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

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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."

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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.

"I started to read this list aloud to my husband, and I started to weep," she recalls. "I realized that I wasn't crying because I was afraid of the possibility. I was crying because these things were really important to me. And they were things I hadn't allowed myself in my big life plan to consider."

They thought they had taken the biggest step by deciding to have a child, never realizing the most challenging hurdle was ahead: carrying a baby to term.

For the first year, they chalked up their lack of success to stress and bad timing. By the end of the second year, though, they saw a specialist. The doctor discovered that Ms. Koch had fibroid tumors in her uterus and operated successfully to remove them.

An arduous process

At age 38, she became pregnant. The couple was ecstatic, but their happiness was short-lived. Weeks later, Ms. Koch had a miscarriage.

Within six months, she became pregnant again. This time, she was 3 months along when she miscarried.

"Each time, it's harder to pick yourself up. You're more anxious and more invested in the process," she says. "By that time, it was the No. 1 thing in our lives."

Doctors advised the couple to consider fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization, in which eggs are retrieved from the ovaries, mixed with sperm in a laboratory dish and implanted in the uterus.

The process involved daily sonograms and blood tests. They also consulted an adoption lawyer.

During the second in vitro procedure, Ms. Koch became pregnant. This time, though, it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy -- the fertilized egg was lodged outside the womb -- and surgery to save it was unsuccessful.

"Then," she says, "my odds became minuscule."

Her work -- which she missed only when doctors put her in the hospital -- helped her keep perspective.

"When I had to put my personal problems away and sit in front of the cameras and do the news, it disciplined me to not indulge," she says. "In other ways, it was extremely difficult. When you're dealing with all these fertility drugs and these hormones, emotionally you get out of whack."

Second-guessing

She also felt guilt and remorse over having waited to deal with this aspect of her life.

"I kept saying to my husband, 'Why did I make this horrible mistake? How did I get in this predicament?' One of my friends had this great saying: She said, 'You have to have more empathy for your past self.' I think that's right. . . . You have to say, 'That's who I was. I wasn't a silly person. I was very serious doing what I thought was best in life. It's just that I've changed,' " she says.

Last spring, the couple decided to try in vitro fertilization one last time. They were so pessimistic Mr. Phippin left for a fishing trip just before the test results were due.

When the doctor called with the news of twins, Ms. Koch had to reach him by CB radio.

"I was in the middle of nowhere with no telephones," says Mr. Phippin, 50, director of the graduate acting program at Catholic University. "My brother and father were in the back seat. They whooped, and I looked at them. . . . It was a guy moment."

Jaded by the past, the couple at first didn't allow themselves to revel in the pregnancy -- which doctors classified as high risk. Early on, three different incidents of bleeding scared them into believing that this pregnancy would wind up like the others.

"For two weeks, I would wake up at 4 in the morning thinking: 'What have I done? It's taken us so long to get here that by the time I'm going to have these babies I'm this woman in her early 40s. What am I, crazy? Twins. How are we going to do this?' " says Ms. Koch.

"Then I would say to myself: 'Oh, be smart. It's not going to work anyway.' "

Restricted to bed rest, she missed newscasts for several weeks and the station started receiving calls: Had Denise been fired? Did she have cancer? Were rumors true that she was pregnant with quadruplets?

By her fourth month, she and her doctor felt comfortable announcing the news, but her co-anchor, Al Sanders, hesitated to do it without her.

That left Ms. Koch with only one option: broadcasting live from her bedroom.

"So I sent my husband to the ladies' store to buy me a bed jacket," she says. "I don't think he even knew what one was."

What did she think of the quilted satin garment he brought home?

"I would have looked for something a little less . . . boudoirish," she says, laughing. "But at this point I have dropped my critical faculties dramatically. How can I criticize somebody who's already going overboard in trying to do all these things I used to do and take care of me and deal with his own anxiety?"

Although she had some second thoughts about the announcement -- particularly when the camera was set up in her bedroom -- she says the response was positive.

"I never had a single person say to me, 'That was really ridiculous -- you, a journalist, to be seen in your bedroom.' And there was a part of me that thought that," she says.

Still primarily on bed rest, she has been arriving at work by 5:15 p.m. for the 6 p.m. news and then returning home. During the day, she helps write the noon news from a laptop computer set up on her bed. Although she worked election night, she rested on a sofa between cut-ins. And the exhaustion from that evening helped convince her that doing the 11 p.m. news would be too taxing these days.

Even now, she and her husband know their risk of problems is high.

"We have not gone out to dinner and said, 'Look at what we've done, honey,' " she says. "It's not been a happy process yet."

But the nursery is just about finished, and the couple have picked out names for the girls. One child will be called Margaret -- and nicknamed Meg -- after Ms. Koch's mother and grandmother. Her husband gets to select the other name. Right now, he's leaning toward Wynn.

Work continues

After the babies are born, Ms. Koch hopes to take two to three months off and then gradually return to her previous 3 p.m.-to-midnight shift, leaving the children with her husband or a nanny.

For her, the timing is complicated by the affiliate change (WJZ-TV will become CBS instead of ABC) in January. Although she's concerned about being off the air during this critical time, she says her family comes first.

"The station has never made me feel bad about that," she says. "They have told me flat out that the most important thing to them is that I get through this just fine, and they've backed that up practically and emotionally."

Although she believes she'll be a more patient, tolerant parent now than she would have been in her 20s, she's braced for the day when her daughters may look at her and say she's too old to know what she's talking about. She's received many cards and much advice from viewers, particularly from parents of twins. And she's consulted other working mothers of twins -- including ABC correspondent Jackie Judd.

Has there been a lesson in all this?

"Life is full of tremendous surprises, and most come from within you," she says. "It's quite possible for someone to say, 'I never want children' and then to turn around the next day and say, 'I'll do anything on earth to have a child.' I know."

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