‘It was twins! In the back of my head though, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and our happy world to come tumbling down. It did, but not until later.’

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“Twelve years. Have you ever had anything take that long? That is first grade through senior year of high school. Think about all the places you went, things you did, friends you had, birthday parties you attended, dances, graduation, learning to read, write, do math, drive and completing your formal education! So much fits into twelve years of life.

On January 5, 2018, our family became complete. Our beautiful boy had been born at 37 weeks 1 day and was healthy and happy. Flashback to 2006. My husband and I had been married for 3 years (we were both 30 at the time) and had decided we were ready to start a family. Much easier said than done. After a year and a half of nothing, we began our official journey through the world of infertility and IVF. No one has any idea what this world is like unless you are living it or have lived it. The many, multiple doctors’ appointments, blood tests, procedures, phone calls, shots, traffic lights, leaving work early/arriving late/taking days off, living by the clock to make sure you take medications at the exact right time, not being able to plan vacations or other events due to not knowing when you next doctor’s appointment will be and if you miss it, then the whole cycle is squashed and you start all over again, but not until at least another month or two has gone by. On top of all of this, the doctors could not find a single thing medically wrong with me or my husband, so we got ushered into the category of ‘Unexplained Infertility’ which basically means, ‘I have no idea what is wrong with you and you should be able to get pregnant.’

Husband and wife smile in selfie with body of water in background
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

In October 2007 I underwent my first egg retrieval procedure. Then 3 days later, I had a growing embryo transferred back into me. It worked! I was pregnant! And then I wasn’t – I miscarried on November 11th, 2017. By the time the doctor’s got my various hormone levels back where they wanted them to be, we were in January and gearing up for the emotional roller coaster again. I had to go through the egg retrieval all over again because there weren’t any from the first batch that were big enough to be frozen. It worked again! And now I wait and panic to have things end the way they did last time. One day went by, then the next, then the next. Then at 8 weeks we got to see that it was twins! Always in the back of my head though, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and our happy world to come tumbling down. It did, but not until later.

Pregnant woman stands in kitchen holding stomach
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

A week after the school year finished (my husband and I both work at a High School) I was lying on the couch watching TV at 9:30 in the morning when my water broke – full on gushing! I was 23 weeks 2 days pregnant. This is not supposed to be happening! I was admitted and we had many conversations with many doctors saying they didn’t expect either boy to live since it’s pretty much medically known that only about 10% of babies under 24 weeks of age live. ‘They are just too small and too fragile.’ What?? This can’t be happening! They held off contractions long enough to get two doses of steroids into the boys in order to try to help their lungs develop faster, but they decided about 3 hours after the last shot that an emergency C-section was necessary to get them out. So much of that day is so clear and so much is such a blur – our life together was not supposed to go this way.

On Friday, June 27, 2008, Drayton was born at 8:47 p.m. weighing just 15 ounces, and Phoenix was born at 8:49 p.m. weighing 1 pound 3 ounces; we hadn’t even officially decided on their names at that point but those were the ones at the top of the list. They were baptized right there since the staff wasn’t even sure they would make it to the NICU. Now for the next chapter of our not so easy lives. Luckily as the days went on, I learned how strong my marriage was, and learned how much my faith was being relied on.

Preemie newborn lays in NICU with pink and blue striped hat on
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi
Preemie twin lays in NICU wearing pink and blue striped hat
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

In the wee hours of the early morning (about 3:00 a.m.) on June 30 I was awakened by a nurse saying I was being called to the NICU since one of the boys was really struggling. The boys were in side-by-side isolettes in the far back corner of the NICU, both on ventilators and hooked up to many monitors. As I was pushed toward them in my wheelchair, I could see that each one had a nurse assigned to him, and standing near his isolette with hands inside performing one of their many responsibilities. Leaning against the wall was the APRN in charge of the shift, standing nearby was the Neonatologist that was assigned to the boys and another nurse was on the phone near the wall. Beeping was coming from both boys’ monitors but Phoenix’s beeping was the loud, ear penetrating alarm of vital signs out of range and in danger. Phoenix was bleeding into his lungs, and they couldn’t figure out a way to stop it. He was too unstable for many interventions, and I found out that the nurse on the phone was trying to call around to other hospitals to see if they could figure out an accurate dose of medical cocaine to try to administer to him since they were out of all their other options.

We called our parents and they arrived at the hospital. We all got a chance to hold Phoenix for the first time while he was still hooked up to everything. Later on that day, my husband and I decided that Phoenix had been through enough and shouldn’t suffer anymore. Phoenix was unhooked from everything and gently handed to me all wrapped up. He was so small and light that it was actually difficult to feel his weight amongst the hospital blanket. My husband and I were left in a small room with a couch so we could have time together, just the three of us. We told him so many things amongst our tears and then I was able to feel him take his last breath. He was still in my arms.

Mother smiles as she sits in NICU holding preemie twin that wouldn't make it
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

After about an hour, we asked to have him put in the isolette with his brother so they could be together one last time. Drayton’s vital signs instantly improved when Phoenix was put in with him and he had a very peaceful few hours with his brother right next to him.

Drayton spent a total of 5 months and 5 days in the NICU and was able to come home on December 2, 2018. He underwent a variety of procedures and surgeries, has numerous scars, came home with a feeding tube attached to his stomach for 2 years and has some mild cerebral palsy and a damaged left retina. To this day, he is the smallest baby to have survived at the hospital where he was born, and is considered a miracle by so many people. I am convinced he is a miracle since doctors don’t even really have explanations as to how he survived, let alone without major neurological and physical disabilities.

