As a little girl, I always surrounded myself with baby dolls. I had big ones, little ones, frilly ones, and creepy ones. They ate, cried, slept, crawled, and even pooped like real babies. I was a sucker for every doll featured on a T.V. commercial, and I spent countless hours scouring the pages of sale ads and toy catalogs circling my favorites. I fulfilled make-believe mommy duties with ease, and I loved to stand in front of the mirror admiring the pillow “bump” under my shirt. Holding the weight of a baby in my arms felt natural, and I took one with me wherever I went. I’d carefully wrap my babies in blankets and push them in a stroller up and down the street with a diaper bag draped over my shoulder. I honestly dreamt of marrying Xavier Roberts and living in an enormous mansion filled with Cabbage Patch Kids. No lie!! From as far back as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with the idea of becoming a mother.
I met my husband, Joe, when I was 19 years old. We worked together, and he was this big wig football player who I assumed had an ego the size of Texas. Instead, I quickly discovered that he was sweet, charming, incredibly handsome, and funny. Ok, he was more than funny. He was hilarious, and he made me laugh until my sides hurt. We not only shared a somewhat inappropriate sense of humor, but also shared the same aspirations of earning college degrees, obtaining careers, getting married, and most importantly, starting a family!! Joe wanted to be a father, so right away I knew that he was a keeper. We envisioned our life together, but needed the events to sequentially fall into the right place at the right time. We were engaged after 3 ½ years of dating (it took a while because we were babies ourselves), and we were married 3 years later on June 24, 2000. We finished college and began our careers (me, a teacher, and Joe, a police officer). We bought our first home and settled into married life. Since we had already been together for over 6 years, we knew that we didn’t want to wait too long to start a family. We decided to give ourselves a year to work out some financial kinks before trying to get pregnant.
I had witnessed a number of success stories from friends who became pregnant within the first few months of trying. I am certainly not a pessimist , however, I had a gut feeling that “fertile myrtle” was not in my cards. Since day one, I had experienced difficulty with my menstrual cycle. As a teenager, I would go months without a period. The doctors attributed my sporadic cycle to diet and exercise. I never really thought anything of it because I was not at a point in my life where it really mattered. When Joe and I decided that we wanted to start a family, I was sent for an ultrasound and pelvic x-ray to determine whether or not I could safely carry a baby. I was involved in a serious car accident in college (hit by a semi-truck on the expressway), and the accident resulted in a broken pelvis and tailbone. I honestly thought that this would be the only hurdle that would affect my ability to become pregnant. When the doctors revealed that my bones were adequately aligned with enough strength to support the weight of a full-term pregnancy, we were both ecstatic!! It was smooth sailing now, or so we thought.
Joe and I tried for several unsuccessful months to become pregnant. My periods continued to be unpredictable which only added to our disappointment. We would get so excited when I’d miss a period, only to be devastated when the pregnancy test would produce a negative result. After several months, I decided to make an appointment with my doctor to discuss the likelihood of infertility. My doctor did not appear overly concerned. She explained that I was most likely failing to ovulate regularly, and she prescribed the ovary stimulating drug Clomid to help regulate my cycle. I began taking the Clomid (50 mg.) and used both a thermometer and ovulation strips to attempt to track the pattern of monthly temperature increases and predict my most fertile days.
Unfortunately, my periods continued to be sporadic and the ovulation strips revealed that I was not ovulating at all. I made another appointment and the next few months were hell. The doctor increased the Clomid dosage to 100 mg. No luck. She then increased it to 150 mg. No luck. By this time, the side effects were getting the best of me. I was a hot mess, literally! My principal at the time came into my classroom and said, “Julie, you really need to close the windows. It’s freezing in here.” In reality, I couldn’t close the windows. My hot flashes were so bad that I wanted to strip down and sit on the tile floor in my underwear (which is apparently frowned upon in the classroom, hence option two, open the windows). After a few more failed attempts, my doctor sat us down in the office and uttered the phrase that sliced through my womanhood like a knife. She said, “I don’t think children are possible.” WHAT?? Those six little words deflated all of my hopes and dreams in a matter of seconds. She wasn’t offering us any other suggestions, or options, or advice. We left the office completely devastated, but surprisingly my tears were not fueled by heartache. Instead, they were stemming from extreme anger. I was so angry!!! I was angry at the doctor for dismissing us so easily. I was angry at my body for not responding to the medication. I was angry at my friends who had already given birth. I was angry at Joe for not saying the things I wanted him to say. I was angry at the world, and I just wanted someone to give me a little glimmer of hope. I immediately called my friend Shannon to tell her the news. Shannon is my rock, and she always has a way of somehow making things better. She said, “You are not going to take no for an answer!! You are going to see my doctor in Chicago for a second opinion.”
