Shortly after 8:00 a.m. on October 24, 2013, Chrissy Knott gave birth to a boy, Charles. “He sounds like a chicken,” she said, as the gurgling infant made himself known to the world. A couple of minutes later, a second boy, Thomas, arrived. Knott then looked on as her heavily pregnant sister Annie Johnston cradled the babies before carrying them away.
Johnston and older sibling Knott had often tended to follow the same path. They had both attended Ohio University, where they each met their respective husbands, Joby and James. Then they set up home just a few doors away from one other in Delaware County, Ohio.
While Knott had two young sons, Oliver and Wendel, Johnston was still waiting for a child to call her own. That’s because, after getting married in August 2005, she and her husband had decided to hang on for a while before having kids. Then the new year of 2008 arrived, and it felt like the time was right to start trying.
Sadly, though, nothing happened. “You just assume it’s going to work out when you want it to work out… but it was not the case,” Johnston said of the couple’s experience in a video from 2013. Consequently, she and Joby decided to try to boost their chances of falling pregnant. As a result, she underwent IVF treatment. But, heartbreakingly, there were still no positive pregnancy tests.
Determined to be parents, the couple underwent a further cycle of IVF, and in March 2011 had another two embryos transfered into Johnston’s womb. Yet still the longed-for positive test proved elusive. The disappointing news was hard for everyone. Watching from the sidelines, Johnston’s sister was distraught. “As an older sister I was just devastated,” Knott recalled.
It was at this point that Knott decided to step in. “I was just thinking, ‘What can I do to help them?’ You feel hopeless,” she explained in the video. “And the only thing I could think of was that if Annie for some reason couldn’t get pregnant and that was what was preventing them from having a child… then I would totally do that for her.”
However, Knott’s proposition, to help out by carrying the Johnston’s child for them, was perhaps a little too much for her sister and brother-in-law to take in at first. “When she first offered, we weren’t really ready to go that far, to ask her to do anything like that for us,” Johnston disclosed.
However, her selfless sister was undeterred. “At that point in time, it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s do this now,’ it was more, if you ever in the future, if it comes to this, I would be happy to try and carry a baby for you,” Knott recalled. And, after further heartache and more negative results, by the summer of 2012 the Johnstons were willing to give it a go.
“Last summer, we got to that point and we said, ‘We just want some babies,’ and if I carry them, or someone else carries them, it doesn’t really matter, we just want them to be here,” Johnston explained. So, she emailed her sister to check that she and her husband were “serious and cool” with the offer. Happily, they were.
So, with everyone on board, the decision was made to transfer embryos into both sisters at the same time. This way, the chances of a successful outcome would be maximized. And on Valentine’s Day 2013, doctors took eggs from the hopeful mom-to-be and fertilized them with Joby’s sperm. Then, five days later, two embryos were implanted into Johnston and two into Knott.
After a little while, the sisters got some great news: incredibly, they were both pregnant. It only remained to be seen how many embryos had been successful between the two sisters. Was it one and one – in other words, was each sister carrying one child? Or could it possibly be two and one? “Some crazy friend said that it was probably two and two and we were like, ‘No, it couldn’t be!’” Knott smiled.
But the sisters were wrong. At the first ultrasound, there was some exciting news. First up, the medic examined Johnston. “Doctor Williams found the first little sac with the flickering heartbeat,” Johnston explained, “and then he found one more.” Circling her tummy with her fingers, Knott added, “James looked at Joby and said, ‘Whatever is going on in here, they’re yours!’”
And there certainly was something going on. On examining the second sister, the doctor found two more heartbeats. “We just laughed,” Johnston remembers. “At that point, what do you do? You go from being so hopeful for something for so many years to having what we’re calling a baby explosion!”
As the pregnancies progressed, the sisters decided to have C-sections on the same day. That meant that technically the babies would be quadruplets. The sisters had already discovered that Knott was carrying two boys and Johnston two girls.
Then, after 38 weeks, the big day arrived. Charles and Thomas were delivered from Knott first, giving Johnston time to dote on her sons before it was time for her to go under the knife. And a short while later, Grace and Hadley were born, at 9:48 a.m. and 9:51 a.m. respectively.
After almost five years of trying, then, Johnston’s family was finally complete. Understandably, she was delighted and hinted at some divine help along the way. “We always had hope that God had a plan for us,” she said. Meanwhile, after the birth, the busy family enlisted the help of the sisters’ parents to assist with looking after their brood.
As for Knott, well, she said that she had been happy to effectively lend her womb to her sister for nine months – despite the toll it took on her body. “I guess it is a sacrifice as they’re renting my body [but] to me it’s completely worth it,” she explained.
Neither did Knott mind “giving away” the children she had carried for all that time. “I think of them as my nephews,” she said, “and I know I’ll be very involved in their lives. It would be harder if they lived far away.”
Moreover, if the situation had been the other way round, would Johnston have done the same for Knott? The thankful mom-of-four said that she would. “When it just comes out of love, you don’t really think about the consequences to yourself,” she clarified. “You’re just trying to help […] start a family.”
Furthermore, after more success than they probably had expected, Johnston has no regrets about asking her sister for help. “I was probably a little more relaxed this time because the pressure was off us a little bit,” she said. “So I can’t say had we not used her it would have worked out this way.”