Nora Shourd gave up her apartment and is now living with friends in Oakland. Cindy Hickey closed her animal physical therapy business, and Laura Fattal quit working as a college art history professor.
The lives of the three mothers have been upended since their children -- Sarah Shourd, 32, Shane Bauer, 28, and Josh Fattal, 28, all UC Berkeley graduates -- were arrested in July 2009 while hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan region near the Iran border.
Sarah Shourd was released in September on $500,000 bail after she reportedly found a lump in her breast. Bauer and Fattal share a small cell, which they leave for 40 minutes a day, blindfolded and escorted by guards to an open-air room. Bauer, a freelance journalist and photojournalist, and Fattal, an environmentalist and educator, were set to be in court in Iran on Wednesday on charges of spying and illegal entry, though those proceedings did not take place as scheduled. All three have pleaded not guilty.
"We will hold tight, and we will hope for only good news but we will be on high alert for emails and phone calls," said Josh Fattal's mother Laura Fattal, 58, of Elkins Park, Pa.
Shourd has been ordered to return to Iran, but her mother said she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and likely will be tried in absentia. Bauer and Fattal were in court briefly in February and made lengthy written and verbal statements about their innocence, their families said. They were not allowed to meet with their Iranian lawyer.
No one really knows the stress on the imprisoned men, but the stress on their families has been unbearable: There has been lost jobs, illness, sleepless nights and constant worry, the mothers said.
"I'm very anxious to have my old life back. The longer this goes on, the less there is to recover," said Cindy Hickey, the mother of Shane Bauer. "I keep the goal in front of me, the goal is the release of Shane and Josh. That is what has to be done. We are all in some sort of a prison, certainly not where Josh, Shane and Sarah have been, but our own prison."
Hickey, 50, of rural Pine Mountain, Minn., said she shuttered her business that she had run for 18 years because she needed to put all of her time and energy into getting her son out of prison. "I couldn't process things emotionally and work at the same time," she said. "This last week leading up to the trial has got us very anxious, we don't know what will happen. Hopefully, this will be the end. I've always believed in the truth, and hopefully the truth will prevail and Iran will stop playing political games with Shane and Josh."
She said she suffers from anemia and lack of sleep, and has drained her savings account because of the ordeal. "This is taking a devastating toll on all of us," she said of her family, which includes her husband, Jim, and two adult daughters.
Hickey, like the other mothers, doesn't go anywhere without her cellphone and is constantly monitoring both Iranian and American news for alerts on U.S.-Iran relations. "Let's face it, this is about these two countries, it's not so much about Shane, Josh or their families," she said.
Hickey and Laura Fattal have not spoken to their sons since last November, when each received an unexpected and brief phone call from them. The three mothers traveled to Iran last May for a short and monitored visit with their children.
"We are sick with worry about Shane and Josh and the damage their uncertainty and isolation is doing to their mental and physical health. This nightmare is also taking a terrible toll on our families," said Nora Shourd, 62, who is living with friends in Oakland to be close to her daughter. Sarah also stays with friends when she's in Oakland while she continues to work on freeing Bauer, her fiance, and Fattal.
"Yes, Sarah is out, but it doesn't feel like she is completely out, because she is not completely here with us," Nora Shourd said.
For her part, Laura Fattal said she has put her life and her work teaching art history on hold to work for the release of her son and his friend.
"I think I am very troubled and very worried, but at the same second, I have the belief that Iranian compassion will show itself. I totally believe that Josh and Shane are innocent," Fattal said.
In addition, she said, her eldest son, Alex, 32, left Harvard University to help his family free his brother. Her husband, Jacob, a magazine publisher, has continued to work to keep the family financially afloat, but is deeply impacted when away from his job on nights and weekends by his son's plight, Laura Fattal said.
The hikers' attorney Massoud Shafiee has not been allowed to meet with his clients, but has told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that "anyone who knows basic things about politics would know that if these individuals were spies, the U.S. government would have made a more serious effort for them. The international protocol regarding spies is either to exchange them or to take other actions which would be very different from the current circumstances. Additionally, there is no evidence that would support their being spies. So, in such a case, normal legal routes must be taken."
President Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, have both called for their release and many others, including social activist Noam Chomsky, actress Mia Farrow, actor Sean Penn, South African activist and Christian cleric the Rev. Desmond Tutu, former boxer Muhammad Ali and musician Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, have written to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the hikers' behalf.