Woman carries twin pregnancy for her cousin
When Anastasia had to have an emergency hysterectomy, forever losing her chance to have more children, her cousin Heather graciously offered her womb.
Here’s a story of how two families came together to create a miracle.
It was supposed to have been a storybook birth. Denver resident Anastasia Glennie and her husband, Tim, had hired a dula and prepared for the natural birth of their daughter, Ireland. It was a moment the couple had eagerly awaited since their marriage five years before.
But then something went wrong in the delivery. “My placenta wouldn’t deliver, and I started to bleed heavily,” Anastasia says. “They didn’t know why.”
Although Ireland was delivered safely, the situation quickly became an emergency for Anastasia when the doctor realized that her placenta had grown into her uterus. Emergency surgery was the only way to save her life. Unfortunately, it couldn’t save Anastasia’s uterus.
“At that point, I was so drugged up that I didn’t realize the significance of it,” says Anastasia.
But her cousin, Heather Thomas, did. “When I heard what had happened, I was heartbroken for her,” she recalls. “She could never have any more kids.”
Cousin, friend, willing surrogate
Heather and Anastasia had always been the closest of cousins. Heather grew up in Utah, while Anastasia grew up in California, but the two saw each other every summer. “We were as close as sisters,” Anastasia says.
Devastated to hear about Anastasia’s condition, Heather, a wife and mother of two of her own children, made a decision on the spot. She would offer to carry Anastasia’s future child for her.
“I knew Tim and Anastasia weren’t finished having kids after just one child,” says Heather. “Throughout the years, I had seen little clips about women who had been surrogates and egg donors, and I knew it was a possibility. I didn’t really debate it or even ask my husband at that point. I just knew that I was willing to carry a baby for her.”
Since Anastasia was still recovering from surgery, Heather told Karen, her cousin’s mother, to pass the message along.
“When my mom told me what Heather had said, I burst out crying,” says Anastasia. “But I was so tired and just couldn’t imagine having any more kids at that point anyway.”
Things were about to get even more difficult. The next day at the hospital, as Anastasia was still recovering, her doctor delivered devastating news.
“She said that I had thyroid cancer,” Anastasia recalls. “I had felt something on my neck and had it checked out, but then forgot about it. Turns out, it was cancer. I was just 30 years old.”
But Anastasia was determined to get through it for the sake of her newborn daughter.
“I felt like if I could survive her birth, I could survive this,” says Anastasia. “I had surgery six week after Ireland was born. I got to breast feed the baby for three months, and then I had radioactive iodine treatment.”
Thankfully, Anastasia’s body responded well to treatment, and she beat the cancer. As her health returned and her daughter grew older, Anastasia began to wish for another child.
A generous offer
When Ireland was two years old, the cousins met up at a wedding. And once again, Heather made her unusual offer to Anastasia.
“I just casually mentioned that I still had an available womb if they needed one,” Heather says. Tim and Anastasia were stunned by the generous offer.
Heather’s husband, Shane, was taken back as well. “My husband had heard my offer the first time I made it, but this time it sank in,” Heather says. “He was concerned that it could affect my health, and he just wanted me to be safe. But he knew it was something I wanted to do, and he quickly got on board.”
A few weeks later, Anastasia called Heather and the two discussed how this dream could become reality. It was no small endeavor.
This unique birth scenario would require the help of a reproductive endocrinologist. Through the process of in vitro fertilization, Anastasia’s eggs would be harvested by a doctor and then fertilized in a lab by Tim’s sperm. The resulting embryo or embryos would then be transferred to Heather’s readied womb.
Due to Anastasia’s cancer treatment, though, there was still a question of whether or not Anastasia could even produce viable eggs.
Anastasia found one of the top American IVF doctors in the country, after hearing about his success rates. But his initial testing indicated that Anastasia’s egg quality had been damaged by her cancer treatment, an all-too-common side effect of cancer drugs.
“They said my eggs were the quality of a menopausal woman, even though I was so young,” Anastasia says. “They said there was very little chance that I could get pregnant using my own eggs. They pushed me to use donor eggs.”
Anastasia’s eggs, UCARM’s expertise
But that is not what Anastasia and her husband wanted. Instead, they decided to pay a visit to the doctors at University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine. “They are a university research hospital, and they are open to trying new approaches,” says Anastasia. “They explained that I had limited odds, but that they were willing to give it a chance and try to achieve what we wanted.”