The very next day I called my OBGYN’s office and asked for a referral to the Women’s Health Center at Rush University in Chicago. I started to work through all of the red tape regarding insurance coverage (or lack thereof) and scheduling. I made the appointment and a few weeks later we were headed to Chicago. At Rush, we met with Dr. Mary Wood-Molo. I would recommend her to anyone dealing with infertility issues. She is amazing!!! She explained that my previous doctor should have never pumped me full of high doses of Clomid without first determining the root of my ovulation issues. She recommended a battery of tests to figure out why I was not ovulating. The first few visits were easy (blood tests, ultrasounds, pelvic exam, etc). She then ordered an HSG (Hysterosalpingogram) test to determine if I had any abnormalities in my uterus or fallopian tubes. Since Rush is a “teaching hospital,” the HSG was performed while I was spread eagle in front of the doctor and three medical students. It was both mortifying and painful, but I knew that this was a very important piece of the puzzle. At our next appointment, Dr. Wood-Molo went over the test results and I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). Basically, my hormones were out of whack and my ovaries were encased in tiny cysts thus contributing to my issues with menstruation and prohibiting me from ovulating. Finally, we had an answer!! Dr.Wood-Molo prescribed a cocktail of the following medications: Clomid and Glucophage. I was skeptical because I had read that Glucophage is a medication used to treat patients with diabetes. I knew that I was not a diabetic, so I was confused as to how it was going to work for me. Dr. Wood-Molo explained that when used together, these two medications can induce ovulation in women with PCOS. It was worth a try. I did experience some unpleasant side effects, but in a few short months, I miraculously saw those two magical lines appear on my test stick. I was pregnant!! For the next 6 weeks, we traveled to Chicago for weekly check-ups and ultrasounds. When everything appeared to be progressing normally, I was released to a new OBGYN in my area. I did not initially tell anyone about the pregnancy for fear that I would jinx it in some way. Our families were overjoyed when they finally learned of the news. Aside from having placenta previa and high blood pressure, I experienced a very routine pregnancy. I even worked the morning that our daughter was born! On December 17, 2002, Allison Elizabeth Christian was brought into this world by c-section (three weeks early). She was the most beautiful sight I had ever laid eyes on. Weighing 6 lbs. 5 oz., she was absolutely perfect!! We finally had the family that I had dreamt about since I was a little girl.
When Ally was close to a year and a half in age, Joe and I discussed the idea of having another baby. We desperately wanted to give Ally a little brother or sister to grow up with. Ironically, my new OBGYN had attended medical school with Dr. Wood-Molo from Rush. During my first appointment, she explained that she too had a background in treating PCOS, and she would be able to prescribe the same combination of medications that worked for me before. She also assured me that she would be able to easily contact Dr. Wood-Molo should any problems arise. I completely trusted her, and after taking the medications and charting my cycle for only a few short months, I was pregnant!! Joe and I couldn’t believe it. My body had remembered exactly what to do. When I hit the 12 week “safety zone,” I began to tell everyone I knew. We were absolutely overjoyed at the thought of expanding our family. The new school year was in full swing and Joe was busy coaching middle school football. We were successfully juggling the demands of work and parenthood as I began to watch my belly expand with the promise of a beautiful new baby snuggled safely inside. My pants were fitting tightly, and everyone kept saying“You always show sooner when it’s your second or third pregnancy.” That made perfect sense to me, but in my gut I knew something was wrong. When I stood in front of the mirror, I didn’t look pregnant. Instead, my abdomen appeared distended as though I was severely bloated. I did not have any pain or cramping so I attributed this look to something I may have eaten. I went to work the following day and it happened. Blood. I wiped in the restroom and noticed blood on the tissue. I wiped again. More blood. I looked in the toilet and saw tiny droplets of blood. I immediately called my doctor and the nurse assured me that spotting was completely normal and instructed me to come to the office after school. I went to the appointment alone because Joe had already boarded the bus with the football team and was headed to an away game. Since the nurse did not appear concerned, I assured Joe that I would be fine and encouraged him to ride the bus with the team. I prayed the entire way to the doctor’s office. Please don’t let this be a miscarriage. Please don’t let this happen to me. The nurse carefully placed the Doppler on my abdomen and began searching for a heartbeat. Nothing. Panic rose in my chest. She explained that the baby was probably just hiding. I was immediately sent for an ultrasound. The technician tried to make small talk to comfort me. It was no use. I was already convinced that I had lost the baby. I asked a million questions, but as you know, the technicians are not authorized to give us any information. Ultimately, I didn’t need her to say anything. The somber look on her face said it all. I was sent back into the exam room where the doctor entered to tell me the news that I had already suspected. I was in the process of having a miscarriage. I was all alone to deal with this tragic news. The doctor asked if she could call Joe for me and I declined. She offered to call my mom or someone else to come pick me up. Again, I declined. I could not deal with trying to arrange someone to pick Joe up from the football field. I also didn’t want to speak to anyone. I was completely numb. I decided that I would leave Joe a message to call me when I got home. After scheduling the D&C for the following morning, I left the office and sat in my car and sobbed.
