Authors: Carolyn Savage
A Medical Mistake, the Baby We
Couldn’t Keep, and Our Choice to
Deliver the Ultimate Gift
Carolyn and Sean Savage
The Call to Character
In the Name of Family
Shaking Off the Shock
Our Cup Runneth Over
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Keeping the Secret
Maybe, Maybe Not
Charting a Course
An Anxious Introduction
Sharing the Hurt, Feeling the Love
The Elephant in the Room
Turning Toward Hope
Managing Two Pregnancies
The Best Way Out Is Through
Reaching Toward Joy
A Broken Hallelujah
Wrapped in Love
Good-byes and Grief
A Letter to Logan
We have our beliefs.
They may be different from yours.
That’s okay, as long as respect endures.
Our story is absent of arrogance, as are our lives.
We realize we may not have it all right.
In fact, that is the only thing we are certain of.
Whether you believe in God, or you don’t,
Whether you study the whole Bible, or half the Bible,
Another holy book, or no holy book,
We hope our story will be meaningful to you.
We believe the one thing that we all have in common
is the need to love and to be loved.
Perhaps the purest love on Earth is the love of a child.
Our story is about that kind of love:
Our love for a child,
And the lesson of love he gave in return.
E HAVE THREE CHILDREN
. Or do we have four? A strange question, but the kind that parents who have lost a child ask themselves from time to time. That absent child is always with you, a loss you feel some days as yearning and other days in a gasp of pain. My husband Sean and I still grieve the son we lost, despite the unusual way he left us. Or rather, we still grieve him and the circumstances that forced us to give away a baby we thought of as our own. This was a child whom I nurtured and we both protected from the forces conspiring against his survival. Yet I understand that I may never hold him in my arms again and that the next time I see him, he will think of me as a stranger. Perhaps I will never be able to heal the ache that is the place he occupies in my heart. At the same time, I know that if Sean and I had this decision to make again, we’d do exactly the same for Logan.
For us, having children has been the biggest challenge in our sixteen years of marriage: twenty ovarian stimulation cycles, three in vitro fertilizations (IVFs), two frozen embryo transfers, and four miscarriages in the twelve years that we tried everything we could to expand our family. We knew that our struggle was coming to a close on the morning of February 6, 2009, when we entered the fer
tility clinic for one last try. I was nearly forty years old, and if this attempt at transferring our last embryos did not work, we were done. We would thank God for our three beautiful, healthy children and move forward. Two of my three pregnancies had been difficult, and one nearly lethal, but we were determined to fulfill our pledge to give every embryo a chance at life. Our beloved fertility doctor, who had helped us conceive our third child, Mary Kate, when other doctors had failed, would perform the transfer that morning. Little did we know that, because of a terrible mistake, I would receive another couple’s embryos and eventually give birth to a baby we would not be allowed to raise.
All through the Christmas holidays of 2008 and into the New Year, I had been anxiously preparing for this day: taking estrogen pills, injecting lupron and progesterone, and enduring the bloating and grumpiness brought on by those drugs. Although I had started out thinking that I didn’t want to go through all of it again, that I was tired of all the anxiety surrounding our infertility treatments and pregnancies, when Sean and I arrived at the clinic we were hoping for a second miracle. I had just slipped on my hospital gown when the fertility doctor entered the examining room. He was brusque and efficient, a man who clearly had many things on his mind as he described the condition of our thawed embryos.
“The five that survived all have developed to between nine and twelve cells. How many will you be transferring today? Remember, I don’t do selective reductions.”
He meant that if he transferred all five and they survived, he would not eliminate any in utero to give me and the others a better chance. His policy on this was one of the reasons we chose him as our doctor. Besides, I wasn’t sure any of these embryos were going to make it. Nine cells after four days in a Petri dish was not robust growth.
“Can you give us a moment?” I asked.
“I’ll see you in the operating room. Let me know then.”
“Sean, they should be eighty to a hundred cells by now. They are very, very behind. I think we should transfer three. I actually don’t think any of them will take.”
Sean knew how well I had educated myself about pregnancy, miscarriage, and the science behind IVF these last ten years.
“What happens to the other two embryos?”
“They’ll watch them until tomorrow, and if they are still alive, they’ll refreeze them. The ones we aren’t transferring probably won’t survive.”
“Okay. Three it is,” Sean said.
Before the nurse led me into the operating room, she had me check my wristband to confirm the information there. “Carolyn Savage.” “Yes.” “Social security number…” “Correct.” “Birth date…” “Wait…actually, the day and month of my birthday are correct, but my birth year is wrong. It’s 1969, not 1967.”
This didn’t seem like a serious error, so I didn’t think anything of it. The nurse wrote a nine over the seven, fastened the bracelet to my wrist, and escorted us down the hall.
In the operating room, I lay down on the table and placed my feet in the stirrups. Sean came in a few minutes later, gowned in surgical attire.
“How many are we transferring?” the doctor asked me.
“Three,” I said.