Taking her chances, Anastasia started the standard drug protocol for IVF. But halfway through the regimen, the doctors could tell that she wasn’t responding properly.
“My doctors knew I was spending a lot of money and putting everything into this,” says Anastasia. “I appreciate that they didn’t want me to waste money on a treatment that wasn’t working. My doctor decided to stop the treatment and try a new treatment called “estrogen priming protocol.”
The new treatment meant more drugs. “They treated me like I was menopausal,” says Anastasia. “I took estrogen for about thirty days. They were honest with me. They hadn’t done much with this protocol yet, but felt I was perfect candidate for it.”
“We decided to go for it,” she says. “We wanted to try one more time. If it didn’t work, we would try donor eggs or adopt.”
Amazingly, the regimen worked. The doctor was able to harvest nine good quality eggs, which were fertilized with Tim’s sperm.
Five tiny embryos developed. Since embryos often don’t survive in the womb, the doctors decided to transfer three into Heather.
It was a big decision for Heather, since it was her body that would possibly carry three babies. But she didn’t even pause. Three it would be.
A family’s bond
Heather’s husband, Shane, worried about her health but remained supportive. He knew this was a precious gift that Heather wanted to give her cousin. Explaining everything to Heather and Shane’s two children, who were 11 and 7, was a bit more difficult.
“We sat down with the kids and explained that Anastasia didn’t have the body part that could carry a baby anymore, but that I did,” says Heather. “So I was going to carry a baby for her. Nothing would happen between Tim and I. The eggs were just transferred. They knew from the beginning that this would be Anastasia and Tim’s baby.”
Heather and Anastasia both took birth control to get their cycles on the same track, and then Heather had an injection to stop her own ovulation. She flew to Denver, where Tim and Anastasia live, for the implantation. After the procedure, Heather stayed on bed rest for 48 hours. Then, all they could do was wait.
Two weeks later, Heather had a blood test and she was pregnant!
“When Heather called with the news, we were so thrilled!” Anastasia says. “It was such a tremendous gift from her.”
Anastasia and Tim flew to Utah for the ultrasound, when the two families received even more news – twins!
Anastasia attended each ultrasound as the months passed, watching her little boys develop beneath her cousin’s belly. “I know Heather so well and I could grasp what she was giving me,” Anastasia says. “Watching her carry my boys was kind of like an out-of-body pregnancy, maybe similar to what a father feels.”
At the Thomas house, Heather’s son, Ike, worried when his mother tired so easily from carrying the babies, but was eager to meet his new cousins. Zoyee, upon hearing that her mother was carrying twins, wondered if they could “keep just one.”
When it came time to tell Ireland about her coming baby brothers who were being carried in Heather’s tummy, Anastasia found a helpful children’s book. “I read her a book about a kangaroo mommy that couldn’t have a baby, so another kangaroo holds the baby for her in her pouch. Then I told Ireland she would be a sister.”
Ireland’s response? “She asked why we weren’t having a girl,” Anastasia laughs. “She was completely accepting of it.”
When it came time for the twins’ birth, the Glennies flew to Utah to be with Heather. The hospital welcomed their unusual arrangement with open arms, even allowing the Glennies to stay in an empty room at the hospital.
Heather had to have a C-section birth, so the Glennies donned their scrubs to be by her side.
The couples had already thought through the legal ramifications well before the babies were born. “University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine helped us think through all of this,” says Anastasia. They even helped us locate a good attorney, and walk through the insurance questions. Both of our families met with their therapist to help us all prepare emotionally for the process.”
“After they were born it was not a sense of loss,” says Heather. “It was more like ‘mission accomplished!’ It was so good to see Anastasia with her babies.”
“When the boys are older, I will tell them what an amazing cousin they have,” states Anastasia. “We had an amazing opportunity with University of Colorado. We were given the gift of being able to try something new in order to have the boys, and it worked!”
These days, the two families enjoy meeting up whenever they can. They vacationed together recently in California. “It’s funny,” Anastasia says. “The boys have a sense of calm when Heather’s around. They are relaxed. Maybe they recognize her voice.”
“I feel so happy and proud when I see the twins,” says Heather. “I’m so glad my body was able to take good care of them for Anastasia. Shane and I were in a position to help, so we did. And happily, it all worked out.”