CHICAGO – Setting foot in a hospital again, Emily and Mike Jordan couldn’t help but feel anxious.
More than two years before, at age 29, Emily had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. But just before she was to undergo a radical hysterectomy, she was told that she was pregnant.
Faced with saving her own life or their unborn child’s, the young couple made the excruciating decision to go forward with her surgery. It meant losing the baby, and forfeiting any chance at having their own children. Or so they thought.
I can’t describe what that was like after finding out you have cancer, after finding out your chance of ever carrying a baby is gone, Emily says, still stammering at times as she recounts that painful day in 2010.
But now, more than two years later, she and Mike had come from their suburban Chicago home to the labor and delivery department of a downtown hospital to realize the dream they thought was lost – to become parents, though not the way they, or most people, would have imagined.
Alongside them that day was Emily’s mother, Cindy Reutzel – a fit, silver-haired 53-year-old grandmother whose profile revealed a round, pregnant belly.
Reutzel was about to give birth to her own grandchild.
When Emily’s doctors had shared the good news that they were able to keep her ovaries intact during the hysterectomy, Reutzel immediately made the offer.
What if I carried your baby for you? she asked.
Emily and Mike didn’t take it too seriously at first. We didn’t really think that was a realistic option, says Emily, who works in hospital administration.
It turned out, though, that it wasn’t really that far-fetched after all, particularly for a young grandmother who’s in good health, like Reutzel.
After a process that included psychological evaluation and hormonal manipulation to prepare their bodies, Kim eventually implanted Reutzel’s uterus with an embryo created with an egg from Emily and Mike’s sperm.
It was no easy process, with a regimen of hormonal shots. Work schedules were interrupted and vacations postponed. But Reutzel was committed.
The thought of Emily and Mike not being able to have children and share that piece of their lives with someone just broke my heart, says Reutzel, who lives in Chicago and is executive director at medical foundation. I want Emily to have that connection with another human being like I had with her.
As her belly grew, people started asking about her baby. But she was quick to tell them the story. This was not her baby; she was Grandma.
Admittedly, she says, she worried about the physical toll pregnancy might take, though her body handled it better than she expected. She also wondered how well she’d bounce back from a Cesarean section. That’s how she had delivered Emily and her older brother, but that had been three decades ago.
Still, she reassured Emily and Mike throughout the pregnancy that the baby was fine, she was fine, everything would be fine.
Humor helped. Mike often teased his mother-in-law each time they’d take her to dinner or do something nice for her.
Are we even yet? he’d ask. Not yet, she’d reply, laughing.
In truth, Mike and Emily knew there’d really be no way to repay this kind of gesture.
This is a continuation of everything that she has done her entire life for me, which is to make sure that I have the best life possible, Emily says.
All they could do, they said, was to promise to raise their baby as best they could. And that was enough for Reutzel.
I know I gave a gift, she says. But I’m also getting so much in return.