By Heidi Stevens
Ashlee Wells Jackson was finalizing details for her wedding when she discovered she was pregnant.
“We were very excited,” Jackson, 32, says. “We had planned to wait a while to add to our family. But timing has its own ideas sometimes.”
A trained photographer, Jackson was a relatively new business owner at the time, having launched Windy City Pinup, a vintage-inspired boudoir photo studio she runs out of her Chicago two-flat.
She was also mom to Xavier, her son from her first marriage. The idea of more children was a joyful one.
Her first ultrasound was scheduled for the morning of her wedding: Aug. 17, 2012. Her soon-to-be-husband, Jeremy, her sister, Olivia, and Xavier, 6 at the time, accompanied her.
“We learned we were having twins,” she says. “Which was amazing. The tech wrote down on a slip of paper the gender, so at our reception that night we were able to find out, in front of our family and friends, that they were both girls. It was one of the most magical moments of our lives.”
The newlyweds took a two-week honeymoon, camping in and around Yellowstone National Park. They named their daughters Aurora and Nova. “It was bliss,” she says.
But it didn’t last. “We came back home and had another ultrasound, and we learned they were dying.”
Aurora and Nova had twin to twin transfusion syndrome, a disease that occurs when a connection forms between the fetuses’ blood vessels in their shared placenta. Jackson and her husband were given three options: terminate the pregnancy, selectively abort one of their daughters or drive to St. Louis for an experimental procedure that offered about a 50 percent chance of success.
“But if we did nothing, there was a 100 percent chance they’d both die,” she says.