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May 7-13, 2009

2 men, 2 women
and a baby

One woman’s selflessness enables another
to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother

by Pamela White

Mark Megibow’s wife is pregnant with another man’s baby, but Mark doesn’t mind. In fact, he thinks it’s wonderful. He’s doing all he can to support his wife and looking forward to the baby’s birth.

Sara Megibow, whose pregnancy is now obvious, is grateful that her husband is so understanding and supportive. The mother of a 3-year-old boy, she’s having fun with this pregnancy, particularly now that the nausea has passed. But the baby isn’t hers, either.

The baby’s parents are Forest and Mindy Kelly, good friends of Mark and Sara’s. Married for five years, the Kellys love children and have long wanted to be parents. Thanks to a handful of medical miracles — and Sara’s selflessness — the dream of holding their own child will come true this fall. 

It’s a dream that was nearly stolen from them. Four years ago, shortly after Mindy and Forest celebrated their first wedding anniversary, Mindy was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. In a bid to one day have their own children, they opted to harvest some of Mindy’s eggs, fertilize them with Forest’s sperm and freeze them for the day when Mindy was healthy again and able to carry a pregnancy to term.

But this past summer, Mindy’s oncologist told her she’d never be able to have a baby without risking a deadly recurrence of cancer.
And that’s when the next miracle — a miracle of friendship — occurred. This Mother’s Day, Sara and Mindy, together with their husbands, will be celebrating the baby that Mindy conceived in her heart and which Sara now carries in her womb.

‘Not what we wanted’
Mindy and Forest met during happy hour at the now-defunct Dandelion Restaurant. Both had come with friends for a bit of fun and a few drinks. Forest recalls being in a conversation with someone and having Mindy suddenly standing next to him and joining in that conversation.

“She actually kind of showed up next to me,” says Forest, a massage therapist and member of the a capella rock band Face, which was just coming together and still didn’t have a name.

A mutual friend introduced them. Forest found Mindy pretty and intelligent and interesting. Fortunately for him, the attraction was mutual and the connection strong. They left the bar with one another’s phone numbers and became friends.

Then one night, the members of Face went to a bar, thinking that they’d be able to come up with a name for their new band if they were inebriated. Though that experiment failed, the band members just happened to be sitting in a bar when Mindy walked by outside with some of her friends. Forest waved to her, and he and his fellow band members ended up serenading her and her friends that night.

The two began to date and, two years later, they got married, planning to spend the first year of their marriage together before starting a family.

“We knew we wanted to have children together,” Mindy says. “That’s something we knew early on.”

Forest knew going into the relationship that Mindy had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a lumpectomy in 2003. But any worries about the disease returning or spreading were far from their minds. For their one-year wedding anniversary, they traveled to Europe together and began trying to conceive a baby.

But within a week of returning home from their vacation, Mindy had tests showing that not only had the cancer returned, but it had spread. She was diagnosed with Stage IIIB breast cancer. The disease was widespread in her right breast. Worse, it had spread to two lymph nodes.

Doctors told her that she would have to undergo an immediate mastectomy, in addition to chemotherapy and radiation treatments that would damage her ovaries and make it impossible for her to get pregnant with her own baby.

It was a devastating blow. Still, the two did their best to face up to the situation.

“Neither of us come from a ‘victim’ place,” Forest says. “We looked at it as, ‘Well, it’s terrible, and it’s not what we wanted, but it’s the next thing we have to deal with. What can we learn from this?’”

Mindy held a tearful gathering of all her female friends to say farewell to her breast, then underwent the surgery. She was given a month to heal before starting chemo treatments. Unwilling to relinquish the dream of being parents, she and Forest met with a fertility specialist, who worked with her oncologist and came up with a plan that might enable them one day to have a biological child.

Because Mindy’s cancer was both estrogen and progesterone receptive — the hormones actually fed the cancer and helped it grow — reproductive hormones were dangerous for her. Still, the two doctors came up with a strategy that would get her hormone levels up enough to enable them to harvest eggs and then drop those hormone levels down again.

“You can imagine what a roller coaster that was,” Mindy says.

A few days after her eggs were successfully harvested and fertilized, four embryos were frozen. Then Mindy started five long months of chemotherapy.

“Obviously, the surgery was traumatic, but she was a trouper,” Forest says. “I’ll never forget the first chemo treatment and watching them inject this poisonous red stuff directly into her heart. It brought tears to my eyes.”