On October 8, 2004, Joe took me to the hospital for the D&C procedure. Reality set in. I was 15 weeks along and I had lost my baby. Again, I was numb. I didn’t speak or cry. I didn’t allow myself to feel anything. I remember lying on the cot in the surgical waiting area with my eyes closed saying nothing. Joe nudged me and asked if I was Ok. I shook my head to indicate that I was not Ok, but I still said nothing. In the recovery room, the nurses genuinely tried to be attentive and compassionate, but I was having none of it. I just wanted to go home and cry in private. I just wanted to grieve in my own way. I just wanted everyone to stop asking me if I was Ok. I just wanted to be pregnant.
The days that followed were extremely rough. I would hold Ally and cry. I felt like a failure. I also felt tremendously cheated. Here I had endured the effects of those stupid fertility drugs, for what? A miscarriage? What a slap in the face. I was both heartbroken and furious. Then the guilt set in. I felt guilty for being so upset. I already had a beautiful daughter to love. Many women have miscarriages during their very first pregnancies. Surely I shouldn’t feel as cheated as they do. I considered the idea that maybe Ally would ultimately be an only child. I did not want to try to get pregnant again. I never wanted to experience this type of heartbreak again.
A few months went by, and Joe and I had numerous conversations about trying to get pregnant again. We wanted our children to be close in age, but after the miscarriage, I was very skeptical about wanting anything. Joe was tremendously supportive, and repeatedly said that we did not have to try again if I didn’t want to. He told me that it was my body that would have to endure the effects of the medication again with no guarantee of a positive outcome. I knew that I didn’t want to take those drugs again. I knew that I didn’t want to experience a miscarriage again. But I also knew how badly Joe wanted another child (and deep down so did I). It took a tremendous amount of courage to make that doctor’s appointment. We sat in the office and listened to the doctor give us the encouraging statistics on healthy pregnancies following a miscarriage. Again, she referred to our loss as a “genetic fluke” and offered to prescribe the fertility medications with the option of starting them whenever I felt comfortable. I clutched the script in my hand and headed for the car. It was on the ride home that I decided to tell Joe that I was 100% ready to try again. I did give him the stipulation that this would be our final attempt regardless of the outcome. He agreed and we headed for the pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled.
Long story short, upon taking the Clomid and Glucophage again, my body remembered exactly what to do. It wasn’t long and I was pregnant! Something was different though. When I peed on the stick this time, it didn’t take the usual several minutes to process. The two lines appeared almost immediately, and they were DARK. I called the doctor’s office and revealed the news to the nurse while asking to schedule an appointment. I explained the appearance of the pregnancy test stick, and my doctor ordered a blood test for the following day. Naturally, I was worried. What could be wrong? I went to the hospital the following day to have my blood drawn. I received a call from the doctor’s office that afternoon indicating that my HCG levels were significantly elevated and an ultrasound was ordered ASAP. The doctor suspected that I was further along than I had originally calculated. Joe and I went to the ultrasound appointment together. I was immediately alarmed when the technician turned the screen away from our view. She began clicking and dragging and asking a lot of questions. Finally, she looked at us and smiled. Relief flooded across our faces. She asked us a question that still rings clearly in my head. “Do you want the good news or the better news?” she asked. We both appeared puzzled as she turned the screen toward us. She pointed to a bean shaped image on the screen and said, “This is the first baby” gauging our reaction. WHAT????? “And this is the second baby” she declared pointing to a second shape on the screen. TWINS!!!!! I think I literally saw Joe’s jaw hit the floor. We were stunned. Even after reading about the likelihood of multiples stemming from the Clomid/Glucophage cocktail, I still never thought in a million years that it would happen to me. Twins?? Really?? TWO babies??? I couldn’t stop smiling. Joe, on the other hand, was still in shock. He went to sit down in the waiting room as I scheduled my next appointment at the desk. The nurse turned to me and said, “Look at your husband.” I looked into the waiting room and there he sat with an absolutely terrified look on his face. I knew immediately what was going through his head. Two crying babies, two more car seats, two college educations, etc. Joe is sometimes a worrier, and this news was weighing on him. I will never forget the look on his face. I still giggle about it today.
