A Story about Finally Becoming a Mom, at Last

By Dan Irwin

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — No quality of life.

That’s what a genetic counselor told Bobbie McIlwain about the unborn twin girls she was carrying. Doctors were convinced that one would be born with Down syndrome, the other with a bilateral cleft lip and accompanying chromosomal disorders.

McIlwain was encouraged to consider abortion.

On Monday, the 17-month-old girls shone more brightly at a pro-life vigil at First Presbyterian Church than did the 1,000 candles that had just been lit down the street on Kennedy Square.

Ava Marie, her wispy blonde hair tied up into tiny pigtails, toddled gleefully down the corridor outside the fellowship hall, stopping only to look up and smile at every person she passed.

Inside, Emily Grace sat contentedly on her father’s lap, later clapping happily from atop his shoulders when the audience offered applause for a speaker.

Though Emily has undergone two surgeries to correct her cleft lip and and palate, neither youngster is afflicted with any of the genetic problems her parents were told they’d have.

“Emily is very mothering,” McIlwain, 38, said. “She is nurturing and caring, Ava is a little bit more independent and bossy.

“My life would be so incomplete without them. I thank God every day for the courage he gave me to stand up and have a voice for them.”

And she did it at a time when it seemed like every other voice was telling her not to.


Bobbie McIlwain, a Liberty Mutual employee, and her husband, Jeff, who works for Goldstein’s, were married in 1999. Because they both were past their 30th birthdays — Jeff was 32, Bobbie 30 — they were eager to get their family started.

Three years would go by, though, without Bobbie becoming pregnant. At that point, the couple sought out medical help, and began a second three-year odyssey toward conception.

During that time, Bobbie was diagnosed with, and treated for, various problems that stood in the way of her becoming a mother. These included hypothyroidism, ovarian cysts, a diseased fallopian tube and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which prevented her eggs from growing by releasing testosterone, a male hormone, into her ovaries.

“So now it’s six years we’ve gone through this,” Bobbie McIlwain said. “It’s heartbreaking as a woman. Month after month after month, you’re in this loving, nurturing relationship, and it’s not happening, what is happening so easily for others. I’m seriously starting to get depressed, I’m constantly crying, thinking ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I really needed to do something to help me through this. I felt alone.”

As a Christian and member of New Life Baptist Church in New Wilmington, McIlwain said she made the decision to turn to the only one she knew who could help her.

“I turned to Jesus,” she said. “I had my daily mantra hanging on my desk. I read it every day. I’m at work, I read it to people at work, I read it to people on the phone while I’m at work. I drew strength from it.

“It says, ‘If God leads me to it, he will lead me through it.’ I just had to trust him.”

In December 2005, her faith and modern medicine yielded results. She learned eight days before Christmas that she was pregnant.

“The nurse actually had to tell me twice,” McIlwain said. “I had set myself up for another disappointment, so I actually missed it the first time she said it.”

About a week later, a ultrasound revealed that McIlwain was carrying twins. During a second ultrasound three days after that, she heard her the babies’ hearts beat.

“Not one life, but two,” she said. “What an answer to prayer. I prayed for one life, and was given the gift of two.

“I heard that sweet sound of life coming from within me. Now I was a mother and I knew all my prayers had been answered.”

In the weeks ahead, though, there would be far more prayers to come.


Bobbie McIlwain loved being pregnant. She never had a single bout of morning sickness, although she did experience a heightening of her senses, particularly smell.

“The potpourri we had in the bathroom, I had to throw it out,” she said. “It had lost its smell years ago, but I swore I could still smell the vanilla in it.”

And yet, for the first 16 weeks of her pregnancy, that was the only hitch in an otherwise “cloud nine” experience.

Then, she started to spot.

A trip to the emergency room and another ultrasound assured her that she was in no danger of miscarriage. Still, because of her age, doctors had been keeping a close eye on her all along, concerned that she faced a higher-than-normal risk of having a child with Down syndrome.

That condition, the March of Dimes’ Web site explains, is “a chromosomal disorder that includes a combination of birth defects (such as) … some degree of mental retardation, characteristic facial features and, often, heart defects and other health problems.”…Continue Reading

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