By Amber Leventry/ The Next Family
Every mom has a unique and memorable birth story for each of her children. But before every birth story, there's a conception story. Some women and couples are able to conceive a child with ease. Others need time and patience. Some face the heartbreak of a miscarriage. We needed fertility help. Having kids is hard, but trying to have kids can be even harder. Here I've shared the conception stories for my children. We are all bonded as mothers, but the journey to parenthood is not always straight.
After people find out I have twin boys, they often ask what my partner, Amy, and I thought when we learned we were having two babies at once. I tell them we were shocked and excited. But the honest, more accurate answer is that we were sad and cautiously optimistic. We never learned we were having twins. When Amy and I went for her eight-week ultrasound, I saw three embryos, and heard the doctor say, "Hang on. Let me make sure there isn't a fourth."
After a low dose of the fertility drug Clomid and one intrauterine insemination (IUI), Amy was pregnant with triplets. Suddenly, our joy of another pregnancy turned into fear and uncertainty. Our joy never left, but it quickly became shadowed by the most difficult decision of our lives.
When Amy and I were ready to start our family several years ago, we purchased 12 vials of donor sperm. In the world of baby-making, 12 attempts is not a lot. Between the risk of not achieving pregnancy and the possibility of a miscarriage, a calendar year's supply of sperm is not much when you are trying to make a family that will last a lifetime. But like all families who need fertility assistance, we were hopeful and appreciative of our ability to try.
I had no desire to become pregnant, and after watching my partner go through two labor and deliveries, I will never have the desire to become pregnant. Thankfully, Amy had a strong and noisy biological clock. It was baby or bust.
After five unsuccessful IUI attempts and five grueling post-attempt two-week waits, we took a break. We were advised, and agreed, to administer a low dose of the fertility drug Clomid to Amy. Once we knew her body responded well to the drug, we tried again. The sixth time was the charm. And nine months later we welcomed our first child, Eva.
When our daughter turned 18 months, we were ready to try again -- as ready as we were going to be. We were naïve the first time around and blissfully ignorant as to what life would be like with two kids. You have to be. In the toughest throes of parenthood, I have to remind myself I wanted this life. Who would sign up for parenting if the complete job description was known? Only parents smitten with their kids and easily distracted by gummy smiles are willing to forget all of the frustrations to experience the joys of parenthood all over again.
When we bought our initial supply, we had hoped for two babies. And since Eva was a keeper, we wanted her to have a sibling. The thought of going through another pregnancy and welcoming a second child was just as exciting as it was the first time. We had a little experience on our side, but we also had an added sense of urgency to have one more child before our donor sperm ran out.
Amy and I agreed that if a pregnancy did not happen after we used our remaining six vials, we would be done trying. We couldn't afford any more fertility help. Mostly, we were blessed with the daughter we had and would continue to feel fortunate to have the family we created. We braced ourselves for the possibility of not having any more children. Yet, to maximize our chances, we decided on the plan that worked to get Eva. Before Amy's first IUI attempt, she completed a round of Clomid.
The two-week wait went by much faster with a toddler, and we couldn't believe the pregnancy test when it revealed Amy was pregnant on the first try. The weeks between learning Amy was pregnant and her scheduled ultrasound at the fertility clinic were different than the first time around. She was sick. She was exhausted. She spotted. All for good reason.
Sure, we wanted to see Nugget #2 for the first time, but we wanted to make sure everything was OK. We were excited and eager for confirmation of a healthy pregnancy. But as we stared at the three dark sacs on the grainy, black-and-white ultrasound screen at Fletcher Allen's Infertility Clinic, our desire for a sibling had led us to the possibility of three. While the Clomid dose was low, we knew there was also a low percentage chance for multiples. But as a good friend told us, the percentages are low until they are 100 percent.
Amy was 100 percent pregnant with triplets, and our second pregnancy became compromised by three.
The doctor quietly and methodically labeled the fetuses A, B and C. The nurses were ecstatic. The doctor was focused, almost solemn. Amy and I were dumbfounded. I can feel my emotions on that day better than I can describe them.
When the doctor was done with his work, he told us that all of the fetuses were healthy and strong. We were happy, but confused. We had so many questions. Our first priority, as it was with our first pregnancy, was health. What dangers did this pregnancy bring to Amy's health? And what dangers did this pregnancy bring to the fetuses' development and health? How did this happen?
We knew our appointment was going well beyond the time allowed, so the doctor suggested we come back for a follow-up consultation. He gave us a little information and a lot to think about. Based on the ultrasound and the number of follicles present before the insemination, multiple eggs were released and three were fertilized. Triplets. But before we could grasp the concept of going from one child to four, the doctor told us we should consider eliminating one fetus through selective reduction.
We had never heard the term before. For those of you who haven't either, selective reduction is a procedure that ends the life of a fetus. Based on many medical factors that are unnecessary to detail here, the chosen fetus is the one that provides the best chance of maintaining the pregnancy. Unlike an abortion, the goal is to maintain the pregnancy, not end it.
