Arlington, VA, June 2010
As her name suggests, Ruth epitomizes wise, eternal choices: After being the only one in her family to join the church in her native Bolivia, Ruth came to the United States to pursue additional training as a dentist. The death of her first child was crushing, but she chose to endure two more pregnancies, each resulting in a healthy child although requiring months of bed rest. She is currently pregnant a fourth time. Ruth discusses how she uses her time while on bed rest, how she uses her dental skills for good, and how she appreciates being able to spend time with her children.
How did you find out about and join the Church?
I was almost 17 years old in my last year of high school in La Paz, Bolivia. I always studied and got good grades, but I was also among the popular teenagers and liked to hang out with my friends. One day, the principal came in and told the class that he wanted all the students that were sitting in the back to move to the front. I wasn’t happy because he directed me to sit next to a girl that everybody teased. I thought, “Oh great, there goes my popularity.” She was well respected because she was excellent in school—a perfectionist who got the best grades. Most kids didn’t think too much for that, but I always admired it. I sat next to her for almost the whole year and at midterm we started becoming friends.
I noticed that she was talking with other classmates, inviting them to her church. At that point I didn’t know what the invitation was for, but thought it was maybe a party on the weekend and I didn’t want to miss out. The other girls had something else to do on Sunday, but for me Sunday was the most boring day of the week! She told me the address of her church and that I had to wear a skirt. I went to the LDS church and it took me almost an hour to get there because it was on the opposite side of town from where I lived in La Paz. But I kept my promise and I went to her church.
At church, everybody was really nice and polite. In Young Women, the teacher taught about being daughters of Heavenly Father, and that because we are daughters of a king we have the right to inherit the things of our father. That means our father is perfect and lovely, he has endless charity, and he has endless knowledge of everything. We possess that ability as well. And because we are daughters of God, the goal of life is to achieve perfection. I’ll never, never forget that. It was the most impressive statement.
Suddenly everything made sense. I knew that I was somebody special. I always believed in God, but I just felt that in my soul that this was right. I am a daughter of God and I can achieve perfection. At that moment, my friend shared her testimony about why at school she tried to be the best she could. Not just for the grades, but because she had the assurance that she was a daughter of God and that everything that was put in her hands she tried to do her best because she couldn’t do less than that. So I was touched by the lesson of the teacher and the integrity of this young woman who was living the principles of the gospel. I thought, “I know these things are true and I can have the same life as she has.” After that I rode the bus for an hour to the other side of the city to take the missionary lessons in the chapel with my friend and the missionaries. I was baptized into the church a month later on October 10, 1992.
What was your family’s response to your conversion?
When I joined the church they were supportive of me getting baptized. But it was hard when I started to go to church every Sunday. My brothers made fun of me because I wore long skirts and they told me I looked like a nun. We never usually went to church on Sundays, maybe once every six months or so to the Catholic Church. But I’m the youngest of a large family and I was the only one living with my elderly parents. Some Sundays it was hard on me. My family wondered, “Why does she want to go to church in the morning instead of spending time with the family?” They told me, “Don’t forget your family comes before church.” For several years the best part of my Sunday was going to church. But I also struggled on Sundays because I was living in a house where my family wasn’t LDS. They were my parents and they were not bad people, they just had different habits.
How did you decide on a career in dentistry?
I believe it was inspiration that family members suggested that career for me. I’d always wanted to be a physician… to be an OB/GYN and deliver babies. But my brothers approached me before the registration for medical school and asked if I wanted to get married and have kids someday. I said yes. At that point, I was in Bolivia where things are different. To be a physician, you basically have to work in a hospital. If you get lucky to get a job in a hospital you have to decide between family and work. You don’t have a middle ground. My brothers told me, “If you decide you want to get married and have kids you cannot have your career. You’re going to waste all sixteen years of school or you have to decide to leave your kids and choose your job.” They then suggested that I study dentistry because in Bolivia there are a lot of female dentists. They told me I would be able to open a small office in my house and can still be with my kids. I thought it was a good idea, so instead of registering for medical school I registered for dental school.
