When Andres and Karen Castaño’s relationship turned serious in June 2018, there was only one issue that worried Mr. Castaño. He wanted children badly. But he wasn’t sure if Ms. Castaño did, or even could.
Ms. Castaño was 44 at the time — 16 years and 4 months older than him. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy in 2017, and was taking the drug tamoxifen, which simulated menopause. What he didn’t know was that before they met, she had frozen 10 eggs, just waiting for some “tall, dark sperm” — as she put it — to fertilize them. At 28, Mr. Castaño was very much up to the task.
They married on July 13, 2019, some 15 months after they first met at a work event in Augusta, Ga. They legally took his mother’s maiden name and after a three-week honeymoon in Greece, they started trying for a baby. But like many things in Ms. Castaño’s life — including the cancer and a flesh-eating bacteria that almost caused her to lose a leg — it wasn’t easy.
Ms. Castaño was intimately familiar with hardship. On Oct. 28, 2000, her 22-year-old sister, Wendy Soltero, was fatally shot while picking up two friends at a nightclub in Los Angeles.
“Wendy was quirky and charismatic, and a one-of-a-kind person,” Ms. Castaño said. “Very much a free spirit and so loving. She never met a stranger.”
In October 2019, the couple tried to do an embryo transfer but it failed. “I was pretty freaking devastated,” Ms. Castaño said.
Doctors suggested that she use a donor egg, but she resisted. “Andres had said there are lots of ways to have a family, but the idea that I was going to have kids that didn’t have my genetic makeup and potentially not carry them was weird,” she said.
Eventually, Ms. Castaño agreed to use a donor egg, as long as she could carry the baby and go through pregnancy.
“I read an article that explained that you’re borrowing ingredients,” she said. “It’s all of the blood running through my body, my nutrients, so I’m still their biological mother. I’d use my biology to make them. I thought that was such a great way to look at it.”
They began searching for egg donors across the United States, which she compared to online dating. “You look at these young women and their profiles, and their eye color and skin color and pictures of them as a baby and what are their interests and ethnic background,” she said.
They found a 26-year-old donor with dark hair, blue eyes and fair skin like Ms. Castaño, and she also had a similar German and English background. This was important to Ms. Castaño. “If it wasn’t going to be my genetic makeup, I wanted the resemblance to be there,” she said. Like her, the woman also enjoyed theater, dance, photography and baking.
They moved forward with the donor, whom they later met in person, in December. But Ms. Castaño also tried one more round of in vitro fertilization, even after they had chosen a donor, to ease her mind and to exhaust all options for using her own DNA. It didn’t work.
In September 2020, doctors implanted her with two donor eggs. It failed. Two months later, they tried again with three more. The verdict was delivered a few weeks later: She was pregnant, and with more than one baby. The Castaños and their families whooped with joy.
At the eight-week ultrasound, doctors had other news: There were three of them. Triplets. Mr. Castaño, now 33, was elated. “I was the one that was sort of obviously excited, because I had no idea about the issues” that can occur with multiple births, he said. “I knew it was harder than twins, but I didn’t know the extent.”
But Ms. Castaño knew the risks, and she was terrified. She wanted to mentally prepare herself in case one of the fetuses did not survive. “I was panicked about suddenly having three kids at the same time, and also the risk of carrying three healthy babies to term,” she said. “I wasn’t 25. How did that work in an older mom?”
The pregnancy turned out to be relatively smooth, as she had almost no morning sickness. But the births were a different story.
On May 27, 2021, Luka, Liam and Violet Castaño arrived via emergency C-section, 10 weeks premature. They each weighed less than 2.5 pounds and were immediately whisked into the neonatal intensive care unit. Ms. Castaño, who had severe pre-eclampsia during her pregnancy, was bleeding internally. She was rushed into surgery the next night.
Mr. Castaño was worried sick. “Your kids are on breathing machines in the N.I.C.U. and your wife is intubated in I.C.U.,” he said. “These were the four beings that I cared most about, and they were all in the hospital.”
Ms. Castaño stayed there for 11 days. The children were in the N.I.C.U. for two months.
For the first year and a half of the babies’ lives, while the Castaños’ home in Dallas was being renovated, they lived with her parents around the corner. Shortly after the births, the couple went back to working full time: Mr. Castaño as a data analyst at AT&T, Ms. Castaño as director of sales, national business, at Exertis Almo, a distributor of audiovisual equipment. Ms. Castaño’s parents watch the children in the mornings, and a cousin takes over in the afternoon. Mr. Castaño’s family often visits from Monterrey, Mexico, to help out.
“A huge dose of joy has entered our lives and it’s so appreciated after the loss of Wendy,” said Elizabeth Soltero, Ms. Castaño’s mother. “Somehow, I feel her presence even more with them around and it’s so very special that Karen and Andres have made sure that the triplets know about their ‘Auntie Wendy’ by showing pictures of her and talking about her.”
Ms. Castaño believes that the children somehow communicate with her sister. Last summer, she recalled, Luka laughed and pointed toward the ceiling. Ms. Castaño looked up but saw nothing: “I said, ‘Who do you see?’ He said ‘Wendy. She’s singing to me.’ I think children are able to tap into things adults aren’t.”
Their days are busy, but the Castaños still manage to have date nights. They recently saw the movie “Poor Things” at the theater, finding Emma Stone’s toddler antics similar to those of their own 2.5-year-olds. They went to the Dominican Republic for a friend’s birthday last September. In March, for Ms. Castaño’s 50th birthday, they are taking a two-week cruise down the Rhine River. (The children will stay with both sets of grandparents.)
“I sometimes look at it and think, ‘How did we get to this place where we’ve got these beautiful children and this life we’re making together and five years ago we didn’t know any of it?’” she continued. “That’s the beauty of a little bit of luck and magic and serendipity, and maybe Wendy’s hand.”