Story by Kelly Larson
This little angel came into our world, sent directly from heaven, without a doubt. Isaac is our fourth child, but the first that I gave birth to. He was the result of a successful treatment called In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), our first and only attempt. The fact that I was 48 years old when I got pregnant is a miracle in and of itself. I had long since given up the idea of ever being able to experience pregnancy and childbirth after having been diagnosed with “unexplained infertility,” until a rare contact from a dear friend had renewed my desire. This is the story of how Isaac came to be, and the loving environment that welcomed him. Take note of the numerous small miracles along the way leading up to our pursuing this dream.
There was a three-week window of opportunity when our family had come to our Austin, Texas, home for the holidays while we were living in Taiwan for one year. A long, lost friend had sent us a beautiful Christmas card, perhaps the first holiday greeting we had ever received from her, that included a lovely family portrait, wherein she had jotted a message apologizing for not being in touch with me after I had tried to reach her, because she had been in the hospital.
I wondered why she might have been in the hospital. Did she actually give birth to those two new babies in the picture? I was so curious because, like us, she and her husband had adopted their other kids. I felt urged to call her and clarify what I had been guessing and she confirmed my speculations, she had indeed given birth to twins from a successful round of IVF. I was so elated for her and expressed my happiness and that I didn’t even know it was possible at our age (she’s a half a year older than me).
We laughed and talked, caught up on each other’s lives and could hardly believe how long it had been since we had been in touch. She suggested that I look into IVF, and I simply dismissed the notion and told her that my oldest daughter had just started college and everyone would think it’s crazy, myself included. Yet somehow, I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities.
That was in January of 2011, and once again, those natural maternal instincts had resurfaced with a vengeance, and that night after we spoke, I searched the internet and found a Taiwanese blog that was actually in English for a clinic in Hsinchu, where we lived, not far from our house.
As of today, that blog has not been updated since then. It’s as if it had been put there for my benefit. I called from Texas to Taiwan and made an appointment to see the doctor the day after I flew back to our home-away-from-home in Hsinchu.
We only had one car, so I dropped Kelly off at work then went to my initial appointment, having navigated my way through the well-populated and densely packed businesses with practically all the road signs in Chinese. Like most of the places I went, I was the only non-Asian person at the clinic and stood out like a sore thumb. It’s awkward enough to go to an OB/GYN when you can blend in, but when it seems like everyone is aware of your presence because you look different from the rest, it adds to the discomfort. The reception staff greeted me in limited English, I paid cash for the visit, had some tests, then met with Dr. Lai and a wonderful gentleman named Ian who ended up being my interpreter for the remainder of my contact with the clinic, always incredibly helpful and accommodating. The staff put in long hours and were professional and efficient. There were a few things that were much different from a doctor’s office in the U.S., but all I really cared about was the end result, having a baby.
After one cycle and some fertility drugs, Dr. Lai had concluded that my ovarian reserve was diminishing and the quality wasn’t the best, considering my advanced maternal age. He convinced us that the best option would be to use an egg donor. There were a lot of big questions we had to consider and both of us prayed a great deal over what to do. One major concern was how would our kids, Lindsey, 19, and Christopher, 13, feel if I were to get pregnant and have a baby. As predicted, they were thrilled with the idea. I also wondered what my friends and family would think, and asked some of them. We got mixed reviews and realized that ultimately, the decision should be between the two of us and our Heavenly Father. We both felt strongly that we should proceed with it, so we did.
It had not occurred to me at first, but then after asking Dr. Lai, he told me that all of the egg donors would be Taiwanese. Personally, that didn’t bother me at all, but how would I handle the response from others with having a mixed race baby or one who didn’t look like a combination of the two of us? What would a half American from Kelly’s genes and a half Taiwanese baby from an anonymous young Asian woman look like? I wanted her to be tall, intelligent and cute, but how could I put that on paper? We would have to wait for a match and our cycles would have to be synced up within five days of each other. There was also a lot of red tape to endure. We had to go through a ton of paperwork to continue and it was really a pain, getting our marriage license authenticated for Taiwanese standard, and more.
In the meantime, a whole new element of surprise was added to the mix. The end of February we were introduced to a little 7-year-old Taiwanese girl who needed a new family essentially. Her situation was complicated and none of it made sense to us. Could this child be the answer to our prayers? Should we continue with the IVF? I had no idea what to do, so again, we prayed and asked for guidance. Both Kelly and I felt like we should keep pursuing the adoption and the IVF, not really knowing if one or both would pan out. We were open to what ever God had in mind for us.
