delivery, she lost two liters of blood and received two transfusions. She was in the hospital for six days – a long stay by today’s standards – and the stress of eight pregnancies finally took a toll on her body. Over the next several months, she had her gallbladder removed, had a hernia repaired, and underwent a medically necessary hysterectomy. Then one day in the summer of 2013, she woke up with shoulder pain that ended up being caused by a cervical disc herniation. As the months went by and less-invasive treatments failed to work, Laura began losing mobility in her right arm. Finally, in January of 2014, she underwent a cervical fusion. It took six months for her to recover fully.

Between her illnesses and the demands of managing a seven-child family, Laura was exhausted. She was also dealing with grief; her mother had passed away unexpectedly about a year before Laura’s last child was born. And while she loved being a mommy, she felt in desperate need of something she could call her own.

“I had poured my life into my children and pretty much delayed any dreams that I had of my own,” she explains. “I needed a goal. Something to help catapult me out of the dark cloud I’d been under with my health issues.”

About then, her daughter began showing interest in pageants. Together, they selected a system for her daughter to participate in, Royal International Miss. When they received the literature, they discovered that the system had a “Ms.” division for women in Laura’s age group. The idea reminded Laura of her long-shelved performing arts dreams, and she thought, “Why not?” The state pageant was held just one week after her cervical fusion surgery, so she didn’t have high hopes, but she was determined to have fun – even though she was still in a cervical collar, which she took off right before going on stage. She enjoyed the experience even more than she’d anticipated and, to her great surprise, she won! Six months later, in June, she had another surprise when she won the national title.

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Laura’s “crown shot” at Mrs. Georgia America Pageant, June 2015. Photo by Atlanta Art Studios.

“My daughter went to nationals with me ,and we had such a great time,” Laura recalls. “I started thinking seriously about taking it further, maybe competing for Mrs. Georgia and then, hopefully, Mrs. America. On the way home, I prayed for a very specific sign. I told God that if I was supposed to take that next step, I needed someone to tell me, unasked, that they thought I should. A few weeks later, we went to Chad’s family reunion and one of his cousins, someone I hadn’t seen in years, said, ‘You know, you ought to try Mrs. America.’ I had my sign!”

Laura registered for the Mrs. Georgia pageant in September of 2014 and began training seriously. She worked out, changed her eating habits, and took pageant coaching to prepare for all aspects of the competition.

“Training was actually wonderful for me because I really needed to make changes in the way I was living in order to fully regain my health,” Laura explains. “I have a number of food sensitivities I hadn’t been managing well, and I really hadn’t taken good care of myself in a long time.”

Ten months later, she won the Mrs. Georgia title, then placed in the top six at the Mrs. America pageant the following September. The experience has truly changed her life.

“People have developed an idea of what pageants are about from shows like ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and from the stories you see on the news,” says Laura, “but they aren’t all like that. The good ones are about much more than looking pretty, and girls can learn great lessons from participating. They learn public speaking skills, how to dress for success, and how to overcome stage fright. They’re exposed to interview techniques as early as six and seven years old. And they learn good sportsmanship, how to lose – and win – gracefully. Maybe most importantly, they learn how to use their visibility and their title to support a cause and help others.”

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The Smith family, from left: Micah, Zack, Chad, Laura, Caleb, Naomi, Stephen, Hannah, Abby. Photo by Party of Seven Photography.

That aspect is incredibly important to Laura, who chose Wellspring Living as her platform before entering Mrs. Georgia. Ten years before, she’d heard Mary Francis Bowley speak at her children’s school and decided that some day, when she had a bit more time, she wanted to be part of Wellspring’s mission. So when the opportunity to choose a platform arose, Laura knew exactly what she wanted to do: work to connect local visual and performing artists with the girls at Wellspring. Recently named a Wellspring Ambassador, that’s exactly what she now does.

The Mrs. America experience offered her another opportunity to give back as well. Through the pageant, she connected with an organization called OurLifeSongs, a Christian women’s ministry focused on encouraging women through blogs, speaking engagements, and conferences. The organization was founded by former titleholders, and many other titleholders have become involved over the years. Laura began by writing a guest blog and recently returned from speaking at a conference in Pennsylvania.

As if she isn’t busy enough, Laura also recently became a consultant with Rodan+Fields, the dermatologist-created skincare company responsible for the immensely successful Proactiv brand.

“I love working with organizations that empower women, and Rodan+Fields does that,” says Laura. “Plus, I’m part of a truly amazing team of women locally. They are a big part of why I decided to become a consultant. And I love having a job that helps people and also works with my crazy schedule.”

Today, Laura’s life is “a constant juggle.” Her youngest child is in pre-school while the teenagers and pre-teens, who are all pursuing careers in entertainment, are homeschooled. She has daily email and social media duties in her role as Mrs. Georgia, engagements with Wellspring and OurLifeSongs, and, of course, her new business. Clearly, as the saying goes, if you want something done, give it to a busy mom. Some people say Laura is the epitome of the supermom.

“Laura is incredible,” says her brother, Contemporary Christian musician and singer-songwriter John Waller. “She’s creative, artistic, a talented singer, and a wonderful mother.”

“She’s really been in the nitty-gritty of life, and it’s made her very approachable,” adds friend Alicia Hardy.

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“I have weaknesses and vulnerabilities just like anyone else,” she points out. “I’ve had failures and disappointments. But God has a unique plan for each of us, so we have to get beyond the negative thinking that cripples us and turn to our faith in rough times. Find a dream. Set a goal. Then take baby steps. And when you’re on the point of giving up, dig deep. Draw strength from your challenges and always use what you’ve gone through – and what you achieve – to help others.”

 

Maggie Worth

Maggie Worth is a freelance writer and consultant with a PoliSci degree and 15 years in project management and marketing. An avid mystery reader, co-founder of the Southside Scribes writer's group and member of BWFC, Maggie lives in Fayetteville with her husband, Shane, and their "kid," Rowdy.

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