Both Mindy and Forest say it was the toughest year of their lives. In the midst of treatments that left Mindy very ill, Forest’s mother died suddenly. Then five months of chemo were followed by a month of radiation.

“If it weren’t for the people around us, I don’t know how it would have gone,” Forest says.

Mindy’s mother was present for most of the chemo treatments, and both had a strong network of friends to support them.

Mindy used alternative therapies to bolster her health during the chemo and kept her mind on the future. If she could get past the cancer treatments and get strong again, she had something wonderful to look forward to: becoming a mother.

‘Our babies are waiting for us’
Sara and Mark have known Forest since before Forest met Mindy. They remember Forest and Mindy’s romance gradually unfolding.

They attended their wedding, where Face — which finally had a name — performed. The two couples shared the excitement of the band’s growth — early days of trying to get gigs, followed by performing in Vegas, being flown out to yachts to perform for celebrities and so on.

“We have a lot of memories together of really exciting formative adventures,” says Sara, a literary agent with the Nelson Literary Agency in Denver.

When Mindy was diagnosed with cancer, Sara, a new mother at the time, cried with her, while Mark tried to be there for Forest. Sara recalls the strangeness of having to leave Mindy’s pre-mastectomy gathering because she had to nurse her newborn son.

“It was a very scary time,” Sara says.

She remembers watching Mindy work her way through the chemo and radiation and says it seemed to last forever.

But through it all, she says, Mindy held onto the thought of those four frozen embryos.

“Through the whole process, she and Forest kept saying, ‘All we have to do is get through this mastectomy — our babies are waiting for us. All we have to do is get through this round of chemo — our babies are waiting for us.’”

Mindy had hoped to take Tamoxifen, a drug that suppresses the hormones in her body to prevent a recurrence of cancer, for the minimum of two years — the doctors wanted her to take it for five years — and then get pregnant by having some of the embryos implanted in her uterus.

But this past summer, her oncologist explained that pregnancy wouldn’t be possible for her if she wanted to remain cancer free. The elevated levels of estrogen and progesterone that pregnancy requires present too great a risk. Their only options for becoming parents were to adopt or to find a woman willing to be implanted with their embryos and act as a “gestational carrier” — both very costly options. Most gestational carriers charge between $15,000 and $25,000.

“It was devastating to learn that I would never carry a child, because that’s what I always wanted,” Mindy says.

When Mindy called Sara in tears to say she’d just learned that she and Forest would either have to adopt or find someone to carry a
baby for them, Sara’s reaction was instant.

“I didn’t even blink,” Sara says. “I just said, ‘I’ll do it.’ It was an absolute from-the-gut reaction that I have never second-guessed.”

Although Mindy was deeply touched by Sara’s offer, she felt Sara ought to think about it before making a decision. She didn’t know that Sara’s mind was already made up.

Sara says it’s not something she would have offered to do for just anyone, but Mindy feels like a sister to her. Knowing how much Mindy and Forest wanted a baby and how much those four embryos meant to them, she was happy to be able to help. And she wouldn’t charge them a penny.

“Their calling down to the smallest atom of their human souls was to have their child,” Sara says. “Their whole being for years has been, ‘We have those children.’”

After Sara spoke with Mindy, she went to tell her husband the news: Provided all went well, she was going to have Mindy and Forest’s baby.

‘It takes a village’
In 2004, when Mark and Sara learned that Sara was pregnant, he e-mailed a friend back east to share the news. The friend replied, “Are you sure the baby’s hers?”

“I thought it was so funny because how could we not be sure it was hers?” Mark says.

Now their son, Elan, is almost 4, and Sara is pregnant with a baby that isn’t hers.

Mark finds lots of humor in this. After a recent band rehearsal, Forest asked him what he planned to do that night. Mark answered, “I’m going home to my pregnant wife,” adding, “thanks for that, by the way.”

When Sara came to him and told him she’d decided to try to have a baby for Mindy and Forest, he didn’t argue with her or ask her why she wanted to do this. His answer was a single word: “Good.”

“I saw absolutely no doubt in her mind whatsoever,” Mark says. “If I’d seen even an inkling of doubt, I would have had serious concerns.”

The other reason he had no problem supporting Sara’s decision was his relationship with Mindy and Forest, whom he considers a “brother.”