We got the “go ahead” in May from Hannah’s birth father that he was willing to relinquish her for adoption. Her birth mother was deceased. In the most miraculous way, we went full speed ahead to get all the legal work taken care of before we moved back home in August. We hired a social worker from the United States, Josh Redfern, to fly over to meet us and do a home study, we applied for her U.S. citizenship, and so forth, and met with Taiwanese courts and social workers as well. Hannah, the name we gave her, was living with us by then and the adoption was finalized in Zhubei City, Hsinchu County, Taiwan, on July 11, 2011 (7-11).
In June, we had been matched with a donor and I had been taking ridiculous amounts of drugs to trick my body into thinking it was pregnant to prepare for the transfer. Anonymous Egg Donor #1 had been taking medications to prepare for egg retrieval and the petri dish part of the process began. After a few days, everything came to a halt when it appeared that none of the eggs were fertilizing the way they should. I was so discouraged and frustrated and an utter hormonal mess from all the medications. I was almost ready to give up and Kelly was the reason I kept going. He was so hopeful and I could see that it meant so much to him if I were to be able to carry his child. We had already paid for the first donor and would have to pay for another one, even though we never actually made it to the transfer. I felt like we had wasted our money in a procedure that was a bargain compared to what it would have been in America.
In normal IVF, many sperm are placed together with an egg in hopes that one of the sperm will enter and fertilize the egg. The fertilization for us had never occurred, but there was another method that had not been attempted called ICSI (pronounced ick-see). With ICSI, the embryologist takes a single sperm and injects it directly into an egg. With my raging hormones and sadness, I complained to the clinic that I was discouraged that they had not done this method at first, so they felt compassion and agreed to do another cycle for us, using ICSI without an additional fee, other than our paying for the second donor. We were moving back to the U.S. in August and time was running out. I had merely one cycle left before we had to relocate and miraculously, an egg donor was identified to match my cycle.
I continued to take seven different drugs and the Anonymous Egg Donor #2’s egg retrieval was successful. The thought had crossed by mind to spy around the clinic to stalk for someone who could be the donor so I could have an idea what she looks like, but realized how unlikely it would be that I would know who was whom.
Regardless of physical traits, I was so grateful for her. Kelly and I prayed for this unknown young woman to be healthy as well. The ICSI procedure was done and we crossed our fingers and prayed that some of the eggs would fertilize.
Our prayers were answered and there were four good blastocysts after five days. We chose to transfer two (into me) of the four available. I had always hoped for twins and felt like I could handle two babies. We actually thought about transferring three, just in case one or two didn’t work. If they all did make it, triplets would freak me and everyone else out, so we stuck with the decision to go with two embryos, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Obviously we didn’t end up with twins, to my initial dismay.
One of these two images is the very beginning stages of the human being know as our Isaac.
I was nervous and kind of dreading the actual procedure. The IVF transfer was on July 13, two days after our adoption of Hannah was finalized. Kelly had to stay in the waiting area during the transfer. It was a bit painful, but not terrible. The worst part was the catheter. The overall experience was more embarrassing than anything to have all these people looking at me and working to make this pregnancy possible. Everyone was speaking Chinese. A very nice, compassionate nurse, who held my hand and talked to me in English, kept me informed.
In a very controlled, professional environment, Dr. Lai skillfully made the transfer of these two tiny multi-cellular beings, and with a needle, injected them with precision into my body exactly where they needed to be. It went by fairly quickly and Kelly was back by my side, where I was instructed to lie down on the slightly elevated bed for about two more hours. I really hoped this would work, but was so accustomed to failure with pregnancy, that I guarded my enthusiasm with caution, kind of like a defense mechanism.
Cautiously, I walked out the door of the clinic while Kelly went to get the car to minimize my footsteps. I was so fearful that the embryos/blastocysts might fall out of me. I was paranoid. From our apartment parking garage to our elevator, it seemed like a longer walk than usual. I remember seeing a wheel chair that belonged to one of our neighbors, that I wanted to hijack momentarily. Once inside, I hardly left our bedroom for the next few days. I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize this.
Poor Hannah didn’t have a clue why her new mom was so sick and did nothing but lie around in bed. The older kids knew what was going on and were helpful and supportive. If I could speak Chinese, I might have tried to explain it to Hannah, but decided it would be best for her emotionally if I withheld the information for the time. Technically, I was considered pregnant, as everyone is when an IVF transfer occurs. I learned the acronym of “PUPO” from an online support group that I had joined, which means that I was pregnant until proven otherwise. I wouldn’t know if I was still pregnant until fifteen days later, on July 28. This is what I wrote on that momentous day in an entry from the online support forum as I humbly and gratefully shared the results.
