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Hunter Mueller drove past his frozen children every day on the way to work.
He’d pray to God to keep those six embryos safe, he said, because part of himself, as well as the future Mueller family, waited in that building at the UC Center for Reproductive Health in Cincinnati.
“Literally, I pass right by that building,” Hunter, who lives in Lawrenceburg and still commutes to Cincinnati, said as he sat on his living room couch next to his wife, Carla.
“I never got them out of my mind. Every day I’d go by there it’d be a reminder that there are three embryos still frozen that could be my kids running around one day.”
Today, Hunter and Carla need no reminder they now have three pairs of fraternal twins: Caitlin and Brooke, 7; Luke and Morgan, 4; and Ellie and Cord, 2.
Their children run in and out of the living room as he and Carla talk.
Luke and Morgan, both 4, interrupt the conversation wearing Darth Vader masks and carrying balloons from a Christmas church service at First Baptist Church.
The story they’re retelling is one they don’t repeat often.
The first and only time Hunter and Carla have spoken publicly about how their family came to be was during a Father’s Day testimony last summer at First Baptist Church.
They’re private people, Hunter said.
And it’s a complicated story to explain to passersby in the mall, Carla said, who often ask the popular question, “Do twins run in your family?”
Hunter and Carla haven’t explained exactly how their family formed to their kids either; Hunter says they have the rest of their lives to understand.
“We have mentioned to them before that they are special babies,” Carla said. “That we waited a long time to have them.”
‘Never giving up’
Carla, an Anderson County native, and Hunter, originally from Conroe, Texas, met while working at Rand McNally in 1996. They had their first date in January of 1997 and were married that September at First Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg.
Carla and Hunter wanted to enjoy alone time as a couple, they said, before beginning their family. They talked about kids early on in their relationship, even choosing a potential name for a boy or a girl.
But after five years of marriage, Carla visited the doctor and discovered she would not be able to conceive a child naturally.
No reason existed for Carla’s scarred and damaged fallopian tubes, she said.
“I think we both knew that we would have kids in our life,” Carla said. “We were just kind of hoping that we’d have our own. So we could see, you know, ‘put a little Carla and a little Hunter together and what do you get?’ And they’d be ours.”
Carla’s doctor suggested in vitro fertilization. Both Carla, then about 30, and Hunter, about 32, were healthy and good candidates for in vitro fertilization, a procedure that involves stimulating an overproduction of eggs from the mother, then combining sperm and a viable egg outside of the uterus and is later implanted.
The Muellers explored options such as adoption, but decided to try conceiving biological children first.
The IVF process isn’t easy, Carla and Hunter said.
Most people don’t realize IVF comes with daily shots of fertility drugs with long needles, days of bed rest after fertilized embryos are implanted.
At first, Carla was as ignorant as anyone else.
“I’m sitting there thinking you have to take a pill or something like that,” Carla said when she first received the medical kit containing fertility drugs and instructional videos. “And then there’s this big, huge box with long needles in it.”
When the Muellers first started the IVF process in 2003, an embryo conceived through in vitro had a less than 25 percent chance of living to birth.
Now, according to the National Library of Medicine, women under the age of 35 have a 41-43 percent chance of giving birth to a baby conceived through assisted reproductive technology.
“They can’t guarantee anything,” Hunter said of in vitro. ”The odds are very minimal.”
The first time, Carla had three embryos implanted. Carla ended up with complications and fluid build up in her abdomen.
“Actually, it looked like I was pregnant,” Carla said. “But I wasn’t, of course.”
Doctors drained four liters’ worth of fluid. None of the embryos survived.
The Muellers tried again.
Again, Carla did not get pregnant.
In vitro fertilization is not cheap. All of the procedures and fertility drugs cost the Muellers (who said they received financial assistance in the beginning from Carla’s parents Carl and Sandra Mueller) about $17,000 to $18,000 for the first IVF cycle.
Later, Hunter’s health insurance with a new job helped to shoulder some of the costs of the procedure
Freezing fertilized eggs cuts down on cost, Carla said.
Unfreezing and planting those eggs costs a few thousand dollars for each cycle, Hunter said.
