North Carolina Couple Stays Hopeful Despite Losing Septuplets

Couple Loses Septuplets: Lindsey & Steve Justice Remain Hopeful Despite Loss
Steve and Lindsey Justice and their two daughters
Weslie Woodley

10/16/2014 AT 12:20 PM EDT

Lindsey and Steve Justice still smile when they talk about the moment they learned the unimaginable – when Lindsey's doctor told the Charlotte, North Carolina, couple they were pregnant with septuplets.

College sweethearts who have been inseparable since falling in love at Wake Forest University, they had tried for nine months to get pregnant with their third child. When things didn't work naturally, Lindsey, 29, began taking fertility drugs. (Before taking the drugs, Lindsey also learned she had PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can make it difficult to get pregnant.)

On the day Steve, a former National Football League player, turned 30, his wife handed him the positive pregnancy test that would change their lives. At their eight-week ultrasound in mid-June, they were stunned to learn Lindsey was carrying seven fertilized egg sacs – a high-risk situation for both mother and babies.

Doctors told them to consider selective reduction, the process of terminating some of the embryos to give the others a better chance at survival. Devout Christians, they wouldn't consider it.

Then their series of heartbreaks began.

At 12 weeks along, Lindsey miscarried one fetus. But a month later, the remaining six were intact, and, as the couple learned, all girls.

The couple knew they had to make it to 23 weeks for the babies to have a chance at survival. But at 21 weeks, Lindsey's water broke in the middle of the night. She gave birth to the baby they named Mercy – and desperately tried to stop the contractions that kept coming.

But that didn't work. It took just 10 minutes for Lindsey to deliver the other five babies. She and Steve held them, wrapped them in blankets. They sang to them and said prayers. A photographer came in and took pictures. The babies each survived for only about two hours.

"What I would give to nurse them, to hold them, to rock them to sleep, to dress them. I want to be their mom, I want them to be here, you know. But that wasn't God's will," Lindsey tells PEOPLE.

The loss has been hard for their children, Hannah, 4, and Hope, 2, to understand. "Hope still lifts up my shirt every day and says 'baby?' " Lindsey says. "What do you tell her? The girls were so excited to have six little sisters."

The couple say they haven't given up on expanding their family. "We are still hopeful," Lindsey says. "We still want more kids. That could mean adoption, it could mean fertility drugs. We're taking it one day at a time."

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