Kerry Petsinger always wanted to be a mother. The Hawley woman planned for parenthood, factoring it into her career and relationship goals, and her husband, Brett Petsinger, was much the same.
What they didn't plan for-what is so difficult to anticipate, even though it affects anywhere from 10 to 14 percent of couples-was a heartbreaking struggle with infertility.
It's fairly common for a woman to have one miscarriage, and there are many different factors that can contribute to the loss of a pregnancy. According to americanpregnancy.org, anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of medically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage; however, when a woman begins to lose one pregnancy after another, the reason is usually much more sinister than a fluke misalignment of chromosomes.
"I ended up having seven pregnancy losses," said Kerry, adding that the reason, she soon found out, was a blood clotting disorder called antiphospholipid syndrome.
With each loss came a sharp pang of grief, followed by stress and a building worry that the family the Petsingers had planned and prayed for may never happen.
Tension grew within Kerry and Brett's relationship, but doctors began to offer up solutions, suggesting in vitro fertilization (IVF), a fertility treatment where doctors "harvest" a woman's eggs and a man's sperm and mix them together in a laboratory, fertilizing the egg and creating an embryo. The doctors then insert the embryo back into the woman, and wait for the pregnancy test strip to turn pink.
IVF wasn't the immediate answer the Petsingers were looking for, though.
"We ended up deciding to do the IVF," Kerry remembered. "That's when I had the ectopic pregnancy."
Not only had Kerry endured the numerous doctor visits, needle sticks, medications, and hormone treatments necessary for the IVF procedure, she and Brett had to face another gut-wrenching loss.
Kerry admitted that the physical side of IVF had exhausted her-she remembered making 17 trips to the doctor in one month, which was putting stress on her job and on the Petsingers' finances-but the mental, emotional side of the battle with infertility was even more difficult.
"When you're trying to have a baby, and you can't, you're constantly reminded you can't," said Kerry. "Like me, I had a hard time going to church, seeing all the kids and families there."
Being at that typical childbearing age, many of the Petsingers' friends were having babies, throwing baby showers, and Kerry began to feel isolated in her battle.
"Brett is a totally supportive guy," said Kerry. "He said, 'I'm still going to be with you no matter what.' But, from my perspective, I was like, 'I can't have kids. You should be with someone who can have kids.'"
Each pregnancy loss had taken its toll on her self-worth, and Kerry began to feel like her body had betrayed her.
"With recurrent pregnancy losses, it's like the grief hits you all over again-such hope followed by such intense, raw grief," said Kerry, emotion in her voice.
On top of the grief, the hormone treatments made her feel like she had lost control. She began to lose sleep, spending nights lying awake, agonizing over the losses she had endured and whether or not she would ever be able to have children.
The pain grew so intense that Kerry sought out grief counseling-albeit doubtfully at first.
"I thought, 'nobody can help me with this,'" she remembered.
But speaking with someone "who wasn't so emotionally wrapped up" in her struggles proved helpful-and soon another fertility option was presented to the Petsingers: IVF via gestational carrier, a woman who would act as a surrogate, carrying Kerry and Brett's embryo to term.
"That was very, very hard," said Kerry, remembering having her doubts about trusting someone else to carry their child.
When a carrier, a woman the couple didn't know who was recommended by a clinic in the Twin Cities, popped up, Kerry still had her doubts.
"Initially I said no," said Kerry, but Brett convinced her to at least meet with the surrogate. "We knew our ultimate goal was to have a family, and we knew we wanted to exhaust all of our options."
With that, they met the carrier and decided to go forward with the procedure and, after a few months of appointments, the Petsingers finally got good news-maybe even a little more good news than they thought they would get.
"Right on that first ultrasound, we knew it was going to be two (children)," remembered Kerry.
With IVF, the Petsingers had the option of using either one or two embryos. Two meant their chances of the procedure taking would increase to 70 percent-but it also meant the chance of having twins was 40 percent.
"We were so excited," said Kerry. "Having twins, it can be mass chaos...but it was going to be a chaos we had prayed for."
When their new son and daughter, Henry and Brynn, were born, they were finally able to enjoy the the parenthood they had waited so long to experience-and then another surprise came along.
"About a week before the twins turned one, I was like, 'Uh, Brett, I think I'm pregnant,'" Kerry remembered. "And, of course, because that's just how life works sometimes, I had a feeling this time it was going to stick."
Sure enough, it did. After a high-risk pregnancy, Kerry gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Halle.
Now, three years later, twins Henry and Brynn are four years old, and Halle is three. Kerry says they are so close in age and look so similar that people often mistake them for triplets-the only thing more chaotic than two being three, of course, but the childhood hubbub is still more than welcome in the Petsinger home.
"There are multiple times a week-still-that Brett and I will look at each other and be like, 'We have kids!' said Kerry. "I think a lot of these things, like waking up in the night to care for the kids, I look at from a perspective, like, 'I'm so glad you're here.'"