Maisy's birth story: a family through surrogacy
I’ve been asked a few times to write Maisy’s birth story. Our little lady is now 9 months old and I still haven’t done it; so while I peek at her on the monitor and she is fast asleep napping I’ll try and capture what we felt on her birth day. I took notes throughout the day and will refer back to those some, but try to go just on what I recall feeling!
Small Fry’s due date of May 20 came and went, and I was grateful because I had a wedding to shoot on May 21! The wedding was a friend of Shelb’s so she came as a guest and even helped shoot a little. I felt better knowing if anything was going to happen I would be there with her and we would race together to the hospital. Shelbey was not showing signs of labor - little miss Small fry was not interested in coming out, apparently. My husband and I busied ourselves as much as we could that week - namely he got his wisdom teeth pulled and I decorated the butt wipe container to match her room. Priorities, clearly. We slept with our phones on as loud as they would go “just in case” we got THE call.
A few days after the due date Shelbey and I went to a doctor appointment where they had her go to the hospital because she had not felt the baby move for a while and wanted to be sure everything was OK. After running the test and doing an ultrasound we found out Small Fry was just fine and when Shelbey’s water would break it would be quite messy as there was a lot of fluid! They also said we would likely be coming in for an induction late in the evening on May 26 and likely would have a baby by May 27. So we waited for them to confirm that was the case and packed our bags happy there was an end in sight.
We went to the hospital that evening with our bags of stuff and took one last photo outside. Then we checked in and got settled as best as a bunch of anxious people could! Shelbey gave us a quilt she made out of swatches from her bridesmaid dress in our wedding and a journal she had been keeping. We had a gift for her but told her we were waiting until after delivery to give it to her. A few of the support groups that we follow suggested bringing a sign to put on the hospital door that would gently remind staff our situation was unique. So I did that: it said (in sum) This room has a surrogate giving birth and to direct all baby related questions to the parents-to-be. We hoped it would be seen as a way to avoid lots of repeated questions and answers and be sensitive to both Shelbey and us and make everything smooth. It seemed to work really well for us! We also hung a onesie Shelbey found that had a picture of fries and “Small Fry” on it - her plan was to use it as a focal point during labor. Shelbey was given a hospital band to wear and usually the fathers are given a matching one but it was placed on me to ID me as the mom once the baby was born. I loved that the hospital did that for us.
She was given some meds to start labor around 8 at night (cytotec) and we waited; the plan was for her to have that and then start pitocin in the middle of the night to induce the contractions. Shelbey’s plan for medication was to take it if she needed it and not take it if she didn’t. There wasn’t much happening for the first few hours so we decided Paul and I would go to sleep and check back in the early morning. The hospital staff at Ridgeview was amazing - they let us stay in the post-partum room that night so we didn’t have to sleep on chairs. During the night the cytotec started doing its job and the contractions got pretty intense for Shelbey so she decided she wanted to get an epidural and have her water broken. We were anxious to see just how much fluid there was after the water was broken and the doc joked that the room below her was going to flood! Small Fry was nice and comfy in there for sure! The epidural was placed and Shelbey was feeling much better! However, she still wasn’t dilating much at all but contractions were regular.
We had a few visitors come throughout the day and try and guess her name (only Paul and I knew her name before she was born) and celebrate the day with us.
That happened around 7 or so in the morning. Paul and I had breakfast and shortly after that we came back and a lactation consultant met with Shelbey and I to talk about nursing. She showed both of us some pumping and expressing techniques and said it was the first time she had ever met with two women to talk about nursing and pumping at the same time for the same baby. It was encouraging to have her tell me my output was good. I had worked SO hard to produce milk for our baby and was really excited about the opportunity. Shelbey was also interested in pumping to continue to help us. We knew before she was born that our daughter would need extra help because I wouldn’t produce a full amount through induced lactation and many women don’t respond well to just pumping and didn’t want all that pressure on Shelbey. So we reached out to some online communities and had donor milk prepared to give our baby. I am so incredibly grateful to all the women who pump and donate to us to this day. (Side note: at 9 months Maisy has never had formula and has been sustained solely on breastmilk from donors!)
