WHO-TV anchor Erin Kiernan talks about her and her husband's struggles to get pregnant as well as her push for an open adoption for a baby she put up when she was a teenager. Bryon Houlgrave/The Register
Michael Francis Kiernan might be one of the most famous toddlers in Des Moines.
Facebook posts featuring the towheaded two-year-old with his mother, Erin, the lead news anchor at WHO-TV, draw hundreds of comments. Photos posted by his father, Michael, a longtime politician and entrepreneur in the city, are equally as popular.
Together, the Kiernans' social media updates elicit likes from far-flung friends who may not really know the couple, but were drawn to the candor they used to talk about the infertility struggles they had faced before Michael Francis arrived in 2015.
But come mid-May, Michael Francis is going to have to share the spotlight — digital or otherwise — because Erin is expecting baby No. 2.
Erin confirmed her pregnancy Thursday in a Facebook post featuring Michael Francis decked out in “Big Brother” apparel and declaring “And Baby Makes Four!”
“It’s kind of terrifying,” Erin said with a chuckle Friday.
“We just hit a stride with Michael Francis, where he is on a good schedule and sleeping through the night, so we had the conversation of, 'Do we really want to go back to no sleep and being zombies?'” she said. “But, of course, it’s worth it.”
When Erin pictured her life, she said, there was always a family: her, her husband and multiple kids.
Erin, 44, is an only child and grew up wondering what it would be like to have a sibling. As a mom, she wanted her son to have a playmate, and she knew she had more than enough love to spare.
Michael felt the same way, Erin said. He wanted another child, too, but was “of the mentality that, 'There’s no rush.'”
“But I’m watching another birthday tick by and thinking to myself, 'Actually, there probably should be a rush,'” Erin said.
They’d had such difficulty with the first pregnancy, Erin didn’t want to open herself up to heartbreak, disappointment and the emotional roller coaster she'd experienced through eight years of infertility treatments before Michael Francis.
But she also never lost hope that her little trio could become a quartet.
Erin spent her twenties building her career, finding 'the one' and buying a house — all steps she thought were important before she started a family.
When she was about 30, she went in for a checkup, she said previously, and her doctor was flabbergasted to learn she wanted children. He told her to start immediately, seemingly astonished she wasn't aware her internal clock had begun ticking faster and faster, Erin remembered.
Erin was offended. Who was he to determine her timeline?
And, she said she thought to herself, she’d have a leg up since she’d already had a child.
At 16, Erin became unexpectedly pregnant. She knew she wasn’t ready to parent, but also knew her son could be the miracle that someone else was waiting for.
After electing adoption for her son, Erin stayed in touch with him and continues to see him regularly.
So, sure, Erin thought, maybe other women would have trouble getting pregnant after 30, but she was obviously “fertile Fran.”
The Kiernans would eventually discover that starting a family wouldn’t be as easy as a date night. For them, the process involved multiple invasive tests, countless doctor appointments, one adoption that didn’t pan out and rounds and rounds of artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.
“It is quite an undertaking for us,” Erin said Friday, “We don’t have it as easy as other couples.”
Their final Hail Mary was a fourth in vitro fertilization procedure in 2014.
Against all odds, it worked and nine months later, Michael Francis was born.
Baby makes four
When Michael’s father passed in February, the trio spent a lot of time with the Kiernan family. Michael has three older brothers, and the extended time with them allowed him to consider what size family he wanted to have.
At least a quartet, he decided.
Despite more than eight years of infertility, the Kiernans were in luck the second time around.
They’d already put Michael Francis’ siblings “on ice,” Erin said.
“When Michael Francis was created, we elected to create other embryos as well,” Erin said. “I do pregnancy well; it was just getting the babies made that was the challenge for us.”
She went in for an embryo transfer on August 30th and had her first ultrasound on Oct. 3.
Tears came easily for Erin when the machine started up and her baby appeared on the screen, she said.
“It’s overwhelming, because, in that moment, you are so acutely aware that there is a little person inside you,” she said. “You hear the heartbeat and you see its little nose starting to form and arms and legs waving...
"It’s just a miracle.”
Changing the conversation
Erin wants to make clear that they were not one of those couples who “go through IVF and are miraculously pregnant or adopt and then, ‘shazam,’ they are having a biological baby.”
Parenthood has never been that easy for the Kiernans, and Erin's “pragmatic” when she discusses their journey.
Over time, Erin has noted an embarrassment often felt by couples who face this condition. It’s as though because having a child seems a natural part of human nature, people treat their inability to have one like a deeply held secret.
For the Kiernans, talking about their personal triumphs and tragedies has been an important way to change the conversation around infertility, she added.
Even though it’s only been two years since the Kiernans went public with their issues having children in the pages of the Register and on WHO, Erin said she has seen the tenor of the discussion about fertility shift.
“If a handful of people say, ‘Look, my significant other and I dealt with this and here’s what we did and here are all things that we pursued,’ other people are empowered,” Erin said, “and, slowly, more and more people become less fearful of sharing their own experiences.”
The last surprise
Relieved their big news has been announced, the Kiernans still have a few secrets they’re keeping.
One, in particular, they aren’t even telling each other: whether baby No. 2 will be born a boy or a girl.
“It drives so many of our friends crazy that we don’t find out the gender, but, you know what, not much of this is a mystery, so it’s fun for us to have one surprise,” Erin said.
Another big mystery in the Kiernans’ lives is what the future holds.
If she was younger and they didn’t have the problems they've faced getting pregnant, Erin thinks she would have had five kids. For Michael, another child is not on the table — at least not today.
For now, though, the Kiernans are happy to celebrate what’s coming in the short term.
And they’re hoping they can bank a little sleep between now and May.