How a young cancer survivor’s dream of motherhood came true at Mary Greeley Medical Center.
Newborn twins are held by Jamie Wolds (right),
the biological mother, and Staci Mason,
who served as Jamie’s gestational carrier.
When twins are born, there's simply more going on. Twice the wee t-shirts folded in the drawer. Twice the diapers. Twice the anticipation. Twice the tiny fingers and toes. Twice the love.
Hannah Elizabeth Wolds and Carson David Wolds, twins born at Mary Greeley Medical Center’s Birthways in July, came into the world through the usual flurry of preparations for multiple births. But they also arrived against all odds, through a cancer diagnosis, in vitro fertilization, and a special relationship between two women that developed in the most unlikely of ways.
Jamie Wolds, 38, is the twins’ mother. At Birthways the day they were born, she was tremblingly, tearily overjoyed to hold them and look into their little faces.
“It’s really hard to put into words what I’m feeling. Overwhelmed. Elated.”
But it was Staci Mason, 37, who gave birth to the babies. She was a gestational carrier for the twins, who are the biological children of Jamie and her husband, Ian.
“Seeing Jamie and Ian with the family they wanted so much, it just feels right. I absolutely made the right decision in doing this,” says Mason, who had her own three children at Birthways.
“I don’t think there will ever be a way to adequately thank Staci and her family for what they’ve done for us,” says Ian Wolds, the twins’ father.
A long journey begins
Jamie, a self-described “Iowa girl” from Johnston and an Iowa State University graduate, was happily expecting her first baby with husband Ian in the fall of 2009 in San Diego, California.
It was not to be. A miscarriage sent her to the hospital for an ultrasound, where a technician bluntly asked her an ominous question:
“Do you want me to talk to you as an ultrasound technician or as a friend?” the woman asked.
“I was really startled and alarmed by her questions, so I said, ‘talk to me as a friend,’” says Wolds.
“I’ve never seen a uterus like this in all my 25 years of doing this,” the woman informed Wolds.
What followed was a uterine cancer diagnosis, caught early, but following close on the heels of the grief from losing a pregnancy.
“I was devastated, but also in shock and in fear for my life. They told me that my uterus would need to be removed, that I would never be able to have children. It was too much to absorb all at once,” says Wolds.
What was more shocking was discovering that women with uterine cancer rarely conceive. Because of the medical attention she received immediately following, the miscarriage may very well have saved Wolds’ life.
“They told me that women with uterine cancer never conceive, that it’s next to impossible. So the fact that I was pregnant in the first place was the first miracle. The fact that it was the reason my cancer was caught so early was the second miracle. I believe that baby was an angel that saved my life. I really do,” says Wolds.
Hope for a family
Wolds and her husband had to move forward, not only with a cancer diagnosis, but also with surgery and treatments that would take away her ability to bear children. It was too much, she says, to process all at once, and yet a lot of enormous decisions had to be made, and quickly.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I was awakened to the fact that life was a gift, something to make the most of. I could waste time feeling sorry for myself, or I could take the opportunities that presented themselves to me.”
The Wolds decided to harvest Jamie’s eggs before her cancer treatment in the hopes they could still realize their dream of a family. She spent the Christmas of 2009 in the hospital to undergo the harvesting procedure, which resulted in 12 frozen embryos.
In January her cancer treatment started, beginning with surgical removal of her uterus. Her treatment was successful, and Wolds’ cancer is now in remission.
In 2011, the Wolds began their search for a gestational carrier. The task of finding the right woman seemed overwhelming as they made a list of the qualities they wanted.
“How was I ever going to find the perfect, beautiful woman to bring my babies into the world? I hoped she was out there somewhere.”
An answer close to home
Ian and Jamie Wolds hold the twins as they share a
moment with Bryon and Staci Mason in one of
Birthways’ 13 labor, delivery, recovery and
postpartum (LDRP) rooms.
While the Wolds began consulting with surrogacy agencies in their search for a gestational carrier, the answer to their hopes and dreams turned out to be a little closer to home, in the form of Jamie’s mother, who just as badly wanted to be a grandmother.
