BELLEFONTAINE — When Colleen Holman-Bodin gave birth to twins five years ago, it hadn’t dawned on her that she would one day be their principal.
But now that Chase and Chandler Daniels, the children of Colleen’s close friends Chris and Kristy Daniels, are walking the halls of Benjamin Logan Elementary School, Colleen has the chance to watch the children she birthed through surrogacy grow up.
For Colleen, it’s like watching her own children, but Chase and Chandler go home to another family at the end of the day.
She cherishes the unscripted moments — the random hug in the hall or the brief hello at recess — which happen on a near-daily basis after the twins started kindergarten this fall.
“They still hug me every time they see me, which starts a chain of hugs because their classmates think they’re supposed to hug me too,” she said.
Colleen, a 1995 Allen East graduate, wouldn’t have had this opportunity had she gone through a traditional surrogate agency.
For the Bodin and Daniels families, surrogacy is a normal part of life.
Their story started five years ago and will likely continue for the rest of their lives.
“We said from the very beginning, ‘You didn’t come from mom’s belly. You came out of Mrs. Bodin’s belly,” Kristy said.
Chase and Chandler understand. So do the Bodin kids.
It was confusing at first. Colleen and her husband, John, were candid with their children from the start: Colleen was carrying someone else’s babies.
The kids, Colleen recalls, wondered why they couldn’t keep one of the twins and give the other to Mr. and Mrs. Daniels. But they eventually came to see what their mother did for the Daniels family as normal.
Years of heartbreak
Chris and Kristy found themselves asking Colleen for help in a moment of desperation.
The couple wanted a third child to join son Carter, now 11, and daughter Georgia, now 10. But Kristy’s repeat miscarriages left the couple with few options and little hope.
While only 9% of men and 11% of women of reproductive age in the U.S. report experiencing fertility problems, according to the National Institutes of Health, the chances for infertility increase with age, especially for women. Older women are also more likely to miscarry.
About 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the University of California, Los Angeles School of Obstetrics and Gynecology. But anywhere from 30 to 60% of all conceptions end within the first 12 weeks of gestation, before most women realize they are pregnant. Those odds increase for women who have had multiple miscarriages.
The causes are many. A woman may have poor egg quality, causing genetic abnormalities. The parents themselves may have chromosomal abnormalities in their genes. Other times, abnormalities in a woman’s uterus, poor blood supply or weak immune system may cause a miscarriage.
About one-third of couples are unable to identify a cause, as was the case for Kristy and Chris.
“My doctor called it unexplained infertility,” Kristy said.
That frustrated Kristy. With no underlying cause, she wouldn’t be able to undergo treatment.
The Daniels were left with two options: Adoption or surrogacy.
The couple initially pursued adoption, adding their names to waiting lists in Indiana and Ohio. But when they learned Colleen was applying to be a surrogate, they warmed to the idea.
“It’s a scary thought, letting somebody carry your children,” Kristy said. But after years of suffering miscarriages, she and Chris decided to ask their friend to carry their third child for them.
‘She’s our angel’
Pregnancy had always been as easy as it could be for Colleen. She carried all three of her children – Winnie, 11, Lottie, 9, and Brooks, 7 – full term and had no serious complications with her pregnancies, which made it that much harder for Colleen to watch as friends and family members struggle to conceive and experienced repeat miscarriages.
She originally agreed to act as a surrogate for a relative, but that plan never came to fruition. Colleen then decided to apply with a surrogate agency and asked her friend Kristy to be a reference. Soon after, Kristy and Chris asked if she would act as their surrogate instead. Colleen immediately said yes.
“It seemed like I could help another family out,” she said. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
There were fears.
Colleen worried that she was putting her health at risk. And she worried that she may be forced to have a cesarean section, something she had never gone through before.
“At the time I got pregnant, I had a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old … Mom needs to still be there,” Colleen recalled.
But she never worried that she would become attached to the baby during the process, a risk for many surrogate pregnancies.
The mother-baby bond that develops during pregnancy takes an emotional toll on surrogate mothers, said Dr. Jay Meyer, a retired OB-GYN in Bellefontaine and a 1970 Allen East graduate.
“That’s one of the reasons why the legality of the (surrogate) contract has to be firm, because you can’t have a mother saying, ‘Well I bore those children, and now I want some claim to them,’” said Meyer, who acted as Colleen’s OB-GYN during the surrogacy. “That’s difficult for a mother who feels those babies inside her and has had children before to not develop that bond. But for most of the parents that are using a surrogate, they want to create a separation, so there’s not confusion.”
That wasn’t the case for the Bodin and Daniels families, who developed even stronger ties because of the surrogacy.
Colleen is now Chase’s and Chandler’s godmother. The Bodin and Daniels children are best friends. The families even live in the same neighborhood. Kristy and Colleen consider each other the sisters they never had.
“None of this would be possible without (Colleen),” Kristy said. “My husband says all the time: ‘She’s our angel.’”
