Written By: Joellyn Hartley
The story of my motherhood journey started when I was 24 years old. I had just finished college, enjoying my first job- Nuclear Medicine Technologist at the hospital in Batesville, dating my high school sweetheart, and had just purchased my first home- located down the road from my awesome parents, in my hometown of Connersville. Life was great! Except for the fact that I was extremely exhausted all the time.
My doctor ran several tests trying to figure out what was causing this fatigue. I was shocked the day I got the call with the answer. As soon as I heard my doctor’s voice on the other end; I knew it wasn’t good. He told me I had a tumor in my pituitary gland in my head.
Then came the really bad news-I was told I may never be able to get pregnant. I wasn’t prepared for those words. I had always dreamed of being pregnant one day. It felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me.
Shortly thereafter, I met with a neurosurgeon who explained that surgically removing the tumor could cause me to be sterile afterwards, so I declined the surgery. Fortunately, there were three medicines that could treat this type of tumor, but no guarantees that my tumor would respond to any of them.
The first medicine didn’t work at all, so I was quickly switched to the second one. The tumor did slowly start to respond to this one and I was on it for several years while it tried to stabilize the tumor. During this time, I married my high school sweetheart. He and I had been together since we were 15 years old and we were both on board for adopting if the medicines failed. We were newlyweds and at an age where our friends were all getting pregnant, so I was asked constantly when we were going to jump on the pregnancy bandwagon- which at the time, felt like salt in a wound. And I’m not going to lie; it was difficult to attend all of my friends’ baby showers. I would put on my happy face while I was there (and I was truly happy for them), but I can’t count the times I cried in my car on the way home wondering if I would ever be able to experience the joy that they were.
Even though the medicine was helping to stabilize the tumor, it was far from being stable; so I had to continue with the treatment. Every month (for years) my blood was monitored and my medicine dosage was adjusted accordingly. And every month I anxiously awaited the results, hoping that the medicine provided enough stability that I could try to get pregnant. I never will forget the day my doctor gave me the news I had so longed to hear- “Your blood levels were normal this month!” These words rang like victory bells from my heart. I couldn’t hide my elation as happy tears fell down my face. I needed three consecutive months of normal results before I could be taken off the medicine. If my labs remained normal for one year without medicine, then we could try to get pregnant.
I rushed home to share this fantastic news with my husband. Once he realized this time frame might interfere with some dirt bike races he wanted to attend (which was his passionate hobby), he wasn’t as excited. He thought if I stayed on this positive track, it would be best to postpone trying to conceive for another six to twelve month because there weren’t as many races at that time. By now, I had been battling this for four years and had longed for this window of opportunity and I thought he had too. I had always supported him and his hobby, and I honestly couldn’t believe he wanted to wait. I felt like I had been sucker punched. We didn’t need to discuss it long because my blood levels creeped back up that next month. He and I started marriage counseling shortly thereafter. I realized we were at different stages in our lives and heading in opposite directions. I wanted a baby (either naturally or by adoption) and a husband who was present. I realized he wanted his hobbies more than being a husband- let alone a father. I loved this man dearly. He had been my best friend for the past fourteen years and it was an extremely hard decision for me to end our marriage, but after lots of praying; I felt it was what needed to be done.
So here I was; approaching 30, single, hadn’t been on a date with anyone other than my ex-husband since I was 15, still battling a pituitary tumor, and still wanting a baby so bad I could taste it. So what did I do…I moved to Lake Santee. I needed a new start in a new place. I left Connersville, my friends, my family, my comfort- behind. I was scared and alone. I wasn’t sure if I could ever have a baby, but I was optimistic I could find a good husband- so my search began.
The dating world is a scary place, especially for a 29 year old newcomer. It took me about a year to find the guy I believed was Mr. Right. He was from Dayton, Ohio and I met him while celebrating my 30th birthday in Indy. This had to be a good sign- right? We did the whole long distance dating thing for the next year, then he proposed, and we did a long distance engagement for another year. It was a whirlwind; I had gone from hardly any attention at all from my first husband to being showered with attention from this guy from Dayton. I knew the relationship wasn’t perfect, but I told myself that nothing is perfect. He was ready to get married and have kids, so he met all my criteria at the time.
Shortly after our engagement, my doctor informed me that medicine number two had stopped working. With only one medicine left and a new husband on the way, he suggested I go see an endocrine fertility specialist. This new doctor immediately started me on the last medicine and within a few months it started working. When we returned from our honeymoon, we were given great news! It had been an eight year battle, but I was finally given the opportunity to try to get pregnant! The doctor said that due to my tumor’s history of instability; he didn’t think I would be able to get pregnant naturally, but he would allow a three month window for us to try.
I blew his mind when I showed up pregnant the very next month! I cannot even begin to say how happy I was. It was a very high risk pregnancy so I was monitored very closely, which I was happy about. I thoroughly enjoyed being pregnant and was amazed at every little kick and hiccup my son had while growing inside me. I think when you have to wait so long for something you want so badly; you really appreciate it so much more.
