This Christmas, three pairs of twins with the same biological parents will celebrate under three separate roofs with their moms and dads. "Miracle" twins were conceived in one day and were born with a difference of 15 years. Alex and Kurt Johnson - the eldest of all twins - were born 15 years ago, Matthias and James Gardner a year ago, and the youngest sisters Eliana and Aliza Hefner all six months ago. Moreover, they were all conceived by the same people in 2002.
It does not matter that they are of different ages and live in different states - the main thing is that they all gave life to them! “These children are true blessings,” Marie Johnson, 53, the biological mother of the six youngsters, tells The Post. “It doesn’t matter that they’re different ages and live apart — what matters is that they have the gift of life.”
Stay-at-home mom Marie and her husband, Randy, 50, who underwent in vitro fertilization just over 16 years ago, were lucky enough to have fraternal twins Alex and Kurt in June 2003. With help from their specialist, they created a bumper crop of embryos, 12 of which were put on ice for future use.
But, in 2009, after ongoing health problems for Randy caused the Johnsons to be cautious about having more children, they donated the spares to the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tenn.
The faith-based organization matches wannabe parents — many of whom have fertility issues — with leftover frozen embryos that are implanted into the “adoptive” woman’s uterus.
Most frozen embryo transfers are anonymous so the children never get to meet their biological parents or siblings. But in the case of the Johnsons, Gardners and Hefners, all parties have been willing to get to know each other.
As a result, the Johnson family took a flight in August to visit with the then-3-month-old Hefner girls and their parents, Amy and Robert, in Tennessee and then drove east to South Carolina to meet the Gardner clan.
All three families — who keep in touch via group text, email and telephone — plan to meet en masse next summer.
“We like to think it’s an amazing tapestry,” says Jeni Gardner, 44, a stay-at-home, home-schooling mom of seven.
“It’s all about being open and honest, with no secrets,” says Amy Hefner, 34, a house parent at a children’s home.
The story begins with the 1996 marriage of Marie and Randy. The duo, who met through a mutual friend, wanted children but were concerned because Marie had been diagnosed with a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome at the age of 28.
They tried routine fertility treatments, such as Clomid, which assists ovulation, without success. So they opted for IVF in the autumn of 2002. Marie had three of the 15 healthy embryos transferred to her womb and gave birth to fraternal twins Alex and Kurt the following June.
“We’d signed forms to keep the remaining 12 embryos frozen in storage for $480 a year,” she says.
A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis for Randy, a project manager, was one of the reasons the couple decided to donate them to others.
“After the ups and downs of PCOS and infertility, we were thrilled with our twins,” says Marie. “We just didn’t feel in the position to have more.” It later turned out that Randy had the less egregious inflammatory disease sarcoidosis, which in rare cases, mimics MS by affecting the nervous system.
The dozen embryos were transported to the NEDC where they remained on ice for eight years at no cost to the Johnsons.
“We had some interest from two other couples,” says Marie. “One was not agreeable to an open adoption — something we very much wanted — and we just didn’t feel a connection with the other family.”
Enter Jeni and Danny Gardner in 2017. Reeling from the loss of their sixth baby, Jacob, who was stillborn two years earlier, they dreamed of expanding their five-child family further.
“My mama heart was yearning to get pregnant again,” says Jeni.
Friends from church told them about the NEDC. The couple passed a home inspection, and were immediately attracted to the Johnsons’ embryos.
“We shared the same values,” says Jeni, who share the Johnsons’ spiritual beliefs.
Three embryos were implanted in November 2016, but there was sadly no pregnancy. A second try with another three embryos yielded Matthias and James, fraternal twins, born at 37 weeks in November 2017.
“It was just the most joyful moment,” says Jeni.
She says that “it’s wild” that the boys share a resemblance with her and Danny’s five biological children, who immediately accepted the twins into the family.
“If people don’t know our story, there’s no indicator the twins are any different. However, Randy and Marie are taller than us so, once the boys hit puberty, I can imagine they will have growth spurts,” she says.
Three months after the Gardner twins were born, the Hefners, who paid similar amounts for fees and treatment, reached out about the Johnsons’ remaining embryos. Some didn’t make it through the thaw, but two were transferred into Amy’s uterus. One of those survived and split — creating identical twin girls.
“It was a miracle,” says Amy, who had experienced fertility problems since her marriage to Robert, 34, in 2006, and underwent a series of unsuccessful procedures such as intrauterine insemination. The couple had decided that IVF wasn’t for them ethically or financially, and believed that embryo adoption was the right path.
“All the testing, failed treatments and negative tests over the years were difficult emotionally, spiritually and physically,” says Amy. “Everyone around the same age as us seemed to have children or were pregnant in no time. The sting of baby shower invitations or looking at Babybook was so hard.”
Happily, that period is in the past: Eliana and Aliza were safely delivered June 11, 2018 — also the 15th birthday of their biological brothers Alex and Kurt.
“It was so special and a big surprise because they were actually due in August,” says Marie.
In the spring, she organized the August trip to meet both families. Kurt and Alex gingerly posed for photographs with their siblings.
“They were nervous because they’re not used to infants or newborns, but it was very cool,” says Marie.
“It just felt like family,” says Jenni, recalling how her older children encircled the Johnsons’ car in excitement as soon as they drove up.
“It was neat to get to know the Johnsons and see physical characteristics in them that we have seen or will see one day in the girls,” says Amy. “They have several of Randy’s features and Marie’s beautiful blue eyes.”
As for the future, the three families are set to meet in June at an NEDC event in Texas. Until then, they will text, call and include each other in their prayers. Kurt and Alex completely understand their unique family situation and the younger children will be raised knowing the full circumstances of their conception and birth. Eliana, Aliza, Matthias and James will be encouraged to call their biological parents auntie and uncle.
“At some point, it might be messy or sticky, but [we want] to be as open and forthcoming with information as we can,” says Jeni. “We’ll tell these precious children how we chose them and how much they were truly wanted.”
Photo: Brian Peterson
Based on New York Post