THE PARENTS: Erica Chapman, 39, and Brian Chapman, 40, of Roxborough
THE CHILD: Lincoln Thomas, born Aug. 29, 2020
AN INDELIBLE MOMENT: After the last embryo transfer, Erica recalls sobbing in the shower and bargaining with the universe: If I become a mother, I will support and help other women struggling with infertility in any way I can.
When Erica was growing up in Lansdale, adult lives shared a common trajectory: “You date someone, you get engaged, you buy a house, you have a kid.”
So when she and Brian began trying to conceive — in their late 30s, not married, living in a two-bedroom apartment — Erica knew they were breaking the mold. Still, their choice made sense: There was a biological urgency to childbearing, and they’d agreed on their first date — a meetup for drinks following a Tinder swipe — that they both wanted children.
From the start, their relationship felt familiar, especially when they realized they’d grown up a town-and-a-half apart, with still-married parents and overlapping values of respect, honesty, and communication.
“It was like meeting an old friend. Very comfortable,” Brian says.
By April 2017, he’d moved into Erica’s Roxborough apartment, and that summer they began trying to become pregnant. After six months, a consult with a reproductive endocrinologist yielded sober news: They had both male and female factors for infertility.
Erica berated herself for having postponed motherhood while pursuing two graduate degrees and a career as an adjunct professor of literature. “It was a sense of inadequacy, a feeling that I had waited too long.”
They tried intrauterine inseminations, each one a spin of optimism and disappointment. After the second failure, their fertility specialist began talking about IVF and its implications: If they were to separate, or if one of them died, who would have custody of any embryos?
“It was a reality check for both of us, a really pivotal moment,” Erica recalls. “It made us realize that we were ready to be married.” They acquired a self-uniting marriage license; on Christmas Eve, Brian proposed in front of the light show at City Hall, with both sets of parents and their one living grandparent. They celebrated with dessert and champagne.
“We joke that we were engaged and married within two hours,” Erica says.
When the third and fourth IUIs failed, they upped the ante; Brian’s mother agreed to pay for the first round of IVF. That meant more injections, more blood work, vaginal ultrasounds, near-daily doctor’s appointments. “I’m a trauma survivor, so the fertility treatments themselves were hard,” Erica says. “It was triggering.”
The first IVF cycle resulted in one “mosaic” embryo, meaning that some cells tested normal while others were missing a chromosome. The clinic agreed to transfer it — ”we figured it was the only shot we had,” Erica says — but the embryo did not implant.
Erica felt another wave of despair, another hit of inadequacy. She also thought: “All right, I can either stay hopeless and give up … or we can keep going and keep trying.” Her mother-in-law agreed to finance a second round of IVF, and the couple tried to boost their odds by exercising, losing weight, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
The second egg retrieval yielded one embryo, and genetic testing discovered abnormalities. They considered other clinics; they wanted to buy a house, but how could they do that and continue paying for fertility treatments?
Finally — again, with help from Brian’s mother — they opted for a third round of IVF. Of the four eggs retrieved, one was over-mature, two didn’t fertilize, and one was immature.
But the next day brought stunning news: Doctors had managed to mature and fertilize that fourth egg, in vitro, overnight.
“We thought: This could be our miracle. This could be our fighter,” Erica says. By the time of the transfer, their odds still looked shaky: The embryo had fewer cells than is optimal, and they weren’t symmetrical. Doctors said there was, at most, a 10% chance of success.
“I got to the point where I just had to surrender to what was going to happen,” Erica says. They followed advice from members of her infertility discussion groups: just go on with your life. They ordered pizza and tried to distract themselves with comedies on Netflix.
On day seven, Erica was convinced she could see a faint line on the pregnancy test. By day nine, it was clear. Her euphoria was tempered by a sober sense of what could go wrong: “What if it doesn’t stick? What if I miscarry?”
She began marking every milestone as a reason to gather hope: the first ultrasound, the soft canter of a heartbeat, the 20-week anatomy scan. Sometimes she worried about the greater dangers the baby would face once outside the womb.
“Every week, I was more and more confident,” Brian recalls. “This imperfect cell had made it the entire way. I realized that he was meant to be here. He was going to make it.”
The pandemic added more anxiety; Erica’s trauma history made it hard for her to be alone in medical rooms. The midwives allowed Brian to attend any appointment that involved an internal exam, and they hired a doula for additional support.
The due date came and went; three days later, Erica’s contractions suddenly amped up in frequency and intensity. After laboring at home for more than 24 hours, they headed to LifeCycle Womancare, where Erica’s water broke. There was meconium in the fluid, and that meant a transfer to Bryn Mawr Hospital.
Erica labored with Pitocin, opted for an epidural that succeeding in numbing only her right hip, and, after the baby’s heart rate decelerated twice, had an emergency C-section under general anesthesia.
Lincoln was born with the umbilical coiled twice around his neck; he was whisked to the NICU, where he spent nine days: feeding tubes and nasal cannula, heart and temperature monitors.
It wasn’t until they brought him home, on Labor Day, that parenthood felt real. “I had the baby outside my body, physically in front of me,” Erica says. After a joyful embrace from Erica’s parents, the three retreated to the couch in the family room. “OK,” Brian remembers thinking. “We’re home now. We have everybody. We have everything.”