It was only three weeks after Melissa Segal had moved to Washington, D.C., in August 2001, that she met Seth Edlavitch at a barbecue for a local volunteer organization. Four years later they were married. And shortly after that, the couple began pursuing their mutual dream of starting a family.
Given that they were in their mid-thirties, Melissa and Seth made the decision early on to try to conceive naturally, but agreed that if it wasn't working after a few months, they'd seek out a fertility specialist. Melissa's proverbial biological clock was ticking, and since they wanted more than one child, they knew time was of the essence.
Six months passed, with Melissa tracking her ovulation cycle religiously, but the outcome was never positive.
"It'll be fine," Seth assured her. "It'll happen for us eventually."
But Melissa wasn't convinced. "Every time it doesn't work, I'm devastated," she explained. "And I don't want to continue to endure the disappointment month after month."
Seth understood. After all, he acknowledged, it wasn't his body.
So, in January 2006, eager to expedite the process, Melissa made a call to the fertility center. And, after a thorough evaluation, the couple was told that while Melissa's tests were all normal, there was an issue on Seth's end, making in vitro fertilization (IVF) their only feasible option.
Melissa and Seth were undaunted. Their goal was to become pregnant, and even though it meant a succession of procedures and shots for Melissa, often administered by Seth, they were ready to tackle the process together.
Fortunately, everything went smoothly. Melissa stimulated above average from the hormones, fourteen eggs were retrieved, five of them fertilized into perfect embryos, and two were transferred into Melissa's uterus. All they had to do was wait a couple of weeks for the good news.
About two weeks after the transfer, the call came in from the nurse at their doctor's office. Melissa, a teacher, sat at the front desk at her school, with the landline on speaker and Seth on her cell phone.
"Congratulations! You're going to be parents!" the nurse announced.
Everything was finally coming together for Seth and Melissa.
Over the course of the following weeks, all of Melissa's tests indicated normal progress, and when it was finally time for the ultrasound, they were both beyond excited. As Melissa lay on the examining table, the doctor probed her stomach.
"There are two heartbeats," he said. But then he cautioned, "One is strong and the other is faint. Chances are you'll have one healthy baby."
How could they argue with that? One healthy baby was all they'd wanted.
Another week passed, and Melissa and Seth headed back to the doctor for ultrasound number two. This time, as the doctor leaned in to look at the screen, his eyes widened and he whispered something inaudible to the technician. Melissa and Seth's hearts raced in unison. Was there something wrong with the baby?
"Wow! You're having identical twins," the doctor declared. "And there is still another heartbeat there, as well." Three babies!
"There better not be four the next time we come in," Seth joked, though he was confounded more than anything. Two he could handle. Three at one time—he wasn't so sure.
But by the third ultrasound, the other embryo had reabsorbed, and Seth and Melissa were simply thrilled to be carrying identical twins with strong, healthy heartbeats. Life was good.
And it continued to be good, despite some routine bleeding and a trip to the emergency room, which confirmed that not only were the twins doing well, but that Melissa was carrying two boys!
At twenty weeks, Melissa was waddling around her classroom—measuring, looking, and feeling seven months along—unaccustomed to any extra weight on her five foot two frame. It was a Tuesday, and, just like any other day, she made her way around the room, tidying up after her students. As she continued her cleaning, suddenly there was pain—intense pain in her stomach and back, followed by a trip to the doctor.
"The heartbeats are fine," he confirmed. "Your back probably hurts because you're so big."
Melissa breathed a sigh of relief.
Two days later, though, she had another scare when her mucus plug came out.
"Normal," the doctor reassured via telephone. "If you want to come in, you can, although there's nothing to be worried about."
But Melissa wasn't taking any chances, and on Friday of that week—to set her mind at ease for the upcoming weekend—she visited the doctor's office once again to make sure everything was still moving along as planned.
"The heartbeats sound good," the physician on call encouraged her. "Let me just do a quick internal exam, and then you'll be on your way."
As Melissa waited, pleased to be doing anything positive for her babies-to-be, she let her mind wander to the happy times she and Seth would spend with their two sons. But her daydream was quickly interrupted.
"Crap," the doctor said, as a dark shadow cast over his face. "You're two centimeters dilated and eighty to ninety percent effaced. You are in labor. You have to go right to the hospital."
In a panic, Melissa called Seth. He was an hour away and it was raining heavily outside. Melissa's friend would have to pick her up and take her to the hospital, they decided, and Seth would meet them there.
At the hospital, medicine was immediately administered to stop Melissa's contractions, but it was too late. She was going into premature labor and the babies would not survive.
"How are you going to get them out?" Melissa cried, overwhelmed with alarm.
"You're going to have to deliver them," the nurse told her. "I'm so sorry."
Besieged by fear and in a haze of confusion and sorrow, Melissa had no choice but to deliver two beautiful baby boys, whose lungs were not developed enough for them to live.
And by three-thirty in the morning, it was finally over. Exhausted and grief-stricken, Melissa was wheeled to her room, where Seth climbed into bed with her so they could finally cry together, alone at last.
