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Making a Miracle

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Thursday, October 18, 2007 | 0 comments

Local woman, age 52, finally has the baby she dreamed of and worked so hard to get.

When Anne talked about plans to visit the Beverly Hills clinic, a friend once said, "It's a shame you can't have my eggs."

By the fall of 2000, Anne needed to know if the woman meant it.

The friend, a mother in her mid-30s, wrestled with the idea that her egg would become the child of another woman.

"Would I feel like this was my child?" the friend wondered.
"Am I going to be crazy toward this child and have all these feelings I don't have a right to have? That was the big one."
She talked to her husband. "I thought about it and prayerfully considered it for a long time," she said.

"This is a gift that I can give," she concluded,
"and it's kind of like an organ donor. The only thing about this is nobody has to die for the gift to be made."
The donation would be made through in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

A doctor would extract the eggs from the donor's ovaries, an embryologist would inseminate them in a petri dish with Michael's sperm, the embryos would incubate for three days, then be transferred to a surrogate.

Liza, Anne's sister, agreed to carry the baby.

"She's very, very, very dear to me," said Liza, who is eight years younger than Anne.

Anne was the first person Liza called when her husband died in a car accident in San Francisco in 1994. Anne caught the first flight out of town, arriving in California with only her raincoat and a briefcase.

"If there was anything I could do that would enable her to feel fulfilled and to give her the happiness that she deserved and that she'd helped me achieve in my life, what wouldn't I do?" Liza asked.

Liza's doctor, however, feared she might not survive another pregnancy. The delivery of her daughter two years earlier had been dangerous. He told her she couldn't carry Anne's baby.

"But in the same conversation," Liza recalled, "he said to me, 'Why isn't she carrying this child herself?' And I said, 'She's post-menopausal!'

"And he said,
'So what?'"
The answer

Michael expected their new fertility specialist to tell Anne no, too.

Anne was 51. She had had five miscarriages. Now she was going to carry a baby herself?

"I was going in to hear the doctor tell Anne it was a crazy idea and she ought to have a surrogate," Michael said.

Instead, Dr. Barry Donesky of the Mid-South Fertility Institute leaned back and said he didn't see a problem, so long as Anne passed some tests to make sure she could physically handle a pregnancy.

Anne grinned and hit the table with her fist.

Michael eyeballed the doctor.

"I was totally shocked," he said.

A few weeks later, on Valentine's Day 2001, five eggs from the donor were fertilized with Michael's sperm. Three embryos grew in an incubator in Donesky's small lab in Chattanooga for three days.

Anne had been using an estrogen patch and twice-a-day progesterone injections in her buttocks to prepare her uterus.

On the third day, when the embryos had grown to six to eight cells, Donesky threaded a soft plastic tube through Anne's cervix and deposited the embryos in her uterus.

On Feb. 17, 2001, Anne was pregnant again.

The McKinneys would be 52 years old that summer.

They still showed the affection of newlyweds, calling each other "Honey," ending their telephone conversations with
"I love you."
They longed to share their lives with a child.

"This was not just an experiment with what you could do with medicine," said Judy Dyer, Michael's half-sister.
"It was really an act of love."
It also fit the McKinneys' worldview perfectly: Set a goal. Take control.

They think Ayn Rand would have approved.

"Man's intellectual conquest over biology," Anne said.

"Creating your own destiny," Michael added.
"She would've liked this because it was planned. Every step was a conscious decision based upon weighing the risks."
An awareness of those risks - physical and emotional - never left in the months to come.


Anne gained weight quickly. Her employees, accustomed to seeing their boss juggling back-to-back appointments, began helping her find places to nap.

"Pregnancy drains you," Anne realized in early May.
"It makes you so tired you can hardly hold your head up sometimes."
Dr. Perry Roussis and Dr. Gary Stephens, specialists in high-risk pregnancies, saw Anne at least every other week from May through October at the Fort Sanders Perinatal Center.

Nurses checked for high blood pressure and watched for signs of gestational diabetes, problems common in older pregnant women.

Doctors gave Anne progesterone for 18 weeks, six weeks longer than the typical IVF patient. Anne also took daily shots of blood thinners for the length of her pregnancy, to counteract blood clotting triggered by an antibody one doctor found years before.

Roussis and Stephens thought Anne would do fine.

They also knew that fears common to most expectant parents were magnified by Michael and Anne's miscarriages.

"We see that in a lot of patients who have lost pregnancies before," Stephens said. "You can always tell there's that little underlying uneasiness: What if something goes wrong?"

Anne had never carried a baby for three whole months.

When a friend asked if she cried when she first heard the baby's heartbeat, Anne told her, "No, no. I was just scared."

She looked at the baby's image on the ultrasound monitor only after Michael let her know all was well.

She had an amniocentesis on May 21 to determine whether the baby had chromosomal abnormalities, and she had to wait two weeks for the results.
"In two weeks we get to be expectant parents," she told Michael.

Only then - almost halfway through the pregnancy - did they start buying maternity clothes. They didn't want to return them again.

