We are family
Watching Abigail (8), Hannah (6) and Kayla Londini (3) chase each other around the backyard in a heated game of tag, it’s hard to imagine that these large personalities have such small beginnings – all three were conceived under a microscope in a lab at The Fertility Clinic at LHSC.
Even harder to wrap one’s mind around is that both Hannah and Kayla were conceived from frozen embryos, which were bathed in liquid nitrogen before being carefully thawed, rehydrated and implanted into their mother’s womb.
While the story of the Londini family’s conception may read like science fiction, fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), are becoming a necessary reality for a growing number of individuals who hope to start a family.
For Vince and Lori Londini, the discovery of fertility issues came as a surprise. The young couple had been eager to start a large family, but after a few years of trying, pregnancy was not happening as planned. Vince discovered that he had male factor infertility – and they almost abandoned all hope.
For a few years, they tried to imagine a different future – living as just a couple and exploring the world - but the desire for a family simply would not fade, no matter how the odds seemed stacked against them.
“We decided we’d rather have tried and failed than not know,” says Vince.
So in 2003, they took their first step towards starting a family by setting an investigation appointment at The Fertility Clinic at London Health Sciences Centre. Unfortunately, they discovered that not only had Vince’s diagnosis not changed, but that Lori also faced fertility issues.
She describes the discovery of blocked fallopian tubes as devastating.
“It was one more negative thing, one more obstacle to overcome,” she says.
The Fertility Clinic’s medical team explained that despite the challenges the couple still had options, including a procedure to retrieve sperm, surgery to unblock Lori’s fallopian tubes or in vitro fertilization (IVF) using donor sperm.
According to The Fertility Clinic psychologist Dr. Christopher Newton, fertility patients can face some complicated and emotion laden decisions.
“The lack of certainty and the lack of control can be stressful as there is no guarantee of success and there is a fear of the unknown,” he says, adding that the entire process of fertility treatments can cause women to feel emotionally and physically vulnerable as the procedures they must undergo can feel invasive.
In understanding of these difficulties, The Fertility Clinic offers ongoing counseling services – under standard practice, a preliminary counseling session is provided before couples begin treatment.
After thoroughly examining their options from emotional, spiritual and ethical angles, Vince and Lori decided on in vitro fertilization (IVF) using donor sperm.
“The donor sperm decision was a big one,” says Vince. “Nothing would be further from the truth than to say we picked an option off the menu and went with it. We agonized.”
After selecting a donor whose attributes most matched Vince’s, Lori began the intensive process of preparing for IVF.
In order to explain all of the considerations around treatment, as well as answer questions, The Fertility Clinic assigns a primary care nurse to each patient, who then acts as an advocate and an information hub between the patient and the medical team.
The Londini’s primary care nurse, Megan, walked the couple through the entire IVF process, explaining what Lori could expect at each stage of treatment. She also taught Lori how to perform self-injections, which women must complete for approximately two weeks in order to prepare the body to release eggs.
“Basically anytime there were results, she would give me a call,” says Lori. “They are super helpful,” she says of the staff. “They just walk every step with you to make sure you know what is going on.”
The following egg retrieval procedure went as planned and Lori’s eggs and the donor sperm were combined in the lab, creating a number of embryos. Two were selected for transplant into Lori’s womb and the others were preserved through cryogenic freezing for use in later treatments.
“The worst time is the two weeks after the transfer and before you find out if it’s worked or not. Two weeks felt like forever,” says Lori.
While Vince was in Venezuela on business, Lori became pregnant.
“Not many men can say that,” he says with a laugh.
The clinic delivered the good news to the couple over the phone. “We just started crying, we were just so happy,” said Lori.
When asked about the day their first daughter Abigail was born in March 2005, Lori says the day passed in a blur.
“She was born late in the afternoon and I just remember that night, not being able to sleep and checking in on her to make sure she was ok. She had dark hair and was so cute. It was so amazing to finally see this little person after all this time.”
Less than a year later, Vince and Lori were excited to try again.
“I think I knew even before Abby was born that we wanted to do it again – basically we went back to the clinic,” says Lori.
Their second daughter, Hannah was born in 2006 and was later joined by younger sister Kayla, in 2010.
Now, with their family complete, the Londinis talk about the journey with words of amazement. “It’s hard to believe that at one point, my daughters were frozen embryos. It all seems too crazy to believe now that they’re running around,” says Vince before noting that their family is exactly like any other.
“This is the ‘normal life’ that we wanted, but we never thought we were going to have,” he says. “We just wanted to have a family with all the trials and tribulations that come with it and now we do. We survived the rollercoaster process of starting a family.”
“And we’re still surviving it,” Lori says with a laugh. “It’s great, it’s amazing.”