Going through in vitro fertilization is stressful, Hunter and Carla said, physically and emotionally draining.
“Oh, we cried a lot,” Hunter said, recalling the first unsuccessful procedure. He and Carla laugh a little. “It was sad.”
The couple had just built their house in Lawrenceburg, a large home in which they thought they might end up alone.
But in 2005, as Hunter and Carla tried in vitro fertilization for the last time, two embryos made it to birth and the Muellers became parents to twins Caitlin and Brooke.
The odds of having twins increase with IVF, but it’s rare for them to live until birth, Hunter and Carla said. If embryos are frozen, the odds decrease even further.
They didn’t wish for twins every time; the couple attributes having three pairs of healthy twins to it being “a God thing” and part of God’s plan for the Mueller family.
“Just the chance of all of them unfreezing, and being able to put and the percentage of that taking, the odds were so not in our favor for us to have twins, twins and twins,” Carla said.
After Caitlin and Brooke were born, the Muellers froze the rest of the embryos, 10 in total. They sometimes joke that actually, all of their children are the same age.
Both active members at First Baptist Church, Carla and Hunter always believed life begins at conception, they said.
“There is a lot of controversy about [IVF] because people think, and I tried to say in my testimony, doctors are creating babies and they’re not,” Hunter said. “They’re just allowing the conditions to have the possibility of having a pregnancy. We just thought all long, I guess we never debated that, we just thought that if God’s will was for us to have kids, then he would allow us to have kids.”
So the couple made a promise to God, they said. Every embryo successfully fertilized would have a chance at life.
Because of that promise the Muellers needed to prepare to expand their family unit further than they ever imagined.
“What we did from day one is that we promised God that any embryos that he granted us that were viable to be placed back into Carla we were going to give a chance at life,” Hunter said.
“I definitely never imagined it would be six kids,” Carla, who said she wanted to be a mom since she was playing a kid with baby dolls. “I think just God blessed us with that.”
‘It runs in the family’
Carla and Hunter stress three things with their children: to have a relationship with Jesus; to work hard and never give up; and to be there for each other.
Similar in their core principles and values, the Muellers’ journey through in vitro fertilization has made the relationship with his wife stronger, Hunter said.
“Deep down, we know we’re solid,” he said.
Caitlin and Brooke, the first set of twins, also know what it’s like to be there for each other.
When asked who was the best twin, Brooke immediately cocked a thumb at her sister, Caitlin.
“That’s Brooke’s giving side,” Carla laughed.
The twin sisters have grand plans to open a hotel on the beach. Brooke, a horse lover, will arrange horseback rides for guests to the hotel. Caitlin, who wants to be an architect, will be allowed to live at the hotel if she designs it.
Every Mueller child has his or her own personality.
Morgan, 4, holds up her new Barbie doll at every opportunity. Ellie smiles, then hides around the corner before opening up her Advent calendar.
Luke continues to walk around the house in his Darth Vader mask. He asks if he can put on the entire outfit.
“He has a will,” Carla said of her 2-year-old son Cord. “He will find a way at everything.”
Including dunking toothbrushes into the toilet. Carla is constantly boiling toothbrushes, she said.
Last Thursday, Carla wasn’t boiling toothbrushes, however. The Mueller children opened Advent calendars, one for every set of twins.
The calendars are one of the Mueller Christmas traditions, including buying gifts for the Angel Tree at Walmart, filling shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox with their church, and visiting with family members in Anderson County.
On Christmas Day the Muellers will visit with Lavenia and Onis Peach, Carla’s grandparents on her father’s side.
But before the big day, the Mueller family will be spending Christmas Eve with Carla’s parents and her grandma Virginia Isham.
The grandmother with twins in her family tree.
Meet the Muellers
Carla and Hunter Mueller, married September 1997
Caitlin Grace, 7. The dependable one.
Brooke Faith, 7. The giving one.
Morgan Hope, 4. The girly girl.
Luke Colton, 4. Full of energy.
Ellie Joy, 2. The smiley one.
Cord Weston, 2. The explosive one.