“These are two of my best friends,” he says. “[Sara and I have] been along for the whole ride. There is no hesitation for me that this is what we’re going to do.”

Several of Mindy’s friends offered to carry a baby for her, but Sara turned out to be the best candidate because she was younger, had already had one baby, and didn’t want more children of her own. The fact that anyone offered astounds Mindy. The fact that Sara actually truly went through with it overwhelms her.

“It’s beyond my ability to understand,” she says. “It’s just amazing.”

The two couples met at a restaurant, Elan in tow, to talk about Sara’s offer, and they agreed to move forward with the plan.

“Lots of crying ensued,” Sara says. “We were in a restaurant. We were all crying. Elan was bouncing around, pouring sugar on the table.”

Sara’s first pregnancy had been easy. Unlike many women, she wasn’t bothered by severe nausea or other discomforts commonly associated with pregnancy. Her labor and delivery, though certainly not painless, went off without complications, and she gave birth without an epidural. But getting pregnant via in vitro fertilization is different than conceiving a child the traditional way. For one thing, it involves a lot more people.

Sara jokes, “It takes a village.”

First, they had to speak with health-insurance brokers. Because she hadn’t planned on having more children, she and Mark had cancelled their maternity coverage. It took four months to find a private insurance plan that covered maternity care.

“I have no nice words for health-care insurance,” Sara says.

Once they resolved that problem, it was off to see a lawyer, who drew up the required contract. The document stipulates that Mindy and Forest will cover Sara’s health-care costs during the pregnancy and delivery and that they are responsible for raising the baby, while Sara agreed not to drink or smoke and she and Mark agreed to give the baby to Forest and Mindy once it’s born.

“It’s virtually 42 pages of, ‘Yes, I will give up the child,’” Sara says.

Conceptions, the fertility clinic that froze and stored the embryos, required all four to have psychiatric screening before moving forward.

“It was an hour session in which she asked, ‘Do you really get what you’re getting into?’” Sara says.

Once Conceptions concluded that Sara was an ideal candidate to carry Mindy and Forest’s baby, the two couples had to wait for Sara to start her next period.

“Everybody was waiting by the phone,” she says. “Mindy was waiting by the phone. The doctors were waiting by the phone at Conceptions. Everybody was waiting by the phone for me to get my period — which was odd. When I called and said, ‘My period has started,’ everyone was very happy.”

The next couple of months were tough for Sara. First, they put her on birth control to control her monthly cycle. After one month of that, she started stronger drugs designed to manipulate her body into thinking it was getting pregnant — progesterone shots to prevent her uterine lining from shedding, estrogen patches, Medrol to suppress her immune system and human chorionic gonadotropin shots in her abdomen. Then there were blood tests to monitor her hormone levels and acupuncture to improve her chances of a successful implantation. She felt like a pin cushion.

In early February, Sara and Mark drove to Conceptions, where the doctors had thawed two of the embryos that morning.

“Mark and I went in the exam room and sat down. Then this 6-foot-5-inch tall doctor comes skipping into the room, shows us the pictures of these thawed eggs and says, ‘Look at how healthy these blastocysts are!’ I knew it was going to be an interesting day.”

Sara was brought into a room filled with doctors and nurses in surgical garb and settled on a table. While Mark stood by with a cell phone to describe the process to Mindy and Forest, who were out of town, the fertility doctor threaded a catheter into Sara’s uterus. Then the embryologist brought two embryos and inserted them through the catheter into Sara.

“The doctor tipped the table upside down and said, ‘Cross your legs and hold it for 10 minutes,’” Sara says. “So the doctors were high-fiving the nurses, and Mark was crying and Mindy and Forest were crying, and I was lying there with my legs crossed.”

And then the waiting began.

Ten days later, Conceptions confirmed that Sara was pregnant.

‘They wanted this child’
It was Mindy who got the good news first.

“When we found out she was pregnant, I was at a co-workers baby shower,” Mindy says. “I just about had to run out in the hallway screaming.”

She called Forest, and then she called Sara, who was told to take it easy because her pregnancy at this point was considered high risk. She continued receiving hormone injections. She couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds. She couldn’t elevate her heart rate or get fewer than eight hours of sleep.

Where her pregnancy with Elan had been easy, this pregnancy left Sara feeling extremely nauseated and tired. But the discomfort seemed worthwhile after eight weeks when she, Mark, Forest and Mindy went to the doctor for the first ultrasound.

