After nine miscarriages in three years, Melissa Kayser had all but given up on having children. Fertility treatments and IVF had failed, and after looking into adoption she was told that she and her husband weren’t eligible. Heartbroken and feeling like a failure, Kayser began to think that she would never be a mom. Then, however, someone else’s pregnancy test revealed an unexpected surprise.
Kayser, from Omaha, Nebraska, works for a company that provides medical assistance by air. She met her husband, Court, when they both were serving the Army Reserves. After four years together, the couple married in 2015 and wasted no time in planning their family.
The couple were thrilled when they first learned that Kayser had become pregnant. Indeed, she admitted that she just couldn’t stop smiling. The smiles wouldn’t last long, though. Devastatingly, two weeks after the pregnancy was confirmed, the 33-year-old suffered a miscarriage.
The heartbreak didn’t end there, however. After two further miscarriages, Kayser was referred to a specialist. She then began a seemingly endless period of tests and fertility treatments, including IVF. And while the treatments were sometimes partially successful, each one nonetheless ended in the same way: with a miscarriage.
Following the ninth miscarriage, Kayser received some more terrible news. “The day the doctor told me that I will probably never be able to carry a child was one of the worst days of my life,” she subsequently wrote on a GoFundMe page. So, the likelihood that she would ever have kids of her own was receding.
“Most women want to be able to carry their own child, and I honestly felt like a complete failure as a woman,” Kayser wrote. She and her husband subsequently looked into adoption but found they weren’t eligible. Their hopes of becoming parents were kept alive, however, when surrogacy was suggested.
Initially, Kayser didn’t think that she’d be able to cope with watching another woman being pregnant with what was ultimately Kayser’s child. She began to warm to the idea, though, when someone close to home offered to be her surrogate. Yes, it was in fact her sister, Lisa Auten, who volunteered to carry her baby for her.
“It actually started as a joke,” Auten told KETV in February 2017. “It just kind of snowballed from there.” Her sister concurred, saying, “She tries to make a joke out of everything and she said, ‘I’ll let you borrow my uterus!’”
Moreover, after yet another failed IVF, the idea became very real. “I watched her go through loss after loss,” Auten told People. “[Melissa] would send me a text saying, ‘Another miscarriage.’ It was devastating to hear her talking about it, because she has wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember.”
There was a small catch, though: Auten didn’t fit the bill to become a surrogate. Typically, it’s necessary to already have children before being considered for surrogacy. However, Auten doesn’t have children, and nor does she have any interest in becoming a mother herself. Add to that their home state’s negative view of surrogacy, and the sisters faced an uphill battle.
Auten subsequently underwent extensive tests and psych evaluations to determine her suitability as a surrogate – a process that did little for her confidence. “All I could think was, ‘Why?! Do you think I’m crazy?!’ ‘Am I crazy?!’” Auten wrote in a blog, titled Growing Baby K, that she kept to document her journey.
Auten also did a lot of research on what’s involved in being a surrogate and gestational carrier. Moreover, it’s here that an important distinction had to be made. As a surrogate, her own egg would be used in the pregnancy. By contrast, as a gestational carrier, her sister’s fertilized egg would be implanted into her womb.
Despite the obstacles, though, Auten was given the green light, and after going through a dummy run she was ready to proceed. Still, there was one last decision to make: whether to implant one embryo or two. Doctors didn’t think one of the embryos would survive, so the sisters hedged their bets and opted for both.
The embryo transfer from Kayser to her sister went perfectly. Indeed, less than a week later, Auten performed a home pregnancy test, which returned a positive result. Wary of her prior miscarriages, Kayser remained cautious. At seven weeks, however, an ultrasound revealed something that not even the doctors had expected.
Auten was, in fact, carrying twins. “I told her [to] count again!” she laughed as she recalled the moment in an interview with KETV. “I think we were all a bit shocked,” Kayser admitted to Inside Edition. From then on, Auten had a trouble-free pregnancy, with the babies’ biological mom beside her throughout the process.
“Melissa was there every step of the way,” Auten told People. “She was the biggest supporter. I live alone, but she was always over and taking me to doctor appointments and ultrasounds.” It was an experience that brought the sisters closer together than ever before.
On March 28, 2017, Ashlynn and Tierney were delivered by C-section, having been carried to 36 weeks. But although Auten gave birth to the twin girls, biologically she is their aunt. Moreover, despite having enjoyed the experience, her feelings about becoming a mother haven’t altered.
“I never saw myself being a mom,” Auten explained to Inside Edition. “I enjoyed being pregnant, but the experience has not changed my mind − I am just fine being an aunt.” However, Nebraska law states that Auten must be named on the twins’ birth certificates despite Kayser being the girls’ biological mother.
As things stand, Nebraska’s statutes require that Auten gives up her parental rights in order for Kayser to adopt the twins. It’s a law that the women are currently campaigning to have amended. Nonetheless, the sisters have no regrets, with Kayser telling KETV, “It’s all worth it in the end.”
“Every day I am in awe,” Kayser told Inside Edition. “You hear women say you don’t really know love until you have children. They really do complete me. There’s never any words that I can say to thank [my sister] for what she did. She gave up a year of her life so that we could have a family. I could never repay.”