Shaniece looked up from her gigantic stomach to the monitor. She had become enormous during her last trimester and she was frightened. She was sure something was amiss. Unending hunger, her back constantly aching, she was sure that nothing about this was right.
As the nurse squeezed some cold jelly onto her huge stomach she tried to ease her fears by saying, "These are completely normal symptoms for your first pregnancy." She held her breath as the screen scrolled across grey and black circles within her, "What's happening?" She asked, as the nurse quickly called the doctor.
For as long as she could remember, Shaniece had always wanted her own family. She had watched her parents, devoted to each another since they were sixteen, and then her older sister had married her high school sweetheart straight after school. She thought everything would carry on being perfect but she started to see an awful trial and so much pain happen so early in their marriage.
Her older sister, Linda moved out, when she was just fourteen years old, to live with her boyfriend and Shaniece though it wonderful to not have to listen to her bossy older sister anymore. She would have the whole house to herself and her life would be far easier without having to share the space.
What she wasn't expecting was that she would miss her sister, and the house became so quiet that she even missed the fights. They made plans to meet every weekend but still, Shaniece could feel them drifting apart. On her last visit, she just couldn't believe to find her big sister in this state.
Walking up the road to her sister's house she waved to her brother-in-law driving past in his red pick up truck. He totally ignored her and sped off with what looked like a scowl on his face. Confused, she hurried along.
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Knocking on her sister's front door, she was still caught up in why Josh looked so upset. She tried to blow it off as a bad day at work, but when he saw her sisters tear-stained, blotchy face she knew it was something far worse.
Mascara ran trails down Linda's face and her eyes were small and red beneath her pale skin. She didn't know why but she blurted out, "What did he do?" "Don't be silly," Linda reassured her, "I asked him to leave."
She could always tell if her big sister was hiding something from her so Shaniece sat back and looked hard at her sister's face. "Why did you ask him to leave, Linda?" Maybe, their parents were right, maybe they were just too young, but the answer was completely different.
Linda began her story amid sniffs which soon led to more tears, "We've been trying for a year now, Shaniece. He wants to take out another loan for IVF, but we can’t afford it. We couldn’t afford the first treatment." Shaniece wrapped her sister in her arms as she whispered, “We can’t keep doing this.”
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She could never leave her sister in such a state and knew deep in her heart that it wasn't just the miscarriages and IVF that had left Linda's heart in tatters, the thought of never having a family of her own was tearing her apart. She grabbed a blanket and popped the kettle on, deciding at that moment to stay the weekend and support her sister. Together they would try again.
Nearly two years of IVF and Linda told Shaniece that she had a surprise that she didn't want to tell everyone just yet. The IVF had taken, she was pregnant. But the joy was shortlived. That weekend her body miscarried and Linda, in misery, refused to try again. Until something amazing changed everything.
Linda became depressed and reclusive, refusing to leave the house for months. Shaniece visited her as often as she could and her husband Josh was there for her through everything, he also had an idea on how to give Linda all she had ever wanted.
Josh, after seeing that nothing was getting through to her pitched his final crazy idea. It was Linda's last chance at happiness but the blow from the last miscarriage had left her unsure of everything. She tentatively let Josh offer her one last piece of hope. It would either save her or end her.
Josh had always had a close relationship with his sister and he knew she would do just about anything for him. At least he really hoped she would, because they were about to ask her the biggest favor a couple has ever had to ask. They had no idea what she would say when Josh invited her to the house. They didn't dare even hold their breath.
They sat together, holding hands. across from Josh's sister. Everyone was fidgeting and nervous, especially Josh who was the one asking the extremely pointed question. There was no place for beating around the bush, he was more than a little awkward, but he knew Linda's happiness depended on him.
Linda would never hold it against her if she declined this crazy request. It was the biggest ask in the world, she knew that. She held her breath as she and Josh waited for what seemed an eternity. His sister looked straight into her eyes and said three words that made Linda burst into tears.
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"I'll do it." Linda sprang up and grabbed her sister-in-law in an embrace of pure love and surrender. Excitement began to creep up on her and something akin to fear prickled at her. Her dream of being a mother was no longer a dream and she couldn't thank Josh's sister enough.
Josh's crazy idea was this - that his own sister act as a surrogate for their child. They would make the baby and his sister would provide the host-womb for it to grow. Shaniece was blown away by the huge act of kindness, this woman would not only give Linda a baby of her very own but would carry it in her body for the entire pregnancy. It was the ultimate gift one could give.
Shaniece wondered if Josh's sister had thought this through? It just seemed like something so insanely personal, to carry a child and then part with it when all the hard work is done. Josh's sister would go on to inspire Shaniece in the years to come and change not just one sister's life.
Linda worried about the whole scenario right from the start. Part of the experience of becoming a mother was this nine-month journey, but her body just wouldn't do it and it left her no choice. She would have to try Josh's idea and get her hopes up just one last time.