In Bolivia, after you graduate from high school you have to take one year of prerequisite courses before dental school. Students have to know the basics of biochemistry, biology and zoology. After that, you take three different tests and the students with the highest scores are allowed into dental school, which lasts for five years. When I was in my second year of dental school I just knew that Heavenly Father told me to make the decision because I just loved it.
Why did you decide to leave Bolivia and come to the United States?
That was Heavenly Father’s influence, too. At the time, I was doing fine in Bolivia. I still lived with my parents when I finished dental school and opened a dental practice with my best friend (who became a member of the church as well). I also had a brother who lived in Los Angeles, and he mentioned that I could come to the United States for a few years and try to do a specialty or post-graduate study. In Bolivia, if I wanted to work for a university, a degree from a United States school certainly opens a lot of doors and also brings in a lot of patients.
At that time, many people my age were trying to get visas to go to the United States because they were young, single professionals with more chances to get married in the United States. I prayed about it and asked, “Heavenly Father, if this is real please open the door. If this is not real, please close the opportunity. I’m fine here with my family and I’m happy.”
The day of my interview, one of the application questions was: Have you ever applied before for a U.S. visa before, mark yes or no. If yes, why do you think you were not allowed into the United States? Actually I’d attempted before when I was fifteen years old because my brother thought it was a good idea for me to graduate from high school in the States, but they denied me a visa. I remember being in the line with all the forms filled out but had left that answer empty because a friend working in the embassy told me if the U.S. denies your visa once there’s a greater chance to get denied a second time. I prayed to God to open the doors. Inside, I felt like I should put that I never applied. But I went forward with faith and put yes, I had applied, and that I believe the reasons they denied me the visa was because I was too young. I went to my interview where they asked me a few questions, took my passport and asked me to come back in the afternoon. When I returned to pick up my passport they called my number and said congratulations! I opened my passport to see they had granted me a ten-year visa to the United States. I couldn’t believe it.
How did your life progress once you came to the United States?
I think one of the main reasons Heavenly Father wanted me to come to the United States was to meet my husband and marry him in the temple. I met my husband in Bolivia when he was serving a mission, two weeks before I came to the United States. My father was receiving the missionary discussions and Abraham (my husband) was teaching him. I was living with my brother in California studying English at a community college when Abraham finished his mission and my father asked him if he could bring me some papers that I needed to apply to the university. Abraham agreed and when he came back he gave me a call. He asked me if he could send the papers by mail, but his dad suggested that I could go to pick up the papers from him in Washington state and spend time with his family for a few days. My brother found a $70 roundtrip ticket to Oregon, three hours from his house, but I felt odd and wasn’t sure. My brother pointed out that I should take advantage of the chance to meet this family because once I started university I wouldn’t be able to travel.
Now I think that was probably inspiration. I met Abraham Wise and he was not a missionary anymore, and I met his wonderful family and I fell in love with them as well. Everything was perfect and it happened at just the right moment because I was in my highest spiritual state. I also missed my family in Bolivia and felt in my heart it was time for me to form a family. We were married four months after we met and decided to live in his hometown in Washington. Abraham worked to save money for school, and I worked as a dental assistant while I studied for the dental board exams.
You then faced the seemingly conflicting inspiration to start a family and continue your education, both of which involved trials of your faith.
We stayed in Washington for two years, where I passed one set of dental board exams. We felt that it was time to have a child, but at the same time, when we were in the temple, we felt that I should continue towards the path of becoming a licensed dentist. It was a little confusing because I couldn’t tell what Heavenly Father wanted for me. I couldn’t understand that. In any case, we decided to have a baby. When I was five and a half months pregnant, I went into labor early, and our first daughter Hannah was born but she didn’t survive and died the same day. Two weeks later I got a letter of rejection from the University of Minnesota, where I applied for my dental residency so that I could get my license to practice in the United States. At that point I thought, “What is happening here?” It was really hard, a trial of my faith.
