Infertility

My sister was our surrogate and it was the greatest gift

I never imagined a relative having to carry my baby, but we've learned that there's no wrong way to have a family.

When I was growing up, people would ask me what I wanted to be, and I told them, “I want to be a mom.” I’ve been an aunt since I was ten years old. I’ve always been around babies—it’s always something I’ve loved.

I met my husband when we were sophomores in high school and we were friends, and then we started dating when we were 17. When I went off to college, I still hadn’t had a menstrual cycle yet. I was an athlete, and so I just brushed it off. Then when we were doing our physicals my incoming year of college, the team doctor asked when my last cycle had been. I was like, “Oh, well, I haven’t had one yet, but it’s not a big deal,” and he told me we would figure it out.

So after a year and a half of all these tests, they basically came to the conclusion that I have premature ovarian failure. It just means that my ovaries don’t work like they’re supposed to.

I remember Tyler picking me up and I was crying in the car telling him. He said, “Well, this doesn’t change anything for us.” We had already had a prior conversation that adoption was something that was in our hearts to do. Then I remember telling my sisters what the doctor had said, and my older sister, Bailey, said, “One of us will carry for you. You’re going to get your family.” At the time I thought it was cool but in the back of my head I was thinking that I didn’t want to ask anyone to do that for us.

a couple kisses while holding balloons that say BOY

Courtesy of Emily and Tyler

Tyler and I got engaged. We knew we were going to get married and have a family, but we hadn’t really thought about the exact timing. After we got married in 2019, Bailey asked if I wanted to start talking about the timeline if she was going to carry for me.

I told her: “Look, Bailey. You don’t have to do this. We can figure out other ways to have a family,” and she said she wanted to. My husband thought the same thing. He was apprehensive about having someone else going through that type of stuff for us. But once Bailey and her husband both said they wanted to give us this gift, he was on board.

In July of 2020, we started trying and got pregnant the first time. We did traditional surrogacy because we couldn’t use my eggs, so Bailey was also our egg donor. We just did artificial insemination, and then we got a positive test result. Her first blood work was great, but then we went into the first appointment and the baby had stopped growing.

Losing that pregnancy, and going through that with someone else, was very interesting to navigate. I was trying to balance letting myself feel the feelings and also not wanting Bailey to feel like she let us down, because she didn’t. It was just sad. I know that she was obviously super sad too, feeling like, “My body is not doing what it’s supposed to do,” even though it wasn’t her fault. It just happens.

I was trying to figure out what to do because we’d had this hopeful and joyful thing. It worked the first time. We were going to be parents in March, and then it flipped us on our backs and we were thinking: “Is she going to want to do this again? What are we going to do after this?” Another miscarriage would be the end of it. It would not be something we would do again. Then to go through adoption would be a years-long process. We went from being parents in March 2021 to who knows when, and that was really hard.

After we processed the loss, Bailey said, “If you want to do this, I’m down. You’re going to have your family.” We decided to take a month off and let her hormones get back to normal. Then we got pregnant again on the first try. When we announced it, everyone was just so happy for us. A lot of people that know me know my sister, and so they were so proud of her and happy for us. We won’t use surrogacy again, because Bailey wants another child, and we’ve always wanted to adopt. We love surrogacy but it is very emotionally draining to be worrying about another person’s health along with your child’s and making all those medical decisions together.

a newborn baby sleeps on a golden retriever

Courtesy of Emily and Tyler

We had a midwife, and for the majority of our pregnancy we thought we were going to have a home birth. Then we had her baby shower at 33 weeks, and Bailey was like: “I’m sorry, I’m having a headache. I don’t feel good.” I called her later and she wasn’t making any sense. She had this weird preeclamptic episode with crazy high blood pressure.

We thought we were going to have to have him delivered then, but ended up making it to 38 weeks. We monitored her, and she was fine after that. We ended up having a hospital birth.

The day that she was supposed to be induced, Tyler and I, as well as Bailey’s husband, were all allowed to be there. We FaceTimed my family and all of my sisters and my mom got to watch him be born. Because usually, births are a family affair. I’ve seen like 11 babies be born, so this was nothing new to me. I didn’t birth August James, but we got the full experience of him being born. We had our room next to Bailey’s, and she would pump and we’d bring him over. She nursed him at the beginning to help him latch. That’s one of the things that she was like, “Do you care?”, and I told her I didn’t and we just kind of went with it.

I was inducing lactation—stimulating my body to create milk—for a while. This is an ode to “things never go as planned.” I took hormones for months and pumped and all this stuff. We were going to use a supplemental nursing system where we used Bailey’s milk on me. I was doing it because I knew she was going to pump for us, and so he was going to get that good stuff, but it was mostly for that connection.

Then August’s blood sugar was a little bit low, so I took supplements. Then Bailey’s milk was too thick for the tubing of the supplemental nursing system, and then it had been a week and the lactation consultant wouldn’t come. It was just all of these things pointing to us not being able to do it. I already felt insanely bonded to him and asked myself: “Am I continuing to do this because I don’t want to say I gave up, because I’m so competitive? Or am I doing it because I think this is the best thing for us?” I ultimately decided that it’d be better for my mental health and sleep if I didn’t continue. I was sad, but it was one of the best choices that I’ve made because now I get to sleep and I’m able to take care of him more instead of staying up pumping. Some moms don’t bond to their babies right away. It’s been so crazy and such a blessing that we felt bonded to August so quickly and there wasn’t a delay in that. The transition has honestly been one of the most natural things I’ve ever done.

I really feel like I’m living my dream life. Obviously I didn’t grow up thinking that I was not going to be able to carry my child or any of that stuff, but when I was growing up, this was what I dreamt of. He got here in a slightly different way than I had planned, but he’s still here and it’s perfect.

This is just our normal. People ask, “Is he going to grow up and ask about his biological mom?” and I’m like, “No, because this is just his life.” Then people ask, “Are you going to tell him your sister carried him?”, and I’m like, “Are we keeping secrets in 2021? That’s not an option here.” We’re so proud of our journey.

It’s hard to imagine having another kid when you have a newborn, but I think in probably three or four years, we’ll start the process of adoption. We’re pretty open to anything. So, we’re going to have a little hodge-podge family at the end of this. My sisters and I were talking about how August is not going to have a lot of judgment about other families because we built our family in the way that was best, and the way that we could and knew how, which is really cool.

There’s no wrong way to have a family. You just love on your kids and that’s what is important. Nothing else matters.

This story is excerpted from Coterie’s Not Another Parenthood Guide, a powerful collection of 16 stories highlighting the many different paths to parenthood. The limited-edition book is  part of the Becoming Parents campaign. Excerpt reprinted by permission of Coterie. 100% of sales from this book benefit the BabyQuest Foundation.