Sisters Chrissy and Anne Kortlandt graduated from Columbian High School in 1995 and 1998, respectively, and went on to study at Ohio University in Athens. There, Chrissy met James Knott, her future husband. Anne was a freshman at OU the same year Chrissy was a senior. Anne and Joby Johnston then met at OU and later married.
The two couples now live seven houses apart on the same street in Lewis Center, just north of Columbus. The women's relationship always has been close, but this year, it became even closer.
Anne and Joby are about to become the parents of quadruplets. Even more amazing is that Chrissy is the gestational carrier for two of the children.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Two couples are expecting four babies: (from left) James Knott, Chrissy Knott, Anne Johnston and Joby Johnston.
"Our official due date is Nov. 7, and that would be 40 weeks ... but Oct. 24 is the longest they'll let us go, which is 38 weeks," Anne said. "So far, the pregnancies are going really well. We've been having monthly ultrasounds. So far, so good."
Married seven years, the Johnstons had no children and no success with fertility treatments. At that point, Chrissy offered to carry a baby for Anne.
In February, two of the Johnstons' embryos were implanted into Chrissy and two into Anne. The seemingly impossible happened: both women became pregnant with twins. Anne is expecting two girls, and her sister is bearing two boys. The Knotts already have two sons.
"They're hearing everything they hear in a houseful of boys," Chrissy said of her nephews. "I think the fact that I have the two boys is pretty fitting."
"It's definitely much quieter at our house - for now - than it is at their house, but that will change soon," Anne added.
Although Anne and Joby wanted to start their family in 2008, they were unsuccessful. By 2009, Anne's obstetrician prescribed blood tests, which did not produce any red flags. The couple was referred to Ohio Reproductive Medicine, where multiple fertility tests showed no obvious problems in either of them. They tried artificial insemination, but no pregnancy resulted.
In late 2010, the Johnstons started a cycle of in-vitro fertilization, a process in which the egg and sperm are brought together in a nutrient solution. The fertilized eggs then can be implanted in the woman's womb. The couple produced eight embryos. Two were implanted and six were frozen.
The first two did not result in a pregnancy, so the couple decided to try the frozen ones in 2011. During the thawing process, four were lost, but the last two were implanted. Again, no pregnancy.
At that time, Chrissy, who was pregnant with her own son, Oliver, offered to be a gestational carrier for Anne.
"We, of course, were very touched and glad to know we had that option, but at that point, we were still trying to do it on our own," Anne said.
"Especially when they weren't able to give us an explanation of why we couldn't get pregnant," Joby said.
If an obstacle had been detected, the couple would have known more specific procedures to try. So for a few months, the Johnstons again tried artificial insemination and other less costly methods with no results. Last summer, they decided to accept Chrissy's offer.
"Moving forward with this, we had to talk to a counselor just to make sure all of us were doing this for the right reasons," Chrissy said. "During that meeting, one of the things we talked about was whether or not James and I were finished with our family or if we would want to have more kids."
The Knotts have been married 10 years and have been "blessed to have two healthy boys." They do not plan to have more children after this.
The husbands also had to agree to the arrangement. James said he thought it was a good idea.
"Annie and Joby have done a lot to help us with our kids, so we're really close to them," James said.
Having lost four embryos in the fall, the Johnstons were hesitant to freeze any more that might develop.The couple decided to try another round of in vitro fertilization but the embryos would be implanted in two wombs to increase the odds a baby would result. Anne and Joby said they had been through so many tests and invested too much time, money and emotion to give up.
"With me going through the process to get the eggs for the embryos, my body was already in a somewhat natural state to receive the embryos. ... The day we transferred the embryos, our doctor said 'If this all works out, we could have two twin pregnancies. Is everyone OK with this?' Without hesitation, we both said 'yes.' Of course, we didn't think it would happen," Anne said. "We keep saying 'Four is better than zero.'"
