CHICAGO — New life is a gift, but the joy of having babies is sometimes only possible through medical technology, and in special cases, the generosity of a third person. Children are not a given for some couples. Science gave WGN’s Demetrius Ivory and Erin McElroy their heart’s desire.
This is the moment the loving couple has waited for, struggled for nearly a year for. Finally, success.
“You’re five weeks and six days pregnant today,” said Dr. Eve Feinberg, Fertility Centers of Illinois.
Then a surprise. Dr. Feinberg saw not one, but two! It was a new twist and an added gift in a fertility hurdle that once seemed impossible to overcome.
“I would have loved to be able to carry the baby,” Erin said.
After her second pregnancy, Erin had complications. Several surgeries could not repair the damage. Doctors told her she could get pregnant but she could not carry a baby.
“The issue is being able to carry it as that baby grows, develops, puts on weight. I was told, ‘You will just miscarry again and again and again,’” Erin said.
“Infertility is a medical disease, just like any other medical disease,” Feinberg said.
So what options did they have? Erin’s mother offered a suggestion, “She said, ‘I’ll carry the babies for you!’”
But the mother of five was not physically in a position to be a surrogate for her daughter. Just maybe someone else would.
“We had no idea what that process looked like,” Erin said.
They got a quick education. Erin would have to go through in-vitro-fertilization — all the steps to get pregnant — even though she wouldn’t carry the baby. The first jolt in the process came when they picked up the medications.
“This is our first baby bag, which has more medications than you could ever imagine. The scary part is this is only gonna take us through the first eight days — $7,000 worth of drugs in this bag,” Erin said. “We were doing two shots in the morning and three at night.”
The weather forecaster became instant doctor, mixing multiple injectable drugs that would cause Erin’s body to create multiple eggs.
“They said, ‘Ideally, we are going to do one round and we are going to get as many eggs as we possibly can.’”
But in the process there were other things they didn’t bargain for — hormonal surges, weight gain and tremendous fear and anxiety.
“I think it brought us a lot closer,” Demetrius said.
“We were able to grow through the process a little bit more. It wasn’t easy, it still isn’t easy, but together it made it much better,” Erin said.
With hope, they gave it a shot — again and again — all the while connecting with the Center for Egg Options to find a surrogate who was willing to make their dreams come true.
“I believe surrogates have extra love in their hearts to do this,” Erin said.
“It’s almost 100 percent selfless. Not only the surrogates but their family, also,” Demetrius said.
The surrogate is compensated. It’s part of the astronomical cost for couples. But with science on their side and all the players in place, Erin and Demetrius were all in! Doctors performed the first egg retrieval from Erin. Those eggs would be married with sperm in a petri dish to create an embryo that would be implanted into a surrogate.
“As grateful as I am I wish I could be carrying our babies right now,” Erin said.
That pang of pain was soon surpassed by yet another heartbreak. Twenty-four hours after four healthy embryos were created, the doctor called with news.
“They made that phone call and said, ‘You lost all your embryos, we have to start again.’ We were both stunned, silenced. Truthfully, just really sad,” Erin said.
Demetrius: “I can’t even describe that moment. When we found out that we lost all of them.”
“It’s devastating to watch as a physician because you want to do anything and everything you can to help,” Feinberg said.
Now what? Erin and Demetrius had been through so much. Their funds were depleted since their treatments were not covered by insurance.
“We’ve known people who have taken second mortgages, sold their house to live in an apartment,” said Nancy Block with Center for Egg Options.
“People always say you don’t touch your 401k. What are you saving it for? I had a pretty good 401K,” Demetrius said.
“Had!” Erin said.
And they still had hope. After the first failed attempt, the second time another four embryos but on implant day only two remained.
“I was Mr. Conservative. I said, ‘If you have two, you try one, and then you try again.'” Demetrius said.
“And out of character, I’m like, ‘Go for the gold! Throw ‘em both in!'” Erin said.
“And we asked our surrogate. She said, ‘Go for two!’ So literally I got outvoted,” Demetrius said.
As it turned out, it took more than one couple in love, two parents wanting to have a baby, to create the life that would change a family.
“There are so many people out there that need help, that are looking for someone to help them have a family,” said surrogate Jamie Armstrong.
Jamie knows the joy and collaboration well. She is pregnant now – carrying another family’s baby.
“I’ve never been more proud of myself,” she said.
The mother of three boys of her own also carried twins for another couple. The first time she needed both a physical and psychological evaluation. She passed with flying colors.
“I had such a sense of pride and accomplishment. Their lives will be forever changed because I was able to help them,” Jamie said
You can see the joy on her face as she holds the infants after their birth, just before their parents took them home.
“I knew going into it these weren’t my kids. I’m not giving them up, I’m giving them back,” Jamie said. “My husband’s on board. I think my kids learn empathy for others. Here are these people who can’t have children and my mom is able to help them.”
It’s not a traditional path to parenthood – but for some it is the option that expands their world.
“How do you thank someone? How do you thank someone for doing what you couldn’t?” Erin said.
Congratulations Erin and Demetrius on the birth of their twin girls Harlow Winter and Hadley Walker — they both have weather-themed names thanks to Demetrius, who also chose the Winter Solstice as their wedding day.
The couple spoke out about their journey to these beautiful little girls in an effort to help others to show – you are not alone. More than seven million women have agonized with infertility in this country. There is emotional and financial help. Erin and Demetrius are active with the Life Foundation at Fertility Centers of Illinois. You can learn more at http://lifefindsaway.org/