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Real Life

I had my dead husband's baby

Five years after her husband died of pancreatic cancer, Karen gave birth to their fourth child.

By Danielle Colley
Deciding what to do with leftover IVF embryos can be the toughest decision a woman ever makes. Here, three women discuss what they chose to do.
KAREN
When my husband died my world fell apart. I was a mum of three beautiful kids, and my youngest was just nine months old.
We'd undergone IVF and we made four embryos. Two of those babies became my kids, one was miscarried shortly after implantation and I had one embryo left in storage when my husband died of pancreatic cancer.
Destroying the embryo was never a choice. I am catholic and when I was going through IVF I prayed so hard to God for those babies. I couldn’t then destroy the miracle we had created. It's just not in my beliefs.
Occasionally I would question myself what I was going to do but I was so deep in my grief that I couldn’t let my thoughts dwell on it too much. Still, it was always in the back on my mind.
When I emerged from my haze of sorrow I discussed adoption with my doctor, but the thought tore my heart out. How could I give away our child- my husband’s legacy?
My doctor looked at me and said “you want this baby, have the baby,” and I knew then that was my only choice. Even though having another child when I was widowed was something I knew would be difficult, and many people would not understand, I knew I had to try for this child.
I thought maybe the embryo wouldn’t even take but that was not in my hands, and to be honest, I was surprised when I received a positive pregnancy result.
My baby is now three months old and he is such a gift. He has brought so much joy to us all. There have been hard times with a newborn and three other kids on my own. One time all of us were sitting there crying, myself, my kids, my newborn, and I wondered what I had done but now we are all in the swing of it and he is our greatest joy.
Having the baby was not to try and replace my husband or an extension of my grief. It is a miracle that my husband has been gone for five years and I have been able to carry and birth his child.
My single regret in all of this is that my child will never know what a great man, husband and father his dad was.
MARIE
We knew when we married that we would have trouble conceiving naturally because I had existing gynecological problems, but it happened quite easily with IVF, in fact, I fell pregnant with twins.
Sadly, we lost one of our babies at the end of the first trimester but my son was born healthy and strong and I was instantly in love with him. To this day, I feel he is the greatest gift in my life.
We felt our family was complete when our son was born but I couldn’t bear to say goodbye to the remaining embryos. I became really ill with an autoimmune disease when he was about two and having another baby at that time just wasn’t an option for us, but even then I couldn’t let them go.
We discussed it a lot, especially every year when the invoice for the storage of them came. I knew it wasn’t likely that my health would be able to manage another pregnancy, but I couldn’t bear the thought of destroying embryos that I had wanted so much. I honestly couldn’t decide what to do with them because all of the options broke my heart.
They felt like my son’s siblings, so giving them away wasn’t a viable option. I wanted to be the sort of person who would help a childless couple achieve their dream of bringing a baby into their family, but in the end, I couldn’t bear knowing my child was in the world in someone else’s arms.
I would never donate a live baby to science, so neither could I donate my embryos. I just kept thinking of the mouse with the human ear growing on its back and the thought was like a horror movie.
After five years we said goodbye to them and the thought of it still breaks my heart to this day. I don't know if I'll ever truly get over it.
JULIE
When we began IVF the doctors realised that I was heading towards early menopause at only 37 so after two unsuccessful attempts at IVF on my third round they implanted two embryos, and they froze one.
To everyone’s surprise, both embryos took and I now have 21-month-old twins, a boy and a girl.
I always knew I would need intervention to have a baby, and before I had kids I wasn’t super maternal. When we began IVF we thought if it happens, wonderful, but if it doesn’t it won’t be the end of our world like it can be for some women who desperately ache for a child.
Everyone said the first year with twins would be the hardest, but we didn’t find that at all. The first year was a breeze compared to the second year, which has been very hard on us both individually and as a couple.
I feel lucky to have had two babies, a boy and a girl, in one hit and I don’t feel like I need to use that final embryo but I’m not willing to let it go until my kids turn two. We talk about it every three months when the bill comes in, and we agree that we probably won’t use it, but still I want to wait until the babies are two years old.
I don’t know why two feels like the magic number, whether it’s a safety net in case something happens to one of them and I then have a crazy urge to have another baby. It’s just what my instinct is telling me.
We haven’t really talked about donating to science, I’m not opposed to that idea, but we would definitely not donate it to someone else.
Having another baby would mean we need a new car and a new home. It’s a practical decision also, aside from my age. There is also the family dynamic to consider, and after two hard years with twin babies, we’re just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It will get easier soon, and going back to the beginning is just a really difficult idea for me.

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