Their greatest fear was the discovery of a problem too late to save the baby.
"In the past, we were dealing with something that killed the babies quietly," Michael said.
"We're used to not having visible problems."
Her employees, who saw her every day, noticed that Anne seemed to hold her emotions in check, to not get her hopes too high.

"We'd ask her, 'Are you excited?' and she'd say, 'Sort of,'" said Theresa Sieweke, an assistant in the law office. "I think she was afraid to look forward to it. She wanted it so badly, and she was afraid she couldn't have it. She was scared to set herself up for the enormous heartbreak."

But publicly, Anne spoke of the imminent birth with smiles and thankfulness.

She was noticeably pregnant by early summer.

She traded her heels for sandals. She stopped drinking coffee altogether, since it made her sick. Her ankles began to disappear as her body swelled.

"Some of you are wondering, 'Has she just let herself go?'" she joked with an audience of some 100 clients as she started a summer seminar on changes in the tax code.

Many offered their prayers, saying the baby must be God's will.

Michael and Anne appreciated the support, even if their beliefs differed.

"This baby is a product of human will," Michael said at the end of August.
"I can't say God doesn't have a part in it ... but if it weren't for her willingness and the exertions we had to go through - and a handful of doctors and nurses - this wouldn't have happened."
Some people did seem surprised that Anne was pregnant and wondered about her age.

Women in particular began doing the math quickly in their heads. "Sometimes they'll even look at the ceiling," Anne said.

Anne never deceived herself into thinking she was immune to aging.

When Roussis suggested she begin using a new blood thinner to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, Anne immediately agreed, even if Lovenox cost $175 per week.

When the baby is growing up, Anne said,
"I have to be there, and I have to not be falling down breaking my bones."
As they headed into the final trimester in August, they got their biggest scare.

Roussis asked them to begin counting the baby's kicks every day.

"If you don't get 10 movements in two hours, you are going to call," Roussis said. "Four to five babies out of a thousand will die. There's nothing we can do about it." With monitoring, however, the odds drop to one in a thousand.

"A baby that moves is a healthy baby," Roussis explained. "The downside is that a baby that doesn't move is not necessarily an unhealthy baby."

Don't panic, he emphasized. If the baby doesn't move, just call.

Anne was focused on the "four to five" out of a thousand.

"It's been too normal," Michael said,
"and we keep waiting for the shoe to drop. We're not pessimists. We're both optimistic people. But it's almost going too smoothly."
The first night, the baby didn't move.

After 45 minutes, Anne didn't feel a thing.

She went upstairs to their bedroom and turned out the light, hoping that if she concentrated, the baby would stir.


She laid on her right side. Her left side. In the fetal position. Stretched flat. With her knees in the air.

Only then did the baby begin to kick.

It happened again about a month later, after Anne heard about a woman who lost her baby 35 weeks into her pregnancy.

They almost went to the hospital. "I can get dressed right now," she told Michael, crying.

Again, movement began just as panic set in.

"This baby sleeps like a rock," Anne said.

By early October, the biggest remaining risk was the delivery.

Michael and Anne wanted the baby to be delivered by Caesarean section, not through natural delivery, and they wanted the baby to be born as soon as possible - prior to the Nov. 6 due date.

They didn't want to risk early labor, particularly since Anne was on blood thinners. They didn't want to rush to the hospital. They wanted to know when it would happen.
Set a goal. Take control.
The baby was a good size, so Michael and Anne thought about a delivery date at the end of October, around the 38th week of pregnancy.

The doctors weren't thrilled with the idea. Statistically, the healthiest babies are born no sooner than the 39th week.

The McKinneys had a doctor's appointment on Oct. 22, the end of the 37th week. Michael steeled himself to persuade Roussis to deliver.

The doctors refused to do a C-section unless Anne had another amniocentesis, this time to determine whether the baby's lungs could work on their own. Those test results were clear right away.

How about tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.? Roussis asked.

Parenthood was less than a day away.

Full article:

Image: Making Babies the Hard Way: Living with Infertility and Treatment, by Caroline Gallup. Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Pub; 1 edition (May 15, 2007)Making Babies the Hard Way: Living with Infertility and Treatment
by Caroline Gallup

-- A frank account of one couple's discovery that they cannot have children of their own, and their ensuing struggle through four years of fertility treatment.

One in six couples worldwide seek assistance to conceive and 80 per cent of couples undergoing fertility treatment are currently unsuccessful.

Writing with humour and honesty, Caroline Gallup describes the social, emotional, spiritual and physical impact of infertility on her and her husband, Bruce, including feelings of bereavement for the absent child, the unavoidable sense of inadequacy and the day-to-day difficulties of financial pressure.

As well as telling her own moving story, she also offers information and guidance for others who are infertile, or who are considering or undergoing treatment.

Image: Buy Now on Amazon.comPaperback: 240 pages
Click to order/for more info: Making Babies the Hard Way
Find it on Amazon: US | CDN | UK

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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost our precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted there will be no more babies in our house.

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