By Abbey Doyle Evansville Courier & Press, Ind.
Surrounded by traditional blue and pink décor, Sara McCarter excitedly went from loved one to loved one gripping Tara Pearce's hand.
"This is Tara, and these are my babies," McCarter said with glee, touching Pearce's burgeoning belly. "Eeee! I'm so excited."
The baby shower was something McCarter never thought she'd experience. As a teen she received the news no young woman wants to hear -- she'd never bear her own children due to a condition she was born with. But thanks to Pearce, McCarter and husband Zach McCarter will welcome their biological twins in April.
"I almost have to pinch myself," McCarter said. "This whole thing is a dream. I kept thinking, 'I can't believe I'm at my own baby shower. This is crazy.' Days later and I'm still saying that to myself. I never thought I would get the chance to celebrate this."
Even with the nursery nearly ready and just weeks left to go, there are days when the reality that she will be a mother to twins hasn't yet sunk in.
But then she'll see Pearce.
"I think, 'Oh my gosh, those are my babies,'" McCarter said, excitement plainly in her voice.
The two women, who hadn't met until Pearce heard about McCarter's quest for a surrogate, are now close friends talking daily; each say they have a lifelong connection.
While Pearce -- who has five of her own children ranging in age from 13 to 21 months -- is a little anxious about the delivery, she said, she's excited to play a part in making Sara and Zach McCarter parents.
"I can't wait for Sara and Zach to get to meet these little guys," Pearce said.
Just a few months before the embryo transfer the women hadn't even met. McCarter was working with Surrogacy Together, an organization whose mission is to raise awareness of the surrogacy process. The group doesn't pay for the process but instead works with professionals -- reproductive lawyers, surrogacy agencies, reproductive specialists, etc. -- who offer their services pro bono or at a significantly reduced cost making the financial burden one that the McCarters, both 28, felt they could bear. A typical surrogacy costs between $60,000 and $120,000.
McCarter was talking about her search for a surrogate at work when co-worker Chris Pearce, Tara Pearce's husband, overheard. The couple had talked about possibly being a surrogate before, so Chris Pearce approached his wife with the idea.
Part of the pregnancy McCarter's best friend Kerri Lane helped connect the two women knowing it was a good match. After a few meetings and a lot of legal paperwork the match was official. And Pearce agreed to being the surrogate with no financial compensation -- typically a standard part of a surrogacy arrangement. She'd been blessed with being mom to five children of her own and wanted to help McCarter experience that same feeling and couldn't imagine taking money, Pearce said.
Experiences like the baby shower, the countless ultrasounds, maternity pictures and baby classes are things McCarter never expected she'd do.
"Through our pregnancy I've been very lucky because Tara let's me experience as much as I can through her," she said. "She shares with me her cravings, crazy pregnancy dreams, their movement and doctor appointments. She lets me touch her belly when they are moving -- which I love -- and she plays my voice and my husband's reading to them via special belly headphones we got her so they can learn our voices."
Pearce couldn't imagine it any other way.
"Why wouldn't you have her involved?" she said. "They are her babies. I want her to feel as much like she is carrying them as she can. I feel sad she has to go through pregnancy this way. I want her to feel like it is her pregnancy too. It makes me happy for her to do these things with me."
The two families are getting maternity pictures next week so McCarter can "show and explain the love and beauty behind surrogacy. It's two families coming together to help create a family."
Some of the signs McCarter has made for the shoot include ones that read, "growing in my heart," "our buns" and "my oven." And each of Pearce's five kids will hold up a word in the phrase "Our mom makes blessed families" for the photos.
Lane has encouraged McCarter to be involved in every aspect of the pregnancy.
"Throughout this process I've reminded her that even though she isn't physically pregnant she needs to embrace this pregnancy as her own," Lane said. "This is her time."
Chances to educate McCarter and Pearce said the attention they've gotten from an October story in the Courier & Press about the surrogacy was difficult at first, but both are looking at it as a way to educate people about the process and to normalize it.
"So many people struggle with infertility but they just don't talk about it," McCarter said. "Now that I've shared my story so many people have told me theirs. I'll be out -- pumping gas, shopping -- and someone will stop me and say, 'You were in the newspaper,' and then tell me about their experience."
While shopping a woman told her about conceiving her twins through egg donation.
"It's nice to find people who have a common struggle as parents. And it is nice to know we aren't the only ones out there finding alternative ways to have kids."
While most of the time the women focus on education, each laughed saying sometimes it is fun to shock people.
"People will come up and talk about my belly and I tell them, 'Oh it's twins, but I'm not keeping them,'" Pearce said with a smile. "That got some strange looks. So now I tell people, 'I am carrying them for a friend.'"
McCarter said she prayed to find a way to become a mother, promising God that if she did she would do whatever she could to help others in her situation.
"I swore that I would make it worth it; I wouldn't just take my babies and run," she said. "I want to do whatever I can to help bring babies to the world. There are so many babies that should be here that just need a little help."
Opening the door to education often leads to questions that seem silly to Pearce -- will it be difficult for her to "give up the babies" to the McCarters?
"I love the babies like I love all of my friends' babies," Pearce said. "But I'm not giving up the babies. They aren't mine. I don't have a personal attachment to them. I know they are Sara and Zach's babies."
McCarter said she always sees a place for Tara and Chris Pearce in the family's lives.
"She's always going to be Aunt Tara," she said. "We will forever be connected now. I know they are always going to love our kids. I want them to be loved as much as possible."
Getting ready Over the last few months McCarter has been busy nesting. Zach McCarter has replaced doors and caulked windows ensuring the room is comfortable and safe. Sara McCarter is putting the finishing touches on the décor and figuring out where to put all the stuff she received form the shower.
Another way she's getting ready is by following the steps to induce lactation so she can breast-feed the twins.
"If I can nurture my babies in this way I definitely want to do it," McCarter said. "People don't understand why. But why wouldn't I? I've already used Tara's body. I already feel like I failed because I couldn't grown them in my belly and give them life; all I could do was give them my DNA. I just want to prove to myself and my babies that I'm a real mom, and I can provide for them in ways that moms do. Plus it is an amazing way to bond with the babies."