WHEN Micaela Gump-Johnson was diagnosed with cancer, she was given the heartbreaking news treatment would leave her infertile.
The daycare work, from Illinois, US, was devastated – until her mum made the offer of a lifetime, to give birth to her own grandchildren.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, Micaela, 28, tells her story…
'I looked at the screen and the tears fell. "There they are," said the doctor, smiling. "Both of them."
Two little dots, two tiny heartbeats. I was beaming. That first ultrasound was worth all the waiting, surgeries and hormones. I could see my precious twins.
But it wasn’t my stomach the doctor was examining.
"I knew it,” my mum Sheila said, squeezing my hand. I couldn't believe it, my mum was pregnant with my babies.
Two years earlier I’d been the patient. A busy 23-year-old with a three-year-old son, trying for a second. I had what I thought was a yeast infection.
"There’s something on your cervix," the doctor said. "I’ve never seen anything like it before. We need to do a biopsy."
The panic felt like ice cold water. I knew something awful was happening.
Two weeks later, I heard the news which would shatter my world. I had cancer. I just fell to pieces.
"How can I tell my mum?" I thought. She was my best friend. Only 16 when she’d had me, we were more like sisters. We spoke every single day. This would devastate her.
But she was amazing, texting me: "I love you. We’ll get through this."
She was by my side at the next appointment, and I was so glad to have her there.
"You have small cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer," the doctor said. "It’s very rare and very aggressive." I was devastated.
As she talked about a total hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, the room seemed to spin. I felt sick at the thought of the cancer inside me. "I want this out of me right now," I said.
My babies grew but were an hour away. I couldn’t feel them move. Would we bond once they were born?
But what about more children? Once treatment began, I’d never be able to have more babies. My only chance was to create embryos right away.
"Please think about it," mum said, fighting tears. "See the fertility doctor. You don’t want to look back and wish you had."
"But mum, even if we do create embryos, we can’t afford a surrogate," I said in tears. "It’s impossible."
"If I’m allowed to do it, I will," she replied firmly. I was stunned. My amazing mum was offering her body in service to me. I’d never loved her more.
Mum’s words stayed with me. It became a hope to cling onto. I needed every shred of positive thinking I could get.
The fertility treatment wasn’t too bad, creating 19 precious embryos. But what came next was brutal. The hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. I suffered terrible sickness and hair loss.
Through it all mum was there. She came to every appointment, holding my hand through the tears.
"Thank you for making me see the fertility doctor," I said one day, during a chemotherapy marathon. What would it feel like if I didn’t have my embryos to cling to?
Three months after treatment ended, I got fantastic news – I was cancer free.
We could now try for a baby. But my mum was 42. Would doctors allow her to be our surrogate? Luckily they did.
Surrogacy: the facts
Surrogacy is when a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for another individual who cannot have a child naturally.
In host surrogacy, which Micaela and Sheila used, one of the mother's fertilised eggs is implanted into another woman, meaning it's still the mother's biological child.
In the UK, it is illegal to advertise for surrogates – so many ask a friend or family member for help.
It's also illegal to pay for surrogacy, although you can pay reasonable expenses – including maternity clothes, travel costs, loss of earnings and childcare – normally totalling between £7,000 and £15,000.
The cost of surrogacy itself will be on top of that, unless you are eligible for NHS treatment.
It's important to note that, in the UK, the surrogate is the legal mother of the child until a Parental Order is granted from the court – even if the eggs and sperm are yours.
You can get support and advice at surrogacyuk.org.
Months later, we were back at the hospital for the implantation.
After the procedure, we both cried, desperately hoping it would work. And ten days later a text pinged on my phone – a picture of a positive test.
After all those dark days, this was the best news. Four weeks later was the ultrasound, my first chance to see my babies. But it was also a small window into what the next eight months would be like.
I was having babies, but I wasn’t pregnant. I was on the wrong side of the doctor’s table.
My babies grew but were an hour away. I couldn’t feel them move. Would we bond once they were born?
I sometimes struggled to see mum’s growing bump. So thankful it almost took my breath away, but I wished desperately I was carrying them myself.
We decided not to tell people right away. Then, at four months we learnt the twins were a boy and a girl, and I felt ready to go public. People’s reactions were fascinating.
"I’m having twins," I’d say when friends asked for news. Before they could even say congratulations I’d quickly continue "and mum’s the surrogate".
Some were thrilled. Others were shocked, saying, "wow, that’s kind of weird".
I brushed it off. My babies were healthy, and I had the best mum in the world. Things were good.
'My mum's my surrogate,' I'd tell my friends. Some were shocked, saying 'wow, that's kind of weird'
As birth approached, my nerves grew. Mum had a cesarean scheduled for 37 weeks but a week before had some twinges. By the time we got to the hospital, she was already 5cm dilated.