Between legal documentation to protect our rights as parents to believing someday gay parents will just be considered parents, we had gone through so much planning and hoping to make a family. We wanted kids. We wanted to be moms. Why would we consider eliminating something we wanted so badly? Because the the risks associated with multiples are considerably higher with triplets than twins.
Carrying triplets is considered a high-risk pregnancy. A normal scenario for carrying triplets is this: 32 weeks gestation, eight weeks in the NICU, and additional pre-term health-related issues. Other scenarios are far worse. We could lose a baby, multiple babies, or the entire pregnancy. We could have babies with serious birth defects. If Amy tried to carry triplets, she would put her own health at risk and would likely end up on bed rest for a portion of the pregnancy.
Reducing a triplet pregnancy to a twin pregnancy has its own risks, including the loss of the entire pregnancy. But the best case scenario produces two healthy, close to full-term babies, though the health risks of carrying twins still exist.
Amy and I left that initial ultrasound appointment in complete shock. For the next several hours, all I could do was repeat the word triplets, as if saying it enough times would let me see the future. If only I could wrap my head around the word, then I could wrap my head around what to do.
I realize this is a controversial topic. And I fully understand both sides of the argument. Amy and I had several weeks to turn over all of them. I will easily tell you I am pro-choice. But when it came to making this decision for my family, it was the toughest choice to consider.
Another thing we considered was the impact a triplet pregnancy would have on our daughter and our marriage. No matter the outcome, triplets would test all of our relationships. What was fair for our daughter? For us? For three unborn babies whom we wanted to give the best possible chance at a healthy and happy life?
Driving our decision was always the health of Amy and the babies she was carrying. While we knew the risks of carrying triplets, the risks of a selective reduction can cause heartbreak too. The thing nagging at me was the possibility that we could be one of the families who had healthy triplets. I wanted to be hopeful; I wanted to fight the odds. But something told Amy she couldn't carry triplets. Gut instinct or mother's intuition told her three was too many.
I agreed, but it took me longer to find peace with our decision. Amy and I received advice from the doctors who delivered Eva. We were better educated about the procedure at our follow-up consultation appointment with our doctor at the infertility clinic. We searched the Internet and read every article on the subject. We were thankful for the bloggers who wrote candidly about their experiences when they faced the possibility of a reduction. I didn't feel so alone when I read their stories.
On December 27th, 2012, a year to the day we celebrated my second parent adoption of Eva, we reduced our triplet pregnancy to a twin pregnancy. We had the procedure done in Boston and have nothing but high praise for the doctors and nurses we met at Brigham and Women's Hospital. They made a very hard and sad day go as smoothly as possible.
We were already parents, so we knew the potential joy and love we eliminated and sacrificed that day. But we hoped our sacrifice was for the benefit of our daughter, the two babies we wanted to add to our family, and Amy, the amazing woman carrying our children. It wasn't until several weeks after the reduction, when we felt confident that the pregnancy would be a healthy one, that we told people we were pregnant with twins. Twin boys.
Thankfully the rest of Amy's pregnancy was healthy, but when she started to dilate at 29 weeks, we knew we had made the right decision. Three would have been too much to carry. And when I held my boys seven weeks later, I knew two was more than enough.
When I see families who have had triplets, I see the decisions they had to make before I actually see their children. I wonder if they felt like there was a decision to make. At conception and in the months before birth, we make parental choices before we meet our child or children. The best we can do is to make educated decisions based on science, faith and what we feel is right.
Seeing a family with triplets makes me wonder how things would have turned out for us if we had decided against the reduction, but I do not regret our decision. Our goal was two healthy babies, and that is exactly what we got.
During the moments when all three of my kids are happy, it's easy to imagine one more in the room. I imagine another daughter for Eva to call a sister. I imagine another son to complete the trifecta of boy. I imagine we could have handled the chaos of having four kids.
But during the hardest moments, when the kids are sick with colds or all crying at once and when I don't think it's possible to emotionally or physically take care of one more living thing, it's impossible to imagine having a fourth, especially if one or more of the four has special needs or health problems.
After the reduction and when Amy and I knew we would be having twins instead of triplets, we were sad and cautiously optimistic. But when we took Ben and Ryan home from the hospital, we were thrilled.
We had the family we had always wanted and the one we were meant to have. The road to parenthood is long and hopeful, but it is not always straight.
Happily pulled in many directions as a partner, parent and business owner, Amber is a writer for The Next Family, VT Mommies and InventorSpot where she reviews products for parents and kids. She loves the challenge of learning how to relax. This article was originally published on VT Mommies and than published on The Next Family.
Articles you might like:
Is Being a Dad Turning Me Straight?
My Kid is Gay
Parenting Consultant: When You Have Trouble Saying No