Struggles to Snuggles: A Journey to Parenthood

Several years ago, she first reached out about a newborn session for an upcoming adoption, only to soon find out devastating news that would add to an already extremely challenging 8 years of infertility.

Today, Colleen and Philip have 5 beautiful biological children that I’ve had the highest honor of photographing!

Here is their incredible story of blessing beyond measure as told by my client and friend, Colleen.

I came across Destiny’s beautiful work during the midst of our infertility struggle, even though at the moment I thought it was the end of our journey.

My husband, Philip, and I had endured 8 years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and had entered the adoption world. We were about a year into that rollercoaster when we were informed a birth mother that was within a month of giving birth had chosen us.

We had 48 hours of a whirlwind in which we paid a good portion of the adoptive fees, made travel arrangements (the birth mother was 10 hours away), set up a nursery, and contacted Destiny about taking newborn pictures once we were back in Mississippi with the baby.

Then everything came to a crashing hault. The adoption was a complete scam. The birth mother never existed and the (at the time, reputable) company took our money and ran with it.

For the two years following that incident I completely gave up thinking we would be parents. I took our name off all the other adoptive company lists we were on (which was another large sum of money lost) and refused to even consider reentering the fertility treatment world.

Fast-forward to today and I now have five biological children ages five and under. Destiny has documented this journey through her camera lens from the beginning and my walls are covered in her beautiful work.

When did y’all get married and begin thinking about building your family? 

Philip and I were set up on a blind date during our freshman year of college and married in 2004, a year post college graduation. I was teaching at a local high school while working on my Masters degree and he was in law school. We knew we wanted to have a family and we actually chose a girl (Britton) and boy (Briar)name while we were dating (we knew we were meant to be from the  start). We also knew getting pregnant was going to be very difficult and would require medical intervention, so we started that road very soon after marriage. I had struggled with ovarian cysts and a surgery as a teen that had rendered me (what was thought to be) infertile 

Can you give a glimpse into the infertility struggle and some of the times of hope and disappointment? 
We were very mentally prepared for a long struggle, but with that said you cannot prepare yourself for all the emotions that come with it. Year after year of very expensive failed treatments without a single positive pregnancy test is discouraging. We were still fighting the battle while our friends were having their second and third babies. I reached the point of no longer being able to handle going to baby showers and I had such disdain for so many people that constantly harassed us about starting a family. I prefer to fight my battles silently and then share the struggle once I’m past it, so those people did not know what we were enduring. Every treatment we did failed, so I wanted to avoid the personal pain of people questioning me about the current treatment plan. I just shut down and lived life day by day with honestly no hope of a treatment ever being successful.

– What did a day in the life look like for you two before children?

Our infertility journey lasted a decade. I was teaching high school full time and group exercise part time during this time. I thoroughly loved my jobs and they kept me very busy. Philip had graduated law school and was working a job he adored. We took a lot of fabulous vacations and had a lot of fun, but our struggle was always at the forefront of our lives.

Yours and Phillip’s reactions to your pregnancy with the girls, how you prepared for them and life with twins. 
The day I was told by the ultrasound technician that I was pregnant with twins is a day I will never forget. We had gone through 8 years of fertility treatments and then had the scammed adoption. I was completely done with the process.

Philip was not, though. He somehow convinced me to seek medical help with a fertility team out of Mobile, Alabama. We were out of resources in Mississippi and every Reproductive Endocrinologist told us that we would never get pregnant. We were actually told by one local RE to give up the process. His testing and experience told him that we had less than a -11% (yes, negative) chance of ever having a positive treatment cycle.

Somehow this Mobile team thought different.

We did two failed cycles with them and I told everyone they had one more chance. I was absolutely at my breaking point. They did a “Hail Mary” cycle using a combination of medicines they had never done before. Thanks to that I got my first positive pregnancy test ever.

I was in complete shock and was very anxious for the upcoming ultrasound appointment. I was very worried it would not be a viable pregnancy simply because I was in disbelief I was actually pregnant. When the ultrasound technician told us she saw “two heartbeats”, I cried the hardest I’ve ever cried in my life out of pure joy and disbelief.

