Sisters’ Surrogacy Journey

Some experiences in your life change you forever.  Having the opportunity to follow and photograph this beautiful surrogacy journey is one of those moments for me.  Sara and Ben have struggled with infertility for nearly 15 years.  For 12 years, they suffered in silence not even telling their family of their pain, heartache and frustrations.  Just over 10 years ago Sara started trying different fertility treatments and after failed IUIs and 6 rounds of IVF, they weren’t sure they would ever get to be parents.  Then 4 years ago while on a hiking trip, they opened up about their infertility to Jenna, Ben’s Step Sister.  That’s when Jenna offered to be their surrogate.  After three transfer attempts, Jenna was finally pregnant with Sara & Ben’s little boy!  When Ben & Sara told their families, Sara’s sister, Michelle, asked her why she hadn’t asked her to be their surrogate.  To which Sara told her that surrogacy isn’t something she could ASK of someone, because surrogacy impacts more than just the surrogate–it affects the surrogate’s family as well.  Most people either hire a surrogate or use someone who volunteers.  At that moment, Michelle knew that she would be Sara’s next surrogate, but it took 3 years for her and her husband to actually be ready for that sacrifice.

Sara and Ben had 3 frozen embryos left.  One “good quality” and two “fair quality” embryos.  It had taken Jenna 3 tries and that was with “excellent quality” embryos.  So they weren’t even sure they would get a baby this time around.  All three embryos were girls and Michelle wanted nothing more than to give her sister a daughter. They took these photos to announce that Michelle would be their surrogate.  Sara said it was really scary to announce this when they weren’t even sure it would work, but she wanted to be more open this time around.

Michelle started the shots and medication to prepare for the transfer praying that she would soon be pregnant with Sara & Ben’s daughter.  Michelle had to fly out to California where Sara and Ben lived to do the transfer since California is one of only 8 states where surrogacy is legal.  Michelle lives in Oklahoma where surrogacy is neither legal or illegal–there is no defined legal framework.  So she had to “get pregnant” in California, but then could be treated by physicians here after the fact.  While Michelle was out in California, Sara got to give Michelle her shot.  Michelle shouting, “You suck at this!” is my favorite.

Then it was the waiting game.  Nerves and emotions were high as they waited for their phone calls.  Watch Michelle as she finds out the results:

Now watch as Sara & Ben find out the results from Michelle.

Are you bawling right now?  Cause I am!

Michelle has three children of her own and her severe sickness with each pregnancy lasted longer and longer and this pregnancy was no different.  Michelle was actually nauseous the entire pregnancy which weighed heavily on Sara saying: “To have my sisters volunteer to do this for me from a place of love is an unbelievable gift.  The trade-off from having someone I know and trust versus hiring a stranger is that I have no concerns knowing the person carrying my child is taking great care of my baby—but it has been emotionally difficult knowing my I’m burdening people I love.”  However, Michelle kept a smile on her face saying she was “humbled and grateful” to be able to carry her sister’s child.

Sara and Michelle recorded many videos about throughout their journey and shared them on the instagram account @akinwellness.  Being open about her infertility struggles was something totally new for Sara.  She didn’t share much about her first experience when Jenna was her surrogate, but this time she decided to be vulnerable in hopes to help others throughout their own journeys.  Sara says there is “not one right or wrong way to create a family.”

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned while following along on this journey and through talking with other people dealing with different forms of infertility, is that infertility is not “someone’s fault”.  There are so many wonderful people wanting children of their own and there is not necessarily a right or wrong way to to about it and each person’s journey is unique.  It is not okay to judge someone else’s story.  Chances are, you don’t have all the information.  Some people have questioned why Sara & Ben didn’t adopt.  And while I don’t have all the information, I do know that they had frozen embryos and they wanted to see what would happen with those potential children before looking at other options.  Adoption was something they absolutely planned to look into if things didn’t work out with their embryos. Infertility is not fair it and takes a toll on so many people/relationships.  Let’s all be a bit more sensitive to others situations.

Sara & Ben and their son flew out to Oklahoma when Michelle was 20 weeks along.  I knew Michelle from church, but it was during this trip that I had the opportunity to meet Sara and her sweet family.  While they were out here, we did a little photo shoot of all of them and it was so sweet to see this miracle beginning to unfold.

Soon after this session, Sara asked me if I’d be willing to photograph the birth.  I was so honored that they would trust me enough to capture those special moments.  Michelle was scheduled to be induced on April 9th.  Sara & Michelle’s parents and all of their siblings flew out to be there for the birth.  They were there to support Michelle AND Sara and it was beautiful to watch them take care of each other.  The love in that room was tangible and something I want to remember forever.

 

Here are photos of a few of my favorite moments.  There is also a highlights video at the end with more photos.

As Michelle was doing some practice pushes, Ben started to get emotional.  Their baby girl was almost here!  Michelle’s husband, Dave, tied Sara’s robe as she got ready to deliver her daughter.


Michelle said remembers watching Ben cut the cord and thinking “My job is done!”

I adore this shot.  I love how among all the commotion, Sara and Michelle are looking at each other from across the room.

As soon as the nurse handed Sara her baby, she walked right over to show her to Michelle.

Then Ben bent over and kissed Michelle on her hand.  This was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed and these photos still bring me to tears.

This little girl will never have to wonder if she’s loved. Another beautiful moment was when Ben went over to Dave, buried his head, cried on Dave’s shoulder and thanked him.

The next day I got to come and take a few pictures of big brother meeting sweet baby Grace.  I’m not going to share all of those pictures at this time, but here are a few favorites.

I love that Michelle looks like an angel in this shot just like she is in real life.  The gift of life is a miracle.  Surrogacy is such an incredible gift and this story has inspired me to make more sacrifices in my life to better the lives of those around me.

And finally, here is the Birth Story Highlight Video.  Enjoy!

 

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