“We’re doing three,” he called back into the lab. A few minutes later, the embryologist entered the room holding a catheter.
“You are Carolyn Savage?”
He flipped my wrist over and confirmed my answer with a glance at my hospital wristband, then handed the catheter to my doctor. Sean held my hand tightly.
The nurse squirted ultrasound gel on my stomach and rubbed the wand over my abdomen. Up popped a vivid image of my uterus on the screen.
“There’s the catheter entering the uterus through your cervix,” the doctor narrated. “Now watch. Do you see that?”
I could see the catheter moving into my uterus, and although I couldn’t see the embryos as he released them, I thought of them as light and graceful orbs. I pictured them nesting gently.
“Congratulations. You are now officially pregnant.”
I looked at Sean and smiled. Now that our embryos were back where they were supposed to be, they might grow happily.
“That’s it, guys. All finished. Good luck. I’ll talk to you in ten days, after your pregnancy test,” he said as he exited.
I lay still, standard procedure immediately following a transfer of embryos.
“How does it feel to be pregnant with triplets?” Sean said.
I laughed. “Don’t look so worried! I know that however this turns out, we’ll be able to handle it. Triplets? That would be scary, but we’d survive. Twins? No sweat. A singleton? Perfect! No pregnancy? We’ll be okay with that too!”
“Mr. and Mrs. Savage?” A gowned man asked as he entered the room.
“For your baby album!” he said as he handed me a picture. Sean and I marveled at this snapshot of our three embryos, labeled with my name, Sean’s name, and our personal identifying information.
“Their first picture, you know? Congratulations,” the man said to us.
Sean and I looked at the picture and beamed at each other.
The Call to Character
and glanced at the clock. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, I felt like hell, and I was pretty sure I knew why. I had been pregnant often enough to recognize that I was experiencing those symptoms, but considering my history, I couldn’t allow myself to feel certain. Not yet. I knew a virus was going around. The dizziness and nausea from the flu was about the same as what I felt with morning sickness. Soon enough I would get the results of the pregnancy test I’d had that morning. Why hadn’t they called me yet? I thought for sure I would know by lunchtime.
That morning I’d rallied long enough to drag myself out of bed, throw on a bra and some sweats, and make a pathetic attempt at doing my hair before hauling myself to a lab for my pregnancy test. It was a chilly February morning in Sylvania, Ohio, and the cold air boosted my spirit as I drove to the appointment at a lab, leaving our sons Drew, fourteen, and Ryan, twelve, to sleep in on their day off from school. Sean had taken our one-year-old, Mary Kate, to his mom’s so I could rest. As I entered the laboratory to have my blood drawn, the happy thought that I was about to give her a sibling close to her in age brought a skip to my step at a time when normally I would have been dragging.
Home from the lab, I discovered the remnants of the feast of biscuits and pancakes the boys had made before they went to play with some neighborhood friends. The house was quiet when I drifted back to sleep in our bedroom, enjoying the familiar hormones of pregnancy coursing through my body, with the cell phone and the house phone resting on a nearby pillow.
When I woke at 3:30, there had been no call from my clinic. I felt eerily out of sorts and a little disturbed, as though someone were with me in the room, even though I knew I was alone in the house. Then I had a rush of energy, as if something important had just happened and I needed to attend to it. By the time the clock passed 3:45 and there had been no call, doubt started to creep in. What if I wasn’t pregnant? I shivered and pulled the covers tighter around me. I wondered if my shakes were the flu. I rolled onto my left side and felt acid reflux. Why was that there? And I remembered…because I was pregnant. Again. I grinned as I nodded off to sleep.
When I woke again as the clock edged toward 4:00, I wondered if I should call the clinic. Surely they hadn’t forgotten.
In February 2009, the atmosphere at the financial services company where I work was frenzied. I had been putting in long hours since the markets began collapsing the previous summer, trying to contain the panic virus that was spreading among investors, including some of my clients. Each time my phone rang, I heard my clients’ fears; every time I glanced at the computer, the graphs showed global assets in a freefall. On February 16, Carolyn and I were hoping for some good news for a change: the results of her pregnancy test. Carolyn had been ill the night before and early that morning. Perhaps it wasn’t the flu, but morning sickness. It was past 3:30, and a call from her was long overdue. My cell phone rang, and I answered it.
“Sean, do you have privacy?” It was our fertility doctor, his voice trembling.
This can’t be good
, I thought as I rose to shut my office door.
“I have bad news, but it is not the type of bad news you would expect,” he said. “Carolyn is pregnant with another couple’s genetic child.” My mouth fell open, but words escaped me.
How could that be true? How could that happen?
The hand that held the phone started shaking.
The day before, he said, his clinic’s embryologist discovered the error and called him into the clinic, where the embryologist tearfully confessed that he had mistakenly pulled another couple’s embryos from cryopreservation. Without knowing, the doctor had transferred them into Carolyn. Our doctor had decided to wait for the outcome of the pregnancy test before letting us know about the mistake. He said he did not have the words to express how sorry he was for the error.