Once we were able to fully process the news that we had received, I began thinking about how we would tell our family and friends. We decided to use the technician’s approach and share our ultrasound picture while asking if people wanted to hear “the good news or the better news.” Naturally, everyone was shocked and ecstatic. I’ll never forget my mom saying to me, “See, Jul. You lost one baby so God is giving you an extra one.” I have always been a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. At that moment, I knew my mom was right!
During the weeks that followed, panic set in. My doctor put me on a progesterone supplement called Prometrium to help sustain my HCG levels and decrease the risk of miscarriage. As twin pregnancies can result in increased complications, I was an absolute nervous wreck. Losing one baby was hard enough. I knew I would never be able to recover from losing two more. I continued to work, care for Ally, and attend weekly doctor’s appointments. Fortunately, everything appeared to be going smoothly. Well, as smooth as to be expected. To be honest, I was miserable. As a twin pregnancy progresses, it can be terribly uncomfortable. I tried not to complain though. I felt fortunate everyday to have those two little miracles growing inside of me. Nearing the end, I developed symptoms of preeclampsia and went into pre-term labor at 31 weeks. I was hospitalized and put on strict bed rest. I followed the doctor’s orders closely and was able to make it to 35 weeks. On September 20, 2005 at 7:56 and 7:57 p.m., we met our little miracle babies for the very first time. Nicholas Joseph Christian weighed 4 lbs. 13 oz. and Ava Grace Christian weighed 5 lbs. even. They were beautiful and perfect, but were quickly whisked out of the delivery room for observation. Given their tiny stature and early arrival, there was a team of NICU doctors waiting to examine them. Joe left the delivery room to be with the babies, and my mom came to stay with me in the recovery room. As with my first c-section, I was again very shaky and scared. I will never forget the NICU doctor walking into the recovery room. He looked concerned and I immediately knew something was wrong. He bent down and assured me that everything was fine. Both babies were healthy and neither one of them required any medical interventions. I was elated to hear the news, and prepared myself for the “however . . .” which I assumed would closely follow. The doctor gave me a gentle smile and said the words that I never anticipated I would hear at that moment. He said, “The babies are doing well, but it was discovered that your son possesses multiple characteristics of Down Syndrome. We are going to perform some genetic testing and will inform you of the results.” I was stunned. I didn’t know what to think or say. I simply muttered “Okay.” My mom still talks about witnessing that moment. She will always say, “I still can’t believe how calmly you said ‘Okay.” To be completely honest, it was Ok. I had just given birth to TWO beautiful and healthy babies. I turned to my mom and said, “We can do this.” It was at that moment that the word “we” hung with uncertainty in the air. Oh my God! Does Joe know yet? How will he react? I’m Ok, but will he be Ok?? Fortunately, I know my husband well. As soon as they finished poking and prodding Nicholas and completed his extensive battery of tests, I watched the worry etched on Joe’s face disappear. I knew he’d be Ok with Nicholas’ diagnosis as soon as he was reassured that he didn’t have any immediate health problems. In his mind, he just needed to be sure that Nicholas was “Ok.” I couldn’t help but think back to my dolls growing up. I didn’t care if they were new or old, or pretty or creepy. I just wanted to take care of my babies. Our beautiful baby boy has a disability. So what!! We will love him, accept him, and care for him the same way we will his sisters. As it turns out, we are all MORE than Ok as a result. We are a family!! Nicholas’ family!! We were granted the extraordinary privilege of raising a child with special needs. I have to go back to everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that whatever life has in store for us, we will always be “Ok.”
I hope you find comfort in knowing that you too will be “Ok.” Please remember that everything happens for a reason. Be patient, be strong, and be aware that you are never alone.
The Christian Family
For helpful resources on Down Syndrome, visit www.dsaofnwi.org