In this story from August 2003, Al Roker shares that he and his wife desperately wanted to have a baby so they relied on faith and hope to see them through what would be an emotional and spiritual journey.
- Posted on Oct 29, 2014
You've probably noticed—if you start your morning watching me on the Today show—that I don't take up as much of the screen as I used to. Not since I had my stomach stapled. It's a very risky operation that I don't recommend for everyone. But I was willing to take my chances, as much for my family as myself. I want to be around for them as long as I can.
My wife, Deborah—who's a correspondent on 20/20—and I had been married for about a year when we decided to have a child. We already had an adopted daughter, 10-year-old Courtney, from my previous marriage.
To me, there is no difference between "natural" and "adopted." My own childhood showed me that when it comes to loving your kids, concepts like that don't apply. I was the oldest of six, and three of my siblings were adopted. Mom and Dad even took in foster children. "There are no limits to how much you can love," Dad always said.
Dad would do anything for us. He'd get up early and leave our house in Queens to go to work as a New York City bus driver. He put in back-to-back shifts and took odd jobs to provide for us. But to him it wasn't work; it was an expression of his love. And the more kids, the more love.
That's why I wanted to have a child with Deborah. But try as we might—for more than a year—she didn't conceive. "This is taking longer than it should," Deborah's ob/gyn, Dr. Janice Marks, told us. "Let's get you both tested."
The problem was me. I was more relieved than anything else. Now we knew for sure what the trouble was. Besides, as a weatherman I'm used to a certain amount of failure.
Dr. Marks recommended we pay a visit to the New York Fertility Institute for a consultation. Deborah hesitated. "Let's try it on our own just one more time," she said. "If it's meant to be, then God will make it happen."
Dr. Marks pinpointed Deborah's window of ovulation. "Knowing when should help," she told us. But it didn't. Every time I saw one of those commercials showing a happy couple with a positive on their home pregnancy test, I wanted to throw something at the TV.
Three weeks later, Deborah surprised me. "Al, I'm late," she said. I scrambled off to the drugstore for a home pregnancy test. Deborah went into the bathroom the next morning while I paced in the hall outside. Finally she opened the door, a smile on her face and test strip in hand. Two pink lines. "Positive?" I asked. She nodded. Was this really happening?
I wouldn't let myself get excited. Not yet. We tried another test. That one came back positive too. Oh, man. We're pregnant! We stayed up almost all night talking. What do we do now? Who do we tell and when? What about Courtney, who had ruled the roost for so long? We decided to wait to give her the news, just in case.
I didn't sleep much that night. I got out of bed around 3 a.m.—a little earlier than usual—gave Deborah a peck on the cheek while she slept, then left for Studio 1A at Rockefeller Center. "You're looking mighty chipper, Al," Katie Couric said. "Really?" I answered nonchalantly.
Inside, I was ready to burst. I wanted to tell Katie, Matt Lauer, everyone. But I kept quiet and gave the weather report as usual. "Nine months from now," I felt like telling the whole country, "it looks like we're due for a nice, warm baby. And a high probability of an overly sunny dad."
It was good I didn't. A sonogram at two months showed the baby wasn't growing. Its heart rate was way too slow. "I'm sorry," Dr. Marks told us. "I know this is going to hurt, but it doesn't look like the baby will reach term." Deborah miscarried on Labor Day weekend.
"I'd just started to think of myself as a mother," Deborah told me. "And now it's all changed." I squeezed her hand. I knew just what she meant.
It wasn't that we weren't parents already. But ever since the day Deborah showed me that test strip, we'd both felt something new at work in our lives. The incredible mystery of God working through us to create a new life. I think we both knew then and there that there was no turning back.
A few weeks before our second anniversary, Deborah got a checkup from Dr. Marks. She asked about the possibility of trying to get pregnant again. "I see no reason why you couldn't," Dr. Marks told her. "You've healed well, and you're in good health. But you're going to need medical and scientific help."
We went to see Drs. Majid Fateh and Khalid Sultan at the New York Fertility Institute. Dr. Sultan told us about artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.
Then he said, "I'm not going to lie to you. If you choose this road, it is a long one. And difficult. For both of you, but especially for Deborah. There will be a lot of work involved, a lot of discomfort and no guarantees. Are you willing to go through it?"
That night Deborah and I talked it over. "It's your decision," I finally said. "Like the doc told us, you're the one who has to do the real work. But..." Deborah took my hand and I knew I didn't have to finish my sentence. We wanted a baby. Come what may, we were going to try.
We opted for in vitro fertilization. It was a success; Deborah got pregnant again.
This time I was afraid to be too happy. The doctors told us how critical the first trimester was. I prayed every day, asking God to keep my wife and our unborn child in his hands.
Twelve weeks later we went into the sonogram room together. I had years of live TV under my belt, and thought I was well past the butterflies-in-the-stomach phase. But I'd never felt so unsettled before. The doctor turned on the monitor and the screen flickered to life. He ran the wand over Deborah's belly. "There," he said.
Deborah and I squinted into the black-white-and-gray image on the screen, trying to figure out what the doctor was pointing out. "Those are the arms," the doctor said. Then he ran his finger along two thin shapes near the bottom of the screen. "Those are the legs right there."
He flipped a switch and the room filled with sound. A steady, thumping beat. "Good, strong heartbeat. Congratulations!"
In that moment, all my doubts and worries, all my questions about whether or not Deborah and I had done the right thing, completely vanished.
Science may have helped us on our path to pregnancy, but it couldn't get us all the way to the end. The only thing that could do that was the power and grace of God. He'd been with us on this journey every step of the way. This was his miracle; the beautiful, glorious, humbling mystery of life.
At 9:17 a.m. on Tuesday, November 17, 1998, I heard the most wonderful sound: the cries of our newborn daughter, Leila Ruth Roker. A nurse held her up for Deborah to see. My wife started to cry, and so did I. I held my new daughter and looked into her eyes. Is this how Mom and Dad felt when they held me? I wondered.
I thought back to growing up with my five siblings. They were my brothers and sisters, but to my parents they were much more. Each of us was a miracle.
My little girl wriggled in my arms and all at once I felt warmth surge through me. Love. For Courtney, for Leila and for Deborah. This was the answer to the mystery that had driven Deborah and me to want a child so much. Love without limits, just like God's love for all his children.
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