Justin Vaughan Photo
When Deborah Honn met and married her husband, Charles, in 2002, they decided they wanted to have a baby. But there was a catch: Deborah had been married previously, and she'd decided years earlier to have her tubes tied after giving birth to three children.
Deborah, now 38, and Charles, 45, received an initial fertility consultation in 2002, but the Chester couple decided to wait several years, until daughters Ashley and Amber and son Brandon were teenagers, to pursue fertility treatments. (Ashley is now 21, followed by Amber, 19, and Brandon, 16.)
At the end of January 2008, they visited Dr. Kenneth Steingold, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Fertility Institute of Virginia, to begin a plan of action to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization. That appointment launched a series tests, a hysteroscopy to remove Deborah's fibroids, injections, and finally egg retrieval and transfer eight months later. With in vitro fertilization, the most common fertility treatment, a lab prepares an embryo using a couple's egg and sperm, and the embryo is implanted in the woman through a procedure no more painful than having a Pap smear. Fertilized embryos that are not transferred to a woman's uterus are often frozen for later use.
After that attempt did not result in pregnancy, Steingold encouraged the Honns to wait until after the holidays for a second transfer of fertilized embryos into Deborah's uterine lining.
After the second transfer, they found out Deborah was pregnant on Jan. 26. "That is the happiest news," Charles says with a grin. Deborah adds with a laugh that she went through boxes and boxes of pregnancy tests until one read positive, and then her pregnancy was confirmed clinically.
But weeks later, while attending Brandon's wrestling tournament, Deborah had severe bleeding. "I knew I had miscarried the baby," she says.
Steingold opened the office early the next day, a Sunday morning, and at first glance saw nothing but a blood-filled uterus. But as he and his medical staff continued to examine the ultrasound, he found what the Honns describe as a "flicker."
"We were absolutely elated," Deborah says, adding that soon they found not one but two signs of life. Charles adds that Steingold sat down and chuckled, telling them that he had found a third healthy life. "At that point, we said we are really happy with three, but please stop counting," Charles says with a laugh. "We told God what our plan was, and He gave us his!"
The bleeding was associated with a spontaneous uterine-lining tear because of the buildup of uterine lining resulting from the fertility drugs, Deborah says, and from that point on she received care from a perinatal specialist as well as from Steingold. On June 19, Deborah went on bed rest because she was dilated and there was concern about the membranes surrounding the babies that had begun to move into the cervix (called funneling), as well as other risks of having high-order multiples.
On Aug. 8, after a morning of not feeling up-to-par, Deborah went to the doctor and had a cesarean section. The operating room, she says, was filled with the nurses and doctors who had supported her — "there was standing room only." Abby, weighing 3 pounds, 8 ounces and measuring 17 inches long, was born first, followed by Allie, at 3 pounds, 7 ounces, and 16 3/4 inches long, and their brother, Brody, at 3 pounds, 7 ounces, and 15 3/4 inches long.
All three babies stayed in the NICU for about a month at Johnston-Willis Hospital. Abby was the first to come home on Sept. 3, followed by Allie on Sept. 9 and Brody on Sept. 11.
The Honns add that though they received negative feedback at times from their extended network of acquaintances for using fertility treatments, they are extremely grateful for such advancements. "We got comments like, ‘Were you trying to be on a reality show and missed by a few?' " Charles says. "And we thank God that the [technology] is there, or we would not have [our] children. … It is not a freakish thing. It is having healthy babies, and we have been blessed."
"I wish people understood it better," Deborah adds. "It is not people trying to have litters of babies. It is just people trying to have a healthy baby."