WJZ's Denise Koch talks about her difficult journey toward parenthood FAMILY MATTERS

November 27, 1994|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Sun Staff Writer

If you were writing in Denise Koch's baby book, on the page marked "Mom, Six Months' Pregnant (with twins!)," the entry would read:

Dear Meg and Wynn,

Your Mom is walking gingerly these days, tiptoeing around the house in shimmery gold ballet slippers like some plump fairy godmother.

She's gained 19 pounds -- from eating muffins, hamburgers and ice cream mostly -- and her round form now pokes out beneath her purple blouse.

But it's her face -- that angular, elegantly made-up anchorwoman face -- that shows how she feels about your arrival.

For 15 years, it has projected a polished, theatrical presence on the air. But now it radiates something else. It's less about jawbones and cheekbones and perfectly lined lips; today, her hair is mussed, her cheeks are flushed and her face looks sweetly round.

The expression she's wearing? A kind of bemused joy. Her brown eyes get moist when she talks about all she's been through to bring you girls here.

"I think of being with them," she says, "as this great adventure."

*

For Denise Koch and her husband, Jackson Phippin, the adventure began nearly 10 years ago when they decided to have a child. But their desire for a family turned into a heartbreaking journey during which Ms. Koch suffered two miscarriages, faced surgery, took fertility drugs and underwent in vitro fertilization.

They visited at least four hospitals, three specialists, and spent roughly $30,000. Just as she and her husband were about to abandon hope, they received the news: They are expecting two fraternal girls in January.

"It's been a remarkable miracle that, at 43, I'm sitting here pregnant with twins," says Ms. Koch, who co-anchors WJZ-TV's 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. "But it didn't happen easily and it didn't happen overnight."

Since beginning this process, Ms. Koch has remained private, sharing her struggles with only family and close friends. Few at the station -- and even fewer in the viewing audience -- knew of the disappointments she encountered.

But she decided to discuss her past infertility now because reading about other women's ordeals helped her feel less alone.

"It's a very debilitating process, and there are a lot of women who go through it," she says. "Some feel embarrassed about it, and some feel humiliated -- like they're failures because they're not conceiving. . . .

"When I first went into all this, I used to read these articles about women my age going through this, and they would see women with babies or pregnant women and cry. They couldn't go to their friends' showers. I would go: 'Get a life, lady.' Then it happened to me. I literally, by the second miscarriage, found myself unable to look at co-workers who were pregnant. I was happy for them, but I would look at them and begin to tear up. I would think to myself: 'Denise Koch, what is going on with you?' But it's just something that happened in the deepest part of my soul."

For most of her life, Ms. Koch didn't think she wanted children. Growing up in Los Angeles, she was a serious child who enjoyed adult activities more than toys and games.

When she got older, she recalls her grandfather giving her advice. "He said, 'You're going to have to choose: You're either going to have a career or you're going to have children.' "

To young Denise -- who wanted to be an actress -- the message made sense.

"I really believed it was a choice. I remember being very defiant and saying, 'Well, I'm not going to get married, and I'm not going to have kids. I'm going to have a career.' This was the sort of thing that I built my ego on," she says.

That view was altered slightly in 1976 when she married Mr. Phippin, a theater director, and became a stepmother to his daughter, Cherise, now 27.

Although he expressed interest in having children, Ms. Koch vetoed the idea, preferring instead that they devote their free time to traveling, gardening and fixing up their home in the Ten Hills neighborhood.

But in her mid 30s, several events caused her to rethink her plan.

Her grandfather, who had been an influential figure, died. Two months later, her colleague, mentor and friend -- WJZ-TV anchorman Jerry Turner -- died. And her mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer.

"All of a sudden, I realized it was up to me to keep this family going," she says. "For me, [the decision] really was about love. It sounds corny, but . . . I just realized that the only way that the world keeps turning and that love keeps growing is for people to participate in the process. It was time for me to try and participate if I could."

She and her husband discussed their thoughts with a therapist. They wrote down the pros and cons of parenthood. The negatives included practical considerations such as their ages (she was 34, he was 41). On the positive side were more emotional reasons -- believing that having a child was the most meaningful thing they could do together.

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