I had an uneventful pregnancy, up until the last two months, when I was put on bed rest because my blood pressure was really high and the baby’s amniotic fluid levels were low. It was a scary time, but luckily I was able to deliver a healthy baby boy!! My prayers were answered- and there had been a lot of them since that diagnosis back when I was 24. I was able to overcome the odds and get pregnant, stay pregnant, and deliver a beautiful baby boy that I adore to this day! When I was told in the delivery room that my uterus had been badly damaged and I would need a hysterectomy, I accepted the news. My dream had finally come true on that wonderful day in May and I knew how fortunate I was to be able to have this one baby!
I wish I could say we lived happily ever after, but that’s not the case. My son’s dad and I divorced three years later. My first divorce was so hard on me emotionally that I thought hell would freeze over before I would ever consider it as an option again- especially since I had the child I had hoped for for so long. I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of what changed my way of thinking. It was a difficult decision that I took a long time weighing and praying about because I knew it would affect my son.
Fortunately, my ex-husband and I are able to get along well now. The issues we had were between us and now that there is no more us; we can focus on parenting our son. I won’t say our arrangement has always been easy, but we try to look at it as a business deal. We have to plan, communicate, compromise, and always do what is in the best interest of the customer- our son.
Since my divorce, I feel more settled and happier than I have ever been. I am free to be me, without any restrictions. And I have a sense of pride knowing that I can stand on my own two feet. Of course, it isn’t easy being a single mom. There are definite challenges. The biggest one for me is trying to find a balance. I am my son’s custodial parent, so I have the responsibility of all the normal working mom duties; plus all the typical “man” duties like mowing the grass, taking care of the trash, shoveling snow (my least favorite), and minor home repairs. Usually all these responsibilities are split between two people, but I have the burden of all of them and it can be exhausting. I sometimes feel guilty because I have so much on my plate and it takes away from one on one time with my son. At 8, it’s hard for him to understand why mom can’t be a 24/7 playmate like his dad is when he is at his house 2 days a week. It’s also very scary knowing that I don’t have a safety net. There is no second income to fall back on if my business fails. That’s a lot of pressure, but I wouldn’t trade it because my son gets to live in a happy home with me and visit his dad in an equally happy environment. It is healthier than all three of us being together in one unhappy house.
My faith has been instrumental in getting me through all the rough patches in my adult life. Anytime I have been at a crossroads, I have prayed for God to guide me and show me the direction I need to take. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet! I feel that everything happens for a reason. I have peace knowing that God has a plan for me and if I keep this faith; the right people, doors, and opportunities will open up for me and guide me on my purposeful path.
My coming to Mom2Mom is a perfect example of this guidance. I had met Melissa Hanley at a golf clinic that both of our boys attended. It took me a while to come to a meeting. My perception was it was for married, stay at home moms of babies. I was none of the above. Luckily, I had an internal nagging sensation telling me I needed to attend a meeting. What I found was a group of welcoming women of all walks of motherhood. Yes, some were married stay at home mothers of babies that I thoroughly enjoyed talking to- but I also talked to working mothers of various fields, retired mothers, mothers of only children- like me, mothers of multiples and everything in between. The one common bond that all the women had was a love for their kid(s). The speaker that day was talking about kids and their emotions. I really enjoyed the presentation, but even more so, was the question and answer period that followed. Someone would ask a question pertaining to kid’s emotions and after the speaker would answer, other moms would offer suggestions too or say what they had tried, what had worked for them, or what hadn’t. The biggest take away I had was there was no judgement. Everyone seemed to truly want to help each other and learn from one another. I knew as a single mom, I could definitely benefit from this supportive group.
Of course I figured this was the reason for the internal nagging I had. Later I realized God had been pushing me into Mom2Mom’s direction for so much more. Stephanie Jones is a life coach and she was speaking at M2M about pursuing your dreams. Once again, I had that internal nagging sensation telling me to attend this meeting. Stephanie asked each of us that day to write out a bucket list with things we wanted to do and/or see someday in life. She challenged us to really dream big and put down things even if we felt they could never happen. It was a fun exercise- who doesn’t love to dream! Then terror set in- she asked us to go around the room and reveal what was on our list. My first thought was… I haven’t even shared these dreams with my close friends; how can I share them with women I barely know? I soon realized I wasn’t the only one terrified of sharing and I saw how supportive the other women were. This gave me the courage to share my dream of writing a book about divorce one day. I also confessed I had actually started on this book. I had never told a soul about it before this day.
There is a charity Stephanie supports. She offered a free life coaching session if we donated to it. That voice inside me was screaming “do it”, so of course I did. I am happy to report that she is still coaching, mentoring, and helping me to this day. She has directed me to listen even closer to this internal voice inside me, which in turn, has brought so much more clarity to all areas of my life.
This clarity allowed me to see that I needed to shift gears slightly. I put my divorce book on hold so I could focus my attention on writing a children’s book- with the help of my son. We just finished it and will be submitting it to publishers in April!! I have no idea if it will ever get published, but the memories and fun my son and I experienced working on this project, will last us both a lifetime. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t listen to that nagging internal voice that led me to Mom2Mom and Stephanie, which in turn, has put me on this new and exciting path in life!
As for the tumor- it’s still there. But the amazing thing is; it has been stabilized since I gave birth. It just shows there were many miracles taking place with the birth of my son!