A Sister’s Surrogate Pregnancy Story (Part 1)

Tara Schamel works in the Adoption STAR Ohio office, providing Administrative Support and Outreach. She and her sister, Cassie, recently went through an incredible journey, where they both gave birth through surogacy to their sister’s (Tanya) and her husband’s (Dan) children. Tara has written several blog posts about this journey, and has included photos of the experience. Please stay tuned every Wednesday for each excerpt of this remarkable journey. Tara and her family recently shared their story on NBC’s “The Today Show” which you can watch at the bottom of the post.

Tara Schamel

Many are familiar with the old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Some who take less traditional paths to building their family understand that sometimes it takes a village to bring a child into your life.  Working for both Adoption STAR and a fertility center that specializes in IVF, I get the unique pleasure of being a small part in witnessing some incredible individuals and couples on their path to building their family.

Just last year, I watched my sister Tanya and her husband Dan embark on their own rollercoaster journey to start their family.  After struggling to conceive on their own, they pursued treatment through IVF. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen complications with her uterus, they were unable to transfer any of their embryos created during the process.  Their embryos were frozen as they contemplated their next steps. They lovingly referred to them as their “snow babies.”  After speaking with their doctor, they decided on surgery and several drug therapy protocols in hopes of repairing her uterus. Sadly, her body was unresponsive to these attempts.  It was upsetting for my others sisters (Cassie and Natasha) and I to watch from the sidelines as Tanya battled her “unruly uterus”. Tanya is such a wonderful and involved Aunt to our kids and had always wanted to be pregnant.  At this point it appeared to be the end of the road and the fate of their frozen embryos unclear. They had one remaining appointment with their doctor where they would learn if their last ditch treatment had thickened her uterus.

Behind the scenes, Cassie and I privately discussed our concerns about Tanya and Dan’s “snow babies” and began hatching a plot.  “Would it be possible for us to carry our sister’s child?” we contemplated.  Both Tanya and Dan come from large families and we knew that ideally they would love to have several children. “Could we be surrogates together?” we pondered, “so that every single embryo would get a chance to grow into a baby?”  For now, Cassie and I kept our secret conversations to ourselves.

Cassie and I accompanied Tanya to her appointment where she would learn if her last and final drug protocol was successful. It wasn’t.  With Tanya fighting back tears, Cassie and I exchanged glances and silently accompanied her as she walked briskly out of the office and parking lot, unsuccessfully dodging  raindrops.  Wet and heartbroken she wept as the three of us sat in her car. And that is when Cassie and I shared with Tanya that we would like to be gestational carriers for her and have their embryos transferred into our uterus. It is difficult to articulate Tanya’s reaction other than to say I have a pretty good idea of what “walking on air” now looks like.  We sat in the car for what seemed liked hours as we all digested the news and what it would mean for all of our families.

Surrogacy is heavily regulated by the FDA and there are so many hoops you have to jump through-contracts and lengthy legal documents, psychological appointments; screenings, screenings, and more screenings.  I also had to meet with my surgeon who, after fixing a hernia I had several years ago, told me “no pregnancies or the surgery will come undone.” After hearing my plans, my surgeon smiled and said “Go for it!, I will figure out a way to put humpty dumpty back together again during a C-Section.”  Tanya and I (as well as several other women in our family) have also had preventative bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction due to hereditary cancer that plagues our family and took our mother from us when we were young adolescents.  We needed to understand how a pregnancy would affect all my prior surgeries. After getting the “all clear” from everybody’s physicians,   our surrogacy journey officially began!  Tanya writes in her online journal from this time, “I have always enjoyed flipping the calendar over to a new month.  It is something about starting fresh with a blank calendar staring back at you.  This weekend, I flipped over the calendar and my stomach did a flip of excitement.  It was finally July!!  It is finally the month where my sisters will start their medications and the embryo transfer will be just around the corner. “

Cassie and I relished in our last few heavily caffeinated beverages before our giant FedEx boxes containing dozens and dozens of syringes and medications arrived. After our shipments came, we planned a BYOSB party (bring your own Sharps box) for that evening!

Tara Schamel

After a few weeks of shots, Cassie and I’s blood work confirmed we were in medically induced menopause. Next up would be different medications and ultrasounds, to check to see if our uterine linings were nice and thick.  As we sat on the couch in the waiting room of the fertility center, another patient waiting in the office who overheard our banter asked Tanya if we were her egg donors.  She smiled and said “No, they are my “body donors”.” Cassie and I’s ultrasound confirmed what Tanya had been so desperate to hear for herself, but never did, which is that our uterine linings were thick and fluffy, ready for embryo transfer.

Stay tuned next Wednesday for the second part in Tara’s journey.

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