When Kylie met Amee they became BFFs, but neither foresaw the tragedies that would test their friendship and lead one to make the priceless offer: "I'll carry your baby".
As Kylie Raftery was curled up in a hospital bed dazed after surgery that had stopped her bleeding to death, the last thing on her mind was altruistic surrogacy. Drugs masked the pain of the life-saving surgery but nothing could ease the agonising loss of her first child – a daughter, stillborn.
Outside the room in Sydney's Westmead Private Hospital, her friend Amee Meredith was waiting. It was almost Christmas 2008 and Amee had flown overnight from her home in Darwin to be with Kylie.
Amee's mind was racing with worry. She was mother to three healthy children – did she even have the right to turn up at the Sydney hospital to support Kylie?
But they were best friends. She knew she had to be there. When Amee went in, Kylie was initially shocked to see her.
She smiled. Then she burst into tears. Amee started to cry too, then without a word she climbed into bed alongside her friend and cried with her for a long time.
Friendship means many different things to different people.
To an outsider, it looked as if Kylie and Amee laughed a lot, teased each other, drank a lot of wine. But beyond that lay fierce loyalty, protectiveness and moments of intense vulnerability.
In those first muddled days after Kylie lost her baby daughter, a midwife told her another pregnancy could be fatal – for both mother and child. Consider surrogacy, the midwife advised.
Amee didn't hesitate. "I'll carry your baby tomorrow," she told her best friend.
Surrogacy is complex and controversial. Commercial surrogacy – banned within almost every states and territory – can be fraught. The now notorious "baby Gammy" case in 2014 was a perfect storm for opponents of commercial overseas surrogacy. Even altruistic arrangements can go wrong despite the best intentions.
Medical advances have increased fertility options, but social, moral and legal frameworks struggle to keep up. The differing laws between Australian jurisdictions are such a mess that a federal parliamentary inquiry is considering a multitude of changes. Its recommendations are due within weeks.
But when the midwife first mentioned surrogacy, Amee and Kylie were oblivious to all that, consumed with grief for the baby girl that Kylie had named Sophie.
Later they would come to know what it felt like – the questioning of their motives, the criticism of their choices. It takes strength, conviction and love to weather those moments.
Amee and Kylie had met 10 years earlier at a Sydney software company. In 1998, Amee was 18, just split from a boyfriend and killing time before she could get into the NSW police academy. Kylie was 24 and emerging from a broken marriage. They were both keen to party and started spending time together outside work.
Later, Amee left the company to enter the academy. She became a police officer, fulfilling her professional dream, and she also met the love of her life, Brett, at the academy.
Amee began her police career and then, by a coincidence that some call fate, she and Kylie ended up living in the same NSW country town, Bargo, for a while during 2001-02. The Bargo interlude cemented their friendship.
By the time Kylie returned to Sydney, after a relationship break-up, she was pivotal in Amee and Brett's lives. She filmed the births of their first two children, Samuel and Jordy, in 2004 and 2005.
Neither of the births were easy – Amee had retained placentas and bled copiously. Watching her friend undergoing such traumatic births was frightening. "But that's our relationship – nothing's too hard or scary for us," Amee says.
Back in Sydney, Kylie longed for a family of her own. Several miscarriages, each requiring surgery afterwards, had buffeted Kylie's self-esteem, affected her health and created tensions in her relationship.
Secretly, Amee was worried about her. So she was quietly relieved when Kylie met a new man, Adrian Raftery, in 2007.
Kylie and Adrian married quickly. He knew about the miscarriages, but they were keen to start their family. Just before Christmas that year, 2007, Kylie saw a specialist. She had corrective surgery for Asherman's Syndrome, a condition where parts of her uterus had fused.
In the meantime, Amee and Brett had their third child, Abbey, via C-section. Amee declared her childbearing years over and had her fallopian tubes tied. She could not imagine carrying another child.
Amee and Brett transferred from NSW to the Northern Territory police early in 2008. Their last catch-up with the Rafterys was at Abbey's christening.