After so many failed attempts, Linda was already hoping for the best yet planning for the worst. What would she do if it didn't work? One thing that crossed her mind was all the children already born that needed good homes, perhaps adoption was her path. Shaniece prayed every night for the pregnancy to take and a miracle was taking place.
The big day finally came, and when Josh's sister gave birth to Linda's baby Shaniece cried for hours. It made her so happy that her sister had gotten the baby she had always wanted. Seeing all the miracles that had led to this amazing birth, Shaniece made a promise within herself that would beget even more good in the future.
No doubt the entire process of Linda finally becoming a mom had an incredible impact on Shaniece. When you witness such selflessness your desire to become better grows. When the time came for her to make someone else's dreams come true she never expected her experience to be so unique.
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Shaniece had recently turned 21 and immediately signed up to an organization through which she met Joanna and Steve. She sat her family down and told them she had decided to give birth to this other couples baby. Everyone was filled with pride and wished her well as she flew to Los Angeles to undergo the procedure. But things were about to take a turn she hadn't expected.
Joanna and Steve were over the moon. “I was only 21 at the time, but I wasn’t interested in partying and drinking. I wanted to help another couple fulfill their family dream.” The first trimester went easily but, after the first trimester, she knew something was not right. And she was right.
Shaniece had only ever known one other surrogate, Josh's sister, who went through sickness, nausea, and sleep deprivation until she was nearly 8 months pregnant. Shaniece considered herself lucky that she hadn't experienced any of that, but that kind of made her worry more.
The pregnancy wasn't affecting her as it did other women, but she started fretting when she noticed that her stomach was growing steadily throughout her second trimester. She knew that babies grew the most in the last trimester and she wondered just how big she was going to get. She picked up her phone and called her doctor.
Lying on the bed during her 10-month scan Shaniece was feeling huge. The doctor came and went and she lay twiddling her thumbs above her baby bump. Walking back in with some papers, the doctor looked at her silently. She felt her breath catch in the throat.
The doctor was obviously trying to choose his words carefully, leaving Shaniece's minds to race over the possible problems. Was the baby okay? She couldn't bear to have come this far only to tell Joanna and Steve she couldn't give them their dream baby. Finally, he spoke, and what he said left Shaniece shaking.
Dr. Ryan began to smile and happily announced “You’re having triplets,” Shaniece flushed hot and cold. Joanna and Steve wanted their dream baby, what would they say when she told them she had managed to carry three. She had no idea what to do next.
Joanna and Steve, notably overjoyed at the news and as the weeks past Shaniece's stomach grew to an enormous size that was clear as day not the result of merely one baby. Her whole body ached with the weight of them all, but she didn't care, she knew she was doing the right thing. Could anything change her mind?
Willow, Daisy, and Harrison were born, small but healthy “Even though I was only 21 and it was a huge responsibility carrying their babies, it was one of the best experiences of my life," she happily proclaimed. And she has a lot to say about the journey.
"I had no morning sickness or cravings, the whole pregnancy flew by and with the support of Joanna and Steve, it was amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone,” she later shared. But this was not goodbye.
After two weeks of intensive care, Willow, Daisy, and Harrison were strong enough to go home for the first time with their parents. Shaniece now visits them every birthday. People question her about why she did this, surely she must be paid or something. Shaniece is happy to tell them this.
“I think a lot of people presume you have to use your own eggs when you’re a surrogate but that’s not the case at all. I had Joanna and Steve’s embryo inserted in Los Angeles so it’s biologically their child not mine, I was just the host womb.”
But carrying someone else's babies can also have more than psychological implications, and carrying triplets is difficult on any woman's body, especially on a mother so young. Shaniece was about to understand exactly what she had done.
"I’m in a relationship now and would like to have more children. I’ve had a miscarriage so I do wonder if carrying the triplets has had an effect on my body," she said later in an interview. But she also shared some other advice.
"My advice for anyone thinking about surrogacy is make sure you’ve done your research, and that you have support around you," Shaniece shared. But there are other considerations, too.
"You don’t get paid to be a surrogate – you only get expenses for your travel and so on – so if you’re looking to make money, this isn't for you," Shaniece added. This is something you do because you are 100% committed to changing someone's life.
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Shaniece's experience of being a surrogate mother has inspired her to try to change current laws regarding surrogacy in the UK. She feels like parents should have more control because currently everything is asked to the 'mother' birthing the children regardless of DNA.
She says: "Throughout the pregnancy I had all the questions about the babies directed at me, for example, birth plans, vaccinations, scan dates. I would just turn to Joanna and Steve and say, 'what do you want to do?'"
"...it was my body but they weren't my babies. If the law could change so the parents could make the decisions it would make things easier on both parts," she added. Many surrogate mothers feel the same way, too.