Interview: How Sen. Julia Coleman is fueled by faith

"There’s a perspective you gain, having children stare death in the eye, and to be granted a miracle," Coleman said.

Sen. Julia Coleman/Facebook

(The Catholic Spirit) — At 29, Julia Coleman is the youngest Minnesota state senator in office, serving District 47. She’s also the mother to three boys under age 2. Her Catholic faith sustains her. The Chanhassen resident attends nearby St. Hubert as well as the Cathedral of St. Paul, where she and her husband, Jacob, were married.

Last month their twins were born at 33 weeks. After 27 days in the NICU of Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, James and Charles were brought home, joining big brother Adam, who is 20 months.

Q) You had a legislative special session today and then brought Charles home! How are you feeling?

A) It’s a mixed bag. We had to be so strong to get through all the scary parts. We didn’t know if the boys were going to make it more than a few minutes or hours upon their birth. The doctor has since told me that there were times she looked at their scans and didn’t think they’d ever make it home. I’m so grateful, and I’m going to remember that when I’m up at two and four this morning.

Q) How were you able to keep engaged as a senator during such an intense time? Wasn’t your brain fried?

A) A couple nurses said, “You seem like you were made to have these twins.” My husband and I thrive on being busy — perpetual motion. It creates a great balance. I can spend a lot of time at home with my children and volunteer within the community, and then half the year, I’m a Minnesota state senator. I get to be fulfilled in many different ways.

Q) Is it true your husband distracted you during the C-section by talking policy?

A) Yes! We were talking about redistricting and if we thought it was going through the Legislature or to the state Supreme Court.

Q) During your NICU time, was it hard to admit when you needed a break?

A) I’d like to say I’m self-aware enough for a break, but my husband and I told each other when the other person appeared to need a break. The best thing was to do nothing! Clear your mind. Meditation, prayer, talking to God. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Q) How did your NICU experience change you as a senator?

A) When I first became a senator, I was a little nervous. Will I be good enough for my constituents? There’s a confidence you gain from going through this. There’s a perspective you gain, having children stare death in the eye, and to be granted a miracle. Your connection to your faith is stronger. You trust everything will work out. I feel more capable. Once you’ve faced the scariest situation you can face — losing a child — not much else looks scary.

Q) What might that look like in action?

A) I think about the world I want my children to inherit, and I want to fight like the mama bear I am to bring that about. That means being willing to go against cultural norms and speak for the values I want them to inherit.

Q) Did some of the nurses seem like angels?

A) Absolutely! There are nurses that, I feel, are sent to that room at that moment in your life for a reason. It’s meant to be. Now my husband and I want to improve the lives of other NICU parents and raise money for their children. We want to make that a passion project.

Q) How do you manage the scrutiny of public life?

A) There were women on Instagram telling me I was relinquishing my role as a mother by working outside the home. But there are great writings even by Pope John Paul II that disagree with that. When you know you’re at a point in your life when you’re feeling called to be where you are, when you feel that you’re on the right path, the criticism rolls off your back.

Q) What do you make of the criticism?

A) When you’re in in the public eye and you’re constantly receiving criticism, it can be easy to do one of two things: either take it all personally and get upset or ignore it all. But there is constructive criticism out there, which is why it’s important to pause and consider if it’s true.

Q) Can you recall a constructive one?

A) When my first son was born, I was so excited to be a mom that I shared everything — not only on my private page but on my campaign page as well. Someone said, “We want to hear less about your baby and more about your policies!” At first, I was a little offended, and then I said, “You’re right! You want to hear my ideas. Here they are.”

Q) The last few years have been a whirlwind! You haven’t been married three years yet, you’re now a senator and a mom of three. How do you process it all?

A) Humor! My husband and I make everything lighthearted when it can be.

Q) Tell me about Jacob, who is a firefighter.

A) I have learned a lot from his service. When people are running away from a situation, he’s the one running toward it. That’s how I want to be as a state senator.

Q) And what have you learned from your father-in-law, former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman?

A) He’s seen how unfairly conservatives are treated by the media and has shown me how to utilize your own media to get your voice out there.

Q) What’s your go-to prayer?

A) When I’m up in the middle of the night, it’s the Hail Mary — especially that “full of grace” line. That’s what I’m trying to be. In times of real struggle, my husband and I turn to the Infant Jesus of Prague novena. It has helped us focus on putting our faith in God and surrendering, saying, “I trust in you” and then shutting off the worry. Prayer is an essential part of motherhood. It’s the first thing I do, before turning to the baby tricks and tips. First you turn to prayer.

Q) Was one of those novenas prayed during your worrisome pregnancy with the twins?

A) Yes. At one point, doctors told us we could increase James’ chance of survival if we killed Charles. Jacob and I both insistently said: “That’s not on the table.” We were never going to choose between our kids. We’re incredibly pro-life. That’s when you lean on your faith and you trust that God has a bigger plan.

Q) You’ve accomplished so much and you’re not yet 30! What’s next for you?

A) Writing a book someday! There was a point in my life when I was living in a three-season porch all year round. I remember falling asleep curling up next to a space heater. I could see my breath. Pulling myself out of that situation and rediscovering my faith is something I would love to share. Many people lose their faith because of bad times, and I would like to help them find their faith because of bad times.