Jamie’s mother is close friends with Staci Mason’s mother. One day while Staci, who lives in Huxley, and her mother were talking about the Wolds and their dilemma, Staci blurted out, “I’ll have a baby for Jamie.”
“It just sort of came out of me. I’d never met Jamie and Ian, but I’d heard their story from our mothers and was moved by it. I have three children of my own, and the idea that Jamie would might never get to experience motherhood touched me.”
The two women met for the first time in July 2011, and an emotional connection was made.
“Staci told me, ‘I’m serious. I’m healthy, and I’m willing to carry your babies.’ I was blown away by her complete selflessness, by her entire family’s generosity,” says Wolds.
“I thought a long time about it before I committed,” says Mason. “Bryon (Staci’s husband) and I researched it, talked about it, tried to envision every possible turnout, every possible scenario before we agreed.”
It was not a situation either family entered into lightly. Not only were there medical requirements that Staci had to meet, there were other considerations involved, like psychiatric counseling and legal arrangements. Staci and Bryon had to know that their children, ages 16, 14 and 13, were comfortable with the idea. Though there were many medical, emotional and legal factors to consider, everything necessary for the implantation procedure to happen eventually fell into place. When the embryos were placed in Staci in December 2011, there was a 60 percent chance of one embryo resulting in a pregnancy, and there was a 20 percent chance of two embryos resulting in pregnancy. In January it was confirmed: Staci was pregnant with twins.
It was, both women says, a unique experience for the pregnancy to be taking place half a continent away from the expectant mother Jamie, who now lives in Seattle, Washington.
“We kept in contact via email and phone calls. I flew home to Iowa for some of Staci’s ultrasounds, and in March I could feel a slight little kick. It made me cry,” says Wolds.
“I wanted to make sure Jamie got updates from me and that she felt like she was part of the pregnancy and part of the babies’ development. I’d tell her when Carson had hiccups or when they were really active inside me. At the same time, I knew it was really bittersweet for her that she couldn’t experience it herself.”
“Staci took excellent care of her health and the health of my babies. I made the right choice in her; she was so conscientious,” says Wolds. Mary Greeley Medical Center physician James Downard oversaw Staci’s pregnancy and delivery, as he had in all three of Mason’s own children.
“I had a comfortable, trusting relationship with Dr. Downard from my own three children, and that continued through the unique situation we had going on here,” says Mason.
Both families realize that the connection made by the new little lives of Hannah and Carson is a permanent one.
“Bryon and I will always hold these children close to our heart, like extra special godchildren,” says Mason.
“This opportunity opened a door for us, and we decided that as long as the doors kept opening, we’d keep walking through them,” says Staci’s husband, Bryon. “Jamie and Ian make beautiful babies, and our family was blessed to play a part in getting Hannah and Carson here.”
“The Masons showed up in our lives at exactly the right time, like it was part of God’s plan,” says Wolds. “They delivered our angels to us, and we’ll always be deeply grateful.”
On the Rise
Surrogate or gestational carrier births are an option for many.
Hanna and Carson Wolds in Birthways at
Mary Greeley Medical Center.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, the number of infants born to surrogates or gestational carriers almost doubled from 2004 to 2008, from 738 births to nearly 1,400.
Mary Greeley Medical Center sees an average of one surrogate delivery per year, says Terrie Greco, RNC, BSN, clinical supervisor for Birthways.
Traditional surrogacy involves a woman undergoing intrauterine insemination with sperm from the man who wants to be the legal father. With a gestational carrier surrogacy, an embryo is transferred to the woman who agrees to gestate the baby. The baby has no genetic material from the carrier.
Birthways works with the family to prepare for a surrogate or gestational carrier birth before the baby’s arrival, says Greco.
“They usually meet with me and a social worker about three to four months before delivery. In addition to meeting the needs of the surrogate or carrier, the parents are welcome to stay at Birthways so that plenty of bonding with their newborn can take place. We want to do everything we can to accommodate them and get the families off to a good start,” says Greco.