Back to the Birthday: After the meeting with the consultant the nurses came back in to check for any dilation and in the one hour between the last check she had gone from a 3 to a 10. Thanks to the epidural, she didn’t feel a thing! So I quickly called the birth photographer (who must have traveled George Jetson style to get to Waconia as fast as she did - Thanks, Tasha!) and shortly after we shooed everyone out of the room. That was around 10:30 in the morning - and no pitocin was needed to this point!
It was just Shelbey, Paul, our mom, our sister Isabele and me in the room, along with Tasha and the nurses. Everyone was shocked that she went so fast at that point. The doctor we had doctored with throughout the pregnancy was not on duty that weekend. It was Memorial Day weekend and due to the holiday we were told they weren’t fully staffed - just one Doc on call, who already had a day of appointments. So he was in Chaska doing his regular appointments while Shelbey was in the stirrups waiting to push. At one point the nurses wanted Shelbey to do a few “practice pushes” but as soon as she started to push they threw their hands up and told her to stop as she was basically crowning. All Shelbey could say was “thank God for drugs!” and she wasn’t in any pain or discomfort.
Some people have asked us if was uncomfortable for us, or Paul in particular, to be there while his sister-in-law was giving birth. Shelbey said from the start she wanted him there because it was his baby and Paul said he would like to be in the room when his daughter was born. I never once felt awkward or like it was something that we should feel awkward about. It is how babies are born and I was about to have one of my own!
Finally the doctor came around 1 and checked everything over. She was indeed dilated to 10, 100% effaced and ready to go, so he gowned up and we got into positions around the bed. The doctor went over the plan to have Paul cut the cord while the doctor was holding the baby and then he would hand her to me in a chair to the side of the bed. I wanted the skin to skin right away with the baby. The warming bed for Small Fry was brought out stocked full of blankets, a hat, a white shirt and swaddle; it was next to a scale and a basinet with a blank dragonfly waiting to adorn her name was also in the room. Also in the room were all the tools on trays draped in blue cloths for delivery. The orange overhead light was positioned in place and an elevated wooden mirror was placed where Shelbey could see what was happening.
Prior to coming to the hospital Shelbey had made a playlist on Spotify of music she likes to listen to and it was playing through a speaker throughout the day. I would say it was a mix of Cities 97, KDWB and KS95. (I’ll mention this now and explain the importance later.) It was playing as the room was prepped for birth.
I was shaking with excitement, my chest kinda hurt and I wasn’t sure how to breathe - I just couldn’t believe it was TIME! I hugged and kissed my husband and held one of Shelbey’s feet. We could see Small Fry’s head and the doctor mentioned how much light hair she had; he and Paul joked about her having more hair than them. I couldn’t even form words. After three soft pushes and gentle words of encouragement from the doctor, nurses and my mom all telling a silent Shelbey how awesome she was doing our daughter was born at 1:23 p.m. on May 27, 2016! I had dropped Shelbey’s leg and covered my face in tears not able to believe this was real. Paul went behind me and to the foot of the bed with the scissors in hand and tried to cut the umbilical cord between the clamps the doctor placed, Small Fry threw up her arm and got in the way almost getting cut! The doctor repositioned himself and her and she wiggled her leg and got in the way again, but with some strong arming the cord was cut. The Doc exclaimed what a STRONG girl we had!
While that was happening I had taken my cardigan off and moved over to the chair and was given a warm white hospital blanket with pink and blue stripes. My arms were extended waiting to embrace our little girl. Dr. Mohling walked over quickly to me and handed me the silent but breathing, wide eyed baby my sister had just given birth to and in that moment I became a mom. I tucked her inside my tank top and sports bra and nuzzled her tiny body against me. I was holding my daughter in my arms after years of treatments, negative tests, invasive procedures and more medications and blood draws than I care to count. My daughter was breathing in sync with me as the happiest tears of my whole life streamed down my cheeks puddling around her. My husband cradled his arms around me and kissed me as I kissed our little girl, he tucked my hair behind my ear and got close to our faces as we all breathed her first breaths together. I literally have no recollection or gauge as to how long we stayed that way, crying, hugging and finally believing this was reality. Small Fry cuddled right there and never cried just loved on us. A few times I pulled her away just a little so I could look at her. But then put her right back on me. I didn’t need to see her, in those moments, I needed to feel her and for her to feel my love for her. I don’t think anything other than “I love you” was said between Paul and I. I don’t know what happened in the room around us or if anyone was saying anything at all.
