I gave birth to my sister: When her mum couldn’t have a longed-for child with her new partner, Hollie made an extraordinary offer to carry it herself using her own egg and stepfather’s sperm – an act of love or step too far?
Just a child in a buggy passing by my mother in the supermarket used to be enough to make her weep openly.
Often, I would catch her looking at my daughter, Arwen, now three, with such a look of intense, desperate love that it took my breath away.
Mum was consumed by her longing for another child: a deep need to care for and cherish another little life.
Even after, aged 43, enduring a miscarriage, and then further years of fruitless trying, still, her desire for a baby remained undimmed.
Mum was consumed by her longing for another child: a deep need to care for and cherish another little life (Faye pictured with baby Willow)
In turn, her agony made me so sad. Mum and I had always been close, best friends as well as mother and daughter.
At 25, I’m the middle child, with Hannah, 27, and Harry, 22.
We had an idyllic childhood, growing up in Wales, despite the fact that our father was not involved in our upbringing.
Mum, though, was unerringly devoted to our every need, and worked hard in a care home. You might wonder why having we three children was not enough for Mum.
Well, aged 36, in 2006, she met Andrew, then, 33. It was a heady romance — within a month they were engaged, a year later they were married.
Andrew, who worked in the Forces, gave Mum a contentment I had never seen before. And she wanted to have a child with the man she loved so much.
Eventually, it became clear that she had few real options left — apart from one. Surrogacy, using another woman’s egg and Andrew’s sperm.
And there was only one person who would offer to help her with this. Me.
You may have taken a sudden intake of breath there — a daughter offering to be an egg donor and surrogate for her mother? What would this resulting baby be to me, you might wonder — a sister or a daughter?
For me, the answer has always been crystal clear. Any baby I would help my mother have would be my sister, and nothing more.
I am so convinced of this fact that I wanted to tell our story in full here today — before we have even told some members of our own family — to prove how a mother’s love need not be restricted by the confines of biology.
Mum and I had always been close, best friends as well as mother and daughter (Hollie, pictured left, with mother Faye and baby Willow)
Two months ago, I gave birth to Willow, and handed her straight over to my ecstatic mum without a pang of doubt.
Lovely Willow may have been born using my eggs and Andrew’s sperm — but she has only one mother. And it’s certainly not me.
Our extraordinary story has been years in the making. Andrew and Mum longed for a child from the moment they married, but Mum had been sterilised after Harry was born, something she had long regretted.
Then, in 2014, Mum, then 43, plucked up the courage to have the procedure reversed, visiting a private clinic in Glasgow to do so. We live in Inverness.
The doctors also extracted and froze three of her eggs. As the reversal might not work, they explained, the eggs were an insurance policy meaning IVF could still be an option.
Just a few months later Mum conceived naturally — I was 19 at the time and I’ll never forget her elation as she told us — but then suffered a very early miscarriage.
It was devastating. For the next four years they continued trying, and watching her struggle was dreadful.
I would see the tears each month and understand what it meant. I felt powerless to take her pain away.
We became even closer in my early 20s. When I was 21, studying events co-ordination at college, and fell pregnant unexpectedly, it is the measure of her as a mother that she was instantly thrilled for me, despite her own longing for a baby.
I knew I would be managing parenthood alone but I felt nothing but joy. Mum had shown me just how amazing a single parent can be.
‘If I do half as good a job as she did,’ I thought, ‘everything will be OK.’
I struggled with sickness, sciatica and pelvic girdle pain. But Mum was always there. She came to every scan and, when I was in labour, her strength got me through.
When Arwen was born on August 4, 2017, weighing 7 lb 3 oz, it was Mum who cut the cord.
The rush of love I felt for Arwen was immediate and overwhelming. I finally understood Mum’s desire for another baby.
Living just ten minutes away, we saw Mum all the time. She adored Arwen and their bond was wonderfully close — but I was always aware of her sadness that she and Andrew couldn’t have a baby of their own.
In late September 2019, I saw Mum and Andrew playing with Arwen, then two. The look of love on her face was so clear. It was so unfair — why couldn’t Mum have the baby she so desperately wanted?
Suddenly, I found myself speaking: ‘Mum, Andrew,’ I said, ‘I could be a surrogate for you. You have your frozen eggs. Why don’t we give it a try?’
Finally, here was something I could do. Today, it might sound naive, crazy, even. I didn’t know anyone who had been a surrogate, or even what the process involved.
I just knew that my heart said this was right.
‘Would you really consider it?’ they asked, thrilled but clearly surprised.
‘Of course,’ I said with a smile.
Mum called the clinic where her eggs were stored, and in early October we three were sitting in the doctor’s surgery.
We explained our plan, for an embryo to be created from Andrew’s sperm and Mum’s egg. Then I would be the gestational carrier.
The doctor was positive, saying they would look at Mum’s frozen eggs.
Two days later they called to say the eggs were not viable. Mum and Andrew’s last hope had been snatched away. I felt so low — and their despondency was all-encompassing.
