This article also appeared in the April 16 Windy City Times.
Pregnancy, birth, parenthood—all doorways into the unpredictable. Doorways, however, that many people enter, including many gays and lesbians. They have the same desires to be good parents and to have healthy children.
But what happens when things don't go quite as planned in life, when despite one's best efforts and plans, things go off course, when a pregnancy takes unexpected medical complications, sending the parents into a world of the unknown?
This was the world that 31-year-old Sandra Rodriguez and her partner of seven years Adriana Giraldo found themselves in when Rodriguez gave birth to their twins three months prematurely July 21, 2002 at the University of Illinois Chicago Hospital.
'We never imagined it, and I suffer from migraines and the first few months was vomiting. But the fifth month I was perfect and healthy. But then I went for an ultrasound and the tech discovered that Nathan's heart rate was 232 when it should be between 110 and 160, and then I was admitted into the hospital for a month and a half to try to get his heartbeat down with medicine. That was done orally, but the level of the drugs was too high for me—it was not working,' said Rodriguez.
The doctors then decided to reach the boy twin (Nathan) directly with a spinal tap needle, which was challenging and uncomfortable for Rodriguez. 'They inserted this needle into me, trying to get to him about a good 8 to 10 times, and that was horrible because you don't get anesthesia or nothing; it is just a needle in your tummy and it is like fishing and if they got him and he moved they had to do it again. And a lot of these things were two to three hours, and we had to do them to see if Nathan was getting enough medicine. At the same time that I was helping him, I was not certain if we were hurting Chiara.'
All of the procedures did save both children, but complications still lingered, so the doctors performed an emergency C-section on Rodriguez. With the baby girl Chiara showing no medical problems, doctors felt it best to remove them so as to not complicate both infants. 'They told me that she is a healthy baby and we have to save her, and as soon as she came out she was OK and the doctor said that she did Nathan a favor because they believe that the early birth saved both of them.'
The births, though joyous, were the beginning of future complications that plagued Nathan. Shortly after their births, the parents had the twins transferred to Advocate Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn.
First he endured heart surgery, then liver failure, kidney failure and intestinal blockage and a collapsed lung, any of which could have ended his young life. On Aug. 10, after being unable to urinate for 72 hours, he suffered swelling and doctors said nothing else could be done. So Rodriguez and Giraldo had him baptized. Miraculously, when the priest left, young Nathan had wet his diaper. It would be one of many miracles following the baby and the family. 'As physicians, we use the most advanced medical techniques to save babies like Nathan and Chiara, but when that is combined with such strong support and love from the family, the combination is a very powerful contributor to a positive outcome,' shares Gonzolo Hernandez, MD, neonatologist for Advocate Hope Children's Hospital.
'Nathan, Chiara and the whole Rodriguez family are very special. Nathan faced an unusual number of serious medical challenges, and yet both he and his family showed an unusual amount of strength and determination,' Hernandez said. 'We all fought hard for him. It's seeing babies like Nathan and Chiara come through with flying colors that is so rewarding in this profession.'
Those flying colors resulted in both twins going home after a five-month stay in the hospital. Following their release, Rodriguez and Giraldo received a call from the March of Dimes asking if they would like to be the ambassador family. 'The campaign this year is for premature births and the kids were premature, and they received a lot of care that the March of Dimes had previously done research on. So at this event we will be speaking about how their funding helped our babies to survive, because without the research that they do, there is no way that our babies' lungs would have developed fully on their own,' said Rodriguez.
Their selection, she feels, is simple and centers on the miracle of the children: 'They believe that Nathan's story is a miracle story since he was only given a 10 percent chance of surviving.'
When asked were there any issues around them being an alternative family, the couple shares a resounding 'no.'
'Everyone was extremely nice and very supportive and they gave us equal rights. We have no complaints,' voices Giraldo.
'I am very much out with my family and Adriana was a very big part of everything: getting pregnant, the artificial insemination, and the whole procedure,' said Rodriguez. 'When [March of Dimes] called and asked us, I wanted to make sure that they knew that I had a partner, because without her being involved I was not interested in doing it. They said that they knew that we were a unique family and they thought that that was cool and wanted us to do it.'
Premature births are the leading cause of death in the first month of life. Since 1987 there has been a 27 percent increase in premature births. Just last year there were more than 476,000 babies born prematurely.
This is why the March of Dimes dedicated this year's WalkAmerica to prevent premature births. They hope that their nationwide five-year campaign will raise $75 million.
The Chicago-area Walks were Sunday, April 27 in Oak Forest and Tinley Park.
'The family was brought to my attention in a Sun-Times article. We already work very closely with Advocate Hope Children's Hospital on other projects and asked them to ask the family if [they] wanted to get involved with the March of Dimes,' recalls Stephen Hermann, event coordinator for the March of Dimes. 'The hospital said that the family was interested and that the twins were of a lesbian couple. The March of Dimes approved the family because the main concern was to get the story out regarding the miracle twins.'
With the doorways of parenthood becoming brighter, Rodriguez and her partner Giraldo have no regrets about the difficult pregnancy and births of the twins. They encourage lesbians considering parenthood not to be deterred by complications.
'Go for it. I went through so much and we both went through a lot and I don't want to say that I didn't think that he would make it, but I didn't know what was ahead for us,' Rodriguez said. 'I wouldn't take it back and I am happy we did it. It helps having a supportive family, and both of our families know about us, and know that we are in this thing together.'