One last shot
Kristy and Chris had tried everything up to in vitro fertilization, an option the couple still wanted to pursue after Colleen agreed to act as their surrogate. But Kristy worried that if she passed on Colleen’s offer, her friend would work with another couple instead.
“I don’t want to go through this process with anyone else,” Kristy recalled.
So they reached a compromise: Kristy would undergo IVF at the same time as Colleen. She set aside four eggs — two for Colleen and two for herself — and determined that this would be the only time she’d try IVF or surrogacy.
Both women underwent 16 weeks of progesterone injections to coordinate their cycles and prepare the uterine walls for implantation. As Colleen described it, she tricked her body into believing it’s pregnant with her own embryo.
When it came time for implantation, Kristy and Colleen scheduled their appointments for the same day in September. Then they waited for the call.
There was good news: Colleen was pregnant.
After years of failed pregnancies, Kristy was in for another letdown when she learned she was not pregnant.
“It was so emotional,” she said. “I immediately started crying, feeling like my body failed me … but at the same time, you’re so thrilled.”
The first ultrasound appointment yielded another surprise: two heartbeats.
Twins and triplets aren’t uncommon with IVF, as patients are typically implanted with multiple embryos to increase chances of a successful pregnancy.
That also made the pregnancy more risky for Colleen, who had only carried one child at a time during her past three pregnancies.
She didn’t want to slow down, despite the need for extra bed rest.
Twenty weeks into her pregnancy — one day after learning the sex of the twins — Colleen was rushed to the hospital after her youngest child, Brooks, fell on her stomach. She was diagnosed with a partial placental abruption, when a wedge forms between the placenta and the uterus.
“It’s a potentially serious problem,” Meyer explained.
In a worst-case scenario, the abruption could have ended Colleen’s pregnancy. But the abruption was caught and treated early, with about one week of bed rest required.
The rest of the pregnancy was fairly uneventful. The greatest risk with a twin pregnancy, Meyer said, is preterm labor. Even though the twins arrived several weeks early in May, Colleen delivered them naturally and without any major complications.
It was a surreal experience — almost like watching a movie — for Chris and Kristy, who delivered their first two children via C-section and were getting to cut the umbilical cord for the first time.
“Trying for years to do this, and then having your friend do it for you,” Kristy said, “the love that you have for the baby, but the love that I have for her for doing it for me.”
Colleen was relieved. She had done her job, and now her friends had two healthy babies.
She was onstage at Indian Lake High School, where she had worked as a guidance counselor, for graduation mere days after giving birth. And she was preparing to start a new role as principal of Benjamin Logan Elementary School in August.
Unlike most surrogate pregnancies, which cut off contract abruptly at delivery or soon after, Colleen continued to see Chase and Chandler.
She helped nurse and care for the twins over the summer. The only significant change, Colleen recalled, was seeing less of Kristy, who had accompanied Colleen on all her doctor’s visits throughout the pregnancy but was now busy caring for four children.
“I jumped back into life,” Colleen said. “That was big for me, to get back to as much normalcy as I could.”
Never be perfect again
Colleen has no regrets. But she doesn’t see herself volunteering as a surrogate a second time.
“There’s no way it would ever be as perfect,” she said, “between (my) health, experience with the family and getting to see (the twins).”
Kristy often says the two families were meant to cross paths.
Colleen and Kristy met in 2009, not long after Kristy and Chris moved to Bellefontaine. The couple had just purchased the Briarwood Sporting Club, a members-only hunting and fishing lodge in Logan County, and were introduced to Colleen and John during a club tour. The two couples crossed paths repeatedly — at tumbling class, the YMCA, Rotary Club meetings — and were both expecting their second child at the time.
While Colleen went on to have her third child soon after, Chris and Kristy had no luck in having their third until they asked Colleen to be their surrogate.
A sense of humor
About nine months after Chase and Chandler were born, Kristy learned she was pregnant with what would be her fifth child.
At first she was sad, believing this pregnancy would end in miscarriage, like others before it.
“I just really (thought), ‘You (know), I’m going to have five kids if I have this baby,’” Kristy recalled. “We have no family, we have no grandparents (in Ohio). What are we going to do? We own a business together. But then I’m probably going to lose this child.”
Kristy fell into temporary depression with her previous miscarriages, a common side effect for women who lose a pregnancy.
“Every time I lost a baby, I just wanted to stay in bed and mourn the loss. How do you do that when you have two 9-month-old twins crawling around and two older children? You can’t do that.”
Compounding Kristy’s fears was the recent passing of a close friend two days after she learned she was pregnant. She worried the stress of planning a funeral would cause a miscarriage.
But she was encouraged by her mother and Colleen, who were each excited to learn Kristy was pregnant again.
“And she’s here. By the grace of God, we had this little bonus baby,” Kristy said.
Kristy and Chris named their daughter Gracyn in reference to her unlikely birth.
“We always say, ‘God has a sense of humor,’” Colleen said. “She asked for one and ended up with three.”
There are now five children in the Daniels house, but Kristy can’t imagine it any other way.
“It’s just the way it was supposed to be.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.