For several years, Stephanie Freels prayed to God for a very special reason, and all she wished for was that He would heed her prayers.
She sometimes had her doubts – but on December 23, 2022, everything changed.
After years of struggling with infertility, Stephanie finally fell pregnant.
However, the positive news was just the beginning of an incredibly emotional roller coaster…
Having children and creating a family is considered a given by many. Naturally, people want to pass on their legacy and witness their offspring grow up.
Unfortunately, some couples face the heartache of remaining childless, despite their strong desire to become parents. The emotional toll of undergoing repeated disappointment is hard to fathom, something only those who’ve experienced it can truly understand. When one already has children, the perspective might differ – not being able to have biological children doesn’t feel like end of the world. But of course, it’s easy to say when you already have kids of your own.
Stephanie, 27, and Graham Freels, 29, undoubtedly grappled with these emotions for many years.
Despite their relatively young age, the Washington-based couple had been trying to have children for several years. Unfortunately, their attempts had been unsuccessful – each time a pregnancy test turned out negative their hearts were broken anew.
The couple, who married in 2017, also faced challenging odds. Shortly after Stephanie and Graham wed, Stephanie was hospitalized due to a pituitary cyst diagnosis, causing hormonal imbalances and severe headaches. Though the cyst was removed, it still affected their attempts at conception.
After years of disappointment and doubt, Stephanie turned to her greatest source of comfort, the Lord.
”For years, we had prayed that God would bless us with children, and now it was finally coming true! I’ve always wanted a large family, but I could have never imagined it would happen all at once,” she said in a statement according to St. Joseph’s.
On the day before Christmas Eve, they finally learned that Stephanie was pregnant.
Following ovulation induction and multiple rounds of intrauterine insemination, the test finally showed a positive result. Realizing that they were about to become first-time parents was naturally overwhelming.
”It was a pretty incredible morning for us,” said Stephanie.
After that, Stephanie underwent several hospital tests, but one thing stood out. Hormone tests indicated the possibility of more than one baby.
In January 2023, their first ultrasound confirmed the presence of more surprises. It wasn’t just one baby in Stephanie’s belly – it was five.
Stephanie and Graham were expecting quintuplets.
”It was one of the craziest moments of our lives,” Stephanie said and continued:
”We were so excited and confident that God had purposefully entrusted us with these five precious babies. However, we also knew there were serious risks to carrying quintuplets.”
To understand how rare and unique this is, consider the statistics – out of over 3.6 million births recorded in the United States in 2020, only 29 were quintuplets or higher-order multiples.
Receiving the news of quintuplets was undoubtedly overwhelming for the young couple – but even more challenges and trials awaited. Carrying so many babies is extremely taxing on the mother.There’s a high risk of complications, and a lot can happen on the path to delivery.
Stephanie quickly realized she needed a doctor she could trust, and began searching online to find a suitable option.
“Right after we learned that we were expecting quintuplets, I hopped on YouTube and started doing some research to find the right doctor and hospital to deliver our babies,” said Graham.
Stephanie and her husband soon heard about Dr. John Elliott, a renowned perinatologist based in Phoenix, specializing in higher-order multiple pregnancies.
At that time, the couple had just signed a lease for a new apartment in Washington State.
”I called up the landlord and I said, ‘I think we’re about to have a lot of kids, and I don’t think that apartment is going to work for us anymore,” Graham recalled.
Soon after learning about the pregnancy, the Freels made the brave decision to move from Washington State to Phoenix to be close to the medical team at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Fortunately, Graham could keep his full-time job and work from Phoenix, while Stephanie focused entirely on managing her quintuplet pregnancy.
Stephanie had initially planned to carry the babies until the 34th week, but it proved easier said than done. Additionally, Stephanie suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Then, in the 27th week, something Stephanie had dreaded occurred.
She suddenly experienced intense abdominal pain and realized the gravity of the situation. In early June, she was admitted to the hospital in a lot of pain and with her body was swollen.
Doctors examined her thoroughly, and found that Stephanie was six centimeters dilated. The situation called for an emergency C-section – there was no time to spare. According to the hospital, they had about an hour in the middle of the night to prepare for the delivery.
”It was upwards of 20 people in the delivery room because each baby has its own team of nurses, respiratory therapists, and physicians to help transition them after birth,” Hassler said.
“And then Stephanie had her own team on the obstetrical side as well to ensure that she was safe during the delivery as well.”
On the morning of June 4, Adelyn, Eliana, Linnea, Fisher, and Harper Freels – collectively known as the “Freels Five” – were born.
Because the babies were born 13 weeks prematurely, they weighed very little.
All the tiny miracles weighed under two pounds each and required assistance to survive. Adelyn, Eliana, Linnea, Fisher, and Harper each had their own team of neonatologists, nurses, and respiratory therapists. The fragile babies spent a considerable period in the neonatal department, but fortunately, none experienced any serious complications from their preterm birth.
Stephanie and Graham witnessed their little darlings make progress after progress, largely thanks to the professional help from St. Joseph’s and their world-renowned NICU.
”As expected, they did need some respiratory support in the beginning,” Andrea Hassler, nursing director at St. Joseph, told Good Morning America.
”And then it was really a focus on being able to have those babies grow outside of mom’s womb up into the healthy babies that you see today.”
After 76 days, the final quintuplet was discharged from St. Joseph’s NICU last week, and the “Freels Five” are now happily under one roof at home with their parents in Phoenix.
“One of the best moments of our NICU journey was being able to hold all five of my babies for the first time,” said Stephanie, adding that she was “so emotional leading up to the moment I could finally hold all of them in my arms after carrying them in my belly.”
“It was a moment I will forever cherish,” she continued. “I am so thankful to the NICU nursing team for giving me this experience.”
“So many people have prayed for us and our family throughout our journey and NICU experience. We are so grateful that so many prayers have been answered and we are looking forward to creating new memories as a family of seven.”