Tommy Carter meticulously counted every one of his newborn daughter’s fingers and toes, amazed they were all there.
The baby Tommy and wife Cathy were told wouldn’t survive to full term had just entered the world, and he needed to inspect her for himself. Even in the five weeks since Ella Grace Carter’s birth at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, her parents still find themselves worrying about the health of their child.
And who could blame them? After suffering the heartache of a miscarriage just a few years ago, and knowing full well the steep odds they faced in conceiving a child, Cathy and Tommy are still in awe of Ella Grace.
“She’s a miracle,” Tommy said with a smile. “That’s what we always say.”
The Alto coupled welcomed Ella Grace into the world June 13, about 18 months after Tommy underwent a vasectomy reversal in Gainesville. But that was far from the only medical hurdle the Carters needed to clear on their path to having a child.
First of all, Cathy had tubal ligation reversal surgery about six years ago, subtracting from the already decreased odds of successful conception following a vasectomy reversal.
Far more worrisome was the molar pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage about three months after Tommy’s surgery in December 2015. A molar pregnancy occurs when “tissue that normally becomes a fetus instead becomes an abnormal growth in (the) uterus” and can be harmful to both the fetus and mother, according to webmd.com.
On top of that, the Carters — who have been together for about three years — are both nearing age 40, after which physical and mental complications for a child become more likely to develop during pregnancy.
“We always wanted to be able to have a kid together, especially before we both hit 40,” Tommy said. “But we knew the odds weren’t great. We were taking a big chance.”
The first step was Tommy’s vasectomy reversal, which doesn’t guarantee conception in the future.
In fact, the general success rate for pregnancy following a vasectomy reversal is about 50 percent, said Dr. John McHugh, a Gainesville-based urologist who performed Tommy’s microscopic surgery.
There are several determinants for a vasectomy reversal to lead to pregnancy, foremost among them being the number of years since the original vasectomy; the fewer the better. Tommy, a Gainesville native and East Hall High graduate, said nearly a decade had passed since the surgery.
Yet he and Cathy were both all-in for having the procedure, which McHugh said is a rare one due to lack of demand, the amount of skill required to perform it and the out-of-pocket cost.
The surgery was a success, and three months later the Carters were expecting twins.
But a molar pregnancy developed instead, signified by grape-like clusters on an ultrasound. It resulted in a miscarriage for the twins and immense pain for Tommy and Cathy, who each had children before their marriage.
“We were so torn up from the first pregnancy,” Tommy said.
Yet they were determined to have a child together, even as the odds continued to stack against them. They conceived again months later, though the pregnancy came with more bad news.
Unbeknownst to them, the dilation and curettage procedure to remove the harmful tissue following Cathy’s miscarriage wasn’t a complete success. The remaining clusters threatened to claim yet another one of their children in the womb.
“We were told there was no way we’d have this kid,” Tommy said. “But within about 12 weeks, everything was gone. All the little grapes on the ultrasound had disappeared, and there was really no way to explain it.”
Even with hope on the horizon, the sting of the previous miscarriage left the Alto couple hesitant to be fully optimistic.
“Every day, it was something different worrying us,” said Cathy, a North Carolina native. “I was always Googling things, pretty much every day. I prayed more than I ever prayed in my entire life during the pregnancy.”
Added Tommy: “We didn’t allow ourselves to get excited until we first laid eyes on her.”
When they finally did, Tommy got to counting Ella Grace’s digits to make sure they were all there. Every other observation he and Cathy have made so far has been positive, helping heal the heartache from their past pregnancy problems.
Ella Grace was born at just more than 8 pounds and has remained a happy, healthy, well-behaved baby, blissfully unaware of the seemingly insurmountable odds she overcame.
“There are so many factors that have to go right to conceive after a vasectomy reversal, from what I do to the husband’s ability to produce the right numbers and quality of sperm,” McHugh said. “Then there’s pregnancy and delivery. It approaches a miracle.”
For the Carters, Ella Grace’s birth is undoubtedly a miracle.