At this point everyone knew of our struggles because of the adoption drama. (We had done a lot of fundraisers to help with those costs.) Most people did not know that we were undergoing fertility treatments again, so a majority of people were as shocked by the news as we were.

The thought of twins was never daunting to us; we were ecstatic.

By the time I was five months pregnant we were completely ready for them regarding the nursery, gear, etc. I had a gender reveal party and finding out it was two girls was another huge shock. I never thought I would have one little girl, much less two. We had to come up with a second girl name, thus we have our Blakely.

What were the reactions to the news of your pregnancy with Briar and tell us a little bit about how the girls welcomed him into the family. 

The girls were about 15 months old when I found out I was pregnant naturally. That was truly the biggest shock of my life. Taking that pregnancy test (while the twins were napping one afternoon) and having it turn positive absolutely brought me to my knees in shock. It is something I never expected as we had beat extreme odds using the strongest meds on the market to have the girls. I had made it clear that I was never going to do another fertility treatment in my life, so our families (and doctors!) were in complete shock.

Everyone was so thrilled for us and we had another fun gender reveal party. Everyone was so excited that we were having a boy. I was still in absolute disbelief until our Briar was born.

The twins were too young to really understand how much their lives changed with a little brother now in the house, but they did transition very well.

 

– What were the reactions to the news of your pregnancy with Briggs and a little bit about how the girls and Briar welcomed him into the family.

Two days after Briar turned one I took another positive pregnancy test. Once again, I was completely shocked and once again; it could not be medically explained. I lost this pregnancy before the end of the first trimester and I was not saddened as much as I was still in disbelief of a natural conception. A few months later I had another positive test and that successful pregnancy resulted in our fourth child, a little boy named Briggs.

(We decided we were invested in “B” names at this point.) Announcing the pregnancy of Briggs had different reactions than that of the other children. It had more of a “wow, y’all are now crazy” response, which was hurtful.

We had four babies under the age of four when he was born and we were now aware we were somehow fertile. It was an odd concept and birth control was an odd thing to have to consider given our past.

The girls and Briar were thrilled to have another sibling. The girls were old enough to willingly to help with him and take on the role of little mamas. While the girls are obsessed with babying him, Briar just wants to play ball with him.


Reactions to the news of your pregnancy with Beckett and tell us a little bit about how the girls and boys welcomed him into the family.

Well, we didn’t quite get the birth control planned out before I was pregnant with our fifth child, Beckett.

He and Briggs are 13 months apart. I was truly shocked to be pregnant again so quickly. We kept this pregnancy secret for a while as we knew we would be getting a lot of somewhat snarky comments. While we did get those comments, most everyone was absolutely thrilled for us given our long journey to this point.

The girls and Briar are so excited to have another baby, (they all actually wanted another brother), but Briggs has opposite feelings at the moment. He is just 15 months old and still very attached to my hip. I have no doubt that they will be very close one day.

Not realizing your journey to have children, did you encounter those with shabby things to say or make rude comments about having a large family? If so, how did you respond?

Philip and I have been on both ends of the ”stabby comment spectrum”. It’s really disturbing how people think they should have such an input into the size of your family.

We built our house about five years into our fertility journey. At the time we received a lot of negative comments for building such a large house. It is now completely filled it up and the comments have shifted to people thinking we need more space since the twins (by choice) share a room.

At the beginning of our journey people would also tell us that our marriage was not going to last since we were childless. People now tell us that our marriage will not last since we have too many children. I have absolutely no problem putting those people in their place and shutting people out. I don’t tolerate other’s unsolicited opinions.

majority of people that know our story from the beginning are sincerely happy for us given that they know we are so happy to be parents.

 

All of your babies had a slightly rough start to life. You quickly went from the infertility world to the NICU world. How did you handle that?

The NICU may have had more of an impact on me than the decade of fertility struggles. I have spent about 6 months of my life (total) holding and caring for my children in that environment.

Having a child in the NICU leaves you helpless and completely dependent on the life saving decisions of neonatologists and nursing staff.

Blakely and Britton were born at 29 weeks due to my water breaking. Blakely was in very bad shape and I do believe a lot of staff members did not expect her to survive the delivery. The girls spent three months in the NICU and were fortunately extremely healthy, just tiny two-pound babies.

