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EXCLUSIVE: All Saints star Jolene Anderson's miracle baby news

At 36, a health crisis saw Jolene Anderson given the news that she may never have children of her own. Three years on, the popular Australian actress tells Tiffany Dunk she's proved the experts wrong.

By Tiffany Dunk
Striding out of the water after an ocean swim at Bundeena, Royal National Park in NSW, Jolene Anderson contentedly flopped down on a towel to read the novel she was halfway through. Cracking open the pages though, something was wrong.
The words in front of her wouldn't form. Even though she knew they should be familiar, she just couldn't seem to make sense of them.
At first, she thought she'd been bitten by a tick during the bushwalk she'd taken earlier in the day. Trying not to panic, she spent the next 15 minutes trying to make out the word "path".
"But I couldn't read it and I couldn't get past that word to form a sentence," she tells The Weekly of that terrifying day, which she is speaking about publicly for the first time.
Soon, her calm dissipated and she made a frantic call to her mother who urged her to go to the hospital.
"Not wanting to make a fuss, I was like, 'No, I'm fine,'" Jolene recalls.
"I was crying and I don't know if I was slurring my words. But I went to the local doctor and she took one look at me and said to go to the hospital."
Arriving at emergency wearing "cut-off denim shorts with a bikini, wet hair and sand everywhere," Jolene spent nine hours sitting alone while tests were conducted.
"I still thought maybe it was a tick until I heard people say TIA – transient ischaemic attack – which is what they call a mini stroke," she recounts.
Similar to a stroke, a TIA is caused when there is a temporary block in the blood supply to the brain. And while symptoms generally dissipate within 24 hours – in Jolene's case, it had passed by the time she arrived at the hospital – it can be a warning of a more major stroke or heart attack to follow days later.
Jolene stunned on the beach during our exclusive photoshoot. Photo by Alana Landsberry.
Admitted for five days while she underwent a battery of tests, Jolene would learn that while her heart was fine, doctors had discovered an antibody in her bloodstream which would likely affect her ability to bear children in the future.
"It's an antibody I'd acquired, which is how women get lupus and other autoimmune diseases later on in life," she explains.
"The first thing the neurologist said to me was that I may need a surrogate. And I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm 36 and I don't even have a partner. How did it come to this?'"
Ever practical, she once again called her mother for advice – and this time she immediately took it.
"She was like, 'Quick, you're 36, freeze your eggs,'" Jolene recalls.
"So I didn't even read the brochures, I just went in. The doctor said I was the calmest person ever doing IVF! I went off and I froze my eggs and then I just sort of forgot about it."

Motherhood was something Jolene had always wanted to experience, but a partner was a big part of that equation. Still single and with time marching on, she reluctantly came to accept that it may not be on the cards.
"There were times I thought, 'I don't think it's going to happen for me, I don't think I'm going to have children.' And that's purely from not meeting anyone. It was pretty devastating," she admits.
But then came marketer and property developer Dan Stephens. The pair met in a bar in Sydney and while sparks flew, they would date "on and off a bit" for three years before finally making things official.
At 43, Dan too wanted a family. And so, says Jolene, they decided to immediately start trying while knowing it may not have the outcome they were hoping for.

