Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Having a first child at any age is hard. For a couple pushing into their 40s with 13 years of happy marriage behind them, however, the thought of having a pair of newborns seems like an event custom-made to terrify. That's the future faced by Gerry Bruno and Jennifer Ruud-Bruno, a Little Rock couple who are expecting twins this summer. The road to get there wasn't easy, fraught with heartbreak and modern medical help, but they believe the hardships and their long relationship will be a rock to stand on as they come (a little later than most) to the world of parenthood.
Ruud and Bruno met in February 2000 at a party in New York City. Gerry, raised in a big Italian family in New Jersey, admits he always thought of the concept of love at first sight as "bullshit," but found himself almost cartoonishly smitten the first time he saw her. "I saw Jenny from across the room, and I thought, 'My God, there's something about this girl!' " he said. "I could not put my finger on it."
Over the next month, Gerry found ways to maneuver himself into Jennifer's orbit. After attending an off-off-off-Broadway show in which Jennifer was performing, he went out to dinner with Ruud and a group of friends, making sure he sat across the table from her. Though the guy sitting beside her was trying to make time with her as well, Gerry found he just couldn't keep it together.
"Halfway through the night, after I'd stuck my foot in my mouth many, many times," Gerry said, "I was leaning forward talking to her, and the other guy was hitting on her, and I just stopped. I leaned back, and I looked at her, and I thought, 'I'm going to marry this girl.' "
Jennifer admits she didn't believe in love at first sight either when they met. "I think it's something everyone wants to believe in, but I guess I'm a little more practically minded. ... I was always the one telling people, 'Yeah, right. Uh-huh. Love at first sight? OK. Yeah, that's happening fast, and I can't believe how fast you're getting into this.' But I did the same thing."
Though the sparks were clearly flying between them, Gerry and Jennifer had agreed to keep things platonic in those first few months, corresponding mostly through emails. To hear them tell it, Gerry seemed perilously close to slipping into the dreaded Friendzone, including helping her through a romantic breakup while secretly wishing she was his. Then they took a friendly day-trip to a New Jersey wine festival during Memorial Day weekend 2000. It wound up being, as Jennifer calls it, an "eight-hour date."
"By the end of the day," Gerry said with a smile, "we were not just friends anymore."
As hard as it might be to believe in this age of difficult romance and long engagements, by July 4, less than five months after they first laid eyes on each other, they were talking about marriage. "I would have never thought I would have done that," Jennifer said, "that I would have ever, ever done something like that, so fast." Gerry gave her a month to consider it, and she said she didn't need it. Gerry insisted, and on the day before the month was up, he proposed. They were married in Florence, Italy, in March 2001.
While their courtship and marriage seems like the stuff of fairy tales, when they decided to have kids, they were quickly faced with harsh reality. After they moved to Little Rock in August 2008, they decided it would be the perfect time to start a family.
"We tried for a while. And it didn't work," Gerry said. "Then we were like, 'Well, screw it ... if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn't, it doesn't.' " That worked for them in the short term. Then Jennifer's sister-in-law became pregnant. Gerry and Jennifer's nephew, Wesley, was born in 2011.
"We had the opportunity to see our nephew, Wesley, be born and grow up," Gerry said. "It was so awesome. It was beautiful."
"And so," Jennifer said, "that longing comes back."
With that longing came the decision to seek medical help. In 2012, they went through the very expensive process of in vitro fertilization. Though doctors told them their odds of conceiving were terrible, even with medical intervention, they couldn't help but hope. After over a month of shots, appointments, and invasive treatments, they learned that the first round of IVF hadn't worked.
"We were devastated," Jennifer said. "We were depressed. And after a couple months of that, I was like, 'That's it. We're fine. We're not going to have kids.' "
They both threw themselves instead into what they love: film and stage directing for Gerry, acting for Jennifer. But the longing for children was always there, gnawing at them. Gerry, a diehard Cubs fan, fought back tears as he remembered one of those moments he'd had in Chicago.
"We were at Wrigley Field, watching the game," he said, "and I see this guy with this little girl, a daughter. She's no more than two, and she's got a little pink Cubs hat on. And I'm like, 'I want that.' "
Last summer, they took a car trip to South Dakota, where Jennifer's brother lives. They were driving home when they started talking again about IVF. By the time they got back to Little Rock, they'd decided to give it one last try. After weeks of treatments that included surgery for them both, they went in to have blood drawn for a pregnancy test, then spent five agonizing hours waiting on the results.
"I'll never forget, we were watching 'Back to the Future,' " Jennifer said. "Then the phone rang. And I was ready. I was ready. I was like, 'It didn't work. It's OK.' And then, she said, 'Jennifer?' "
"I'm standing next to her and she starts crying," Gerry said. "I was like, "WHAT!? WHAT!?" Turns out they got not one surprise, but two: fraternal twins. The staff at Arkansas Fertility and Gynecology Associates, they said, are their heroes.
"I honestly still can't believe it," Jennifer said. "Even at the last ultrasound, I was like: "Is that? Inside? Me?" And then the first time I threw up, I was like: 'Woo hoo! I threw up!' "
The years ahead are full of anxieties and challenges. Jennifer will be 40 by the time the twins are born, and Gerry will be 44. They don't even like to think about how old they'll be by the time the kids are out of high school, or college.
"I told her, I guarantee you, Jenny, we're going to be on the playground, and someone's gonna say, your grandkids are so great!" Gerry said with a laugh. "Not to her, because she looks so young, but to me, with the gray hair. ... It was one of my concerns, and I won't lie about that. But then you look at it, [and] you think, 'It gives me more incentive to stay healthy, to make sure I take care of myself, and make sure I eat right, and do the right things.' "
They have had some freak-outs, but they've so far been able to talk each other down off the ledge. They've developed a good support network here in Arkansas as well, which will help. Mostly, however, they believe that, given how hard it was to get pregnant, they will not sweat the small stuff.
"There were times when I thought I was just too selfish to have kids," Gerry said. "But I realized as I got older that it is something that I'm so looking forward to doing. Waiting is going to make me appreciate every single moment more. So I'll tell them now, for when they're older, 'If I hover too much, it's because I want to remember every single moment.' "
"We really want them to know just how much we love each other, and how much they're loved and wanted," Jennifer said.
"We built up 13 years of solid rock to make sure that when they get older, they'll never see us fighting," Gerry added. "They'll never see us disagree in front of them. We're going to be a tag team. ... We've had 13 years to build that foundation."
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