"It’s happening now," I thought in shock. My husband wasn’t even there! Dressed in scrubs and shaking, I walked into the delivery room. It was time to meet my babies.
I held mum’s head as they began operating, both of us in tears.
"Stand up and see your son," said the doctor, as my beautiful Logan, 5 pounds, was born. Next came McKinley, a gorgeous 4.10 pounds. They were perfect.
The minute they were in my arms, every worry about bonding fell away. The flood of love was instant and overwhelming, just as it had been when my son was born.
Taking them over to my mum, I was in awe.
"I love her so much," I thought. "She was cut open so I could have these beautiful babies. I can never repay her."
The twins are now 14 months, two bundles of trouble. They’re always climbing all over me. No bonding problems there.
Even though I’m now cancer free, I wanted to support other women. So I’ve helped create Sisters Against Rare Cervical Cancers (SARCC), which offers support and raises funds for research.
As for the twins, I’m keeping a record of everything about their journey. When they’re old enough, I’ll explain what their incredible MawMaw did for them. I’ll tell them she’s a superhero, just without a cape!'
Sheila Gump, 44, said:
'"Well," I laughed as the embryos were implanted. "This is the first time I’ve gotten pregnant without a man in the room!"
It felt so good to smile. After the terrible months of Micaela’s diagnosis and treatment, I felt almost giddy. Her cancer had made me feel powerless, but here was something I could actually do.
The second I realised she’d need a surrogate, I didn’t hesitate.
The words "I’ll do it" were out of my mouth without a pause, I didn’t even need to discuss it with my husband, Micaela’s dad. I knew he’d understand. Our girl needed us, and we’d do anything for her.
At 42, it wasn’t straightforward. I’d had two children after Micaela, now aged 14 and 11, and had experienced gestational diabetes.
I also had a blood clot, so would need medication and close monitoring.
But sitting in my bathroom when the pregnancy test turned blue, there wasn’t any concern for my health. Just happiness that we were on our way.
Before the pregnancy, my best friend told me she was worried. "Are you sure that you’re going to be able to disconnect when they’re born?" she asked
There were some hard days. I had so many injections I felt like a pin cushion.
But I’d just picture the babies smiling at me, and Micaela’s face when they were finally here. That always made me feel better.
I was also a relief to know their surrogate wasn’t some stranger, who might try to manipulate them for money or take the baby. Micaela could rely on me.
We lived an hour apart but talked every day, just like we always had. I knew it was hard for her to watch when I was struggling.
I’d had to see her go through her sickness and understood what it was like to be the helpless person on the outside.
I also knew she struggled sometimes to see me carry her babies. So I told her every detail, about all the twinges and pains.
She came to every doctor’s appointment. I wanted her to feel as much of the pregnancy as possible.
And our relationship was so strong, I knew we could get through any difficult moments.
As for my bond to the babies, right from the start I told myself "they’re not mine".
Nurturing instincts kick in when you’re pregnant. So I needed to disconnect, preparing myself from day one for the moment when they would be in Micaela’s arms instead of mine.
As a pregnant woman, everyone wanted to talk to me. Strangers would see the bump and say, "how exciting!"
I’d always reply: "They’re twins – and they’re not mine, they're my grandchildren."
People would look puzzled, but it helped me to say it out loud. I didn’t want people to think they were mine, even strangers who I’d never see again.
Some people loved hearing all about it, telling me "it’s such a blessing that you’re doing that". Others said, "hell no, there’s no way I would do that for anybody."
My reply was always the same. "Well, I guess it’s good that you’re not me and you don’t have to worry about it!"
I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t hard. My brain might have known they weren’t my babies, but my body didn’t
Before the pregnancy, my best friend told me she was worried. "Are you sure that you’re going to be able to disconnect when they’re born?" she asked.
"I think I’ll be OK," I replied. "I can get through it. And once they’re here I’ll be able to see them any time I want. They won’t just vanish."
In truth as the due date approached, I didn’t let myself think about how it would really feel to hand them over. I was just so focused on the responsibility of keeping them healthy and growing.
The birth itself was joyous. The intense relief when they were born tiny but safe. Seeing Micaela’s face light up as she finally held them in her arms.
I cried to know that I’d helped make this dream come true. It lifted my heart. She was the mother now, I was just the grandma.
But I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t hard. My brain might have known they weren’t my babies, but my body didn’t.
They all came to stay at our house for a few weeks and, when the twins cried in the night, my instincts told me to get up and go to them. That was a struggle to shut off.
The day they packed up to leave was bittersweet, even though I knew the babies were with their mother, exactly where they should be.
Luckily that feeling quickly settled and I’m thrilled to be grandma to three such wonderful children – no closer to the twins that to my grandson.
Every second of the rollercoaster was worth it. And it’s amazing to know that I played a part in bringing them into the world.
Find out more about SARCC at https://www.rarecervicalcancers.org/
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