The Pregnancy – By Cassie Vanderwall

The lights are dim. The hopeful mother-to-be is gowned, stir-rupped, and goo-ed with husband at her side both waiting to see why she has been nauseous beyond explanation and her HCG has been through the roof for the last 14 days. They are filled with hope, but dreading a blank ultrasound screen as the technician patrols her belly. The silence is broken as the technician begins to count, “1,” “2,” “3,” they look at each other with amazement, joy, and pure shock. Assuming she is finished, the parents begin to embrace, but then she continues to count, “4” and “5.” “You are pregnant with quintuplets.” The tone of her voice turned from excitement to dread; our faces followed suit. They were overjoyed, excited, confused and now fearful. They didn’t understand why she sounded sad. No congratulations were exchanged by the staff; they were told the doctor would be in.

It Felt Like a Bad-News-Room

It took my husband and I the next seven days to process the first visit to the high-risk pregnancy clinic. We went into the visit excited and prepared to ask our long list of questions. We anticipated a thorough discussion on treatments, tests and procedures as well as detailed instructions for each trimester. Much to our dismay, this is not what occurred. The visit started off wonderfully. We had our second ultrasound and had the opportunity to see all five of our blessings at appropriate lengths and with strong heartbeats. The ultrasound tech was amazing! She walked us through everything we were looking at for each of the fetuses. It was breath taking!

We were then escorted to the consultation room, which had the look and feel of a bad-news-room. We met our first maternal and fetal medicine specialist and his fellow there. Even within the first few minutes I sensed tension you could have cut with a knife. This doctor also did not congratulate us, but hopped right into reviewing my medical history and highlighted each condition that put this pregnancy at risk.

Then, he decided to transition to the stat list and read the probabilities for each of the chronic and acute disabilities and conditions. I made it halfway through the list and burst into tears; I knew where this conversation was going. They walked us through additional studies on the risks of quintuplets and the benefits of multi-fetal reduction; it appeared they were on a mission. But, so were we. He looked me square in the eyes and asked me, “Are you able to mother five children with several disabilities?” My immediate answer was, “Yes, if that’s what I was called to do.”

Taking Action

My calling prompted me to turn to the medical literature and learn all that I could about high order multiple pregnancies. One physician’s name appeared to be on all of the promising research- Dr. John Elliott. I clung to his research, his strategies, and recommendations. I urged my doctors to contact him and to learn from him. I knew our greatest hope of making it to the week of viability (24 weeks) was to seek a second opinion.

This was confirmed at our 2nd trimester cervical screen (where they measure the length of your cervix). At this point, all of the little ones were growing on track with strong heart beats; it looked like quite the slumber party. The technician performed a trans-vaginal ultrasound to examine my cervix. She measured it at least ten times and would not relay any information. We had no idea what was ahead, but we got a sense when we were walked down the hall to another bad-news-room that that is what awaited us.

When the doctor arrived he relayed that my cervix was 1.2 to 1.6cm in length, where ideally it would be greater than 3cm at 19 weeks into pregnancy, or at least 2.5cm. He then informed us that pre-term labor was inevitable within the next 3-4 weeks and there was nothing we could do about it. I inquired about bed rest, medications, inversion, and cerclage (the stitching of the cervix). He said there was nothing we could do to help, nothing. Then, the tears started to flow, and flow, and flow for the next two days.

Until I was praying on Wednesday morning asking for clarity and that my mind would quiet so, I could hear His still small voice granting me direction. The thought of simply being a ticking time bomb awaiting an ugly delivery was angering and fearful. Then, I remembered that His perfect love casts out all fear and that I needed to rely on His love which has been with us since day one of this journey.

I calmed down and realized we were not helpless, we still had several choices. We need a second opinion and that second opinion resided in Arizona. I picked up the phone and called Valley Perinatal Services and asked to speak with Dr. John Elliott. After speaking with him for over an hour, I hung up and—with complete peace—told my husband I was moving to Arizona to save our pregnancy. Our hope was restored in the Valley of the Sun.

One Day at a Time

The weeks ahead were taken one day at a time. Under Dr. Elliott’s confident and gentle care, a successful pregnancy felt real and thus became reality. The nausea, indigestion, reflux, growing pains, as well as the challenge of trying to keep more the 3,000 calories a day down, filled my days. I felt like a beached whale who couldn’t move for more than 30 minutes per day. I kept my mind busy and hands creative with sudokus, work, and crocheting.

But, sitting for eight weeks straight was a true challenge. Whenever it seemed insurmountable, I remembered where I was and why I was there. Also, with my husband traveling across the country to visit every weekend and my mom by my side, I had their support that we were here on a mission; we were answering our calling.

Note: Visit our blog next week for the continuation of Cassie’s story.

About the Author
Cassie is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator and Certified Personal Trainer that works at the University of Wisconsin- Madison Hospital and Clinics as a Clinical Dietitian, as well as, the Program manager for the Dietetic Internship. She received her bachelor’s degree from University of IL at Urbana-Champaign and her Master’s degree from Rush University Medical Center and is pursuing her PhD at Rush University. She has also received certificates in Weight Management, Motivational Interviewing and Bio-Informatics. Cassie loves to equip and empower people to achieve their nutrition and wellness goals.

At home, she is mom to quintuplets. Her five miracles were born at 29 weeks and 1 day at Banner Desert Medical Center in 2013. Since her husband, Frank and she learned of their pregnancy, each day has been an adventure. Follow their adventures, milestones and life lessons at