‘I see twins!’ The doctor’s face paled. ‘I think there are five.’: Mom battling infertility births quintuplets with high school sweetheart

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“For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a mom. I come from a huge family with six older siblings, one younger sibling, 25 nieces and nephews, and dozens of cousins. Big families are in my blood. I met the love of my life when I was 15, and we became best friends and started dating a year later. We got married right out of high school, despite being told, ‘It will never last.’

We bought a house while we were both working full-time and Jake was also in college full-time. It was hard, but when you love someone, you can always make it work. We started trying for a baby right away. It wasn’t uncommon in my family to marry young and have babies right away, so I never imagined having the struggles we did. After a year of trying, hundreds of negative pregnancy tests, thousands of tears, and millions of times getting my hopes up only to be let down, I went to see my doctor and they ran some tests. I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome). I was put on a medication to help balance my hormones and it did just that! All my levels looked great! But I still wasn’t getting pregnant. After 6 more months of trying I was referred to a fertility specialist. They ran so many tests and we learned my left Fallopian tube was blocked and I wasn’t ovulating. My ovaries would produce egg follicles, but wouldn’t release an egg, which then causes the cysts to grow. I was put on another medication to help stimulate egg follicles to grow and I had to do a shot in the belly to trigger the ovaries to release an egg. We were told there was a 10% chance of twins and a 1% chance of triplets.

June 2019 was our first round of medication. After taking the medication, I had to go into the fertility clinic for an ultrasound to see if the ovaries produced anything. I had two beautiful follicles on my left ovary but nothing on the right. Because my left tube was blocked and wouldn’t be able to release an egg, that round was a fail. The next month, I had to take a break from the medication because I had grown six large cysts (which can be a side effect of the medication). In August of 2019, I was able to start the medication again. I prayed like I had never prayed before. When I went in for my ultrasound, they saw two mature follicles on each side! I went home and gave myself that shot in the belly and begged God for this to work! I knew having two mature follicles on my good ovary meant I had two chances for this to work.

Of course, I instantly was having ‘pregnancy symptoms.’ (Anyone experiencing infertility will know what I mean.) Exactly 2 weeks after the trigger shot, I woke up at the crack of dawn because I just couldn’t wait any longer to take a pregnancy test. October 5, 2019, I FINALLY got my positive test! Just under 2 years of trying, my dreams were finally coming true! It worked!

2 days later I went into the fertility clinic to get it confirmed with a blood test. I was indeed pregnant and my HCG levels were even higher than expected! I went back 2 days later to make sure my levels doubled. They TRIPLED! They didn’t act like anything was out of the ordinary when they called me on the phone, but me being me, I went straight to google and started researching normal HCG levels. I was CONVINCED I was pregnant with twins. My husband told me I was crazy. But I had always wanted twins and I thought this would make a 2-year wait SO worth it!

Courtesy of Hannah Merton

I went in the following week for an early ultrasound because I was at high risk for ectopic pregnancy because of my left side being blocked. We had a resident doctor doing the ultrasound. She said everything looked good, but something seemed off. She said it looked like I had ovulated from the left side. ‘That’s impossible,’ I thought to myself. When my fertility specialist came into the room, the first thing she said when she looked at the screen was, ‘I see twins!’

I was so excited and before I could even tell Jake, ‘I told you so,’ the doctor’s face went pale and she said, ‘I think there are five.’ My left side was indeed not blocked. Excited turned to shock and disbelief. Being less than 6 weeks along, we weren’t able to see heartbeats yet, and she told us most likely they wouldn’t all survive but to come back in 2 weeks.

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During those 2 weeks, I could hardly get out of bed. I was absolutely terrified, I didn’t understand why God would do this to me. It was so dangerous! At 8 weeks, we went in and sure enough, we saw five healthy babies! I was actually pregnant with QUINTUPLETS! I somehow lucked out and had a wonderful pregnancy, almost no morning sickness! My only complaints were sciatic nerve pain and migraines. At 16 weeks along, we found out we were expecting three girls and two boys! That’s when I finally started getting excited.