Although she felt it deeply, Amee did not articulate how much she would miss her best friend. She stubbornly refused to utter the dreaded word – goodbye.
At least, Amee thought, she was leaving Kylie in Sydney, happy with Adrian and ready to start a family – settled after years of uncertainty.
Then everything fell apart, when Kylie's daughter Sophie was stillborn at 32 weeks.
Despite her earlier gynealogical issues, Kylie had fallen pregnant soon after Amee and Brett moved to the NT. But at 32 weeks pregnant, Kylie woke up one morning in excruciating pain. She rang Amee in Darwin to ask what labour felt like.
"That was probably the most important phone call I ever had with her," Amee says. "Because I told her to phone the hospital. If she hadn't been in hospital, she would have died …"
Kylie's uterus had ruptured, the old scar tissue proving fatal for her baby and almost for her too.
After Sophie's death, Amee felt uncharacteristically helpless. "Your whole friendship, everything else is doable … she breaks up with a boyfriend, I'm the one threatening to kneecap him, she's drunk at the pub and I'm the one picking her up. Everything else was achievable. Except for this."
Amee returned to Darwin, anxious that her chaotic life as a mum would be too painful for Kylie to hear of. Kylie would give anything to be in that situation.
The demands of police shift work and a young family meant Amee and Brett were fighting, too often, but they agreed on one thing. They wanted to help Kylie and Adrian have a healthy baby. Brett was excited, he loved Kylie too.
But after visiting them in the NT, Kylie was worried about her friends. She thought they needed time to focus on their relationship and told Amee so. Amee was deeply frustrated.
Then, from nowhere, another sudden death left the two friends shattered.
Late in 2009, Amee was seconded to an Aboriginal community 350 kilometres from Katherine, where they were now living. Brett stayed in Katherine with the kids.
After midnight on New Year's Eve, Amee was working. Back in Katherine, Brett was off-duty for the night. He got into a nightclub fight. A colleague rang Amee to say that Brett had been knocked out and ambos were at the scene.
Amee's initial reaction was anger. "I was annoyed with him for getting involved," she says.
Amee drove back to Katherine through the first dawn of 2010. A new year filled with possibilities. But when she got to Katherine Hospital, she found Brett's condition was serious. They were flown to Darwin Hospital where Brett had emergency surgery.
"They had to remove part of his brain," Amee recalls. It was the harshest of realities. Brett had a 1 per cent chance of survival, the doctors said. And even if he survived ...
During the unbearable hours that Amee grappled with Brett's life and death, Kylie turned up.
"I remember seeing her and just losing it," Amee says.
It was little more than a year since Amee had flown to Kylie's side and Sophie had been stillborn.
Brett's life support was switched off the next day and Amee's future felt defined by the loss: she was a widow with three kids under six.
When asked whether their losses, so close together, strengthened their friendship, Kylie's eyes fill with tears. "I was in no fit state to support her, she was in no fit state to support me."
But somehow it worked.
Amee remained desperate to be Kylie and Adrian's surrogate. She needed it. But Kylie told her to focus on herself on the kids.
Kylie and Adrian instead found in the ACT another surrogate, who carried their baby. Their son, Hamish, was born in Canberra Hospital in July 2012.
While the Rafterys were immersed in the complex world of surrogacy, Amee was barely coping.
She was grieving, juggling police shifts and looking after three kids – one diagnosed with autism. Then she sat through a harrowing, prolonged 18-month manslaughter trial over Brett's death.
Amee was also overcome with jealousy that someone else (the ACT surrogate) was giving her best friend Kylie the gift of life.
"The selfish part of me was devastated. That was something that I was meant to be doing," Amee says. "I felt like I owed it to Brett and I was letting him down, letting everybody down."
The friendship weathered these difficult feelings. Amee kept them to herself, but Kylie knew.
By the time Kylie and Adrian started talking in 2013 about a sibling for Hamish, Amee believed she was ready. Four years had passed since Brett's death. She had received counselling, given up shift work and had a new partner.
