THE PARENTS: Katie O’Dwyer, 36, and Mark O’Dwyer, 36, of Roxborough
THE KIDS: Daniel Mulhern, 2½; Abigail Grace, born October 9, 2018
THEIR NAMES: “Mulhern” was the last name of Mark’s beloved grandfather; “Abigail” struck them as “classic, and beautiful … and Irish,” Katie says.
Seventeen times, the answer was no. No, you’re not pregnant — not according to the test stick, the fertility clinic, the blood work, the body. Not pregnant, despite six months of trying on their own, rounds of testing (her uterus, his sperm), an official diagnosis of infertility, four cycles of intrauterine inseminations and a round of IVF.
Katie, who as a child used to run from any pediatrician with a syringe in his hand, had learned to give herself daily injections. Mark crunched the numbers: How many tries would their retirement savings buy them?
After the first failed IVF cycle, “that was the moment I thought: This might not actually happen. We might never have kids on our own,” Katie recalls. “I remember crying to Mark: This is so draining emotionally. I don’t know how many rounds I have in me.”
“I thought about it differently,” Mark says. “How much do we have in savings? Can we remortgage our house? I felt, come hell or high water, we’re going to have a kid.”
When the phone call came — they were visiting Mark’s long-estranged father and his wife for the weekend — Katie knew from the nurse’s tone, even before she uttered a word.
“I said, ‘Is this a chemical pregnancy?’ She said, ‘No, honey, your numbers are high.’ But there was still that fear: Is this going to happen? I think of infertility and this pregnancy as holding my breath, and then exhaling.”
They were overdue for positive news in their lives. They’d been together since 2007, when a mutual friend set up Mark (eager: he’d seen her Facebook picture) and Katie (wary: she’d never been on a blind date) for a foursome dinner at Bertucci’s. The next day, he messaged to ask for her number.
“I remember saying to a friend, ‘I keep trying to figure out what his game is,’ ” Katie recalls. “But there was no game. He’s direct and up-front. I was really attracted to that.”
Both were interested in psychology — she’s now a therapist working with adolescents, and he oversees outpatient mental health services. Both valued their Christian faith. And both yearned, in forming a family, for a redo of the circumstances in which they were raised. Mark grew up apart from his father, and Katie’s family was marred by alcoholism.
“What excited me a lot was to have the opportunity to have the family I wanted that I didn’t really have growing up,” Katie says.
They were engaged within six months and married the following summer. Katie surprised Mark by arranging for Harry Kalas, the former Phillies announcer, to record the introductions as they and their wedding party strode into the reception. Mark is a fervent Phillies fan; the home team won that year’s World Series. “2008 was a good year,” he says.
The following year, Katie’s parents stunned her by getting divorced. Three years later, Mark’s beloved grandfather — a surrogate father, really — died. “It was a lot of grief that could have torn us apart, but instead drew us closer,” Katie says. The double sorrow also made them feel it was time for something good to happen.
But news of the pregnancy — and the fact that the baby was a boy — triggered other worries, especially for Mark. “I remember a lot of anxiety: Can I be a father to a boy? Am I going to be able to parent him and mentor him and do the things you’re supposed to do?”
When they went to Lankenau Medical Center on April 1 — Katie was having contractions about five minutes apart — a doctor dismissed them as “really bad cramps” and sent her home. “I felt like she was saying, ‘You’re not tough.’ I took that as a challenge.” Katie labored at home — a restless night, a contraction-filled day, a walk around the block during which she kept gasping, “I can talk through this pain.” By the time they returned to the hospital at 10:30 p.m., she was fully dilated. “He popped out at 2:30 a.m., so healthy and perfect,” she says. “I remember this tiny, little, frail person, this little baby, just wailing.”
For Mark, it was a moment of realization: “Here’s our family. That was the first really positive, huge thing that had happened since we’d gotten married.”
The first weeks were tense — Danny had a tongue-tie and torticollis, a stiff neck caused by positioning in the womb. Feedings took an excruciating 90 minutes; Katie wobbled, sleep-starved, through the days. Still, “he was my little miracle. I still felt so amazed that I got to be a mother to this tiny baby … I was in awe that he was really there.”
Two frozen embryos remained after their previous IVF cycles; they hoped for a sibling, not too far apart from Danny in age. But after the transfer, on the day Katie was scheduled for blood work to determine whether she was pregnant, she began to bleed. She wept in the car all the way to the clinic, where a nurse said, “I don’t want to get your hopes up, but sometimes these things happen and people are still pregnant.”
“I was basically grieving,” Katie says. “The home pregnancy test was negative. Then I get the call: You’re pregnant. I said, ‘What?!?’ ”
This time, Katie let her contractions be a signal to head to the hospital sooner; still, she was fully dilated by the time they arrived. “The nurse said, ‘This baby is here. If you just push, she will come out in 15 minutes.’ I said, ‘You promise?’ ”
When Katie thinks about their journey to parenthood, words like perseverance and thankfulness come to mind. “I have this awe and this humility around the idea that [parenthood] is not a given.”