Blood is thicker than water (
but semen is thicker than blood). And here is a story that shows how far a family member would do for one another, even if it means growing a baby inside her for her brother.
Last Saturday (Jun 8), an article from China Press has gone viral for its eye-grabbing headline. It stated that a sister carried her brother’s child because her sister-in-law does not have a uterus.
The sister-in-law in the picture is 31-year-old Hollie Hepler from Florida, United States. She has just become a mother last week despite being diagnosed at the age of 16 that she would never be able to carry a child or give birth.
Suffered from Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a disorder that causes the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped or absent, Hollie lived a life filled with fear and insecurity, knowing that she would never get pregnant albeit always wanted to become a mother.
When she met her husband, Joe Hepler, in her 20s, she told Joe at the beginning of their relationship that she is an infertile woman. Nice, no need condom eh.
But Joe was unfazed by Hollie’s flaw. “His exact words were, ‘You’re going to have to do and say a lot more to get rid of me,'” Hollie recalled.
The couple got married in 2014 and their way to parenthood was an unconventional path.
One year after their marriage, Joe’s sister, PJ Willis, drove to their house and announced her intention to carry a child for them.
“Before I had children, when I found out that Hollie couldn’t have children, in my mind, I thought, ‘Oh I could do that for her,'” said PJ, now 28 who works as an emergency room nurse.
“When it came to be a real possibility, I was in a season of my life of trying to figure out my future.
“I had just gotten married and had time to self-reflect, and I thought it was time to start having our children so we could have theirs later,” she said.
PJ eventually gave birth to two daughters with her husband, age 2 and 3 years old now. The next on the list was her brother’s baby.
Within the years, Hollie researched about gestational carriers, learning what it takes to become one. Hollie did not even know her husband’s sister could even become one, Good Morning America quoted her as saying.
A gestational carrier is a more defined surrogate mother. A gestational carrier does not use her own egg fertilized by the man, but rather implantation of the woman’s egg fertilized by her partner’s sperm.
Many doctors turned down the possibility that Hollie’s sister-in-law could carry her biological child until she met Dr William Schoolcraft, a pioneer in fertility medicine and founder of the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine.
“This was the first time in three years that I felt like someone was telling me that it was possible and not making me feel insecure about my syndrome,” she said. “I got off the phone and said, ‘Joe, we’re going to have a baby,’ and we just cried. It felt like the picture became clear for us.”
In 2018, the trio started travelling between Florida and Colorado, about 3,000 km in distance, for appointments and testing. Hollie had her eggs retrived and infused with Joe’s sperm. The egg is then planted into PJ’s body via injection. This impregnating process is called in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
The outcome of the offspring is 100% biologically Hollie and Joe’s. Nothing incestuous here, guys!
PJ began pregnant nine days after the injection in September 2018. Together, they called themselves “Team Baby Hep” as they went through PJ’s pregnancy.
“That was one of my biggest goals, keeping Hollie part of the pregnancy. I never wanted her to feel disconnected,” PJ said. “I would send her pictures constantly, play her voice memos for the baby and always made sure she was the one making decisions.”
The family’s friends set up a GoFundMe page for the couples and it raised more than $14,000 (RM58,000) to cover the cost of the procedure.
“Hollie understood this was just an anomaly she was born with, but together, they could create their own genetic baby, and after it was born it would just be their baby like any other,” said the doctor. “Their family’s life was going to be normal, but there was just this nine-month detour to get there.”
Last week, the detour ended and the result was a healthy 3.9kg baby boy. They named him Jarrell Clayton Hepler, known as JC.
Hollie was grateful it had all worked out, describing feelings of “relief and great joy and hope.” She also had flashbacks of the past 15 years where she thought she could never have a child of her own.
Meanwhile, PJ, who was recovering from the delivery, said she is reflecting on the miracle that just happened and enjoyed seeing her brother finally becoming a father.
Fans of popular sitcom Friends would not find this arrangement strange as one of the characters, Pheobe, actually becomes a gestational carrier for her brother in the show. Pheobe gives birth to a triplet for her brother, which makes the running joke that the babies she is carrying are her brother’s.
You can see more photos and a video of “Team Baby Hep” on the next page.