'Families Are Families, No Matter How They're Made'
Decorating a nursery. Growing a baby bump. Giving her firstborn a name that’s been passed through generations. These are some of the things Kari Caldwell had long dreamed about.
“I knew how many kids I wanted by what age,” she said. “I guess you just never think it’s going to be hard.”
But for Kari and her husband, Colin, it was.
They tried for months to get pregnant before experiencing three unsuccessful in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles, including one miscarriage. They were told their only chance at getting pregnant would be through the use of donor eggs.
"Which we would have been happy with, too," Kari said, "but there's something about creating a child together. Creating a child who has both your features. That's just really special."
In search of a second opinion, they met Dr. Abigail Delaney with Methodist Reproductive Health Specialists on the campus of Methodist Women’s Hospital – a clinic that was started by Carolyn (Maud) Doherty, MD, more than 20 years ago.
“That was probably our lowest point in this journey – walking through those doors to see Dr. Delaney,” Colin said. “In retrospect though, it was actually the beginning of a much greater journey. We just didn't know it yet.”
But First, More Bad News
After getting to know Kari and Colin, Dr. Delaney was confident they could physically and emotionally undergo another round of IVF.
“I wanted to give it another try,” she said. “I felt like I could do something a little differently.”
In an effort to harvest as many eggs as possible, Dr. Delaney started Kari on medication that would stimulate her ovaries more than they ever had been before.
Once Kari’s eggs were retrieved and fertilized with Colin’s sperm, genetic testing confirmed that the couple had produced six euploid embryos – embryos that have the appropriate number of chromosomes: 46.
“The reason these are more successful for IVF is because they have a higher implantation rate,” Dr. Delaney explained.
According to her, it’s “sort of like family planning from the start.”
“In a perfect IVF cycle, the hope is that you only have to retrieve eggs once and create embryos once. We transfer one or two, and you’ve got maybe two in the freezer for the future.”
Not long after the first embryo was transferred to Kari’s uterus, though, the couple experienced more heartbreak: a second miscarriage.
“That was hard. We found out the day we were hoping to see a heartbeat."
Methodist Reproductive Health Specialists patient
A few months later, Dr. Delaney transferred a second embryo. That one resulted in an ectopic pregnancy – the embryo attached itself to the outside of the uterus.
"Everything was going so smoothly," Kari added. "We thought we had everything figured out."
Third Time’s a Charm
Despite everything they had been through, Kari and Colin felt they had no choice but to continue moving forward. And if there’s any truth to the expression “third time’s a charm,” Kari and Colin’s third transfer with Dr. Delaney was an absolute miracle.
Teddi Jade Caldwell was born Dec. 21, weighing a little over 7 pounds.
“I doubt I would love her any less if we hadn’t gone through what we did,” Kari said, “but I do find myself so in love and just in awe of her, thinking there was a chance she could have never been born.”
“I think it’s like with anything in marriage and doing things together,” Colin added. “You’re a union when you get married, and you continue that through – in sickness and in health. But to be able to actually bring a baby into the world, together – both of us together. That’s the most fulfilling thing about it.”
Providing a level of expertise and convenience
Teddi is one of thousands of dreams come true for parents who have turned to Methodist during some of their darkest days.
“We have a core group of people who’ve been here a really long time,” Dr. Delaney said. “There’s a lot of experience backing up what we do.”
And just down the hall from such an experienced staff, Methodist also offers specialized maternal-fetal care for families who may require extra attention and monitoring once pregnancy is achieved. Having those services so close together offers patients a level of expertise and convenience that wasn’t designed by coincidence.
It’s part of what Dr. Delaney believes sets Methodist apart from any other reproductive clinic in the area.
“There’s a mentality of putting patients first – making sure their needs and desires are paramount,” she said. "Having worked at other places, I don't know that's true everywhere else."
For her, personally, trust and understanding are at the heart of what she does.
“First, I have to get the medicine right. That’s No. 1,” she said. “But then I have to understand them. What drives them, how many kids they want and where they are emotionally in the process. Can they handle another loss? Can they handle another try? It’s about getting to the bottom of things in a very humanized way.”
Taking the Taboo Out of It
When it comes to infertility, Kari and Colin have never been shy about the emotional rollercoaster they experienced.
“I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of,” Kari said. “For me, talking about it helped. But it's also hard to explain. I think you have to go through it to really understand what that kind of pain feels like.”
And Dr. Delaney does understand. She, too, once struggled to get pregnant.
“I think I speak for many women,” she said. “One of our main goals in life is to be a mom. When you can’t do that easily, it’s debilitating. Many women who go through it think something is wrong with them. They’re afraid of what others might think of them.”
It’s common, though. With 13 percent of couples in the United States experiencing infertility, Dr. Delaney is a firm believer that if more people were open to talking about it, there would be less fear and isolation among couples who are part of that statistic.
“By talking about it, it becomes less taboo. You acknowledge that it’s 2019, and families are built very differently than they were in 1978 before IVF was invented. There are a lot of people out there who require use of gestational carriers, donor eggs or donor sperm. By talking about it, you recognize that families are families no matter how they’re made.”
And with embryos remaining, Kari and Colin hope to expand the family they made.
“We say it all the time – our little miracle baby. Just to know that she's ours. She's the result of someone refusing to give up on us,” Kari said as she looked at Colin.
Colin smiled as he finished her thought: “Truly. Words can't express how grateful we are. If you have even a glimmer of hope in your heart about having your own children, don’t let go of that.”