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When doctors told Kelsi Pierce that she’d never be able to carry a pregnancy, her mother Lisa Rutherford volunteered to be her daughter’s surrogate.
But just over a month after Rutherford’s successful embryo transfer, Pierce got the news she had always dreamed of hearing: She was pregnant as well.
Now, after three years of heartbreaking infertility struggles, Pierce is a mother to two baby girls — sisters who were born nearly two months apart.
Insider spoke to Pierce, 31, and Rutherford, 53, about their incredible surrogacy journey and what it was like going through pregnancy together.
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Kelsi Pierce and her husband Kyle began trying for a baby a year after they tied the knot in 2016.
The lovebirds, who currently live in Minnesota, first met while watching a hockey game at a bar.
“Our teams — the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks — are rivals,” Pierce told Insider. “We met and Kyle made a bet, saying that whoever’s team lost would take the other on a date. My team won and the rest is kind of history!”
But Pierce wasn’t getting pregnant, so she started visiting fertility doctors.
“They told me that my ovarian reserve was very low, so the number and quality of my eggs were not good,” Pierce told Insider. “We also found out that both of my fallopian tubes were blocked.”
Pierce’s doctor recommended IVF and was able to get five successful embryos from the first round. But then they discovered that Pierce’s uterine lining was too thin to carry a pregnancy to term.
“This is where our real struggles began,” she recalled. “We spent the next two years trying absolutely anything to thicken my lining.”
Pierce tried everything from estrogen medications and Viagra (which has been prescribed off-label to thicken women’s uterine lining for years, according to The Cut) to acupuncture, infusions, and different diets, along with multiple surgeries and tests. But nothing worked.
Pierce and her husband spent $60,000 — their life-savings — to try and get pregnant. Then doctors told her it just wouldn’t be possible.
“I was completely devastated,” she said. “I had always wanted to be a mom. We always had hope, even after every failed treatment, so to hear that nothing would work was so hard. It was very depressing.”
And when Pierce found out that surrogacy could cost more than $100,000, she knew it wasn’t an option for her and Kyle after they had already gone into debt.
“We knew we would never be able to afford that,” she said.
But Lisa Rutherford knew she wanted to help her daughter’s dreams of motherhood come true.
Rutherford was at one of Pierce’s doctor appointments in 2018 when she first saw a magazine article about a 57-year-old mother who had carried her daughter’s baby.
“My mom instantly told us she would do that for us,” Pierce recalled. “We didn’t take it very seriously because we thought my body would eventually respond to the treatments. But, after realizing that nothing was working, my mom kept bringing it up, telling us she knew how much we wanted a baby and she wanted to help make that happen for us.”
“It was so important for me to help Kelsi and Kyle realize their dream of becoming parents because of how much my husband and I have loved being parents,” Rutherford told Insider. “I knew we didn’t have the $100,000 that it would take to hire a gestational carrier to carry their embryo. It was the only feasible option at the time.”
Pierce and her husband were worried of the risks that Rutherford could face because of her age, but she was cleared by doctors and reassured her daughter that it would be safe.
Rutherford underwent an embryo transfer on February 7. Just days later, she found out she was pregnant.
Pierce was elated when her mother texted her a photo of the positive pregnancy test.
But just a month later, Pierce would see those same two lines herself.
Pierce was shocked when she found out she was pregnant in March.
Pierce was no longer seeing fertility doctors or taking special medications, but she took a pregnancy test out of habit. And she couldn’t believe it when she found out she was pregnant as well.
“I was completely surprised,” she said. “Especially after trying so many things, for so long, and nothing ever working.”
Pierce and Rutherford loved going through pregnancy together as they shared tips and cravings.
“It was an awesome experience,” Rutherford said. “Not only was I so excited for Kelsi to be able to carry a baby, but it was so fun to share our experiences with each other.”
“It was also helpful because I could ask her about symptoms I started experiencing and if she had them too,” Pierce added.
Rutherford made sure to eat right and get into the best shape possible, and said she felt far better during her third pregnancy than with her first two.
“I had prepared my body for this journey, so I was in good health,” she said. “My past pregnancies were when I was 21 and and 23 years old, and I had morning sickness often and was exhausted.”
Rutherford was supposed to have a C-section at 39 weeks, but her doctor decided to deliver three weeks early.
During her 36-week appointment on October 1, Rutherford’s doctor discovered that she had preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure, and decided to move up the delivery.
Pierce and her husband immediately jumped into their car and drove from Minnesota to Michigan — where Rutherford lives — to get to the hospital.
“It was scary to get the call that she was going to deliver Everly early, especially because we live 12 hours away,” Pierce said. “We rushed there and made it just in time for her birth.”
While the delivery went well for Rutherford, doctors discovered that Everly’s lungs hadn’t fully formed yet.
“Her birth was scary because she didn’t cry or have any color and all the nurses and doctors were rushing around trying to get her to breathe,” Pierce said. “We weren’t able to hold her and they just took her. We were taken to a room and told to wait.”
Everly then had to be transferred to another hospital with a NICU.
“The next day we got to hold her, and it was an amazing feeling!” Pierce said. “She progressed quickly in the NICU and we got to bring her home on my birthday five days later.”
After a week in Michigan, Rutherford drove back to Minnesota with Pierce, Kyle, and Everly to prepare for the next birth.
On November 23, Pierce gave birth to Ava and her daughter Everly became an older sister.
She now has two newborns at home, but Pierce is loving motherhood.
“It feels incredible to finally be a mom,” Pierce said. “It feels surreal as well. I just love to hold them and stare at them, they are just so perfect.”
Rutherford said it has been a joy to watch Pierce’s dreams come true.
“It is the best feeling to see Kelsi be a mom,” Rutherford said. “She is such a good mom and is a natural at it. It was rewarding to know that Kelsi and Kyle would have two children, and that I helped make that happen.”
Pierce and Rutherford said their journey has taught them so much about motherhood, and about each other as well.
“During this process I learned so much about infertility and the toll it takes on parents trying to conceive,” Rutherford said. “Kelsi and Kyle are so strong to stay hopeful during this long difficult process.”
Pierce said she also learned that her mother would “literally do anything” for her.
“She has always been the most supportive, caring, and loving mom,” Pierce added. “She has helped me achieve my biggest dream, and I’m forever grateful for her selflessness.”