I did hear my mom, who was holding the camera we were using to video everything, say “Keighla your battery is about to die on the camera.” Read: if you want us to capture the name reveal you better say it soon! I looked up and saw my mom’s tear stained face, my sister wiping tears from her eyes and had totally forgotten they didn’t know! So I kissed her little cheek and said “This is Maisy.” Then the doctor said “Maisy! How cute!” and mom said “Welcome to us, Maisy!” I took a breath between sobs and said “Her middle name is Joan-Reneé.” She is named after my sister and grandma (my grandma is Joan and my sister is Shelbey Joan) and my mom, Deena Reneé. And the waterworks were flowing from everyone. Telling everyone her name was one of my favorite moments! We had waited so long and kept that a super special secret and I loved that we were able to be the ones to tell them and see and hear their reactions to our parenting decision.
We had purchased some Maisy Mouse books and read them to her after we told everyone her name. Also, about that playlist. As soon as she was born the music stopped. It was strange and we didn’t notice it until we were playing the video back the next day. But Shelb had put hundreds of songs onto the playlist and at the moment Maisy was born playing from the list was a cover of the song “Boom Clap” by Canadian sister duo Lennon and Maisy! It’s fate! After that not one more song played. Maybe the speaker died or maybe that was the last song or maybe a nurse turned it off. But either way it’s incredible that it was playing at that moment!
I think I got to snuggle and hold her for at least 15 minutes before the nurses did take Maisy and check her over. She was cleaned up just a little and weighed. She was a beautiful 7 pounds 3 ounces and a petite 19 inches. She had blonde hair and big blue eyes. I changed tops because she had pooped on me and after she was weighed it was her daddy’s turn to hold her. They put on her an ID bracelet to match the ones Shelbey and I both wore. She was given a pair of clothes, a hat and a swaddle to keep warm. They handed our little bundle to her dad who broke down in tears just staring at her perfect face. I again started to cry watching him look at her and hold her. Through our struggles I had a lot of heartache and guilt with the reality that I could not make him a father. I knew he wanted to be a dad and would be an amazing one and failing each month to give him the opportunity made my heart ache. But seeing him cradle her itty bitty body in the same arms that I found comfort in put my heart back together. He was at last a dad and I got to be his counterpart parenting alongside him.
We sent iPhone photos to our parents who could not be with us in the delivery room and called them to tell them the amazing news. My mom and little sister took a turn holding Maisy before she was handed to Shelbey. We had offered to have Shelbey hold Maisy several times after Paul and I had our turn but she kept saying “I got to hold her for 41 weeks, its your turn.” When Shelbey did take her she cuddled on her, said “Hi pretty baby!” and kissed her sweet cheeks. We gave Shelbey her gift. We had a ring made that has four stones: Paul’s, Shelbey’s, Maisy’s and my birthstones. We wanted to give her something meaningful that she could wear everyday that could be a reminder of just how much she means to our family. Without her we would likely still be a party of two. Choosing her ring was exciting for Paul and I and we loved giving it to her.
I had worked hard to induce lactation so Maisy could nurse. In the months before her birth I took medication and pumped around the clock to produce milk for our daughter. In that time together I was able to feed her. Knowing I was her first source of nutrition was absolutely worth every minuted hooked up to that pump, every "growing" pain, every little drop that I had saved for her. Holding her while she ate was absolutely incredible.
With Maisy in Shelbey’s arms we left to tell her name and stats and go get our family in the waiting room. We walked hand in hand and opened the door and said “she’s here!” and gave hugs. It wasn’t until after hugging everyone that someone asked “So, what’s her name?!” We told them and got a few squeals and ohhs and ahhs. Together as a group we went back to the room to introduce our daughter. Watching everyone oogle at her and tell her how loved she was felt so good.
I still can’t believe she’s here and she’s ours. In the 9 months since her birth she has been the source of more smiles, tears, joys, triumphs, learning opportunities (I’m not supposed to say failures when it comes to parenting), hugs, deep-digging determination and love than I experienced in my previous 31 years. My sweet Maisy I am so immeasurably blessed to have you as my daughter - to be granted the opportunity to be your mommy and to love you every day. You are special, amazing and an answer to so many prayers.
** In the gallery below there are images by Tasha Hergott of Red Bird Hills. She is an incredibly talented photographer and human. Check her out! **