Andrea Ott-Dahl selflessly volunteered to help her friends who were trying to conceive, and the mom was by all accounts an ideal surrogate. However, what was spotted in Andrea’s first ultrasound changed everything – and it led to some tough decision-making.
Andrea and her partner, Keston Ott-Dahl, live in Antioch, California, and together have five children. And when their friends, also a lesbian couple, were having trouble conceiving, Andrea wanted to help. “Our hearts went out to these women because we knew the joys of having a family,” Andrea would go on to tell ABC News in April 2016.
The couple had spent a quarter of a million dollars and six agonizing years trying to get pregnant – to no avail. They even tried to adopt but were turned down for being gay. So one night, after listening to the women talk about their difficulties with conceiving, Andrea discussed with Keston the idea of acting as a surrogate.
Keston was a little surprised – but nonetheless not overly so. Indeed, in an op-ed for website Pride, Keston wrote, “Don’t get me wrong: I knew Andrea was the rare type of woman who could make a baby for a worthy couple and then give it away. We already had a full house and we both anxiously counted down the years, months, and days when we would be free of the responsibility of raising our own children.”
“Still,” Keston wrote, “with a little persuasion, I agreed to Andrea’s surrogacy plans. It would only be one year out of our lives, right?” At this time, though, no one knew what the ultrasound might reveal or the effect that it would have on this timeline. But everyone involved, especially the couple, was thrilled that Andrea was volunteering for such an incredible task.
Because neither of the couple’s eggs were up to the task, Andrea used her own. But she, too, had some fertility issues that required some time to work through before she could conceive. After four unsuccessful attempts with treatment, however, Andrea looked elsewhere for a solution.
“We got hold of a turkey baster, and our friends got hold of some fresh sperm, courtesy of their best friends (a gay couple with their own agenda),” wrote Keston. Ultimately, the technique worked; in only three months, Andrea was pregnant.
Of course, everyone involved was overjoyed. “Baby names were being picked out and we began calling the baby ‘Peanut’ until we knew its gender,” wrote Keston. But this happy story was about to take an unexpected turn when Andrea and Keston went in for a routine checkup.
At the 12-week ultrasound, Andrea and Keston were expecting to learn the gender of the baby. And they did – it was a girl – but the doctor had yet more news. Specifically, he noticed some fluid build-up behind the baby’s neck – which meant that the baby could have Down syndrome.
The doctor duly did some further testing and then called the surrogate mother. “The baby has Trisomy twenty-one,” he told Andrea. That meant that the fetus had tested positive for Down syndrome. And everyone was immediately heartbroken, especially Andrea.
Doctors suggested terminating the pregnancy because they didn’t know whether the baby would be blind, deaf, autistic or worse. They didn’t even know if the baby would survive to birth. The couple Andrea was a surrogate for sided with the medical professionals, deciding that they were not interested in the baby anymore and encouraging Andrea to terminate the pregnancy.
But Andrea and Keston wanted to make sure they did their research before making such a big decision. They even visited a genetic counselor for advice – but, ultimately, left unsatisfied. In particular, they wanted to learn what raising a child with Down syndrome would actually be like.
“Andrea and I sat for countless hours watching these videos,” Keston told ABC News. “We saw kids that are actors, entrepreneurs, they get married… they do things that any kids can do.” So, against the will of their friends, Andrea and Keston decided to keep the baby and raise her themselves.
“We decided we loved [the baby] and that she was ours,” added Keston. The surrogate parents were so upset, however, that they briefly threatened to sue. Yet American law does not readily give that kind of decision to anyone but the pregnant woman, even if she’s acting as a surrogate.
So Andrea and Keston continued proactively researching the risks involved with Down syndrome births. They also found a supplement called choline, which Andrea started taking while still carrying the baby. Down syndrome is characterized by an extra chromosome, and choline has been shown to reduce the effects of that chromosome in mice.
And the mothers’ diligence proved helpful in their case. On July 2, 2013, Andrea gave birth to a baby girl. And though the baby had a heart defect that required surgery, other than that, the moms claim, she was completely healthy. Andrea and Keston named her Delaney Skye.
The couple enrolled Delaney in early intervention therapy for Down syndrome when she was just two months old. “And now three years later, against doctor expectations, we have an adorable and feisty toddler named Delaney Skye, who is ahead of or on target with ‘typical’ kids!” Andrea wrote on their website, DelaneySkye.com.
“She hits every milestone,” Keston added to ABC News. “All this early intervention paid off. Right now, she’s talking in five-word sentences. A lot of the time, kids with Down syndrome don’t talk until they’re five and sometimes they don’t talk at all.”
Andrea and Keston have since become very outspoken about their experience. Indeed, they hope to help other parents of children with Down syndrome find answers. To this end the couple have also published a memoir called Saving Delaney: From Surrogacy to Family.
“We just want to show parents out there – you don’t have to lose hope,” said Andrea. “You don’t have to terminate your child. Down syndrome is a label and that’s what society does. It doesn’t determine what people can and can’t do based on that label.” Indeed, as the website dedicated to their little girl states, despite her having Down syndrome, Delaney is, in their eyes, perfect.