It was 2 a.m. as Niki Taylor squinted under the dim light in her bathroom, hoping yet again for the two pink lines indicating "positive" on her latest pregnancy test. For almost 18 months, the 33-year-old model and her new husband, race car driver Burney Lamar, 28, had been trying to conceive, only to be met with brutal disappointment. "Every month it wasn't happening," she recalls, "I was feeling more frantic."
Against all odds, however, Taylor and Lamar are now readying themselves for their first baby, due in early spring. It's only the latest example of Taylor—who found fame at 17 as a Cover Girl model, and last year hosted the Bravo reality show Make Me a Supermodel
—defying medical expectations: In 2001, she spent six weeks in a coma after a near-fatal car accident that required more than 50 surgeries and procedures to rebuild her shattered body. "It is truly a miracle that pregnancy is possible for a woman who has been through so much," says her Nashville-based ob-gyn, Roseann Maikis.
A baby is something Taylor—who has twin sons Jake and Hunter, 14, with her ex-husband, Arena football player Matt Martinez—has longed for since marrying Lamar in December 2006. By the end of their first date, "we knew we wanted to be together forever," Taylor says; only a few days later they tattooed the date (8-15-06) on their ankles. Even that wasn't permanent enough. "I wanted to put a ring on that finger," Lamar says with a laugh. Adds Taylor: "I wanted to be pregnant on my honeymoon!"
Yet Taylor knew that given her complicated health background, conceiving a child might be difficult. Following the 1995 death of her beloved younger sister, Krissy, then 17, from an undiagnosed heart condition and the subsequent breakup of her marriage after only two years, Taylor began abusing the prescription painkiller Percocet. "Everything had started to hit me," she explains, "and I found someone who would give me Percocet whenever I wanted. I couldn't do anything without it."
A two-month stint in rehab left Taylor feeling "good and clean" for the next two years or so. Then, in 2001, she was a passenger in a car that collided with a utility pole on a rainy Atlanta street. The accident left Taylor in a coma, with a lacerated liver and massive internal bleeding; doctors later had to rebuild her back by implanting two steel rods to hold her spine together. But Taylor says the years of physical trauma had a silver lining: "Now when something difficult comes my way, I can handle it."
She will need that confidence in the delivery room: Because multiple surgeries left layers of scar tissue across her abdomen, if it becomes necessary to deliver via c-section, doctors may have trouble getting the baby out. (Dr. Maikis has been running tests to evaluate how best to perform such a procedure.) In addition, because her spine's steel rods "are right in the area you would go in for an epidural," Taylor will have to deliver her baby naturally—something she didn't do the first time around. Still, she remains optimistic. "You know what? I had the worst pain I could imagine after the accident and surgeries," she says. "I can do natural childbirth!"
Besides, Taylor prefers to focus on the more fun aspects of expecting, like turning an office in her and Lamar's four-bedroom French colonial home in Brentwood, Tenn., into a nursery. And every night, Taylor attaches a little drum-beat machine around her waist, then sits back and giggles as the baby kicks. "I am," she says, "a very blessed girl."