Pregnancy and childbirth have never been easy for Carolyn and Sean Savage. While building their family of three children, they endured fertility treatments, in-vitro fertilization, miscarriage, a high-risk delivery and two C-sections.
But nothing prepared them for their last pregnancy, two years ago: During an IVF procedure, Ms. Savage was implanted with the wrong embryos - ones that belonged to another couple.
Having no legal claim to the baby, they decided to continue with the pregnancy. Moments after he was born, they handed over baby Logan Savage Morell to his parents, Shannon and Paul Morell.
In their book, Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift, they chronicle the emotional roller coaster of bringing Logan into the world, as well as their simultaneous failure with a surrogate mother. On their website, inconceivablebook.com, they invite others to share their own impossible life decisions.
We reached the Savages in Toledo, Ohio.
Once you learned of the IVF error, how quickly did you know what you were going to do?
Carolyn: It was immediate. Sean and I have three children, we're parents. A lot of people have tried to turn it into a religious issue. But I would say it doesn't take a Catholic Christian to do what we did. I think it takes a mom, a dad. People who adore their children. And the ability to empathize with another family.
What was the most difficult thing about the experience?
Carolyn: It's still ongoing. I really struggled with being considered kind of nothing. Like my role in this child's life was meaningless. In the aftermath, I think the hardest thing is not-knowing. Where is he? How is he? Is he sick today? Did he have a good morning? I know he's in good and capable hands. Sean and I made a discussion to bring a life, his life, into this world. And you don't just slam the door on that after he's born and living under the care of other people.
Sean: The day after he was born, we transferred custody and brought Logan some gifts, and they left. We went back upstairs to the hospital room and we just collapsed on the bed. That's when everything hit. They were gone.
Carolyn, you're very honest in the book about negative feelings you had about Logan's biological mother. What were you feeling at the time?
Carolyn: It would be an unobtainable goal to expect a mother who's going in to have a fertility treatment to become pregnant with her own baby be forced into a surrogacy and not have some feelings of resentment or anger or jealousy. In the end, it seemed important to share those details. Otherwise, our story wasn't even true.
Early in the pregnancy, when she would talk about nurseries and car seats and how terrible this was for her, I did not have the emotional reserve to deal with that. All I could see was that in the end, there was a couple coming to the hospital, leaving with a baby and there was one couple coming to the hospital leaving without one. Hearing her complain was incredibly difficult for me.
Part of your despair was knowing that this was your last chance at a pregnancy, according to your doctors. But would it have been any easier to go through if it had been your first pregnancy?
Carolyn: It would have been incredibly harder. My kids saved my life.
Do you think the situation stemmed from the decision to try for a fourth child?
Sean: It all stemmed from our commitment to give every embryo a chance for life. We've certainly been criticized: You have three kids, why can't you just let this situation not bother you? Why do you have to be sad about it? To me, we're incredibly blessed with our children. But I don't know how you can go through a situation like this and not develop a connection (to the baby). The emotions are there. The connection is there.
If you have three kids and you have a child die, should you feel less hurt than if you had two kids and one died?
Do some people think using IVF to have a fourth child was somehow greedy?
Carolyn: I find it outrageous that people take that stance. It's a fundamental human right to decide how many children is right for your family. If we are independently supporting them and we're good parents. … I get irritated with that. It is a common criticism infertile couples face. You also get, 'Why didn't they just adopt?' You never hear an adoptive parent say that. People who have been through that process respect it tremendously. It's not easy to do. There are not babies on street corners waiting for homes. The laws surrounding adoption are scary as well. It's a tremendous risk.
At the same time, though, do you think your story is a cautionary tale about IVF?
Carolyn: That was one of the reasons we wrote the book, to make sure IVF patients and clinics worldwide are armed with the information as to how it happened and the protocol they need to have in place in order to protect patients.
I have wondered so many times, what was it in that minute of that day that distracted this person enough to make such a mistake. I know it wasn't done with any malice. It was a mistake. I pray every day that I don't make mistakes that have lifelong ramifications for people.
How many times have you seen Logan?
Carolyn: We've had two visits. Every time we see him, Sean calls it "filling up the gas tank." It's rewarding to see how much he's loved by his family.
You included a letter to Logan on his first birthday in the book. What are you hoping he knows about you?
Carolyn: I want him to know that we love him, that we garner strength from his existence on earth. We'll always be here for him. We don't want to interfere with his family but he's always going to be our baby. He's not our son.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
After a few minutes of silence, Sean moved closer. He hesitated and spoke softly.
"You know, the doctor wants you to terminate."
"What? They want me to do what?"
"He said it would be best for you to terminate."
Our fertility doctor didn't believe in abortion. How could he go against his personal ethics?
I looked up at Sean, and our eyes locked. We both knew what the other was thinking. This was a human life and we would protect it. It didn't matter that this child was in the wrong womb. That wasn't his or her fault. I put myself in the place of this child's mother. If I were her, I would be terrified that my child's life was going to be taken away because he or she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. What if my unborn child was in the wrong woman? Would that woman be merciful and allow my child to live?
I looked at Sean knowing this was one of those decisions we didn't need to discuss.
"We'd never do that," I said.
Sean nodded his head in agreement. And that was it. We would endure this pregnancy. I looked up at him, but his eyes had drifted to the portrait of our family on the beach that hangs over our bed. I closed my eyes. I wanted to shut it all out. When I opened them again, Sean was sobbing.
From Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift, by Carolyn and Sean Savage, HarperCollins, 2011