Small Miracles

Gisel and Melvin Mora marvel at their blessings - five babies who survived a premature birth. But the real miracle may be how this baseball wife endured so much on her own.

October 21, 2001|By Diana K. Sugg | By Diana K. Sugg,SUN STAFF

When Gisel Mora married Orioles' baseball player Melvin Mora last summer, she had no illusions about the life she signed up for.

He proposed from a road trip, they married over the All-Star break, and she wanted to get pregnant early this year, because they knew it would be too stressful once the season started. Even her baby shower was held between a double-header at Camden Yards.

And when life handed her more than she bargained for, when her pregnancy turned into twins and then quintuplets, Gisel, 27, didn't hesitate. Even though her husband would be on the road half the time, she grabbed all of the promise of those babies, naming them, talking to them, staying strong through premature labor, bleeding and months of bed rest. When the infants were born in July, too early and desperately ill, she was alone, holding a nurse's hand, as calm and strong as she has been all summer.

For weeks now, she's juggled going to Johns Hopkins Hospital to visit the babies and grill the doctors, with caring for her 4-year-old daughter Tatiana, looking for a house and attending Orioles' games to root for her husband. This was a crucial season for Melvin, 29, who plays center field and shortstop, and she didn't want him to worry, so she's shielded him from the worst.

"I've got to be strong for Melvin," she said. "I've got to be strong for the babies."

Her mettle surprised veteran nurses and doctors. Only 5-foot-1 and 110 pounds, the black-haired beauty swallowed all the miserable medicine and instructions her obstetrician gave her as confidently as she wears her long, red fingernails and four-inch heels.

"Here is a woman who just has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and she had such strength," said nurse Lynn Kopelke, who has worked in labor and delivery at Hopkins for 18 years. "She just amazed me."

Melvin fell in love with that streak of energy and independence. Raised by Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, Gisel grew up speaking Spanish and English and going to church three times a week. She met Melvin while working with a baseball agent who dealt with Latin American players. Later, when he took her to meet his family in rural Venezuela, the girl from New York City eagerly climbed on a pickup truck to bounce through the sugar cane fields.

Gisel has needed that toughness to see her tiny babies, born at between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 pounds, struggling for life in plastic incubators and to endure their roller-coaster courses. Hopkins doctors say having one baby in the neonatal intensive care unit is overwhelming; she shouldered the tests, medicines and worries of five.

Most of the time, she was in charge, cataloging all the medical details in her brain, certain her children would be fine. But sometimes, the questions she tried to push away haunted her. Would her babies all survive? Would they turn out normal? How could she take care of so many?

It will be years before she knows the answers. But when she has doubts, when she needs strength, Gisel goes to see her babies.

She visits the three girls and two boys in the order they were born, checking their charts, asking the nurses questions, and then bending over to gaze at them. One by one, Gisel opens the small door of each incubator and reaches in her hand, gently stroking a tiny finger, a cheek, a forehead.

"Hi, sweetie. I'm here. I see your eyes open," she whispers. Recognizing her voice, her son begins to wiggle. "I missed you."

Five pregnancy kits

It seemed it would be so easy.

Gisel, whose 4-year-old is from a previous marriage, wanted more children. And Melvin, who grew up on a farm with 10 brothers and sisters, had even joked about having six kids.

Gisel had trouble getting pregnant the first time, so they gave themselves six months and then decided she would try fertility drugs, to make sure she was pregnant by the beginning of the baseball season.

It didn't take long. After one round of the drugs, she felt different, and with just one drop of urine, the pregnancy test showed the plus sign. To make sure, she tried another kit, and then three more of a different brand. All five showed the same thing.

Ecstatic, she called Melvin. Soon, a doctor informed them they were having twins.

A few weeks later, during spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Gisel woke up in a pool of blood. She was certain she had lost the babies. Melvin rushed her to the nearest hospital and paced outside her room. Inside, a doctor did an ultrasound.

"You can stop crying," he told her. "I see five fetuses and five very strong heartbeats."

But they quickly learned the numbers were against them. Even though fertility treatments have made multiple births more common, carrying quintuplets is still a rare and dangerous undertaking. With so many fetuses, the babies are almost sure to be born too early and could die. If they live, they face possible developmental delays and other medical problems.

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