I delivered my daughter over winter break from college. I received my acceptance to an accelerated nursing program the day I went into labor, two weeks after my due date. Once I brought my baby home from the NICU and settled in at my mother’s house, the reality of parenting and working and going to school began to sink in. I was a mess. My mom, who gave everything she had in order to see me succeed, was responsible for keeping me together enough to pull it off. We faced a lot of struggles, but together, we focused on our faith and made it through the hormonal postpartum days and beyond.
When my daughter was 6 months old, I entered a nineteen-month clinical rotation that would earn me the right to test for a license as a Registered Nurse. During that time I worked the night shift as a technician in the hospital pharmacy. On the days I wasn’t in the hospital doing clinical rotations, I studied and catnapped while my daughter napped or played in her playpen. I could only afford to have her in daycare on the days when my mom was working and I had to attend clinicals. I would often go up to 30 hours without sleep. When I became a mother, I realized I was capable of enduring far more than I could ever have imagined for the sake of my child’s wellbeing.
I made it through those 19 months, fueled by love for my daughter and the strength of God within me. Nursing school was the most stressful time of my entire life. I was dependent on my Father for my every need, and He never failed to provide. Subsequently, that season of my life brought the greatest intimacy I’d ever experienced with Jesus. He was my partner, my best friend, my confidant, and my provider. Jesus became my everything. When I crashed into bed each night (or day), I could feel my Savior resting there with me, so close and so sweet.
In September of 2004, three months before graduating from nursing school, I sensed God nudging me to think about men again. I hesitated because my daughter was only one-and-a-half and I really needed to focus on my studies. Besides, for the previous two years I’d been so wrapped up in school and finding time for sleep and Spiritual growth that I hadn’t thought much about dating or finding a mate. After hearing a success story from a close friend, I quietly joined match.com and met a man I couldn’t have even dreamed of. He was cute and outdoorsy, he loved Jesus, he played music, he loved kids, and the list of amazingness went on and on. The moment I saw his profile I knew he was my husband. We married six months later.
It’s now been more than 15 years since that April morning in the Appalachians. In that time my husband adopted my daughter and we had another little girl not long after we married. I spent five years working as a maternity nurse where I fell in love with women’s health. That love was fostered even further by a shift in my career in 2009 when I began working for a family non-profit based in rural Kenya.
Deeply motivated by my own experience, I’m now leveraging my position of privilege to help start a new organization called Flourish Kenya that prevents and supports unplanned adolescent pregnancy in rural Kenya. This new endeavor comes after working for 8 years in the global development sector and never finding any education or prevention-oriented programs in an area where the pregnancy rate is as high as 40% in girls between the ages of eleven and sixteen. I was given every opportunity in my hour of need, but in the most remote areas of Kenya, girls who find themselves pregnant are driven into child marriage, unsafe abortion, and even suicide. Being in such close contact with the injustice of this disparity has left me no option but to spend the rest of my life improving theirs.
Stepping into this next chapter has me feeling pregnant once again. Something is growing inside of me that I can’t see, but that I’m waiting on with hope and healthy fear. I’m trusting that timing is everything and ravenously learning as I wait and watch. There’s an expectation of newness so unknown that I can only anticipate my reaction to it by sifting through personal experiences and watching where others have gone before me. I venture to create, pulling pieces of wisdom and knowledge from here and there, realizing that there’s no recipe for this.
As I survey the last fifteen years, I can see how each ingredient in my story has been thoughtfully collected to bring together a life that tastes of love, steadfast faith, community, and passion. Even when I reflect on the most mundane of seasons, I remember the aroma of longing for the next thing as something sweet and necessary. Moments of struggle added depth of flavor that could only develop over time.
Now, with the benefit hindsight, I can see that both triumph and dire need were required to birth this life mine–one that I never could have conceived on my own.
Tia McNelly lives in North Carolina with her husband and two daughters. Her little piece of the internet can be found at tiamcnelly.com where she blogs. Tia is also the featured speaker at Collected workshops. These events empower communities of women all over the world to walk in the fullness of their identity with purpose and passion. With a background in maternity nursing and non-profit management, Tia is honored to have a seat on the board of Flourish Kenya, a non-profit organization that prevents and supports unplanned adolescent pregnancy in rural Kenya. (photo by http://allisonkeel.com/)