All was great and uneventful until my 23-week appointment. My cervix had thinned dramatically and I was admitted into the hospital. Hospital life was incredibly depressing. Jake was still working full-time and in his last semester of college. I felt so isolated in that room all day by myself. Three ultrasounds a day, couldn’t sleep, missed my dog, and to make things worse, my diet was restricted because the day I was admitted, I failed my glucose test and the hospital wouldn’t let me take the 3-hour test. After a week in the hospital, I talked my way out and they let me go home because I had not progressed any further in a week.

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On March 5, 2020, at 25 weeks and 2 days, I woke up to get ready to go in for a growth ultrasound and noticed some blood. I figured it was best to go get checked out at the hospital and skip the appointment. They checked me and everything was fine, but they decided to readmit me. They told me I’d have a much tougher time talking my way out of it this time, and I’d probably have to stay until the babies were born. I was less than thrilled. After about an hour, they said the monitor was picking up some contractions and they gave me medication to help stop them. Then I felt my first contraction, then another, and another, and before I knew it, I had seven within 40 minutes with each one stronger than the last. They checked my cervix and I was dilated to a 3. I was in full-blown labor.

Instantly, my room was flooded with people preparing me for a c-section. I was in shock. We called our families and told everyone to pray. There was a team of what felt like 100 people in that OR. At 7:53-7:55, my five precious babies came into the world. Philomena was 1 pound 9 ounces, Evangeline was 1 pound 10 ounces, was Gideon 1 pound 12 ounces, Meredith was 1 pound 4 ounces, and Elliot was 1 pound 11 ounces.

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In recovery, they said they’d bring the babies by so I could see them before they were transported down the road to the children’s hospital NICU. They told me our smallest one, Meredith, was in very rough shape and she wasn’t even stable enough to be transported. Thankfully, she stabilized and I was able to see her. As soon as she arrived at the NICU, they told Jake to get there right away because she was doing very badly. Her poor little lungs were so sick. Once in my room, all I could do was cry. Suddenly, my room was flooded with many of my family members. I didn’t even realize until then anyone had come to the hospital. We prayed together for hours and around 2 a.m. Meredith finally stabilized and we were all able to get some rest.

The next 3 days were terrifying. Watching my babies literally fighting for their lives. Not being able to breathe on their own and so tiny and helpless. I felt so guilty. Why couldn’t I have kept them in longer? Why did my body fail me?

On the morning of March 8, they told us Meredith had a grade 4 brain bleed, severely enlarged ventricles, and tons of fluid on her brain. There was just too much damage. That evening, she gained her wings and went to heaven. I don’t remember much from the following weeks, grieving, watching our other four children fight for their lives, and now we were in lockdown. It was the most isolating experience. We spent all day, every day in the NICU. We were terrified to leave in case something were to happen. COVID restrictions allowed only Jake and me in the NICU. All we had was each other at that point. And for the cherry on top, Jake had just graduated and was starting a new job.

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By the end of April, each of the babes had many struggles, but also overcame so much! But Gideon wasn’t improving. He was still needing extreme amounts of respiratory support. And then one day, he was really not himself. He didn’t tolerate being held and ended up needing 100% oxygen. I remember sitting in the bathroom crying because I didn’t understand why he didn’t want me to hold him. I didn’t understand why the steroids he was on weren’t helping his lungs. After a while, his oxygen was able to be lowered so we went home for the night to get some rest. But my motherly instincts kept me up. And then in the middle of the night, I got a call telling us to get to the hospital right away and we needed to prepare for the worst.

When we got to the NICU, his room was filled with about 20 people. He was blue. His levels were tanking. They told us our sweet little boy might not make it. I remember crying and begging God not to take another baby from me. He finally stabilized after a few hours and I fell asleep. I was woken up by the loud and terrifying staff assist alarm (used when a baby is in distress and instantly 20 people ran into the room to help). He was tanking again. His lung had collapsed and he needed a chest tube.