“It was breathtaking,” Mindy says. “I loved watching the heart beat. It’s so amazing.”

Forest said it didn’t really hit him that he and Mindy were going to be parents until they saw the ultrasound. He says that seeing the heart beating was “overwhelming.” They’ve had additional ultrasounds since then, but it never grows old for him.
“It always brings tears to my eyes,” he says.

Sara says that watching Mindy and Forest see their baby for the first time was everything she’d hoped it would be.

“All the pain and suffering the two of them had been through in their marriage with the cancer — it was that intense of an emotion but on the opposite side,” she says. “And Mark is all heart, so he cried the whole time, too.”

Sara is now 15 weeks pregnant. Both morning sickness and hormone shots are behind her, and she’s looking forward to a late October due date. Her pregnancy has begun to show, raising a new — and sometimes amusing — challenges. What to tell Elan, for example.

“If he were older, I would be more concerned about it,” Mark says. “We explained it simply. Mommy has a baby in her belly, and we’re taking care of the baby for Mindy and Forest. In his 3-year-old mind he gets it.”

A couple of women at Elan’s pre-school are also pregnant, and Sara says she overheard him ask one of them, “Who does your baby
belong to?”

Mindy is touched that Elan cares so much.

“The last time I saw Elan, he came up to me and said, ‘Aunt Mindy, we’re taking very good care of your baby,’” she says.

As exciting as this time is for all of them, there is still some sadness for Mindy that she can’t be the one to experience pregnancy and birth herself. Still, she says one thing she learned from having cancer is to let other people help her.

“This is on a level different from anything else I’ve known,” she says. “I think it’s the most miraculous and selfless thing anyone could do for anyone else. Sara’s an angel on this earth.”

Forest knows that Mindy is missing out on some of the experiences of being a mother. But whereas Mindy grew up thinking she’d carry her children inside her own body, he, of course, did not.

“I think in that respect, it’s easier for me,” he says. “Still, I wish I knew what it was like for my wife to have strange food cravings and send me to the store for Cheez Whiz in the early hours of the morning. Then again, Mark might call me one of these nights at 3 a.m. and say, ‘You’re on duty.’”

Mark says he sees his role as that of “support staff.” That might mean giving Sara extra time to rest or staying home with Elan when everyone else goes to a prenatal appointment together.

It was hard for him to see Sara in pain when Elan was born, he says. As a result he talked with Sara about getting pain relief this

“I want her to have more painkillers or an epidural or whatever we’re allowed to use so that I don’t have to go through that again,” he says.

Other than that, he’s really looking forward to the birth. Last time he says he was torn between being there for Sara or being there for the baby. This time will be different, he says.

“All I have to focus on is Sara,” he says. “All of my effort and attention is going to be focused on her.”

Mindy and Forest, who have gone to all of Sara’s prenatal appointments, are “beyond excited.” The obstetrician has offered them the chance to catch the baby themselves, something they’d love to do. But that’s a decision they’re leaving to Sara.

The reactions of friends and family have been very positive, the four say. This will be the first grandchild on Mindy’s side of the family. And though Forest’s mother didn’t live to see the birth of her grandchild, she did know they’d frozen embryos, which she called “your babies.” Forest says that makes him believe that she knew somehow it would work out.

For Mark, the best part of this is seeing Sara receiving attention.

“She’s such a giving person. It’s just starting to dawn on her precisely how profound it is what she’s doing,” he says. “As she’s starting to show and the world is finding out, she’s being showered with love and affection and praise. I gloat with pride about my wife. She has secured her place in heaven.”

But for Sara, this is about Mindy and Forest.

“The blessing isn’t that I was willing to help,” Sara says. “The blessing is that they’re getting their genetic child. Details be darned, they wanted this child.”

The experience has brought the two couples even closer.

“I know we’ll always be in each other’s lives,” Forest says.

In about 25 weeks, they’ll share the birth of a child that all four of them helped bring into the world, he says.

Sara isn’t sure what to expect following the baby’s birth. She has agreed to try to nurse the baby for a while, though the logistics might be tricky.

“I know there will be post-partum depression because there are a lot of drugs in my body, and I don’t get to keep this baby, and the nursing issues,” she says. “But I have a wonderful 3-year-old I can hold every time I get sad.”

Then she adds: “You think making a baby together with four people is tough, try making a band. This is easy.”
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