Just one year after her marriage, Marcelle began having symptoms similar to those she first experienced when she was a teenager. We couldn’t believe she might be ill again. This time, however, the medical results amazed us all: Marcelle was pregnant!
Even though the family was thrilled, we were also terribly worried about her health, and about the baby. Would they both be safe and healthy at the end of it all? Would Marcelle’s body be able to cope without medication for the duration of the pregnancy? Would she be able to carry the baby to term? Each day was a mixture of hope and worry, but we were determined to be there for her and help her through in any way we could.
Her husband, Sean, was so worried about his wife, and the effect the pregnancy would have on her long-term health, that he told her that he would support her if she decided to have a termination. In fact, the whole family was there for that discussion. Sean told Marcelle he loved her, that he had never expected to have a child with her, and that he would be happy for the two of them to carry on with their lives the way it was.
Marcelle, however, had very different ideas. She had always hoped the doctors were wrong, and now that the seemingly impossible had happened and she was actually pregnant, she decided to do everything she could to have her baby, even if it meant her own health would be fatally compromised.
It wasn’t an easy pregnancy. “I was extremely ill with morning sickness,” recalls Marcelle, “but I was comforted by the old wives’ tale that says the more sick you are, the healthier the baby is. I had to go for check-ups every week, and phone the doctors’ office every day to tell them how I was feeling, because the doctors were unsure as to how my hormone levels would cope with the added pregnancy hormones. I also put on a lot of weight–around 65 pounds—due to my erratic hormone levels.” By the beginning of week 33, Marcelle’s body couldn’t stand any more stress. Her water broke, and she was put on immediate bed rest. But she went into premature labor anyway, and had to have an emergency cesarean section. To this day there is still no medical record of anyone other than Marcelle becoming pregnant with such high levels of prolactin and cortisol.
My niece, Maxine, was born early, and weighed only about four pounds. She also had a hole in her heart. Marcelle was distraught. “I started to blame myself, because it was my body that hadn’t coped with the pregnancy. I thought it was my fault that she had been born so early,” she says. “Maxine was kept in the neonatal unit for three weeks after her birth, while I was sent home to recuperate. But I couldn’t go home and not be with her, so Sean would drop me off at the hospital at about 6:30 a.m. each day, and I would stay there until after 10 p.m. each night. I just sat there talking to her and holding her tiny fingers through the incubator – willing her to gain strength and live.”
Fortunately, my niece is a fighter, just like my sister. While she was in and out of the hospital eight times in her first twelve months to correct her heart condition and other medical problems, since then, Maxine has grown stronger and healthier with each passing year. My niece is now a happy and healthy three-year-old, an adored daughter who against all odds was conceived, born, and fought to live.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2005 issue.