We decided to go to Utah so Abraham could continue his studies. I wasn’t sure what my plan was. I didn’t want to work. I was still healing and I decided just to study hard. I studied for four weeks as a way to escape, because the pain was too great. While Abraham was in class, I would go to the BYU library and study from 7 a.m. until 10 at night, and eventually I passed my second board exam for dental school. I decided to try again to go to the university. I called the University of Minnesota and asked the secretary if there was anything else that I could send to apply for residency the following year. She said she would talk to the director and they would call the following Monday. I was still struggling with my pain and it was hard living in Provo where it seemed that everyone in my apartment building was pregnant. The day Abraham finished his last test of the semester, the secretary from the dental school called said that one resident wasn’t able to complete the program and they wanted to know if I wanted to fill the spot. They wanted my answer right away and I needed to be there ”yesterday!” I was already late!
What did this mean? I knelt down in my living room and I literally felt that Heavenly Father was in the room, touching my head and telling me, “You have to trust me that I always keep my promises. Even though you don’t have your daughter, your daughter is going to be waiting for you, and now you’re going to get into the university.” That was the promise I had felt six months before. When Abraham came back I told him what happened. We went to the temple and asked the Lord one more time. We felt that we should move to Minnesota and that Abraham should support me in my career, which he did. Three days later we moved and I started school right away. After two years of residency I was licensed to practice dentistry in the United States and Abraham finished his undergraduate degree as well.
You then moved to Boston for your husband’s graduate school and decided to have another baby. Was it a challenge to not pursue your career full time after you’d worked so hard?
No, it was not a challenge. I knew that Heavenly Father wanted me to use my hands, but I knew as well that it was more important for me to have a family. After two years of totally focusing on a career, I felt like it was the time to start a family. It never was hard for me to put my family first. Even though my patriarchal blessing told me that I was going have a career, I knew that what was most important to Heavenly Father was to have a family and bring kids into the world.
Due to a medical condition you had to go on long periods of bed rest during your pregnancies. What have you learned from the experience?
Everything happened so fast with Hannah that the doctors didn’t know what the problem was and there were a lot of unanswered questions. When I got pregnant the second time, I met a very good medical specialist in Massachusetts. Two weeks later, when he checked me again, I experienced the same problems I had with Hannah—my body started dilating and I was going into labor too early. The doctor performed immediate surgery for an “incompetent cervix” and put me on bed rest for the remaining four months. It was a sacrifice, but I was willing to do anything to save my child. I knew Heavenly Father provided this good doctor to help me. It’s the sacrifice that I am willing to go through with each child because I love them.
How do you maintain a positive attitude and keep yourself sane while on prolonged bed rest?
First I dream of holding my child in my arms. Sometimes my body hurts so much I feel like I have to get out of the bed. But the thought that my child could be born prematurely and endure a lot of needles and months in the ICU brings me back to bed.
The way I survive is to make a schedule for myself. For example, during my second pregnancy I would wake up at 7 a.m., and from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. I would read my scriptures, and from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. I would write in my journal, and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. my mother-in-law would teach me piano, and from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. I would chat with my sister Italy. I made lists, something that I could check off every day to feel fulfilled. My lists gave me the confidence that I could make the hours pass faster. I thought of all the books I wanted to read, but soon the books got really boring and I couldn’t read or watch television or movies any longer! I got creative and my mother-in-law was kind enough to help me with craft projects. There were many things that I had wanted to do but never had time. I tried to be positive and take advantage of all the time on my hands.
I dealt with depression during my third pregnancy because my husband was doing an internship and we moved to a different city for the summer. My mother-in-law came to visit again but this time, she was not just taking care of me. She had to take care of my daughter as well.
Still, I managed to do family history. And I took advantage of the chance to do continuing education for dentistry and take courses online. I learned a lot of things. It’s the same thing spiritually. I read the scriptures, I ponder, I write in my journal, and set goals for myself and for my family.
One of the other things I like to focus on is visiting teaching. You don’t know how many times I read the Ensign to prepare my lesson. When I am on bed rest I am able to really read about the subject of the lesson, pray about it, ask for help from Heavenly Father to see what other people need. I think one of the important parts of being on bed rest for me is trying to find ways to give service. That’s one of the keys: I don’t want to be the one who only receives, receives, receives. I want find ways to give, because that really fills my soul.
