Book Excerpt from Multiple Blessings
However, I sensed a crack in his armor. He was softening. He knew only one thing in this world would fill the aching void I felt, and that one thing was downy soft, sweet smelling (most of the time), and had the power to light up the whole room with one toothless grin.
Finally, he agreed to go through it all again—just one more time for three more cycles, a total time commitment of six months. I screeched, dove for the phone, and made an appointment with an infertility specialist right in Wyomissing, just minutes from our home. With my first pregnancy, I had driven an hour away to Allentown, Pennsylvania. Although I obviously had success with that doctor, I felt the convenience of seeing a respected doctor in our own town made much sense, especially with two busy two-year-olds at home.
To take my mind off some of this all-consuming process, I decided that it would be the ideal time to treat Mady and Cara, who were soon to turn three, to every little girl's dream: Disney World. As with every project I take on, I became obsessed with our family vacation being one of those memories to last a lifetime. With great gusto, I researched every single thing that Disney offered, from sharing breakfast with Cinderella in her exquisite castle to the best time of day to go on the Dumbo ride. Our trip would culminate with a relaxing visit to Jon's aunt and uncle's quaint and quiet cottage for a much-needed detox period from a certain merry mouse and all his inherent chaos.
Jon couldn't grasp my urgency in taking a vacation during such a potentially volatile time on our journey to get pregnant. I, on the other hand, had high hopes of our lives becoming considerably busier in the upcoming year. I felt as if I desperately needed to give this important gift to our curious giggly girls, because, after all, it could be years before we might have the chance to take such a vacation after another baby arrived.
We later sat on the white sand beaches bordering our relatives' home contentedly reading, watching Mady and Cara dig in the shimmering warm sand, and soaking up the much-needed quiet. Even now on my worst days, when anarchy rules, I get teary-eyed remembering the simplicity and easygoing pleasures of that smooth and peaceful and truly once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
Before we knew it, October arrived, bringing with it cool crisp days and the brilliant shades of autumn. I felt an odd calmness descend in my spirit as I watched the girls romping and laughing in the newly fallen crunchy leaves of the backyard. I knew with everything in me that this was the month. This would be the month that we would finally get some positive news.
She came upstairs from her playroom and asked me, "Mommy, why are you crying? Is it about a baby sister or brother?" That wasn't so unusual because, even at their tender young age, I'm sure both Mady and Cara had picked up on the fact that both Mommy and Daddy had discussions involving babies quite often. But then she gently and lovingly caressed my leg with her cottony smooth toddler hand and crooned, "It'll be soon. It'll be soon."
Chills literally scurried up to the top of my head. It was as if God had sent a mighty angel in pint-sized pajamas to whisper reassurance when I needed it the most. I grasped that encouragement, tucked it deep in my heart, and stood on it firmly with all the confidence of an Olympic diver on the highest and scariest platform, about to take the plunge.
As at every single meeting, Jon and I expressed on the one hand our serious reservations about the possibility of multiples, and on the other hand our desire for the doctor to fully understand our unwavering position on selective reduction. Selective reduction, in my opinion, is the politically correct term for the process by which a fetus is injected with a lethal dose of potassium chloride, which mercilessly silences forever the rhythmic beats of its tiny heart. Jon and I believe that every life, whether seconds old after conception or a full forty-week term, robustly healthy or horribly sick, fully developed or severely challenged—every life is designed and ordained from God. We would therefore never consider choosing to end that life in any way at any time. Period.
At the scheduled ultrasound on a sunny Sunday morning, the doctor was thrilled. He discovered three mature follicles and possibly even a fourth follicle with the potential to still mature. While Jon and I had that night-before-Christmas kind of anticipation, we were still concerned that all four follicles would somehow be fertilized. Up until that point, when we spoke of multiples, we basically had been referring to the possibility of twins. That was what we had experienced, and so that was our reality. Never did we ever really allow our minds to fully wrap around the idea of multiples turning into more than twins. As if reading our thoughts, our doctor was quick to reassure us that statistically it would be very unlikely that all four or even three of the follicles would be fertilized. He also was completely thorough in giving us an escape route if we so chose. We could simply discontinue the injections and repeat the process in two months, aiming for enough but not too many follicles.
What if it was triplets? Hmmm. That got a bit tougher. However, as we thought over practical things, like enough room in the house and finances, we decided that although it would certainly be more than we planned, we wanted children, loved children, and would willingly and gratefully accept whatever God handed us. So after a thorough heart search, check again.
That brought us to quads. We tentatively tiptoed into this territory, as if by being quiet enough, we might avoid waking the sleeping giant. Was it really worth dissecting every aspect of this unlikely "giant" if the reality was that we had almost a better chance of being struck by lightning?
Little did I know at the time that we would be treading on holy ground, and I would need the peace of God to sustain my very life as He walked me through the minefield of surprises that lay ahead. We had carefully weighed all our odds and fearfully yet happily decided to step out in faith and take advantage of my great cycle.