In the meantime, the Rafterys had moved to Melbourne, partly because they were considering using an overseas commercial surrogate, which is illegal from NSW.
But Amee wouldn't let someone else take the job second time around. One day early in 2014, she got off the "red eye" flight from Darwin and headed to a Melbourne IVF clinic with Kylie.
Amee was good at carrying babies, but Kylie was worried her friend's birthing history (the retained placentas) might put doctors off.
"When they said Amee was [medically] fine to go, you could have picked both our jaws up off the floor," Kylie says.
Amee and her new partner, Richie, underwent counselling and psychological testing, as did Kylie and Adrian.
Kylie and Adrian's embryo was transferred to Amee in March 2015. It turned into a viable pregnancy. "I FaceTimed her from the toilet with the pregnancy test," Amee says, laughing.
One night early in the pregnancy, after Amee had some bleeding, she dreamt of Brett. "He told me to stop stressing and that everything would be OK." She rang Kylie the next morning and they cried together.
Because there were no surrogacy laws in the NT, where Amee lived, if she gave birth there Kylie and Adrian wouldn't be recognised as the parents and would have to try and adopt the baby. So Amee needed to give birth in Victoria.
Thirty-five weeks into the pregnancy, Amee started getting pains. The doctor didn't know if Amee was in labour but said she should fly south in case.
It was a false alarm. But two weeks later, Amee was sitting on Kylie's couch in Melbourne late at night, watching a true crime show, when her waters broke. She ran to Kylie's bedroom leaving a trail of fluid on the floor tiles. The two friends laughed hysterically.
On November 27, 2015, Amee gave birth to Kylie and Adrian's healthy daughter, Zoe, via C-section, at a hospital on the Mornington Peninsula. Kylie gripped her friend's hand tightly throughout.
It was difficult for Kylie to witness. She felt responsible for the pain Amee experienced. "It's hard to see someone you love go through something so excruciating [just] for you."
Afterwards, Kylie took baby Zoe and placed her tenderly on Amee's arm.
The birth resulted in Kylie's precious second daughter. But Amee also received an immeasurable gift.
"It allowed me to complete a chapter of my life … to have closure. It was something that I needed to do for Brett," Amee says.
While this surrogacy delivered untold happiness, not all are as straightforward. And not everyone believes Amee had the right to carry her friend's child.
One submission to the federal inquiry likened surrogacy to the work of Hitler and, while she was pregnant with Zoe, Amee endured comments that she would not be able to give the baby up.
Kylie says this kind of analogy is upsetting. "I don't think they should make those judgments until they've been in those shoes," she says. "We didn't know what surrogacy was until Sophie died."
The future of surrogacy in Australia hangs in the balance. Some submissions to the federal inquiry call for a ban on surrogacy altogether, similar to changes recently proposed in Sweden. Others want wider access to surrogacy, including commercial arrangements within Australia.
Amee has little time for those who want surrogacy banned, or for those who questioned her motives. She had witnessed her friend's immense suffering. "I've seen the pain, the loss and grief. I watched Kylie break … [This] was about giving her something that was taken away so brutally."
AUSTRALIA'S SURROGACY LAWS
Commercial surrogacy is illegal within Australia (except in the NT)
ACT – Altruistic surrogacy allowed for couples. Overseas commercial surrogacy banned since 2004.
NSW – Altruistic surrogacy allowed. Overseas commercial surrogacy banned since 2011.
NORTHERN TERRITORY – No surrogacy laws.
QUEENSLAND – Altruistic surrogacy allowed. Overseas commercial surrogacy banned since 1988.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA – Altruistic surrogacy allowed for heterosexual couples, not for single people or same-sex couples. Overseas commercial surrogacy allowed.
TASMANIA and VICTORIA –- Altruistic and commercial surrogacy allowed.
WA – Altruistic surrogacy allowed for heterosexual couples, gay female couples, single women, not single males or gay male couples. Overseas commercial surrogacy allowed.