TEST RESULTS IN: I just got home from the clinic and took a urine test and blood test and found out that it worked! I’m in shock! Forty-eight years old, just a few weeks from our 25th wedding anniversary, and I’m expecting a baby or babies. I can hardly believe it. When the staff was telling me to go into the doctor’s office, everyone was smiling, so I kind of had a feeling it would be good news. The doctor told me I am pregnant and I was blown away. I’m so thankful for the egg donor. I wasn’t even expecting the news until tonight, so I went by myself while my husband was at work. I called him as I was waiting for further instructions and more medications to be prescribed and he was of course thrilled too.
They told me to just take it easy and not allow myself to get too tired. My friend who had twins last year at age 48 after two adoptions, who inspired me to get back into the infertility ring, said she just basically laid in bed for a week or two, hardly getting up at all. She just got up to go to the restroom and sometimes to take a shower. I have been avoiding sleeping on my tummy (my favorite position) and so far, all the tips have been helpful, it would appear.
We will move back to the USA on August 15 and I’m supposed to set up an appointment for the fetal heartbeat sonogram for August 18. I broke the news to my four siblings via email — two of whom are happy for us and two whom are against it, citing their concerns for my age and health (which is fine). I’m feeling on top of the world, and yet, still a bit guarded with my emotions and skeptical. I feel blessed for the advancement of science, and being a woman of faith, cannot help but to thank my loving Father in Heaven for this tender mercy.
Tonight after the blood tests are in, I should have a better idea of whether or not one or both of the embryos that were transferred may be progressing. Thank you to everyone for your support!
This is such a horrible picture of me with my face all red from crying, and thinking I would just drop by the office, give my sample, then leave. Oh, well. It’s the only picture I have of Dr. Lai (on left) and Ian (on right), and besides, this was one of the best days of my life, so I’m putting it here anyway.
Before leaving Taiwan, our family went on a vacation to the southern tip of the country, to an amusement park and various places, and I was extremely cautious and careful. I avoided doing many activities and held onto hope that I might actually be incubating a baby or babies. We moved back home to Austin and a few days later, I went to my first of many OB/GYN and high risk pregnancy doctor visits. I was so bummed during the ultrasound when they could only find one baby. In retrospect, I am grateful because one baby has been plenty. I ended up having a horrendous pregnancy and my body will never be the same, even though it was completely worth it.
My siblings who had been concerned about my health and well being were vindicated. I developed gestational diabetes, which is no longer a concern, and had to test my blood sugar level twice a day, I took medicine for just about everything. Those weeks and months seemed to drag on in slow motion and I felt like I was pregnant forever.
Here’s what I looked like at eight months pregnant. As sick and miserable as I was, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
My friends had the most amazing baby shower for me on Feb. 27, 2012, with mustaches and bow ties to celebrate the soon-to-be baby boy.
Isaac’s due date was March 31 and I had been going to Dr. Kimberly DeStefano, a maternal fetal medicine sub-specialist, in addition to my obstetrician, Dr. Ariel Holley, so I had a doctor visit each week, alternating from one to the other. I had been scheduled to be induced on March 22, but Dr. Holley didn’t think I was quite ready, so she wanted me to wait another week.
Assuming I would be having the baby on March 22, Dr. De Stefano had released me as a patient two weeks prior, wished me the best, thinking that would be our last visit. Since I had been going to her high risk pregnancy place so frequently, it seemed like a long time had gone by without being checked and I kept worrying about my baby not being safe.
I was prompted to call to make one more appointment with the specialist and got right in. It turned out to be a potentially life saving check-up. Previously, I had an ultrasound every time I went in and this time, the baby hadn’t gained any weight since the last appointment two weeks earlier. Dr. De Stefano assured me that the baby was still fine, but that something was going on and told me that I needed to have the baby that day. She said to go directly to the hospital or to my doctor. She called ARC and told them I was on my way.
I got to my car and called Kelly to inform him, and somehow through the tears, he understood my alarming message. I wasn’t quite ready for this, my house wasn’t clean, I didn’t have all the baby items organized to take to the hospital, or any arrangements made for Hannah and Christopher. (Lindsey was away at college.) I met with Dr. Anthony Monteiro since Dr. Holley wasn’t in. He asked me if I wanted to check right in to the hospital or to wait until 4:30 or so and I chose the latter.
I called two friends, Danielle and Sherrie, to help us with the kids. Both were awesome to drop everything and assist. I quickly scrambled around and grabbed some items from home and Kelly took me to the hospital. I was scared that something might go wrong and worried about the baby, yet was eager to have my pregnancy and hopefully puking, nausea and indigestion come to an end, and most especially to meet our precious son.