No romantic dinner, long-stemmed roses, smooth wine, or flickering candlelight preceded this event. Instead it was a date with a cold sterile room, bright overhead lights, and awkward stirrups. It didn't matter. Nothing could dampen our spirits because we knew that science and humans had given their best efforts, and now the results ultimately lay in God's hands. It was as if we had just run a grueling relay race, the baton had been passed, and the finish line was finally in our sight. As I lay there looking at the ceiling, I prayed, "Please, Lord, let me get pregnant."
My heart was of course skipping in gratitude, but my body felt weak, bloated, and uncomfortable. In a lot of pain and feeling worse by the hour, I actually feared I might collapse at one point during the short surgery while I tried to stay focused on my patient and her newborn baby. Working around women in all stages of discomfort, and some who are enduring flat-out agony, somehow diminishes timid complaints of a bloated and painful belly. I managed to finish my shift and gratefully collapsed into my waiting bed when I returned home.
I stoically but stupidly gritted my teeth and bore it, though I sat ashen-faced and quiet throughout the entire celebration. My family of course plainly saw that I was in significant discomfort and, after much convincing, I finally agreed to leave the festivities early and was at home tucked into bed by 9:30 p.m.
My hopes of sleeping were completely abandoned by midnight. I was manic with pain. My belly was by that time huge and puffy, and excruciating agony consumed me. I desperately agreed it was time to go the hospital as Jon called his father to come stay with the girls.
As I drifted in and out of consciousness, comforted little by a dose of morphine, Jon was left to answer rapid-fire questions in the doctor's quest to alleviate the source of my agony. Finally it was decided that I should first have an ultrasound done, and all I remember is hearing the OB/GYN resident whisper repeatedly, "Oh my . . . oh my . . ." Even in my delirious haze, I could tell from the look on the faces surrounding me that something was wrong, very wrong.
Great, I thought sarcastically, I managed to beat the odds. Miserably weak and sick, I was grateful for the numbing effects of the drugs as the doctor performed paracentesis, a procedure resembling an amniocentesis, which quickly yielded two and a half liters of fluid from my abdomen. Severely exhausted and dehydrated, I spent the next several days in bed recovering from my traumatic experience, first in the hospital and later at home.
Considering that the normal range is extremely large, no one had mentioned yet that I could possibly be carrying more than one baby. I, however, just knew. I had carried twins before. That in itself did not make me an expert. It was something deeper. Call it mother's intuition or the voice of God. Whatever it was, I just knew that my body, mind, and soul buzzed with the anticipation of something major about to take place.
Jon, on the other hand, ever the optimist, said, "I think it's only one, Kate. Don't jump to any conclusions this early."
As if in a trance, we all just continued to stare, as slowly and steadily my doctor began his fateful count. One. Two. Three. Four. I started sobbing. I saw the concentration in the deep dark eyes of my African doctor as he himself tried to remain calm as the images unfolded. I turned to Jon, willing him to say it was not what it seemed. The chill of reality washed over me as I watched my husband—my best friend, cheerleader, and storehouse of strength—slowly drop to his knees at the count of five. Fear stricken and nauseous, he couldn't bear to look anymore. I really don't think anybody wanted to look anymore, but the count continued. Six. Seven. Letter G. Yes, the lifechanging fuzzy little blips were being named. They were now A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
There was a slight upward lilt in the inflection of the doctor's voice as he tried to sound positive. I think as much for his own comfort as for mine, he went on to explain that he was able to detect a fetus in "just" four of the embryonic sacs. As Jon and I tried to catch our breath, a nurse with twenty-five years' experience turned to me and with quiet truth gently said, "Kate, in all these years, I have never seen this many sacs on an ultrasound."
We sat in a stunned silence, which was abruptly broken as the doctor calmly stated, "Kate, when you're done here, come into my office, and we will talk about selective reduction." As if I had been snapped with a rubber band, I grabbed the sides of the exam table and shot up onto my elbows and yelled, "We will never do that!" I felt my first fierce surge of motherly protection over my unborn babies—whether there were two, four, or even seven of them.
I was completely numb as I got dressed. I had an almost unbearable urge to lace up my sneakers and run. I just wanted to feel my heart pumping and the wind in my face as I left behind the black hole of threatening pandemonium that was spreading like a disastrous oil spill. But then it struck me, the problem would come with me. Wherever I went and whatever I did from this day forward, I knew that potentially seven innocent lives were relying on me.
I was not swayed. Staring into Jon's eyes with determination, I asked him if he would really be able to stand before the Lord one day and admit that we had allowed our precious babies to be killed in order to make our lives easier and more convenient.
Jon, even at the risk of losing me and raising Mady and Cara on his own, unconditionally agreed with me. Who would live and who would die was not a decision that rested in our human hands.
My doctor, visibly shaken, stood and pounded his fists on his desk for emphasis. He declared that it would be a long, arduous, uphill battle that he was strongly urging me not to fight. I realized that I had become a fertility doctor's worst nightmare, and dawn was a long way off.
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