Against all odds: the baby gap

We talked with lowered voices because Buddy, who turned four in November, was asleep on the hotel room bed. No stranger mission ever brought a couple to Toronto from St. Andrews, New Brunswick: Gladys Burton, 46, and her husband, Don, 65, were in Toronto trying to get a sister for Buddy.When Don, a retired house builder, and Gladys, a nurse’s aid, married in 1986 they had no thought of having children. Both had been married briefly and childlessly before.

It was Gladys who said, why not! “It was beyond my wildest expectations,” says Don. He had a special reason to be pleased. Many male members of his family died in the 1918 flu epidemic and now, with him, the Burton name would die out, ending 150 years of family history in Canada.

When they failed to conceive, they turned to a fertility clinic in Halifax. And when that failed, their doctor mentioned a Toronto gynecologist he knew. It was to be the first of a series of trips down the long road from New Brunswick to the IVF Canada clinic in Toronto.

After two failed attempts, they learned in February, 1993 that they had been successful — Gladys was pregnant. “We cried first — with thankfulness,” saysladys. “I knew it was a boy, even before the ultrasound.” Donald Alexander “Buddy” Burton was born by C-section in Saint John. “I was awake all the time — I wouldn’t miss that experience for the world,” she says.

A few people in St. Andrews, a town of 2,000, thought the Burtons too old to have children. Most were delighted. They’d been lucky. So why didn’t they stop at that point? As Buddy grew into a toddler, he started asking for a baby sister. And suddenly Gladys and Don saw the sense of it. “Because of us being older, if something should happen to us,” says Gladys, “he would have a sibling, not be alone in the world.”

In 1995 that notion took on an extra urgency when both of them were seriously injured in a head-on crash with a truck (luckily Buddy, in the back seat, was unhurt).

When we last spoke to them, with the expense and bother of the trips to Toronto, they were making their final attempt to conceive.

“No one has a clue what you go through (with IVF) — the heartaches and disappointments,” says Gladys.

But if they didn’t succeed, they wouldn’t complain. “We feel blessed by God,” says Don. He is home looking after Buddy while Gladys is at work, and, with Buddy showing an early interest in music, they can’t wait for the day he’ll start piano lessons. “I have more time to devote to these pleasures,” says Don.

“When I was 35 I was putting in 14 or 16 hours a day on my career.” Sometimes they talk about how many years they — and especially Don — will have with Buddy. “Nobody knows the future,” says Gladys. “We’re not promised tomorrow.”

“It’s all in perception and state of health,” says Don. “A person who takes care can keep the years from taking their toll.” He laughs: “I might be able to keep going like George Burns — and I don’t even smoke cigars.”