The cervix softening medicine was administered that evening and I was supposed to be induced the next morning. However, heart monitors indicated that our baby was in distress after we had just begun. I was worried. They said that if the baby could barely tolerate these beginning stages, there would be no way he could make it through the more intense delivery and a c-section was inevitable.
I asked when that would happen and they told me, “Right now,” or as soon as the doctor is ready. Next, a calmness came over me that everything would be fine and I tried to be the best patient possible. When the anesthesiologist treated me, it didn’t seem like the drugs took as well as it should have and I could feel a lot of movements and was in quite a bit of pain while Dr. Monteiro did the surgery. I thought women weren’t supposed to feel anything during a c-section. Wrong! I could feel tugging and pulling and it felt like they were ripping my insides apart, working hard and fast to get the baby out of me. It was a lot more violent of a process than I would have ever imagined and it hurt a lot. I remember asking if they were almost finished after the baby had been born and they were putting me back together. It couldn’t be over fast enough and I was relieved when they were finally done.
Isaac was born on Monday, March 19, 2012, at 10:29 p.m. with the umbilical cord wrapped around him a couple of times and might not have survived, according to Dr. De Stefano, had I not made that extra appointment and had that pivotal, critical ultrasound. She credited maternal instincts for kicking in, but I know God had intervened once more. By the time he was born, I was 49 years and 4 months old. Who has babies at that age? Just like Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, who were extremely old by the time they had their baby Isaac, Kelly and I could relate. I laugh when I think about it. How truly miraculous and blessed we are to have Isaac.
I can hardly believe how awesome life has been since Isaac and Hannah have joined us. I tell Hannah what an angel she is as well, and that she is a special gift from Heavenly Father.
Our one year living abroad was clearly not a fluke. It was part of a wonderful plan much bigger than I had ever imagined.
Isaac was jaundiced and we had to keep him under heat lamps for a day or two. It was torture for us and he hated not being swaddled. We would much rather be holding him in our arms.
Several of my good friends came to see us at the hospital with flowers and cuddles and treats. I neglected to get pictures with Hildie, who brought me a milk shake, Danielle, who brought cupcakes, and Judy, my Relief Society president. I had help with carpooling and sleep overs from my neighbors Laurie and Paulina and also my friend, Megan.
I ended up with a killer headache, a possible side effect from the anesthesia, that lasted for almost a week. It was excruciating and I was having a hard time with trying to breast feed, but was determined to figure it out.
I received advice and support from my friends Elizabeth and Kirsten, my sister’s sister-in-law, Maryanne, and also a lactation specialist. It took a month until I finally got it down and wasn’t dying in the process. I was grateful to breast feed my baby up until he was 10 months old.
My husband was incredibly supportive as I toughed through all the pain and recovery from surgery and changed most of Isaac’s diapers for the first few weeks of his life. It was beautiful to see how proud Kelly was to have a son whom he had helped to create.
We finally got to leave the hospital on Friday, March 23, and I was so happy to get home to my own bed.
We had to take Isaac to the doctor the next day to make sure his bilirubin levels were fine and that the jaundice was under control.
Here we are for his first bath. Other than the initial shock, he has loved bath time completely.
I was impressed by the kindness of several friends who brought dinners to us including Christa, who whipped up a healthy, beautiful feast.
Wonderful neighbors who brought delicious dinners were Gladys, Lisa, Kathy, Monica and more friends from church, Megan, Judy, Michelle and Cindy. A group of neighbors stopped by to drop off a huge amount of diapers, Kelley, Kimberly, Zee and Ellen, all who had generously given us baby gifts already.
“Aunt Sherrie” brought me flowers, kept my kids from starving and spoiled them by taking them out to restaurants.
When Isaac was a week old, he was back to his birth weight of 5 pounds, 9 ounces.
We took him to Dr. Monteiro’s wife, Dr. Kellie Rice-Monteiro, for his first pediatrician visit. She was gentle with Isaac as well as thorough and friendly, but the drive to Cedar Park didn’t make sense to continue long term, so we switched to Dr. Brooks Booker on Anderson Mill.
Thinking back on this time, I haven’t even begun to mention the loving support and gifts, baby clothes and more we got from family and friends in the mail. My mom bought Isaac his gorgeous crib and the list is never ending of whom to acknowledge. Good friends from years past and present showered us with baby necessities. I experienced an incredible outpouring of love and joy for the miracle baby, Isaac. Everyone was happy for our family and I will always be so thankful to all for what they did for us. What a little bundle of love he is!
One year later, Isaac weighs 18 pounds, 4 ounces and is just under the tenth percentile for weight and is in the second percentile for height, 25th percentile for his head circumference. That should mean he is extra intelligent, right? He is a healthy, happy baby who is adored deeply by many.
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