Upon learning the news, Chrissy and Anne's parents, Karl and Satoko Kortlandt of Tiffin, wanted to make themselves available to help their daughters. Karl has been retired for a few years and Satoko retired from Mercy Tiffin Hospital at the end of September. She worked in the phlebotomy lab there for 25 years.
The Kortlandts have put their Tiffin home on the market and moved in with Anne and Joby to get everything ready for the new arrivals. They plan to buy a house in Lewis Center.
"If this was not happening, I was thinking, 'I'm going to work until December and then retire.' But this changed the plans," Satoko said.
"There's no rush, but certainly, we want to get as close as we can to help out," Karl added. "We're pretty excited about it. According to the doctor, it's very unusual. The doctor actually thought, out of the four, they could get one."
The story of the two sisters having four babies began to spread as their pregnancies advanced.
The couples had to inform their employers. Anne is a project manager for Fiserve in Columbus. Joby works for Wells Fargo as a business systems consultant. Chrissy is the health and benefits practice leader for Mercer in Columbus, while James is a stay-at-home dad.
The pastor at Chrissy's church recorded a video from her perspective and used it for a message about sacrificial love.
"That got posted to Facebook, so then, based on that, NBC saw it and they contacted us and wanted to share the story. So they came to one of our doctor's appointments back in July, did a little interview and wrote up a nice little article," Anne said.
The network also visited the women's homes in mid-September to follow up on their progress. Karl said a photographer even showed up at a baby shower for them in Troy. Officials at Ohio University also learned about their alumni.
"They saw us on the NBC news and sent us four bibs that say, 'Welcoming four more Bobcats,'" Chrissy said.
The Columbus Dispatch also is working on a story. Anne said she believes the article is being held until the babies are born.
"I think it's a wonderful story to share, so we're happy to tell it as many times as we can. We hope it gives hope to those who are still struggling with fertility problems.
"That's one thing that has been eye-opening. There are a lot of people that either have been through it themselves or know people going through it. It's not talked about that much, so bringing light to the issue, and having a positive outcome finally, has been refreshing and exciting to share," Chrissy said.
Being first-time parents can be stressful. Joby said observing the Knotts and their boys has been helpful, but he is somewhat apprehensive about having four infants in the nursery.
"I think it's going to be different when we're in charge, calling the shots, getting up or not actually sleeping," Joby said.
"I can't imagine anyone being more good parents. They lived with us when our oldest son was born. ... It's hard to know with quads, but they've definitely been around at our worst and seen how we do it," James said.
Chrissy had to decide how to explain the situation to her older son, Wendell, 4. The babies all belong to Anne, she told him, but Anne could not carry all four of them herself. When they are born, they all will go to live with Anne and Joby.
"They're definitely Annie and Joby's babies," Chrissy said. "We're excited to meet our nephews and nieces. We figure between the four of us, six kids is enough."
"Just for us to go to dinner at a restaurant, we have to make a group reservation," James said. "'Party of 12.' That includes Mom and Dad."
Chrissy said her church community has been a source of hope and support for her as she searched for a way to help her sister and brother-in-law.
"I think faith has helped," Chrissy said. "You just have to let go and say, 'There's got to be a plan for my life, even though it's not what I thought it was going to be.' ... I can't begin to know exactly how they felt, but watching them going through multiple attempts and disappointing results, you really just have to hang onto something."
"A lot of friends and family have been along with us on this journey, so they've been through all the ups and downs and sending lots of prayers our way," Anne said.
She and Joby said they would have looked into adoption if this year's efforts had been in vain. At the time of this interview, Anne's babies were both head-down, so she expects to have a natural delivery. Although Chrissy's sons were born naturally, one of her nephews is breech. She may need a C-section if he does not turn on his own. Either way, the families are anticipating a life-changing event that could come at any time.
"Twenty-thirteen has been a big celebration year for us finally," Chrissy said.
More about the sisters can be found at vimeo.com/70129551 and www.nbc4i.com/story/22921658/sisters-gift-of-life-infertility-treatment.