The Gift of life- A surrogate birth story
When I first heard from Ashley and Amanda, they were looking for a photographer to capture a surrogate birth. Every photographer has a bucket list of photography- things they would love to capture and be a part of- for me, surrogacy was one of them.
Just days before the world seemed to turn upside down around us, I was blessed to capture this incredible moment, as Amanda delivered Ashley and Mike's baby to the world for them. But, as with all surrogacy experiences, this one has a story that I felt best to have Ashley describe, a journey to this moment of meeting their beautiful Savannah.
Ashley's story is one of heartbreak, loss and triumph. Starting 13 years ago when she and Mike first met, through their beautiful wedding in the backyard of their first home, highlighted by family involvement: homemade jam party favours, Ashley's aunt's homemade pies for dessert: in a sense, all the pieces that displayed their love and appreciation of family.
When Ashley and Mike conceived their first baby on their honeymoon, they, like most first time parents, were surprised, excited and overjoyed with happiness. 6 weeks into the pregnancy, they learned that things were not going as expected, and, following weeks of tests and ultrasounds, they were told that the pregnancy was not viable. Ashley's body was not responding on it's own to the loss, so she underwent her first D&C... now for those, like myself, who have experienced loss, the idea of a "first" D&C is devastating in itself. For Ashley and Mike, this was the first step in a long journey.
After the loss of their first baby, they naturally conceived their Son, Colton. Shortly after Colton's birth, Ashley experienced complications and had to be rushed to the hospital for a second D&C due to birth complications. Years later, they decided to try again for another baby- another loss- another D&C and the cycle continued- another pregnancy- another loss- another D&C. Finally, after 4 surgeries, her doctor sent her to a specialist to find out WHY this was so difficult for them. Ashley described that experience as tranquil, as though they would finally get the answers they needed, and be able to grow their family. The first answers they came across were that Ashley not only had a low ovarian reserve, but that she also had something called a bicornate uterus, a birth defect that makes the uterus heart shaped. They started with IUI (intrauterine insemination) procedures- lots of injections, regular visits to the clinic, IUI and an unsuccessful attempt at conception, they tried again: another failed attempt. Ashley and Mike were determined to grow their family, so they moved on to IVF (in vitro fertilization). During their first retrieval, they were able to get 7 eggs in total but only had 1 that made it to day 5, the stage needed to be frozen and eventually transferred. That was one big shot they were willing to take! Ashley began the process of preparing her body for transfer, months later, she still had poor endometrial lining, and underwent a second round of testing to figure out what was going on. The results were inconclusive because half her uterus was not visible. Next step, a laparoscopic surgery to try and visualize what was happening inside. The devastating blow came after that surgery, where they learned that Ashley has something called Asherman's Syndrome, and that only 15% of her uterus was healthy. They concluded that she had permanent damage that would prohibit her from being able to carry another child.
Through tears, hugs, a supportive family, strength of a wonderful relationship, Mike and Ashley decided they were not done, and began the process of seeking a surrogate. They were matched with Amanda, a mom who simply wanted to help another family grow theirs. I wish I could say that things went smoothly from there- but sadly they did not. They transferred their one fertilized egg and the pregnancy was not viable.
After countless tears and struggles with what to do next- Ashley began the process of another round of IVF to retrieve her eggs. They were able to successfully remove 12 eggs, but only one of those eggs was healthy and mature for fertilization. They fertilized the egg... and it was a failed fertilization. Ashley described being left with nothing but heartbreak. BUT... her fertility specialist did the unimaginable, and asked the embryologist to go back to the immature eggs, set them aside and monitor them, to see if ANY of them were able to mature... and they DID!! They were able to be fertilized, and by day 5, TWO eggs were fertilized and survived, however after undergoing testing on those two eggs, only one was deemed genetically normal... one last chance for their rainbow baby.
On March 10, 2020, I was there to witness the birth of this very special rainbow baby, the end of the struggle to grow their family, and it was AMAZING!! As Ashley supported Amanda through a quick delivery, there was the moment that one woman's body delivered the baby of another's... and my heart will forever remember that moment!
Miss Savannah, I hope you always know how truly special you are, and how much everyone involved in bringing you into this world celebrated you!
Thank you for allowing me to capture these moments for you guys!