A few weeks later, in the middle of November, while in the car together, Arwen and I in the back, Mum and Andrew up front, I heard Mum quietly saying to Andrew how she still dreamed of a baby, but that her dream was over now.
I looked at Arwen — and the answer popped into my head. If I couldn’t be a gestational surrogate — carrying Mum’s and Andrew’s embryo — I could be a traditional one. I could be the egg donor as well as the carrier.
For the second time they asked me if I was sure. I had never felt so sure about anything.
We hugged tightly as we said goodbye. Finally, here was the way forward. Some may find our decision unusual or even distasteful.
I’m more rational about it. Every month my egg went to waste. Why not use it for something good?
There was never an awkward moment between the three of us from the moment we determined our plan.
Still, we didn’t tell anyone, not even Hannah or Harry. We didn’t want to jinx it, or bring doubt into our minds.
I began to chart my ovulation to prepare for self-insemination. I started taking folic acid, and began reading up on surrogacy.
We waited until January, to focus on giving Arwen a wonderful Christmas. It was just the four of us at my house on Christmas Day, and we didn’t talk about the surrogacy.
But, sitting down to eat, I hoped next year would see another child at the table.
By mid-January I was ovulating. I felt butterflies of excitement, and carried out the insemination process three times to maximise our chances.
Andrew and I were often together, chatting away as normal, and I never felt uncomfortable to think that I was potentially carrying his child.
Then, in early February, a test showed I was pregnant. My instant emotion was one of elation for Mum — here, inside me, was the son or daughter she so craved. From the moment that test showed two blue lines, the baby was Mum’s and Andrew’s.
However, when telling Andrew it had worked, through all our tears and excitement, I couldn’t help but feel a small dart of worry.
What would other people think when we told them I was egg donor and carrier for this baby?
Just like with Arwen I felt terrible sickness right away. Visiting my GP for support, I told her the exact circumstances of the conception but she appeared to be judgmental in the extreme. I felt awful.
It was then that we decided to just tell everyone I was carrying Mum’s and Andrew’s embryo — anything to reduce the stress on me during this most precious of pregnancies.
When Mum told Hannah, Harry and our grandmother, the week after we’d taken the test, they were surprised, a little disappointed at not being included up to that point, but ultimately happy. Their reaction made us all feel sure we were doing the right thing.
As soon as the pandemic hit in March, Arwen and I moved in with Mum and Andrew. It was a frightening time and it was comforting to be together.
My sickness and sciatica continued, I was hormonal and emotional. Yet there was not a second of regret.
Covid restrictions meant Mum and Andrew could not come to the scans, which was impossibly hard for everyone.
All the hospital staff knew the truth behind my pregnancy and supported me at every step. They were amazing.
Hearing Mum and Andrew were having a girl was such an emotional moment. Mum had already picked out a name — Willow. I loved it.
As Willow grew, I always thought of Mum and Andrew before me. ‘Your baby is kicking,’ I’d say, or I’d think ‘That’s my sister’ when I saw her on the monitor.
In my heart, I felt I was carrying a baby from Mum’s egg, not my own.
I didn’t worry about bonding too much with her, or about the time I would hand her to them. I felt calm and positive about it all.
This was meant to be. Living together meant Mum and Andrew could be close to the baby. We would play Mum’s favourite music and they would feel the foetus kick. I was due on October 14 and on the 19th my contractions began.
Once again, Mum got me through it, and after 41 hours of labour she saw her beautiful baby daughter being born — 9 lb 6 oz and perfect in every way.
Willow came to me for a minute after the birth, but was then in Mum’s arms where she belonged. My joy was intense — just not the same as it had been with my own child.
When I was discharged from hospital, I went home to Mum’s house. There was no awkwardness about who would do what, we all just went with our instincts. Willow came first, after all.
We decided I would breastfeed her to give her extra immune protection. So I would sleep with Willow in one room to feed her, Mum and Andrew in another, which is still the case.
Two months on, I still look at Willow and think, ‘I can’t believe you’re finally here.’
While I know that biologically she is mine, she is so similar to Mum already. It’s wonderful to see.
In the weeks since her birth, I have never felt that tug of motherhood that I did with Arwen. Willow is Mum’s and Andrew’s daughter.
Mum loves Arwen deeply and would do anything for her. But she’s not her child. That’s how I feel about Willow. We are sisters and will always be in each other’s lives.
There are two things still to do. The first is sorting out all the legal forms required — going to court for a parental order — before Mum can join Andrew on the birth certificate and she can officially be recognised as Willow’s mum. Hopefully, they will be done in January.
The second is harder. As Willow has grown, we have realised keeping the secret of her conception just wasn’t right. We have nothing to be ashamed of, after all — every action was taken out of love and care.
Mum is going to explain to the rest of the family, who I hope will understand. But now Willow is here, how can anyone think we made a mistake?
We will be completely honest with Willow as she grows up. It may be unusual but she was brought into the world in so much love. That’s all that matters.
- As told to Kate Graham
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