Twenty-three and carefree… that’s what life was like for Janine Heule until the day she became a Mama. Most Mamas have nine months to plan for their child to arrive. They get to experience the joy of the first ultrasound, baby’s kicks, and beautiful showers while they prepare for their little bundle to join this world. But Janine’s journey was quite different.
She was living life like an average college student in an apartment with her younger sister Kimberley and a friend, working full time, and going to college. During that time their family received joyous yet unexpected news: her older sister was pregnant! Although feeling a little blindsided, Janine remembers thinking how exciting it was that she was becoming an aunt. Time passed, her pregnant sister moved back to Minnesota to live with their Mom, and the beautiful baby arrived in March–her bouncing nephew, Jaxon.
Her sister had been struggling with a number of things that, together, made her unfit to take care of Jaxon. Then one day in June, a day that will forever be burned in her mind, Janine’s life changed forever. Her sister came to her for help: I need you to help me get back on my feet. That day she left Jaxon with Janine–in her college apartment–along with some diapers, a small bag of clothes, a bit of formula, and a carseat. This temporary help, she thought, would give her sister the time she needed to get her life in order to be able to take care of her son. But at that moment, her life was swept out from under her. She knew that ultimately, her goal was to keep Jaxon safe–not even from a Mom perspective but as a caregiver–to give him a home with stability. Janine remembers, “I figured it would be thirty or so days–temporary, but it continued to extend gradually; she would cancel plans or not be able to visit on scheduled dates, and then ultimately she just quit checking in. I felt trapped. I have to help you now because I have no choice.”
Coincidentally, Janine was nannying at the time. The home she worked in allowed her to bring Jaxon to work with her. She felt fortunate because they also helped her by giving her advice, guidance, and support through this transition. Additionally, a family she previously nannied for had passed along clothes and car seats that their boys had outgrown. Both of those things, she said, helped her tremendously and was so thankful for their role in her life. Aside from these resources, Janine noted, “My younger sister Kimberley acted as a stand-in coparent for me during this time as well. She traded off nights with me and watched him while I worked at a liquor store. I would not have survived the first year–financially or otherwise–without her there helping me!”
Although her older sister had left Jaxon with her, there was some difficulty navigating who was in charge. Should Grandma help? Aunts? Janine had to establish her role as his Mama as soon as she could. They were additional support as she would need help from time to time when she needed a sitter. After all, she was working full time, going to school, and essentially had taken on the role of single mother. After several months, Janine began to see that it was a permanent plan. She added, “I didn’t want to deny him that closeness of a parental figure, but it was weird the first time someone else referred to me as Mom. I started to realize permanence then. It’s kind of weird because when she dropped him off I thought, Don’t get too attached and I tried to be respectful while trying to establish a routine.” She remembers one day she called her mom, sobbing. She’s not coming back. How could she do this? But she quickly learned that her sister’s addiction just didn’t allow her to make those decisions for herself. She was in so deep.
So, Janine packed up Jaxon and they moved back in with her Mom. Although difficult because she felt as if she was backtracking, she knew it would be the best outcome for them both in the end. Additionally, Jaxon was able to create a special bond with his Grandma during that time. She explained, “We grew up a lot together and really fast. It was a whirlwind… my entire world was flipped upside down in one day when normally it’s a slow transition. I was young and not making a lot of money, so I had to budget and make it work! We qualified for WIC & insurance through the state, and I was thankful for those resources. Oh, and Target!” she laughed. Janine, in all her selflessness, felt guilty because she didn’t remember a lot of Jaxon’s first year. Other than, We survived! She beamed, “I became so dedicated at some point. I pride myself on the fact that I made all his baby food. I had support people around me, but I did this. I often wonder how I did all that with no help!”
Shortly after their move, Janine met someone special: Zack. As Jaxon called him, Wacky Zacky. Zack quickly became a permanent and important figure in their life. Janine had been very careful not to confuse Jaxon with men leaving in and out of her life; she was cautious. But this man was different. They began spending time together and moved in together in the summer of 2018. Janine had nothing but praises to sing of Zack taking on his new role in their relationship. “It’s been fun to watch Zack morph into a parent. He’s really good with him and it’s fun to watch him grow into the role of Dad, which Jaxon now calls him. We were really careful about that too because we didn’t want to push that on him, but eventually Jaxon made the shift on his own.” Jaxon is now a school aged four year old. He goes to school with Janine everyday as she is working at a preschool in Minnetonka, MN. When they’re not working or learning at school, the family of three spends time outdoors, visiting new places, and enjoying the laughter and opportunity that comes with “Not having to spend all his time with Mom. Zack brings such an important side to our relationship that takes the pressure off me.”
Their situation is nothing short of amazing. At times though, it can be tricky because Jaxon can understand things and they are now considering starting some of those those difficult conversations. They have looked into different things like family or play therapy because he doesn’t know the full story yet. He knows his mom is family but he doesn’t understand why they have a bond. She came to visit once in his first year and has now chosen to get a little more time with him when she chooses; however, through her temporary decision which turned permanent, she got her sobriety. Janine had difficult decisions to make during that time: Do I choose to be supportive of her and her sobriety? Or do I cut that out and focus on what’s best for Jaxon, even if that means the he won’t stay in close contact with her? She didn’t want to put him through that or let him see her in that state; if she was using, Janine felt as if she had to force her hand more. Now that she is sober it is easier to agree on things. Her sister’s sobriety opened up an incredible opportunity: it allowed her to give Jaxon up and put him in safe keeping while making it ok for a mother to give up her son. She made the best choice; ultimately, she knew Janine was his keeper–his Mama.
I was lucky to meet Janine through my husband Ross, who graduated with Wacky Zacky. This story has been beautiful to watch as it unfolds. I can’t wait to see what their future has in store for them!
This post contains advertisements and by clicking the link, I may receive a commission but at no cost to you. See my full disclosure form HERE