Woman gives birth to her own niece after her sister feared falling pregnant would kill her
Pretty much everyone gets to the stage in their relationship where they decide it's time to start a family. When you've formed a beautiful and unbreakable bond with your other half, it's natural to want to start to extend and strengthen that bond by having kids together. The prospect of bringing children into the world with the love of your life is incredibly exciting. So exciting in fact, that it becomes very easy to get ahead of yourself and neglect to consider the reality that not everyone is able to have children the traditional way.
In some cases, after years of trying for children, hopeful parents come to the realization that their inability to conceive stems from certain medical issues. Naturally, being confronted with such a revelation is incredibly difficult and it can do either one of two things to a once-strong relationship. It can kill it beyond repair or it can ensure that both partners feel an even closer bond than ever before.
Thirty-one-year-old Lauren Hooper and her 36-year-old husband, Michael, of Okehampton, UK, are a couple who went through absolute hell trying to start a family of their own. Ultimately, it was a four-year journey of initial disappointment and let-downs until, of course, they finally realized their dream of being parents. Their little girl, Rae, was born just last month on July 24, but her conception was no ordinary one.
The thing is, Lauren was told that if she ever got pregnant, it could end up being fatal. She would never have guessed that her sister, Ebony Hutt - selfless as she was - would offer up her womb for her sister's baby to grow inside. But that's exactly what happened.
So how did her emotional and at times heartbreaking journey begin? Well, four years ago, Lauren received the devastating news that because she’d been born with a hole in her heart, a malformation of the pulmonary artery and collateral arteries to the lungs, conceiving a child could end up killing both herself and her unborn child.
Just when the couple was convinced their dream of becoming parents had been taken from them, Lauren's 35-year-old sister, Ebony, selflessly offered to act as a surrogate. Following three failed implantation attempts, Ebony fell pregnant near the end of 2017. She was honored to give birth to her niece, Rae Ebony Ann Hooper.
New mom Lauren said: “This has been an incredible journey. We didn’t know if we would ever become parents, and then Ebony made her incredible offer. It’s been a difficult process but one that has brought us closer. I am so glad I could do this with my sister.
“We’re so in love with our little girl and auntie Ebony will always be very special to her.”
Lauren herself was born on May 2, 1987, but it was believed by the doctors that she was terminally ill after discovering that her heart was not pumping correctly. Against all odds, young Lauren survived, and at the age of 10, underwent four open heart surgeries.
She went on to live a fairly ordinary and happy life and after meeting Michael through mutual friends in 2010, the pair got engaged 2011. At an annual medical check-up, however, Lauren mentioned her upcoming nuptials, and her consultant asked the couple if they were thinking about having children.
Unfortunately, she then broke the news that if they were to try for children, Lauren's heart was unlikely to cope with pregnancy.
“We weren’t trying to have kids at the time, but I knew I wanted to have them at some point in the future. I loved being an auntie to Ebony’s kids and knew I wanted my own someday,” Lauren said.
Luckily, when Lauren and Michael, who married in a beautiful ceremony in 2014, told their families, Ebony made her an offer the couple couldn't turn down.
They started the process immediately, and the couple’s first cycle of IVF resulted in three embryos. The first implantation took place in April 2016, but unfortunately Ebony suffered a chemical pregnancy, where the embryo falls away within the first few weeks.
As if their heartbreak wasn't immense enough, it then emerged that the second embryo implantation was unsuccessful. And sadly, third resulted in another chemical pregnancy. But after raising £15,000 ($19,000) via a crowdfunding page and a series of fundraising events, to have the entire procedure done again privately, another embryo was implanted successfully in November 2017.
Lauren, who waited until the birth to find out the sex of the baby, said: “Ebony was carrying our baby, but she did so much to make sure we were involved. She was always sending us things and even at the beginning, she gave us a pot of her urine so we could do the pregnancy test and find out first.”
After a pretty plain-sailing pregnancy, the final few weeks became a lot tenser. A scan detected the baby was breech – in a bottom or feet-first position. When the child still hadn’t shifted at 37 weeks, doctors told them they would need to move the baby.
They managed to get her into a head-first position but just 10 minutes later, she moved back, prompting medics to admit Ebony to Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where they inspected her further.
Lauren continued: “Our medical team were fantastic throughout and they were with us every step of the way. They decided that because the baby had moved again, we live 25 miles from the hospital and this is such a precious baby, Ebony should be admitted.”
She continued: “They couldn’t risk her going into labor far away from the hospital with a breech baby.”
At 38 weeks, on July 23, with baby Rae still in the wrong position, medics decided to move her then hold her in place and break Ebony’s waters.
In an interview, Lauren said this about the 12-hour labor: “We were joking that July 23 was our cousin’s birthday, so it’d be nice for Rae to be born the same day. Ebony was pushing and pushing. I looked at the time and it was 11.53pm. I said, ‘You’ve got five minutes. Come on.’ She was born at exactly midnight so she just missed it by seconds.”
“She had a little knot in her umbilical cord, which is apparently very rare but a sign of good luck. It just felt like it was all meant to be.”
With Lauren, Michael, and her partner Gavin by her side, Ebony gave birth to Rae, who weighed 6lb 12oz, and passed her straight into Lauren’s arms. Proud father Michael cut the umbilical cord.
Lauren laughed: “It felt like a dream. We had been picturing that moment for years, and she was finally there."
“Poor Ebony was so tired she couldn’t even cry. It was absolutely perfect though. We were all there, helping and holding each other’s hands.”
Because of the long labor, doctors took Rae to the neonatal unit to make sure her brain had not been starved of oxygen. She was then monitored for approximately six hours, before being declared to be in perfect health. Afterward, she was sent back to the family’s private neonatal room, where Lauren and Michael held and fed their daughter for the first time, while Ebony slept in a separate room. Later that day, Lauren and Michael took their little girl home for the first time.
“Our whole family was waiting to meet her and it was so special. Her cousins – Ebony and Gavin’s kids – Tegan, nine, and Sonny, six, got to meet her first. They’ve always known that this is their little cousin,” said Lauren.
“Ebony is expressing milk for her. She does it at home and then Gavin drops it round every day to make sure she’s getting the antibodies. I’m not sure how long that will last but we’ll do it for as long as Ebony can.”
According to the law, the woman who gives birth to a baby is classified as its mother and so Lauren and Michael are now starting the legal process to become Rae’s official parents.
Lauren said: “Ebony said she would do it all over again but I’m not sure we want to do it again. It is partly because of the cost but even if we did have the money, I don’t know if I would want to put her through it again. We are just counting our lucky stars that we have Rae.
“We will be forever grateful to Ebony for everything.”
Ebony said: “As I came to the end of the pregnancy and it became more complicated, I was a little bit worried, but we had come so far. We just had to get through those last few weeks.”
She continued: “It was a difficult labor and very different to my labors with my children, as I had never been induced before. Having Lauren, Michael, and Gavin with me to support me was amazing. We did a lot of laughing throughout the labor and that is what got me through.
“This has always been Lauren and Michael’s baby and I’ve always known that in my head. The minute she was born, I just wanted her to be with Lauren and Michael. Seeing her with them was so special, and that was the thing I always wanted and the reason I did this. We’ll always have a special bond but I am just enjoying being her auntie.
“I know Lauren and Michael aren’t sure they would ever do it again, but it has been a really positive experience for me and I would have no doubts about being a surrogate again if they wanted me to be.”
Lauren and Michael's story is one of perseverance, love and undeniable selflessness. Finding out that you are not able to conceive your own children is never easy but the couple never gave up on their dream of becoming parents and for that we applaud them.