The whole month of May was the most traumatic time in my life. Evangeline got an infection and we almost lost her. We almost lost Gideon more times than I can even count. He had multiple infections in his lungs, recurring collapsed lungs, multiple chest tubes, many middle of the night phone calls, sleepless nights, countless staff assist alarms which still haunt me to this day. The doctors told us over and over he was likely not going to make it, and they were running out of options. We were urged to sign a DNR. But I kept my faith in God. The name Gideon means Mighty Warrior and my gosh, does he live up to that name.

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In June, our little boy Elliot came home! Balancing one baby at home and three in the hospital was no easy task. Running on little to no sleep. That time is such a blur. In July, after struggling with learning to take bottles, many arguments with doctors about our plan for her, multiple overnight stays working on feeding, Philomena came home! She came home with an NG tube, but she pulled it out the day she came home and never looked back. In August, we finally got to take Evangeline home! In the first few weeks of her life, we found out she had obtained some brain damage called PVL, which is damage to the white matter in her brain. With her infection back in May, it set her back quite a bit. She had to be re-intubated for a while. She struggled with learning to eat and ended up needing a G-tube.

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Knowing Gideon was going to need a ventilator long term because of how sick his lungs are, once he was stable enough, in July he received a tracheostomy. His settings were extremely high and he was still kept in the hospital for quite a while. With him being so sick, he needed to be sedated for the majority of the first 8 months of his life. When it came time to wean him off the meds, he did not tolerate it at all. Because of that, we weren’t able to wean any ventilator settings either. We were at a standstill. No progress being made and the months were just flying by and my poor boy was still hospitalized. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Juggling three babies at home, one sick baby withdrawing from sedation drugs in the hospital, being trained on how to care for a trach and vent baby, dealing with the guilt of this all being my fault, and of course, grieving the loss of my daughter. How could I possibly begin to grieve properly and heal from so much trauma when I was still living it? And going back to the place it all happened every day? Oh, and being in the middle of a pandemic!

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In December, we finally got him off his meds and were able to start chipping away at vent settings. By the end of January, he was able to get on his home-going ventilator! Now came the hardest part, finding home care nursing. Gideon is stable, but because he is reliant on a ventilator, he has to have an awake caregiver by his side 24/7 in case something were to happen. He had missed so much being hospitalized, he’d never gotten to meet his siblings, he spent all the holidays in the hospital, he even spent his first birthday there because right before he was supposed to come home, our full-time night shift nurse ghosted us. But FINALLY on March 25, 2021, after 385 days in the NICU my baby is home! We are finally reunited!

Courtesy of Hannah Merton

I truly feel like I have seen it all. Infertility, multiples, losing a child, basically anything that can go wrong in the NICU we experienced. NICU trauma is something that doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s something you can never truly heal from. The PTSD is REAL! Just weeks before Gideon came home, I had a full-blown panic attack while at the NICU because I heard that stupid staff assist alarm. My boy was safe and sleeping in my arms but at that moment, all that trauma came flooding back.

Courtesy of Hannah Merton

My babes have surely had their fair share of struggles, but let me tell you, they are all thriving! Gideon is expected to be off the vent within a few years. Evangeline is doing things at her own pace and will likely face a cerebral palsy diagnosis due to her brain damage, but she is the sweetest happiest little thing. As for Philomena and Elliot, you’d never know they were born at just 25 weeks. Our little guardian angel is watching over us and I know she had a huge part in all the other babies have accomplished and have overcome.

Courtesy of Hannah Merton

I always tell myself God won’t give me anything I can’t handle, but holy moly, does He like to test that theory! I’ve found strength I never knew I had. I’m so beyond blessed and couldn’t be more grateful for my journey even though it’s been anything but easy.”

Courtesy of Hannah Merton

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Merton. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos. 

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