Brianne Brown didn’t picture her life to turn out as it did but she loves it all the same
By Courtney Denard
“My life would make a really good movie,” Brianne Brown told me over the phone during our two-hour interview that felt more like a conversation with an old friend.
We both laughed at her remark but after hearing her story, I have to say I tend to agree.
Brianne was born and raised on her family’s dairy farm in Shelburne. She was the oldest of three children and in love with the farm from a very early age.
She was active in 4-H and went to the University of Guelph to study agriculture science. She married her college sweetheart, Chris Brown, another born and bred dairy farmer, shortly after they graduated in 2003.
The plan was for Brianne and Chris to return to Shelburne and work alongside Brianne’s father and uncle at Beslea Farms and live out their dreams of farming and raising a family together.
This should have been the part in the story where the newlyweds lived happily ever after but real life doesn’t always turn out that way.
In 2006, Brianne says “a major family shake up” destroyed her world as she knew it.
Her father, whom she loved and adored, unexpectedly made the decision to leave the family. Brianne, Chris, and her uncle were left to run the farm.
Brianne says she got real tough and pushed forward even though she was devastated.
Two years later Brianne and Chris amicably split from her uncle and the young couple started farming on their own.
“We were 28 years old with two young children and millions of dollars in debt. Never in a million years did we think that would happen,” the farmer says.
Another blow came in 2011 when developers placed an offer on Brianne’s uncle’s dairy farm, which the couple was still renting as part of the separation agreement.
With no clue on how to move forward, Brianne says it was a piece of advice from their accountant that presented some direction.
“He asked us ‘do you want to dairy farm or do you want to live where you grew up?’ In the end we wanted to milk cows so we started looking for farms east of Shelburne,” she says.
Brianne and Chris put an offer on a farm in Yarker on June 1, 2011. Their farm in Shelburne didn’t sell until that August and Brianne gave birth to their fifth baby that September.
Brianne says she wanted to have the baby with her doctors in Orangeville but also wanted her four older kids to start the school year in their new home. There was also the case of getting the cattle moved from Shelburne to Yarker.
So what did Mrs. Brown do? She delivered her baby as planned and a few days later drove a newborn, two young children, and a trailer full of cattle from one part of the province to the other.
Chris had been by her side during the delivery but had to get back home to be with their other children and run the farm. Each time the new baby had a doctor’s appointment back in Orangeville, Brianne would move another shipment of cattle east.
“Looking back now it’s totally insane what we did,” she says.
As time went on the Brown family adjusted to their new surroundings and felt the dust settle after five tumultuous years.
Brianne especially loved her role as a mother even with all the challenges that parenting brings.
One such challenge was the children’s inner ear issues but once tubes were put in the kids were typically good as new.
That, however, was not the case for Brianne and Chris’ youngest son Chase. “Even after his tubes were in we didn’t really notice any improvement,” says Brianne.
Deep down, Brianne says she knew there was something else going on but unfortunately her new family doctor in Yarker refused to give her a referral to a specialist.
“It was actually the ears, nose, and throat specialist that put Chase’s tubes in who finally gave me a referral bless his heart.”
On March 6, 2014 Brianne received crushing news. The specialist who reviewed Chase’s case looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m seeing signs of autism.”
Everything clicked at that exact moment, says Brianne, who knew about the condition and what it entailed.
It wasn’t an official diagnosis yet but all of the symptoms were there- the blank stares, the inability to make eye contact, the delayed speech, not learning to walk until one and a half years of age, and more.
“I’ll never forget that day. After I left the appointment I put my son in his car seat and I sat in my vehicle and bawled. I never cried much after my Dad left, the whole experience really hardened me, but that day it was like the dam broke and I cried like I’d never cried before.”
Brianne says getting an official diagnosis for Chase was laden with red tape and waiting lists. The fact that both her and husband work from home on the farm turned out to be a saving grace.
Instead of waiting the typical six months to even start the process, Brianne told the doctors to put her on a cancellation list and she’d be there in 30 minutes or less any day of the week. As luck would have it there was a cancellation the very next day.
Chase was diagnosed with severe autism and global delay in December 2014 by his team of specialists at the Child Development Centre at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston.
“We were lucky to get a diagnosis with Chase only two and a half years old. Most kids aren’t diagnosed until they’re five our six,” says Brianne.
Coming to terms with Chase’s autism hasn’t been easy for Brianne. She says she experienced a grieving process where she mourned the loss of the life she thought her child would have. She then went through “a stage of being pissed off.”
“We’d already been through so much and now to go through this was just too much,” she says.
Slowly Brianne is accepting Chase’s diagnosis. In fact, she’s at a point where she can see the many rewards that come with raising a child with special needs.
“We were very busy, driven people and Chase has grounded us and made us focus on what’s really important. His diagnosis has brought us closer as a family.”
It’s not easy though and it’s a huge commitment. Brianne and Chris have made the decision that only one parent will be away from the farm at a time so this means there’s certain things that Brianne wants to do but simply can’t right now.
“I wish I had more time to get out to some of the industry meetings and events but I have to pick and choose.”
Brianne says joining the Ag Women’s Network has allowed her to live somewhat vicariously through women who are able to attend industry events and travel.
The farmer says she enjoys hearing about what the members are doing and what’s going on in the sector even if it’s on a screen between milkings.
“And knowing that there are other women out there going through what I am going through is huge for the morale,” she says.
Brianne and Chris’ story may not have had the predictable Hollywood ending that you do see in the movies but the farmwoman says she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I love my life and my family exactly how it is. Chris and I are so lucky to be able to do what we love every day and share it with our five amazing children.”