A Minnesota woman who struggled with infertility for years got the surprise of a lifetime when she won a free in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle at a family-building conference — and went on to have seven children!
Julie, 40, says she struggled to conceive for nearly five years after marrying her husband, Lance, 39, in 2001. After four rounds of IVF resulted in three miscarriages, the Minnesota couple decided to attend the Resolve Midwest Family Building Summit in 2007. At the conference, hopeful families received free advice from fertility and adoption specialists, participated in workshops and had the opportunity to join a raffle to win one of two free IVF cycles. (In the U.S., couple’s typically spend an average of $12,o00 for one cycle of IVF.)
Julie and Lance entered the raffle in a move that would change their lives forever.
“When we won, I think I just went into shock,” Julie tells PEOPLE. “I remember going forward with my hands shaking to turn in my ticket. My husband, he started sobbing. I was so happy. My head was in the clouds. I really felt like that was a gift from God.”
Julie wasted no time completing the cycle, and the couple ended up with 10 embryos as a result.
“I was so happy and excited,” she says. “Somebody made a joke about the woman who lived in a shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do. I thought it was funny … Now here I am a decade later going, ‘Yep! That’s me!’ It’s amazing to go from zero to seven in nine years!”
In 2007, Julie had two of her 10 embryos implanted, and gave birth to her first daughter, Kaitlyn (now 9), in 2008.
“It was surreal. It was amazing to actually be holding our baby in our arms after five years of trying,” Julie tells PEOPLE of the birth.
Three years later, in 2011, she had two more implanted, and gave birth to twin boys, Cody and Caleb, now 6. In 2014, she welcomed another duo as a result of two embryos, twins Chelsea and Kelsey (now 4).
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“Every time [I find out I’m having twins] I’m happily excited about it. But it’s definitely challenging, I’m not going to lie. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it; they’re worth it. Every time we find out we’re having more twins it’s never a total shock, but it’s exciting every time and amazing.”
She adds: “Even though we’re living it out, it’s so amazing for us to even think about!”
Now, with her most recent set of twins, Caden and Colton, nearly 10 months old, Julie says she’s already planning to implant her final two embryos this fall.
“We committed to using all of our embryos before we ever started IVF,” Julie tells PEOPLE. “We believe that the embryos are life and each one is our children. I want all my kids.”
She admits that life hasn’t been easy with so many children, noting that she and Lance work long hours to provide for their little ones. But Julie says she wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It’s been amazing. My children have fulfilled my life’s calling. My calling in life is to be a mom above all else. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I love it,” she says. “We’re thankful to God. We’re so thankful and blessed. Each one is truly a blessing.”
Julie says she now has a message for hopeful parents everywhere: “Even when you’re facing what feels like one of the worst situations in your life, God can turn things around for you and this is living proof right here.”