Mother sits in NICU with preemie baby laying on her chest while father smiles beside them
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi
Baby sits in carseat ready to go home after spending five months in NICU
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

When Drayton was 2 years old we decided we wanted to try for another child. I was hesitant and excited at the same time given everything we had gone through already, and convinced that my body would fail me again with regards to conceiving and carrying a child. Over the next 9 years, at least once every summer, and sometimes during the school year, we would embark on the physical and emotional cycle – starting physical, baseline blood work, ordering of medications, meeting with the nurse to go over my protocol (meds, dosages, times of day, days of bloodwork and ultrasounds), setting timers/alarms at home, laying all the supplies out all over the dining room table to try to wrap my head around our situation, getting up extra early to be one of the first people at Quest to have my blood drawn in order to get to work semi on time, worrying about alarms going off and making sure I had things with me and trying to make sure I was at work long enough each day before I could ask to leave for a doctor’s appointment with enough time to avoid traffic. I had so many days where I was cursing all the way to the appointment since there was construction, closed lanes, going through the city at a snail’s pace knowing that if I was too late for the appointment they would cancel it, and cancel the whole cycle and we would have to wait to start again next month.

I actually told the nurses at the appointments one time that the actual IVF protocol and procedures were not the stressful part. The stressful part of each cycle is all those other things – traffic, making appointments, figuring out how to not miss too much work, stress from alarms in the middle of the night to take medications, having to let others know what is happening so they can cover you but then having to let them know that ‘this cycle didn’t work’ and we ‘have to do it again.’ I’ve made blood work appointments in other states, fought with insurance companies about those out-of-state appointments being ‘necessary’ since I was visiting family or at a conference, have postponed or cancelled vacations, gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to drive two hours to be the first one at the doctor’s office at 6:00 a.m. when they open to have the first appointment, and then drive two hours back to work in order to do it again two more times that week. All the while the doctors and nurses tell you, ‘try to relax and relieve as much stress as you can in order to help this cycle work.’

We eventually got to a point where the two clinics we used refused to work with us anymore unless we started using donor eggs. But I felt that even though my embryos were so crappy and of such poor quality, it would still work since my worst embryos ever still produced my loves – Drayton and Phoenix. I was convinced it would work again. Was I crazy, stupid, determined, stubborn, faithful? Yup, all of the above on any given day. It’s amazing to plan out so much of your life and so far in advance and then have all those plans not amount to anything. It became depressing, but I kept pushing.

We decided to move into the world of donor eggs. Weird that in order to get what I wanted, I had to give up myself. Many, many conversations with my husband, both serious and silly, had us determining what we felt was important in a donor and the characteristics we were looking for. Who would have thought that when you’re getting ready to have kids, you would be staring at many pieces of paper trying to decide – short?, tall?, dark eyes? Right-handed?  Sibling/parent height, weight, occupation, health history? Donor grades, majors, jobs, reason for donating? Nothing like taking the romance and magic out of conceiving.

At times I longed for the whole dinner, wine, anniversary night/special occasion that would result in pregnancy and a wonderful story to share later on. In the end, we chose a donor, did two tries and it didn’t work. Now we have to go through all of that again and choose again. Frozen donor eggs are not covered by insurance so it felt as if we just flushed $10,000 down the drain. Why would we do that again? Another $10,000 and we chose another donor, we cycled and did all of the procedures, we got pregnant, we miscarried. How much more of this can I/we take? One more try – please!! OMG it worked! It stayed! At the end of it all, we went through 15 rounds of IVF. We were told most people don’t go through that many due to either insurance constraints, age issues, success in the early rounds, deciding to stop due to the emotional toll, etc. So happy to finally be able to close out my gigantic file at the fertility clinic!

Woman who became pregnant through IVF stands smiling in mirror selfie in her home
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

Each day I got to breathe a little easier even though now with my AMA (Advanced Maternal Age of 41 years old) I had many more doctor’s appointments, weekly shots to hopefully prevent premature birth and a huge amount of fluid retention (my doctor estimated about 30 pounds worth). It was a love/hate relationship with those appointments – happy to have them to give me reassurance, and stressful since, again, it meant constantly looking at calendars and possibly getting babysitters and coverage at work. Each day was a success and a milestone. I was a wreck when I hit 23 weeks and I tried to walk lighter, not pick up anything and to stay calm the entire week. Week 24 came, and we made it through, week 25, 26, 27. Once I hit 30 weeks I started to smile, I think. I was up to three doctor’s appointments a week and had quite the pregnant waddle, along with a ton of hip pain, gestational diabetes, and water retention that had reduced me to just one pair of shoes and limiting trips up and down stairs.

On January 5, 2018, my husband and I showed up at the hospital for my scheduled C-section. While it was a very typical and uneventful C-section, it was so much longer to me compared to the emergency one 9 ½ years earlier. At 12:44 p.m., Calix was born weighing 8 pounds 9 ounces and he was pink and smiling and breathing and trying to nurse and cuddle right into me. Family complete = big smile and I was able to stop holding my breath!

Newborn baby boy lays asleep swaddled in hospital blanket
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

Four days later, we left the hospital and began our journey home. To this day, the best feeling in the world is looking in my rear-view mirror and seeing my back seat occupied, and the boys (now ages 1 and 10 years old) being able to smile at each other. It took 12 years, but we are complete now. Thank you doctors, nurses, donors and God!”

Mother and father pose for family photo with their young son and newborn son
Melissa Hartigan Photography
Young boy sits by twin's grave who died at birth, with baby brother sitting in his lap
Courtesy of Heather Brindisi

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heather Brindisi of Ellington, Connecticut. Do you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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