Shannon Harwell takes her 15-month-old son, EJ, to the Stewart C. Meyer Library in Harker Heights several times during the week for storytime. A military wife, she says her full-time job is being a mommy.
But about two years ago, the Heights resident never imagined she’d have a child of her own.
“I tried to have a baby for 13 years,” she said. “We ended up having to do fertility treatment.”
In vitro fertilization wasn’t an easy process for Harwell.
“It was very hard because, depending on your issues, the fertility process can be very long, and since we are military we always move and felt like we had to start over (every time),” she said.
Her adventures in infertility started in Fort Stewart, Ga., when she started taking medication to help her get pregnant.
“That didn’t work, so the IVF was the last step to take before adoption,” she said. “My husband was ready to adopt sooner than I was; but I really wanted to have a child of my own so that’s why I stuck it out for so long.”
The couple then moved to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where they decided to take fertility tests, but Harwell said the results left them further puzzled.
“We were told 30 percent of infertility was due to unexplained reasons,” she said. “We really had no idea why.”
When they relocated again, this time to Fairfax County in Virginia, they decided to make their first attempt at IVF treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“That was a really hard experience because it felt like I was with a group in a conveyer belt,” she said.
The treatment was unsuccessful. Harwell, who was an elementary school teacher at the time, tried IVF twice more with a civilian doctor.
“At that point, I had to tell my husband after the third time, that was it, because it was so draining and exhausting.”
It turned out, the third time was the charm for the couple who soon learned they were expecting a child.
The beginning of the pregnancy was a very fragile time.
“When we did the blood test during pregnancy, I got a call back and they thought there was something wrong with the baby,” she said. “That was really hard to deal with, and they scheduled me for a really detailed ultrasound.”
The pregnancy checkup, however, gave positive results, and at five months’ pregnant, the Harwells got military orders to move to Texas.
The birthing rooms were full at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center the day Harwell went into labor, so she was rushed by ambulance to the University Medical Center Brackenridge in Austin.
Harwell labored for 18 hours before EJ was born.
“When he came out, his tone was really low … so they took him away from me and I didn’t get him back for a little while,” she said. “His little feet were black with needle marks because they constantly did testing on him, so we stayed in the hospital a few extra days.”
Motherhood set in for Harwell once she held her son in her arms.
“For a long time at first it was unbelievable,” she said. “When I got him home, I did have a meltdown and thought, ‘I don’t know if I can take care of this little baby.’”
But after her 13-year journey through infertility, Harwell said the joys outweighed the worry. These days, instead of standing at the front of a classroom filled with students, Harwell cares for own son and joins dozens of other mothers and their children at the Harker Heights library every week.
It’s all worth it
Laura Sutton of Killeen and her children Abbi, 7, Keria, 5, and John Thomas, 2 months, are also regular visitors at the library. Motherhood is something Sutton greatly enjoys.
“It was something that was definitely meant to happen,” she said. “I always think, ‘How am I going to prepare them for life?’”
Sutton said she read a lot of books and followed a strict schedule when she was pregnant with her firstborn.
“I was just so tense and anxious, but now I’m more relaxed,” she said.
Staying busy and following a routine is also the life of Katelyn Guard of Copperas Cove. She has four kids, Ricky, 9, Chloe, 6, Joshua, 4, and Jude, 2. She said motherhood is challenging, especially with toddlers, but also wonderful.
“You have good times and bad times,” she said. “But looking at their faces makes it worth it, and even at your worst moment, they just say, ‘I love you mommy,’ and it makes it all worth it.”