Holding Melissa in his arms, Seth said, "This was horrible, but we're going to get through this. In a year from now you will be pregnant again."
It was the end of their pregnancy, but not the end of their desire for a family.
With Melissa's uterus 80 percent scarred, they knew they had a tough battle ahead, but they weren't intimidated. And exactly one year after their initial IVF cycle, they started the process again.
For some reason, though, Melissa no longer responded to the hormones, and it took three attempts to get just two good embryos, which they transferred. The unfortunate result was a chemical pregnancy—essentially a false positive. They tried one more time, to no avail.
Perhaps it's my body, Melissa reasoned. And so they decided to take a nontraditional route. Melissa's sister, a physician, offered to be their surrogate and carry the baby for them. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill approach, they knew, but Seth and Melissa were willing to try just about anything. Melissa's sister would be implanted, as would Melissa. It was a possibility that they could be carrying Melissa and Seth's children at the very same time.
But disappointment reared its ugly head again when it didn't work for either of them. And one more go of it—with Melissa's sister as the sole carrier—didn't produce either.
It was the summer of 2008. Seth and Melissa had ridden a two-year-long roller coaster with nothing to show for it, and their spirits were down.
"All I want is to be pregnant," Melissa told Seth repeatedly.
"What you really want is to start a family," he pointed out. Melissa agreed with Seth, and they mutually decided to explore adoption.
Neither of them knew much about it, but they were focused on doing something, anything, to make their dream of having a baby come true. So they attended a seminar, researched independent versus agency adoption, and settled on pursuing a combination of both—placing ads and sending applications to two agencies they felt comfortable with.
By August of 2008, Seth and Melissa were home study-approved, and spreading the word to everyone they knew. They created a blog with a short blurb about who they were and what their life was like, and sent it around to friends and family. Seth also created a flyer that Melissa passed along to her colleagues at school and posted at their synagogue. And, while they got lovely responses—others sharing their similar experiences—there weren't any leads on adopting a baby.
Shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday, Seth was tooling around on the computer late one night when a lightbulb went off: What if I post the flyer on Facebook? Seth had been a member for a few months and was slowly building connections. He'd heard of the social networking site's viral effect, and decided it certainly couldn't hurt. But he also knew it wasn't possible to post documents on Facebook, so he expertly converted the file to a PDF and then a JPEG, so he could save it as a picture.
"I put our adoption flyer up on Facebook," he informed Melissa the following day.
"Great!" she replied. "The more people who know we're looking, the better."
Two days later, Seth's friend, John, asked if he could post the flyer to his page.
And, in early December, Seth received a call from John's friend, Jenny, a woman from high school who he hadn't spoken to in twenty years. She explained that she had a construction company nearby, and that Lisa, the wife of one of her employees, was eight or nine months pregnant. They already had three kids, and she knew they didn't have a plan for the baby.
A few days later, Jenny called Seth at work. She said, "Lisa would like to talk to you, but she's too nervous to call. Could you call her?"
"Absolutely!" Seth said, trying not to set his hopes too high.
And that night, beset with frenetic anticipation, Melissa and Seth called Lisa—the woman who could possibly make their dreams come true.
"I'm really nervous," Melissa started.
"So am I," Lisa replied.
Melissa and Seth then told Lisa everything she needed to know about them, and the three decided to meet the following afternoon at a little Starbucks in the Giant supermarket near Lisa's work.
It had been a sleepless night for Melissa and Seth, who sat chatting nervously the next day, awaiting Lisa's arrival. She was right on time, and after awkward introductions and small talk about their shared obsession with Top Chef, serious discussions began. They covered Lisa's health habits, family medical history, and her reason for placing the child for adoption—for financial reasons, and the fact that Lisa and her husband weren't prepared to start over with a fourth baby. Lisa even showed Melissa and Seth pictures of her three kids, who were happy and healthy.
When they were finally ready to part ways, Melissa said, "It was so wonderful to meet you. Seth and I definitely want to talk about things. I'm sure you and your husband do as well." And then she asked nervously, "Would it be possible for us to call you tomorrow?"
"You can call me later tonight, if you'd like," Lisa offered, smiling warmly.
Melissa and Seth smiled back. Something just felt right about this woman.
When they spoke later that evening, it was decided. Both parties wanted to move forward. In a matter of weeks, Melissa and Seth would have a brand-new baby!
And on December 30, 2008, the day before Seth's birthday, Noah Benjamin was welcomed into the world, with Melissa and Seth in the delivery room by Lisa and her husband's side. Two days later, on January 1, Seth and Melissa finally brought their baby home.
"It was so poetic starting the New Year with our new son," Melissa reflects. "Noah means 'rest,' and we feel like after this long journey, we can finally do just that."
Emily Liebert is an award-winning, internationally published writer and the author of Facebook Fairytales: Modern-Day Miracles to Inspire the Human Spirit, her debut book. Her first novel, Conversations with Friends, is soon to follow. Find more about her writing at EmilyLiebert.com.