A mother of two, 28-year-old Maxci Leigh LoSchiavo of East Dundee knows so much more goes into motherhood than giving birth.
In the decades since she was born addicted to the crack cocaine taken by her birth mother, Maxci has had moments when she relied on a breathing machine, foster parents, a lawyer, girlfriends, a domestic violence shelter, a teacher and her family, a boss, a son and her fiancee just to make it to the next day.
On Nov. 17, 1995, a Daily Herald story featured an adorable photo of the foster mom embracing a smiling 5-year-old Maxci beneath the headline, “Turbulent adoption story has happy ending.” But that wasn’t the ending, and many unhappy moments were waiting for Maxci.
The next decade was filled with drama that saw Maxci become a runaway teen mom in a domestic violence shelter. Even her elementary school years featured plenty of difficult moments.
A cute girl, Maxci and her adoptive father would take the train from East Dundee into Chicago so she could audition for modeling gigs. In 1996, Maxci won a $25 gift certificate from Sears after her Marilyn Monroe costume earned her third place in the Halloween costume contest at Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee. But she still remembers the stinging silent treatment she’d get from her mom every time she came home from an unsuccessful modeling tryout.
“I loved my parents. I was happy at times, but I was never really happy,” says Maxci, who got her middle name from Mari Leigh, the attorney who doggedly fought to get her adopted by the family with whom she had lived since she left the hospital five days after birth. “I was thankful they adopted me, but it was a struggle.”
Her father suffered a stroke. “I can’t stress how close I was with my father. He really tried,” Maxci says. But her mother spent most of her time cloistered away in a bedroom, forcing Maxci to cook the meals, schlep home heavy bags of groceries, clean up after the dogs and take care of 13 birds in cages.
“I always felt that the weight was on me. It was always on me,” she says. “There was never direct communication between my parents and I. I started to be more curious about who I actually was.”
Her teenage years and high school were difficult. “I was always very clumsy. I had a lot of anxiety issues that were more mental than physical,” Maxci says. When her dad went into a nursing home, Maxci bolted.
“I ran away. I tried things I shouldn’t have been trying. I got pregnant at 16,” Maxci says. She returned to school pregnant for her junior year, determined to graduate on time. After her son was born, Maxci suffered from postpartum depression and the much older man she was with started beating her. Friends helped Maxci and her baby, Ryan, escape to a domestic violence shelter in Aurora.
“She was in a pretty hopeless situation. As a child of trauma it was such a struggle for her,” remembers Cindi Vondrasek, a teacher at Dundee-Crown High School who knew Maxci’s story and saw potential in her. “When Ryan was born, she wanted to be a good mom. To me, it was one of those ‘put your money where your mouth is.’ If you could just get them into a better environment.”
The best option was the Schaumburg home of Vondrasek, her husband, David, and their two sons, Matthew, who was the same age as Maxci, and Jacob, who was two years younger. Maxci and Ryan moved in at the end of 2008, as soon as she turned 18.
“We were all aboard because of how strongly Cindi felt about her,” remembers David, who gave up his office for Maxci and Ryan.
“They showed me how it was to be in a happy family,” Maxci says. “They were the kind of family who had dinner at the dinner table and the TV wasn’t on.”
Conversations around that dinner table created an unbreakable bond.
“We grew to love her and love Ryan,” Cindi says.
“She was part of the family,” David says.
After Maxci graduated from Dundee-Crown High School in 2009, the family took Maxci and Ryan on a family vacation to a lake in Arkansas.
“It worked out really well, like it was meant to be,” Cindi says.
As do many suburban kids, Maxci lived on her own for a couple of years, ran into some tough times and returned home to the Vondraseks for a couple of years.
Her adoptive father died in 2010. After her adoptive mother died in 2012, Maxci found her birth mother’s sister on Facebook. That led to two brief phone conversations with her birth mother.
“The first was a little unsettling,” Maxci remembers. “The second was a confirmation.”
Her birth mother died of a heroin overdose a few years later, but Maxci has contact with some of her half siblings and with some of her adoptive siblings, who were already grown when she became part of the family.
Driven to be a better mom, Maxci was dogged in her pursuit of a career. She responded to a help-wanted ad for an insurance business, sending her resume to Reneé Suwanski, who passed it along to her husband, Jerry, who had founded NorthWestern Insurance Agency and Associates. Jerry had a personal stake in hiring only the best people, people he could rely on. A teenage mom could be a red flag, but Maxci was so persistent, Jerry gave her a chance.
“The biggest asset of my agency was putting Maxci on,” Jerry says. “She helped this agency grow to what it is now. It’s just phenomenal.”
Maxci, who sells and services insurance policies and attends conferences for the agency, says Jerry is “like a father” and has helped her grow into a better mom, worker and person. Jerry knows the story of the Vondraseks as Maxci never held back details of her life.
“It’s an unbelievable feel-good story about a person who started badly,” Jerry says.
Maxci says she got strength from Ryan when they were alone. Now, she and her fiancee Cris Rodriguez have given 11-year-old Ryan a little brother, Vincent, who is 17 months old.
All the problems of her youth are in her past. “I don’t think about that part of my life because that’s not who I am anymore,” Maxci says with a smile as she hands Vincent to Cris.
“This is way better. It’s so good to have these kids and my relationship. I feel this is a gift — family,” Maxci says. “Now I know who I am, and I’m in charge of these little people. This is my dream — being the mom I wish I could have had.”