Pam Pisner, 54, and Dan Pisner, 55, talk to their daughter, Shira Pisner, 25.
Pam Pisner: Dad and I had known each other for five years before we got married, and then it was actually eight years before you were born. We talked about having children because we thought it would be really cool to see the product of the two of us. We were such a good team together, and we just wanted to know what it would be like to make some babies.
Shira Pisner: How did the product come out?
Pam: Beautiful. We love the product. It was a little bit more of a product than we originally planned on. [laughs] But it was good.
Dan Pisner:We thought that we most likely wouldn’t have children—
Pam:Well, we were afraid, because I had such a difficult time conceiving—and that was pretty devastating. I think westarted trying seriously maybe two or three years after we got married. And then it was a few years before we decided to take Pergonal, which is the fertility drug that I took to get pregnant. It was something that we had said we would never do. There were a lot of risks—not just the large chance of multiple births, but there were other risks, too. We said we wouldn’t go that far, but when it got down to Okay, if we want to have children, we’ve got to do this, we decided that we wanted them bad enough that we were going to give it a try.
Dan: Mom-Mom, Pam’s grandma, prayed and prayed that Pam would get pregnant—she thinks she may have prayed too hard.
Pam: If we ever write a book, that’s going to be the title: I Think I Prayed Too Hard. Of course when I first found out I was pregnant, we were elated—we couldn’t believe it. It actually happened on the second round of Pergonal, which was good for a number of reasons. One is, it happened. Also, Pergonal is very expensive and not covered by insurance. One of the first things we did was buy a little Nissan Stanza, because it would be a family car and with the hatchback, we’d be able to put the stroller in the back and carry all the little things we’d need for our little baby.
Dan:We got delivery of the Nissan Stanza about a week before Mom went in and got the sonogram. After that, the Stanza was worthless.
Pam: At eleven weeks, I had gone in for a sonogram at the radiologist’s office—Dad was in the waiting room. The first radiologist came, did the ultrasound, and then walked away. Then another person came in with him, and they sort of talked to each other and they left . . . and then a third person. I was trying to ask what was going on, but they weren’t saying anything. So I started to get a little nervous, and probably by the fourth or the fifth person, I wanted them to let Dad come in, but they weren’t letting him. I saw them pointing to the screen like they were counting to five. So finally, Dan, you came back, and I went, “It’s a litter.” And you said, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “There are five babies.”
Dan: I said, “What are you talking about?”
Pam:They wouldn’t tell us anything; they needed to have the doctor tell us. So we went back to Dr. Grodin’s office, and he was a well-known fertility specialist. He had an office with this huge desk that was up high, and you sat down low in these little chairs. So you feel little and he’s big.
Dan: It was like being before God.
Pam: So we went in, and we’re sitting in those little chairs and a few minutes later he walks in and he’s looking a little green around the gills. I just looked up and went, “It’s five babies, isn’t it?” He just shook his head, because he’d been teasing us all along that the largest multiples that he’d had in his practice was triplets—just one set of triplets. Everyone else had been twins.
Dan: Back when you guys were conceived there was nothing called selective reduction; it just wasn’t practiced at all. And so when Dr. Grodin said, “We see at least five embryos,” his question to us was whether or not you want to have five kids.
Pam: The options were all or nothing.
Dan: You’ve got to understand, we had two weeks to decide, and our questions were: number one, How dangerous is it for Mom to carry five babies? and number two, What were the chances of even having one viable baby? What are the chances they could all be very unhealthy? Either they don’t survive or they’re very unhealthy all their lives? So we thought about all of that in those two weeks.
Pam: I think we were extremely apprehensive because it was such a high-risk pregnancy. I mean, we knew you were going to be premature, but we didn’t know how premature. So it was very scary. We thought, What are we going to do with five babies? One is hard enough, especially never having done this before. And you can’t exactly go to your next-door neighbors for advice.
Dan: Yeah, “When you had your quintuplets, what’d you do?”
Pam: And even people with twins—it’s a totally different thing. But we agreed that we were a good team, and we have a strong, solid relationship. Having a baby puts a strain on a relationship, and having multiple babies puts more of a strain on a relationship. We knew ours was strong and together we could do it. We went to see Bubbe and Pop-Pop, my mom and dad. We were just coming from the doctor’s office. I mean, I was terrified; I was in tears. They tried to soothe us, but they were upset and worried like we were. And then we went to see Grandma and Pop-Pop, Dad’s mom and dad, whose reaction was, “Oh, wow! One baby is a joy—so this is five times the joy!” So we went back to Dr. Grodin, and I think he saw that we were leaning toward continuing the pregnancy. He said if anybody could do it, I could: I had everything going for me that could be going for me. We learned much later on that the other doctors in his practice pulled him aside and told him he was out of his mind—that he should have just told us right off the bat that we should have aborted the whole pregnancy—
Dan: Because they knew this is a high, high, high, high risk. At that time, I think there were eight recorded sets of quintuplets ever that survived.
Reprinted from Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, with permission from Penguin Press: Copyright (c) 2010 by Edited by Dave Isay,