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Best Christmas gifts ever

Gretchen and Nick Nelson, holding their 5-week-old daughters Heather (left) and 1 / 2
Savannah Grace Nelson (right) gave a little smile as her twin sister, Heather Ni2 / 2

Sometimes Christmas wishes do come true.

Just ask Nick and Gretchen Nelson.

The Nelsons, who own a 160-acre farm in rural Brainerd, had everything they could have asked for — except children. He’s an Iraq War veteran who spent 22 months in the war zone before returning to Brainerd and marrying Gretchen, his high school sweetheart. He now farms on their 160-acre property, raising and selling beef, and they both run their large strawberry patch each summer. Gretchen is also a veterinary assistant at Lakewood Veterinary Hospital in Baxter. After trying to get pregnant for a year, they decided they needed to find out why they weren’t able to conceive and traveled to Lakewood Health System in Staples to participate in their infertility care program.

Then 3-1/2 years of marriage and three unsuccessful artificial insemination attempts later, the couple decided last December to try invitro fertilization, or IVF. They underwent their first IVF attempt in late March and were featured in the April edition of the Dispatch’s HealthWatch magazine in a cover story on infertility. They had learned soon before the story went to press that Gretchen was pregnant, not with just one baby, but twins. Her due date was Dec. 12.

They were elated. They found out in July that they were having girls.

But the pregnancy had its share of ups and downs.

At the end of August, Gretchen went into preterm labor. She was airlifted to Abbott Northwestern Hospital where she spent about five days, then was able to come home and be on bedrest. She was just over 24 weeks pregnant.

“That was very, very scary,” she said.

In mid-October she was in preterm labor again and she was taken by ambulance to St. Cloud Hospital, where she spent 17 days. She returned home for a couple weeks and then went into labor again. This time she was at 36 weeks, two days, so doctors planned to deliver the babies. When she went into labor at home, she called Nick to come home from cutting corn in the field. He was almost done and he thought they’d have plenty of time so it took him awhile to come home. Her contractions were growing stronger and stronger.

“I called him and said ‘You need to get home. It’s not a joke,’” Gretchen recalled with a laugh.

They went to leave for Staples and their car had a flat tire. So they had to take their old pick-up truck to the hospital, not a fun ride for any laboring mother.

“The truck is not a smooth ride,” Gretchen said. “That drive from Pillager to Motley on Highway 210 was awful.”

Their girls, who have red hair like their mama, were born small but healthy at Lakewood in Staples on Nov. 16.

Savannah Grace was born first at 6:09 p.m., weighing in at 4 pounds, 14 ounces and 17-3/4 inches. Heather Nicole was born at 6:40 p.m., weighing in at 5 pounds and 18-1/4-inches. The babies spent four days in the hospital.

The Nelsons celebrated Thanksgiving with their newborn daughters and are looking forward to Christmas with them, too.

“It’s been the best holiday season ever,” said Gretchen with a smile. “With all the things that went wrong, there couldn’t have been a better outcome. We couldn’t have asked for a better medical staff. They were awesome.”

The girls, who are not identical, are growing. They were over 6 pounds each last week.

“It’s been a huge blessing and they’re so good,” Gretchen said, of her 5-week-old daughters. “They’re just so perfect. It’s hard not to stare at them constantly.”

Nick said it doesn’t bother him that he’s now officially outnumbered. But he said they’re going to have to like tractors and animals and share the Nelsons’ love of the outdoors, hunting and fishing. The girls may not realize it now, but they’re part of a farm family. That means they’re getting toy tractors and a farm play set for their first Christmas.

The twins can expect to be helping out in the strawberry patch during the summers.

“They’ll probably be running the patch when they’re 2, maybe 3,” Gretchen said with a laugh.

“They better like the taste of them, too,” Nick joked, referring to their strawberries.

The Nelsons said they would love to have more children but if they don’t, they feel blessed with their girls.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at or 855-5858.