How do you balance work and motherhood today?
I always put motherhood first. My kids, my husband, my family, my house—they are everything in my life. Even though I work, my work has to adapt to my family. I work one day a week and have to arrange babysitting. People always ask me if I can work more, and my answer is always the same: I cannot do it.
What does your part-time arrangement look like?
When I was living in Massachusetts I decided to get licensed in Washington state, where Abraham’s family lived. That worked out well because I would just work sometimes, two weeks at a time, always during a school break, when my in-laws could help me with the kids. I developed a relationship with a dental office in Washington, which called me from time to time and ask if I could cover appointments for a week or two. If something was convenient for my family and for Abraham’s family as well, I would fly there, work for seven or eight days, and then return to Massachusetts. It was really great, because while I was a full-time mom, it allowed me to provide financially for the family, too. When I moved to Virginia, I applied to different offices and chose one where the environment was conducive to my lifestyle choices. The office is located only five minutes away from my house, which means I don’t have to deal with traffic, and they are a pediatric clinic. Eighty to 90 percent of my patients are children, which I love, and they love me. I just work one or two days a week and it’s a very good arrangement and a good environment.
Why do you feel such a draw to work with kids?
It was probably because I was a mom already and I knew how to connect with kids. I like them and they like me—we make a good match! In my case, I felt that it was a calling from Heavenly Father. Knowing that, I try to reach out and make an impact on families, particularly Hispanic families. It’s unusual to see a Hispanic female dentist. In my case, I always felt that being a dentist was a calling from Heavenly Father. Knowing that, I always try to reach out and make an impact on families. I know I am a dentist and have to fix teeth and all that, but I sometimes feel like I’m in the theater changing roles: at one moment I’m a mom, another moment I’m a doctor. Suddenly I have my hair up, I’m in my uniform and I’m Dr. Wise.
I once tended to a little girl who was all dirty. Her hair was tangled, her nails were long and were dirty, and her nose was dirty too. This was the second time she came to me like this. So after our dental exam I took the girl back to the bathroom and said, “Honey, how old are you? I’m going to teach you that it’s very important to wash your hands, clean your nails, wash your face, clean your nose, and if you just arrange your hair in a nice, neat ponytail, you look so beautiful.” I hope that I reached her, I hope that she can teach that to her little brothers and sisters. That’s my wish when I go beyond teeth. I hope I’m healing the whole person, not just the teeth.
How is the role of motherhood different in Bolivia versus the United States?
Being a mother in Bolivia includes being a working mother. Most moms have to work. It’s just part of life to work and take care of the family. Often the older siblings are in charge of the younger siblings. In my case, I was practically raised by my brothers. Most of the kids in Bolivia do the same thing because the mothers work so hard, they cannot afford babysitting, and we don’t have daycare in Bolivia. You have to rely on other family members. Even though I remember not seeing my mom too much growing up because she worked two different jobs, I respected her because I knew that she was doing all these things for her kids. Kids in Bolivia learn to work together and sacrifice together. In my case I grew up feeling like my parents worked so hard that I had to respond in school; I had to study, I had to be a good student so that my parents didn’t have additional expenses.
In my case, both of my parents were working all the time to support a large family. People are used to it, though, because there are not a lot of options. But I think here we are blessed to have knowledge of motherhood and I’m impressed with my friends who have so many years of schooling and choose to stay at home and raise their children. They have the great opportunity and blessing to be at home raising their kids.
At A Glance
Location: Arlington, VA (originally from La Paz, Bolivia)
Marital status: Married
Children: Hannah (deceased), Eliza 4 years old, Sariah 2 1/2 years old and future baby to be born July 2010
Occupation: At home mother and part-time dentist
Schools Attended: Universidad Mayor de San Andres, La Paz Bolivia and University of Minnesota Dental School, USA
Languages Spoken at Home: Spanish and English
Favorite Hymn: “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go, Dear Lord”
Current Church Calling: Ward missionary
Interview by Nollie Haws. Photos by Scott Lunt.
At A Glance