A family's journey from heartbreak to sheer joy

Gift like no other: Julia and Lee Newton with daughters Emily, 7, twins Vivian Lee and Julia Grace, 2 weeks, and Jessica ...
Gift like no other: Julia and Lee Newton with daughters Emily, 7, twins Vivian Lee and Julia Grace, 2 weeks, and Jessica and Robert Satterfield. 

Julia and Lee Newton faced one of their darkest moments when they realised they couldn't have children without life-threatening complications.

Julia had her first child, a daughter named Emily, in 2007, but the pregnancy led to the development of an Rh incompatibility, which caused her body to create antibodies that would attack the blood of children she later conceived. She became pregnant in 2008 but lost the child at five months. She experienced the same in 2010 when she lost her second child, also at five months.

"It's hard to say which was more painful but that [second loss] had an even bigger impact, just as far as despair," Lee said. "You try to have a little hope but if you keep getting defeated, it feels like it's running out."

After medical tests and consultations, their doctor gave them sad news: they could continue to conceive, but future pregnancies would become not only life-threatening for the child, but more and more emotionally difficult to bear.

During those times, they moved back to their hometown. Soon after, Julia met Jessica Satterfield. The women became friends, often seeing their daughters together in preschool. And Jessica was there when Julia lost her second child, listening when her friend spoke about the difficulty of not being able to have more children.

"It just broke my heart," Jessica said.

Then one day, when they were at a school event, Jessica looked across the room and saw Julia holding a baby for another mother. All she could think was that she was able to have children and all Julia wanted was to have another child. It was at that moment that Jessica got the thought in her mind that settled in her heart and wouldn't go away. She thought about carrying a child full-term for the Newtons.

"When I saw Julia hold that baby, I just thought 'that is all she wants in the world and can't have it and that's just not fair'," Jessica said. "I didn't want a baby but I knew how much she [did], and I thought maybe I could carry for them."

She went home and started researching the possibility. She mentioned the idea to Julia and talked with her husband, Dr Robert Satterfield, who was supportive from the start.

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"Just from a personal standpoint, it's one of the most selfless acts you can do is to offer that," said Robert, an orthopaedic surgeon. "I call it an adventure because it was not one thing, it was a whole long process. Even from a medical standpoint, it was a very interesting adventure."

In early January 2013, Jessica talked with Julia in more detail and the decision was made.

The next several months were filled with medical tests, psychiatric evaluations and legal work to prepare for the road ahead. Lee and Julia were stunned and overwhelmed by the idea that came at a time when they were trying to decide how to have another child.

"How many women, especially in a small town - I don't care where you are - how does that just happen?" Julia said. "It just doesn't happen. We were just floored with overwhelming joy. It was like days we pondered on it and we just couldn't believe it was happening."

From Jessica's standpoint, she just wanted to give the Newtons what they'd always wanted, without getting anything in return.

"My gift was seeing their joy after seeing all their heartache," Jessica said. "It's just been so wonderful to be a part of something positive when there's so much negativity in the world."

Instead of being called a surrogate mother, where the surrogate provides the egg, Jessica was a gestational carrier for the Newtons. A gestational carrier carries the embryo of the parents through in vitro fertilisation. The procedure took place on October 27, and without a hitch, the two embryos that were transferred to Jessica resulted in a successful pregnancy. In fact, she was carrying twins.

There were coincidental dates during the pregnancy: the day Jessica tested positive was the anniversary of the day Julia lost her first child, and the day they learnt they were having twins was the anniversary of the second child's passing. 

"It's like God did a 360," Julia said.

The day Jessica gave birth, on June 27, when the babies were 38 weeks, the room was filled with medical professionals, the Newtons and Jessica's husband. The Newtons were in tears throughout the natural labour, and Julia cut the umbilical cord of the firstborn, Vivian Lee Newton, while Lee cut the cord of their second daughter, Julia Grace Newton. 

"I'm like still pinching myself right now because I just cant believe it," Julia said. "Look at what we've gotten: Emily's got two sisters. She couldn't be prouder. How could you ask for anything more than that? This is joy. This is just sheer joy."

Jessica says she experienced a bond with the girls during pregnancy, but that they "were never [her] children".

"We were done having children so it wasn't like we were desiring to have another. I took care of myself all during the pregnancy. I wanted them to be as happy and as healthy as they could be, and I watched over them as though I would if it were my own because that's the kind of person that I am," she said. 

"When I watched her cut the first cord, there was no sadness in my heart. It was all joy that it all came together."

The Newtons have experienced an outpouring of support and love from friends, family and others in their community, and couldn't be happier.

"I think we feel healed now," Lee said. "We really just wanted others to feel there is hope for them, too. We had hope that it was going to work out. We just had no idea it was going to work out like this."

MCT