I've never taken a journalism class, but one thing I've learned from writing over the years is that you never "bury the lede". So here it is:
Brooke and I are having our 4th child this summer and we couldn't be more thrilled. Full details, including gender, are at the bottom of this post (another journalism trick!).
The reactions we've received from people range everywhere from "We're so happy for you!" to “On purpose?” to "You're nuts!"
It's an interesting decision to make - how many kids to have. Just think about all the factors that go into it:
- Career paths
- Fertility issues
- Marriage stability
- How much family you have nearby
- Your own experience having brothers/sisters
- How "hard" your first kid or two was
- Trying for that boy or girl you've always wanted
- How you view the world and the direction it's headed
When Brooke and I were engaged a million years ago, we didn't really think about all this stuff. We just assumed that we'd have a big, happy and healthy family (or at least I did). We agreed that we wanted "3 or 4" kids. Easy.
And because we jumped headfirst into the whole marriage thing (I'll save that story for another time), we thought it might be wise to ummm...you know, get to know each other a little better before adding kids to the mix :) So, we decided to wait at least 5 years before having kids. Easy.
To celebrate our 5 year anniversary, we booked a trip to Maui to begin the baby-making process. Soon after, we were pregnant with our first child. Very easy (and fun!).
And then real life, as it has a way of doing, intervened and things stopped being quite so easy.
When Brooke was just 3 months pregnant, at one of her checkups, her OB-GYN recommended she get some routine blood work done to see if she carried a gene for Cystic Fibrosis. It seemed like a strange thing to test for since neither of us had any family history with it, but as we found out, CF is the most commonly inherited recessive gene in the Caucasian population. I don't think I'd ever even heard of it, or knew exactly what it was. Nevertheless, she tested as a symptom-less carrier of the gene. And sure enough, against the odds...so did I.
What this meant was that each child we had together would have a 25% chance of actually having Cystic Fibrosis, this devastating genetic disease, including the boy that was growing in her belly.
The next 6 months, in what should have been a time of pure joy, became the most anxious time of our lives. Instead of just researching cribs and car seats, we were researching CF life expectancy stats, nearby hospitals and treatment programs.
Throughout our marriage, I have always been the eternal optimist between the two of us, but even I had this constantly lingering fear that our son would be born with this.
We didn't find out until three weeks after Owen was born that he didn't have the disease (he's just a carrier like me and Brooke). I still remember us getting that call from the doctor and almost dropping to the floor in relief when we found out the news.
Which left us with our next problem to worry about. What we do about the rest of our family? I'm not a genius at math, and not great at biology either, but the 1 in 4 chance still remained for each kid we'd have. And the 3 or 4 kids we wanted? The odds didn't look too good.
As we talked to doctors and genetic counselors, we found out about a potential solution called PGD, or preimplantation genetic diagnosis. With PGD, you go through the IVF process to create embryos, which are grown to about 6-8 cells. Then, they extract one cell (!) which gets an overnight flight to Chicago (first class I'm sure), where it's tested for genetic diseases, in this case CF. We'd be able to use the embryos that didn't have it. Wow. Science.
A million questions flooded our brains when presented with this option. Was it worth it to go through all this? Could we afford it? Should we just adopt? Should we just have one kid? How did we feel about making a bunch of embryos and (maybe) only using a few to grow our family? Should we have them tell us the gender of all the embryos too? Could I pay extra to have all our kids have blonde hair and blue eyes like their dad? (unfortunately no)
We were immediately thrust into this world that we never thought we'd be in. We talked to close friends, our family, our pastor. We read all 17 verses in the Bible that specifically address preimplantation genetic diagnoses :) We wrestled with all this.
In the end, we felt it was the right decision to make for our family and we did it. Two years later, we had our beautiful daughter Sloane, four years later another beautiful daughter Wynne.
It still hasn't been without its struggles. About two years ago when we started trying for #4, Brooke conceived easily with an embryo transfer like the times before, but suffered a miscarriage at 8 weeks (a devastating result for those who have been through it). Then, last year, Brooke had a failed transfer of a high-quality embryo for an unknown reason (also a devastating result).
This past October, we were down to our last shot, embryonically speaking. We were optimistic but still quite guarded, even as we made it past the 8, 10 and 12 week marks with a strong heartbeat inside of Brooke each time.
Brooke's now about 22 weeks pregnant and we're in full baby prep mode. And since this is definitely "our last hurrah", we're trying to enjoy each moment and every ultrasound.
We even did the whole gender reveal party for the first time, which was wayyyy more fun than we had expected. Now, we love our girls. But this time the entire family was rooting for another boy to even things out in the Bacon house. And lo and behold...
Blue cake! Bacon Bit #4 is due July 15th, the same week Brooke and I turn 38 and 40, respectively. It's a little bit older than we imagined to have kids, but we've never felt healthier and stronger in our lives. So we're ready for this little guy.
Why are we sharing all this?
For all the families out there that have struggled over the years in building their family, me too (or in this case, "we too"). It rarely goes as planned. There are always curveballs. And it takes faith and patience to see things through to the other side, no matter where it goes.
For all the young couples out there planning to have kids, fire up those blood tests. I was surprised to discover 10 million Americans carry a gene for Cystic Fibrosis (especially those with English backgrounds like me and Brooke). Millions more carry other inherited genes like Tay-Sachs, sickle cell, Duchenne's and more. You never know what recessive genes you share with your spouse, so figure it out.
Finally, life is short. Share your stories :)
As always, thanks for reading along. If you have any great suggestions for boy names, throw 'em in the comments!
For further exploration:
Jim Gaffigan - 4 Kids. A must watch if you haven't seen this clip yet.
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - Find out more about CF here. Thanks to medical breakthroughs the median predicted survival age is now close to 40.
Radiolab Podcast: CRISPR - I listened to more than 100 podcasts last year and this episode of Radiolab stuck with me the longest. They do a fantastic job breaking down CRISPR, a new gene editing technology that could one day (maybe quite soon) eradicate genetic diseases like CF, Duchenne's and much more.
The Underpopulation Bomb - Most people think the world is facing an overpopulation problem. Quite the opposite, according to way, way forward thinking scientists. So go ahead, crank out more babies and save Planet Earth :)