By now 39, not only were there the original health issues from her mini stroke, but her age meant she had the odds stacked against her in terms of her ability to conceive quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of miscarriage.
"I saw an obstetrician and told them what had happened to me," Jolene says, adding she was "anticipating the worst".
"She sent off for more blood tests and said, 'Okay, you still have the antibody present. So I say get started and see how you go.'"
Despite having her eggs stored, the pair decided to try things the natural way first.
"And then in the second month it was like, 'bang'," she laughs incredulously.
Preparing to go to the wrap party for the ABC show Harrow, which recently aired its second season finale, Jolene had a funny feeling.
WATCH BELOW: The season 2 trailer for Jolene's star vehicle, ABC's Harrow. Article continues after video
"Harvest Moon by Neil Young was playing and I was getting ready and I thought, 'My body is doing something different'," she says, explaining she'd felt a similar way while being "pumped with hormones" during IVF to extract her eggs.
"I hadn't skipped a period or anything but I was like, 'I can't go out and have a glass of wine knowing that I might be pregnant'. I had one pregnancy test in the cupboard. So I was putting moisturiser on my legs while I was waiting for it and I'd look up every now and again and nothing was happening."
"But then I looked and saw the 'plus' sign and went, 'Oh my God!' I couldn't believe it happened that quickly. And I couldn't believe I was so in tune with my body that I would even think to take a test at just three weeks."
"I keep forgetting I'm pregnant, I feel amazing," Jolene says, with an almost embarrassed shrug at her good fortune. Photo by Alana Landsberry.
Today, Jolene is 27 weeks along and while it was a roller-coaster getting there, so far pregnancy has been an unexpected breeze.
Despite her fears, she's been classified as a low-risk pregnancy. There's no morning sickness or tiredness and with a bit of time off work she's enjoying every aspect of these early stages.
Together she and Dan have moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast where they plan to raise their first child – a girl, she reveals excitedly during our chat. The exposure to the outdoors is important to Jolene, who enjoyed what she calls an "idyllic" childhood in the mid-north coast town of Kempsey in NSW.
"We had a hobby farm a couple of acres outside of town," she recalls of the home she grew up in and where her parents still live today.
"I don't remember watching television. I just remember being outside," Jolene says of her childhood. Photo by Alana Landsberry.
With her two older siblings, Jolene built cubbies in the backyard while dreaming up all kinds of inventive games and stories.
"We used to dance and Mum would make our costumes," she says.
"Grandma would do craft with us and my grandpa or my dad would take us fishing. I like that sense of doing things together, of being hands on."
"Mum and Dad have a great bunch of friends, lots of people who were around all the time for barbecues and stuff. There was a real sense of community which I love and I want that for my children."
Community is something that Jolene has certainly found through her acting career, having made lasting friendships with cast and crew on many of her jobs. And it's a path that came about almost by accident.
Having deferred university where she'd planned to study nursing after school, an 18-year-old Jolene flew to Japan where she'd scored a job as a dancer and singer at Universal Studios.
"It was fun," she laughs. "I always thought, I'll come back to uni, I'll do the path everyone is told they have to do. But I kept falling into jobs so I'd go, 'Oh well, I'll worry about it next year.' And then that year would pass, too."
Eventually she reached a fork in the road where she gave herself an ultimatum – it was time to pick a profession. Either she would go to university to study physiotherapy or she would attend acting school. But whichever road she took, she vowed, she would stick at. Acting school won and it was while she was there that she landed her first role, one which would leave an indelible impression.
In 2006 she joined the cast of All Saints, where her character Erica Templeton was paired romantically with Dan Goldman, played by Mark Priestley, who had already made a name for himself on series including The Secret Life Of Us and Changi. The pair became fast friends as their on-screen romance enraptured fans around the country.
"It was my first job and I was very green and wide-eyed and bushy tailed and he was always so lovely with me," she fondly recalls.
"He'd always say, 'Don't worry about other people, just get on with your journey. I wish he'd have taken a leaf out of his own book."
On August 27, 2008, Mark – who had been struggling with depression – checked into a Sydney hotel.
The night before, audiences had cried with joy as he and Jolene – who by now had left the show and was starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Tell Me on a Sunday – had tied the knot on screen. At 2pm that day they would cry in horror as news broke that Mark had taken his own life after leaping out the hotel window.
"It's not like a regular loss, no, and you really have to rally behind the people closest to that person," Jolene says of what she calls one of the toughest times in her life.
"I reached out to Mark's family and over the years I'll send Christmas cards and write to them. It's important to keep his memory alive – the happy times because there was so much more happiness than there was sadness."
You only need to look at Jolene's Instagram to see those memories – her feed is cluttered with images of her friend and their shared adventures. For a long time though she says she bottled things up.
"It simmered away and I felt a bit lost for a few years," she admits. "But having to bottle it up is really hard because it will come out eventually."
For Jolene, that dam broke after wrapping up on the TV show Rush, which she joined the following year. During her three years on the physically gruelling series she'd been felled with whooping cough, pneumonia and swine flu, while internally dealing with the pain she was feeling over her friend's death.
Heading to LA for a spell, she decided she'd use some of the money she'd accrued in the bank as a working actor to invest in some self-care.
"I went and saw a counsellor for a bit," she reveals. "She was really good and directed me to ask the right questions back at myself. Because nobody knows the answers, only you do."
Jolene is continuing to use those tools she learnt in therapy in good times and bad. "I'm someone who just gets on with things," she says.
Jolene keeps a positive outlook on life: "You've really got to find a way to enjoy life or to see the cards you've been dealt and get on with it." Photo by Alana Landsberry.
For now, she's getting on with preparing for the arrival of the daughter she once thought she'd never have. Look closely, and you'll spot a tiny tattoo on the inside of Jolene's left wrist, an A+ written in travelling typewriter font.
Sitting on a plane to LA with a friend, six months after receiving her post-mini stroke results, Jolene reflected on her good fortune.
"I said to her, 'I have had a really good life,'" she recalls, stroking her burgeoning baby bump.
"I've given everything a good nudge. I've tried everything. I'm happy with the things I've achieved – the travel, all the people in my life. So if that was to have been the end of my life, my gravestone would have said, 'Jolene Anderson, an A+ for effort in life.' I went straight to a tattoo parlour in Venice to get a reminder to keep on keeping on."
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Find this and more amazing stories in the October issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.

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