Surrogacy: The Ultimate Gift of Love
Surrogacy: The Ultimate Gift of Love
By Laurie McCall Photo (right) by Indya Jade Photography
Additional photos provided by Ashley Schaeffer
When Ashley Schaeffer was 23, she became pregnant with her first child, Micah. While she was experiencing all the wonders of pregnancy, the excitement, the sound of his heartbeat, the flutter of his movements, and the anticipation of his arrival, she was also mourning alongside close friends and family members who weren’t as fortunate, women who’d miscarried or were struggling with fertility issues. “They had to go on watching me carry a baby. It just broke my heart, like a physical ache inside of me, and I knew after the birth of my first child, I was supposed to be a surrogate. My heart breaks so much for people who can’t experience this. God gave me the gift to be able to do this, so if I could help someone carry a child, then I wanted to try.”
Ashley approached her husband Russell with the idea, and they began praying about it. “He knew it was a true calling of mine, not just a whim or some flippant desire. It was something that kept coming up in my spirit again and again.” They began researching and contacting agencies. The paperwork was extensive, between 10 and 20 pages, and they applied with nearly 30 agencies. Refusing to agree to “selective reduction,” should the in vitro fertilization result in multiples or should the baby have medical issues, put Ashley at the bottom of the list of prospective surrogates. It turned out to be a difficult process, being turned down, literally for years. In the meantime, Ashley got pregnant with her own again, and then again and again. As her family grew, she continued to watch friends and loved ones struggle to have children.
Ashley laughed as she explained that when she and Russ were first married, they planned to have 12 kids, and then they decided ten, and then eight, “and now six seems like the most logical number.” After the first four, they decided to wait a while before adding more to their own family. It seemed to be the perfect time to “do the surrogacy thing.” They continued to pray and contact agencies, but again, it was a no go. One day it clicked, and Ashley decided she really didn’t need an agency at all. Why not cut out the middleman and go straight to the clinic? No one had ever done it that way. The clinic ran all the tests to make sure Ashley, who was 28 at the time, was healthy, and then they began setting up interviews, and every time, the people seemed great, but it just didn’t feel right. Ashley and Russ believed that if they prayed about it, they would know when the right couple came along. She kept telling Russ, “I feel like it’s going to be someone I know, but not someone I know well.” All the while, Ashley was logging her journey on Facebook, posting, “I met with someone else today, and they weren’t the right fit, but I know God has the right family out there.”
Three hundred miles away, Amy, an old friend from middle and high school, and her husband Eric, were going through the worst time of their lives. They were blessed with two children; however, the pregnancies had been life threatening for the babies, and the doctors told Amy, “never again.” She was sure to lose any baby she attempted to carry. She and her husband decided on adoption. They met a young lady who said she had a one-night-stand and became pregnant. She wanted to give the baby up for adoption. They took their new son home from the hospital, named him and cared for him for nearly six months when the birth father showed up, proving his paternity and taking the baby. They were crushed. Devastated. They grieved the loss of their son. Still believing God wasn’t finished with their family, every option seemed too scary.
As Amy scrolled through Facebook, she kept reading Ashley’s posts, “…I know God has the right family out there.”
Amy messaged Ashley and said, “Every time I read your posts, I know you are talking about me. I know this sounds crazy, but this is what we’ve been going through…”
“It was beautiful,” Ashley said. “We called that night and talked on the phone for forever, and it just seemed perfect.” Even though they hadn’t hung out since high school, Ashley said, “I knew I loved her, and she knew I was a woman of character. She could trust me.” Amy and Eric contacted the fertility clinic that Ashley had been working with, and they began the process, the screening, the financing, and the psychological counseling. Attorneys drew up contracts. The doctors used Amy’s eggs and Eric’s sperm to create two embryos, which were implanted into Ashley. There was an 80 percent chance one baby would take, and a 20 percent chance both would. Turns out they were in the 20 percent.
Over the coming months, Amy and Eric traveled the 300 miles to hear their babies’ heartbeats, and, of course, for the gender reveal, which Ashley says, “We all knew it was a boy and a girl. We just knew.”
The doctors decided to induce Ashley at 36 weeks because the babies were nearly seven pounds each, and she was showing early signs of preeclampsia. Russell stood by Ashley’s shoulders, videotaping the whole thing. Eric respectfully stood alongside Russell. It was Amy who got see what it was like to be in the father’s shoes in the delivery room as she held Ashley’s hand, wiping her brow and encouraging her.
Ashley says the most common question she gets is, “Was it hard to give the babies back to their parents?”
“Not at all,” she says. Throughout the entire pregnancy Ashley wished that Amy could experience it for herself. She constantly sent videos and pictures. “All I thought about the whole pregnancy was seeing their faces and their eyes when they held their babies for the first time. That’s all I kept going over in my mind. I just couldn’t wait to see their faces,” she laughs, “but I totally forgot they’d be wearing masks. They were completely covered, but I could tell they were happy from their body language. As the doctors were taking care of me, I just watched them in that moment, holding their babies for the first time and taking pictures.”
By the time Ashley gave birth to the twins, she was 31, a calling that had begun at 23 finally fulfilled. She believes strongly that we are all created with unique gifts and called to do different things. Surrogacy was her thing. At the time, she had hoped she might occasionally receive pictures on birthdays or special occasions. She had no idea they would end up becoming more like family. Although they still live hours apart, they Facetime and send videos and visit each other. The twins call her Aunt Ashley, and Amy tells them, “You were in her belly.”
Ashley couldn’t tell the story without talking about Russell. “Being married to him and going through this with him—he is the most gracious, patient, understanding man. Without him stepping up to help take care of our children, I couldn’t have done it. He’s so supportive, more than I could ask for.”
As for the Schaeffer tribe, they just announced that No. 6 is on the way!
Surprising tid bit: Ashley pumped breast milk and mailed it with dry ice for four months.
Favorite place: The delivery room, of course. When the kids are older she plans to become a birthing doula or lactation specialist.
Strangest thing: Ashley has never had a C-section before, not even with the twins, but she’d wishes she could, because then she would be able to relate to women who’ve been through it.
Transportation: The Schaeffers recently bought a Ford Transit Wagon, which seats 12. Russ made Ashley take it through the drive-thru on the test drive. No special license needed.