While those three months felt like three years I did adore my time spent rocking them and forming relationships (that last to this day) with the amazing nurses.

Briar was born at 35 weeks with a fever and poor oxygen saturation. He only spent a week in the NICU, but once again it felt like a month or more. I was very anxious to get him home since he was a “big” baby. He weighed five pounds at birth! The girls came home from their NICU stay weighing four pounds!

Briggs was born at 36 weeks and weighed 5.8 pounds. He actually did not require a NICU stay and he was the first (and only) baby I was able to hold after delivery and have with me in my hospital room. Briggs was diagnosed with meningitis at ten days old though and spent a week in the hospital.

He was given a 20% chance to survive.

That was one of the worst weeks of my life, but due to answered prayers he is perfectly healthy now.

I did everything in my power to get Beckett to full term to avoid the NICU. Beckett’s pregnancy and delivery deserves its own story as it was all so dramatic and traumatic. He was born at 38 weeks and was my biggest baby weighing 6 pounds and 10 ounces.

He was born with pneumonia due to medical negligence. I labored for two days with him before they finally admitted me for my fourth repeat caesarean section. I honestly would not relive any of those moments as they truly were so terrifying, but no doubt they made me a better mother.

What does a day in the life look like now as a family of 7? 
Life is now chaotic, but beautiful. I honestly don’t find parenting this many young children to be hard or stressful and that’s probably due to our long wait.

I truly treasure every second with the kids and we laugh our way through the crazy moments.

Philip now owns his own law firm and I still teach group exercise part time, mostly very early in the mornings and on the weekends. My days fly by as I’m managing the house and the kids’ schedules.

I do not have any help, but Philip and I make a great team. We split most of the house chores, but I do the cooking while he does bath time—and cuts 100 finger and toenails. Having that many nails to trim is something we joke about in disbelief often.

Blakely, Britton, and Briar attend preschool and we spend a lot of afternoons at the girls dance or gymnastics practice, with friends, doing crafts, or playing outside. We spend the weekends at the zoo, museum, etc and keeping up with the girls’ social lives.

Life is completely different now and I have never once missed the past. Even though I haven’t had a vacation or been shopping solo since 2013. :)

Now on the other side what would you say to the couple who is still in a season of waiting…maybe more specifically to the woman who is prayerfully and even desperately asking God for a baby?

Keep the faith! A friend that knew a good portion of our story invited me to lunch when I was in my final cycle (the one that gave us the twins). She said two statements to me with such confidence that I actually believed her and still treasure her words.

She told me that I was meant to be a mother and that God already knows the (perfect) birth date of my child(ren).

I can now understand and actually appreciate why God waited so long to give us our children. One being that my sister and I were both pregnant with (infertility treatment) twin girls at the same time! The girls are just a few months apart and I am so glad that they are the same age.

God doesn’t make mistakes.

The infertility journey is painful and will leave permanent scars on your heart, but God is working on you during the wait.

You could be living a completely new, beautiful, messy life within the next five years.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Malynda

    November 27th, 2019 at 8:46 am

    To this day this story still brings me to tears. This family is living proof of the miracles God creates. Such a beautiful family!! I will never forget the day that Colleen told me she was pregnant with the twins it was such a happy day!

  2. Sara Male

    December 7th, 2019 at 6:55 am

    I absolutely loved reading the story of God’s faithfulness and Colleen’s testimony. I LOVE her sweet children. They are such examples of kindness and sweetness. You have a beautiful family and a story to tell. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Liz Woodward

    December 13th, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    What an amazing story!!!!! I am so happy for your family. I went through 2 years of infertility. While mine did not last near as long as yours, it felt like 100 years when you are going through it. The peak moment of my pain was when I had just been handed some pre pregnancy vitamins at a drugstore, turned around and a close friend had walked up and announced she just found out she was pregnant, and coming to get her prenatal vitamins. I faked my happiness as much as I could but had to sprint out of the store before I burst into tears. It was awful. I felt so bad for Barry. It’s a tough place for the hubby too. Trying to be strong for me, but also sad. Thankfully, 2 years later, I had 2 happy endings, 18 mos. apart.
    I clearly see why you could have 20 children and not even blink an eye.

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