In the corner of Thomas and Noel Rademacher’s living room, their Weimaraner, Mackenzie, noses the ornaments on the Christmas tree. Five-month-old Charlotte giggles and wiggles her fingers and toes in an electronic rocking chair, squealing occasionally as the couple reflects on their journey over hot tea. Sitting here, as parents celebrating baby’s first Christmas, proves a happy ending in a race against time set in an arduous journey.
The couple’s love sparked from a shared sense of humor and dreams of raising a family. The sassy, beat-to-the-punch-line career woman from Spokane, and the joking, boyish Colorado-born Sacred Heart anesthesiologist married in July 2012. But mere weeks after returning home from a carefree honeymoon in Bora Bora, the Rademachers’ dream of growing their family nearly came to a halt.
After an early morning Pilates class, Noel Rademacher waited in her car, torn between driving home or driving to her doctor’s office. She felt signals from her body: nausea, an “off” feeling. She recalled a conversation with her friend Kim whose brother, Chip, died of colon cancer in July 2012. “We were in a car, (Kim) was crying, and she said, ‘I wish he would’ve listened to his body. He had so many signs that he blamed it on stress or not exercising or not eating well enough. If he would’ve just gone to the doctor.’ ” Rademacher went to her doctor who promptly scheduled an ultrasound for the next day.
Rademacher was on her way to work as a manager at the Apple Store when she got the call. “It was a Saturday, so I knew it probably wasn’t going to be a good phone call.” She had a 15-centimeter complex cyst – that’s the size of grapefruit – on her left ovary. In tears, she went home and told her husband. “Right now it can be a mass that has just grown. It could be nothing. I need you to think of it as a mass of nothing,” he told her. “But in my heart,” she said, “I just knew this was not good.”
A scan confirmed Noel Rademacher would undergo surgery to remove her left fallopian tube, left ovary and appendix. After her surgery, scheduled for three hours, she woke up to find much more time had passed than anticipated.
Her husband stood over her, his eyes bloodshot. The doctors had discovered a tumor on her right ovary and called Thomas Rademacher to decide whether to give her a full hysterectomy. Save her uterus, he told the physicians, “She’s always wanted to be a mom.”
The doctor gave her one year to get pregnant before conducting a full hysterectomy, a move he recommends to prevent a recurrence of her cancer. Only a sliver of the right ovary, the size of a pinky nail, remained. The couple hoped that an egg would be stimulated and fertilized, but when that wish went unanswered, the couple struggled with the reality that they would not conceive a child by themselves. They researched other methods, sought help and took time to figure out if it was the right timing.
They chose in-vitro fertilization, with the compromise that no fertilized embryo would go unused. “(Thomas) spent many nights wondering ‘Do I do this? Or, do I not?’ ” He was raised Catholic; his wife a nondenominational Christian. “I couldn’t help him with those questions. He needed to find that answer on his own,” she said.
Noel Rademacher’s conviction came from a drive to live life without regret. “I don’t want to turn 50 and think, what if I would’ve tried? It doesn’t mean it’s going to work, but if we try, we can put that chapter to bed if we need to and move on with each other.”
Her husband replied, “I have to spend the rest of my life with you. I don’t want you to spend that life in regret.”
She contacted Pacific NW Fertility clinic in Seattle in March 2013. The decision to stay with the clinic in Seattle came down to personal connection with the staff – trust, not feeling like a number.
“Many markets have large centers and patients become a number,” said Jonathan Kipp, the clinic’s director of public relations and marketing. Noel Rademacher was counseled by a nurse coordinator and underwent in-vitro fertilization in November by Dr. Lora Shahine. Her best friend and maid of honor, Sunrise Williams, held her hand while the two embryos were implanted.
She became pregnant with twins. “At five and a half weeks you could see their little bulb hearts beating,” she said. “You couldn’t hear anything but you could see them on the screen. Tiny little flickers of Christmas lights.” One twin vanished. “We knew that going through this process there’s a huge chance you’ll have twins, but there’s a huge chance that it’s survival of the fittest.”
“Through a series of disappointments, she kept forging ahead,” Williams said. “She knew she was meant to be a mother and she was determined to get there.”
Charlotte was born by cesarean section on July 28, 2014, two years to the day when Chip, Noel’s friend’s brother, died from colon cancer.
“They put her on my chest, the first thing I thought was, what is this? I knew it was a girl, I knew it was a baby,” the new mother said. “It was a slide flashback of the last two years (that) went through my head from certain parts, from our wedding, those snapshots that you keep in your head, to jumping off the deck on my little house on stilts in Bora Bora, to the moment my best friend holding my hand when (Charlotte) was just cells. She’s just cells! And I got to see that … She has fingers and nails and toes and eyeballs.”
On a snowy December afternoon, Noel Rademacher, 38, cradles Charlotte in a Spokane coffee shop and adjusts her trinity ring, a gift found tied to antique glass decorations on the Christmas tree. The ring, three bands with two teal stones, the gems for ovarian cancer, symbolize each anniversary as a survivor. On Noel’s wedding ring, rungs that symbolize branches show engraved initials, TR+NH and CKR. Four more spots wait for additional engravings.
The Rademachers – Thomas is 37 – plan to attempt a second pregnancy before Noel Rademacher has a hysterectomy at the end of 2015. Looking ahead, conscious of the story within the past two years, the spirit of Christmas and the hope of a healthy, happy new year burns bright. In separate photographs of the Rademachers’ nursery, mother and father read the children’s book “Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You” to their daughter.
Even with a gift as grand as a child, the Rademachers cherish the little moments, such as story time.
“This Christmas will be about (Charlotte) and her dad … these moments that I take snapshots for later,” the young mother said. Every baby is a miracle baby, she believes. “It’s a new chapter. It’s a whole new book. I’m excited for what the next chapter looks like.”
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