‘He was too small to be saved. Have $120,000 cash ready if you want to move forward.’ Our jaws hit the floor.’: Sister becomes surrogate after unexplained infertility, still birth

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“One in eight couples struggle with infertility. One in four pregnancies will end in a loss. I was one in both categories.

It all started in March of 2013.

We had just purchased our forever home, complete with lots of bedrooms ready to be filled with kids. It was time for the next chapter of our lives to begin, and we couldn’t be more excited.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

We tried to get pregnant the first month we were in our new house, with no luck. ‘It was a crazy busy and stressful few months!’ we justified. ‘Next month will be our month!’ we hoped.

The next month came and went. Then 3 months. 6 months. One year. What the heck is going on?

We visited multiple doctors… and everything checked out with both of us. Not only could they not find anything wrong with us, but all of the tests revealed we’re both extremely fertile people (at least on paper). We were dealing with ‘unexplained infertility.’

We tried all kinds of methods next: acupuncture to help with fertility, Clomid, IUI… still nothing. Each month that passed with no pregnancy made me feel heartbroken over and over again.

Fast forward to October 2015, about a year and a half later… we decided it was time. It was time to pursue IVF. The whole process was daunting and overwhelming. The appointments, the shots, the protocols, the FINANCES. Good lord, the financial aspect in and of itself can be so overwhelming, especially when your insurance covers NOTHING related to IVF (which was our case). But we were determined to do what it takes to become parents, so we dove in headfirst.

We were thrilled to have four healthy PGS tested embryos from our first retrieval. We dreamt of having two children, so it seemed like a perfect number! My first embryo transfer was on January 27, 2016. After the dreaded two-week wait, we got the call – I WAS PREGNANT! We hugged, cried, and immediately started dreaming of our life with kids. We were so ready to become parents and welcome children into a loving home.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

My pregnancy seemed like a normal pregnancy. Exhaustion, food aversions, and lots of nausea in the beginning. At about 8 weeks in, we found out we were having a boy! I couldn’t have been more excited. We decided to name him Jack McKinley. When it came time for our 20-week anatomy scan, everything looked great! He was healthy, I was healthy, and there were no issues. Phew, we made it halfway!

Then we hit 22 weeks. I started getting swollen… INCREDIBLY swollen. I still felt fine, but the swelling never went down. I decided to go to the doctor to make sure everything was okay. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

The intake nurse took my blood pressure. It was sky-high. She weighed me. I had gained 16 pounds in 1.5 weeks. THAT’S how swollen I was.

The doctor immediately sent me to the hospital for evaluation. I had pre-eclampsia, very early on. They admitted me to the hospital to try to regulate my body and keep me there until we could get Jack further along in the pregnancy, so he had a chance at life.

Unfortunately, my body started shutting down and we had no choice but to induce labor if I wanted to survive. It never feels good to have a specialist come to your hospital room, look at your lab reports, and look you in the eye saying, ‘I’m surprised you are even conscious and able to communicate with me based on what I’m seeing.’ I just sat there and shrugged my shoulders.

Our son, Jack, was born on June 17th, 2016, at exactly 23 weeks into the pregnancy.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

We knew he was too small to be saved. Not only was it super early on in the pregnancy, but he was a bit smaller than most at that week of gestation. We opted to not intervene with any kind of surgery, knowing he wouldn’t be able to be saved. He lived with us here on earth for 2 glorious hours. I like to think he felt no pain, physical or emotional during his time on Earth. He felt nothing but absolute and unconditional love for his entire life.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel
Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

I’m so thankful we had that time with him. It was oddly some of the happiest moments of my life. He was my first baby, my first son. I love him more than life itself. There truly is nothing like the feeling of a mother’s love.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

It was clearly one of the most devastating and traumatic times of our life. It feels like your heart is being ripped outside of your body. We were SO ready to be parents but instead, we had to come home to an empty house, after being in the hospital for 8 days.

Also, as a double punch to the gut, doctors strongly advised I not carry another pregnancy myself. My body did NOT handle pregnancy well, and they suggested there was a high likelihood the same thing would happen in subsequent pregnancies, even earlier on or worse (and mine was pretty bad). Losing Jack was such a traumatic event in my life, I couldn’t imagine ever having to endure that pain and heartbreak again.

We felt lost, hopeless, and alone.

Since we still had three embryos remaining, I felt a little bit of hope – surrogacy could be an answer for us! I scheduled an appointment with our RE when I was only a week or two out of the hospital, so we could discuss our options moving forward. I needed a plan. I needed to feel hope for our future.

Walking into the appointment, I thought, ‘surrogacy is our answer!’ Then we chatted with our doctor. I had NO IDEA how expensive surrogacy is. I was totally naïve to that world at the time, because we didn’t think we’d have to go down that route. Our doctor looked us in the eye and said, ‘Expect to have about $120,000 in cash on hand if you want to move forward with surrogacy.’

Cue our jaws hitting the floor.

I was now floundering. What were we going to do? It felt like we had no answers and no options to move forward. I vividly remember the feeling of desperation at that moment. I felt hopeless.

I only have one sibling: my sister, my best friend. She has three healthy daughters, who came into the world after three healthy pregnancies and deliveries. My amazing sister offered to carry a baby for us as our surrogate (gestational carrier), and I felt such joy, relief, and elation in that moment. A glimmer of hope entered our lives.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

My sister got pregnant on the first try with our daughter! We were so insanely grateful and happy. She went on to have a healthy pregnancy.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel
Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

Our daughter, Reagan, was born on September 20th, 2017. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. It felt surreal for a LONG time to have Reagan home with us. My heart was so full and happy. I couldn’t believe we finally made it… we finally had a happy, healthy baby home with us!

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel
Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel
Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel
Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

After a few months, I couldn’t help but think about our future.

My husband and I always wanted two kids, and we had two healthy embryos remaining. Would we ever be able to bring another baby into the world? How were we going to go about finding another surrogate to carry a baby for us? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know what to do. I scoured Facebook groups to see how other people found surrogates, independently of an agency.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

The only thing I could think to do at the time was to start putting the word out there we were looking for another gestational carrier. I’d tell anyone who asked (and even people who didn’t ask!). You never know when someone you talk to will know of a friend of a friend who might be interested, right?!

Well, friends, that’s exactly what happened, in a more roundabout way.

One day a friend of a friend of a friend gave me a call. She told me she found a surrogate who was experienced and was interested in a second surrogacy journey. She passed along her contact info, and a tiny glimmer of hope was starting to emerge! Could we really make this happen?

I met up with our gestational carrier, Lindsay, later that month. We met up for lunch and clicked instantly. It felt SO meant to be. We were on the same page with everything: she was open to moving forward with an indy journey (no agencies involved), she had surrogacy friendly insurance, and we agreed on all of the important topics (like no termination, compensation, etc.). PLUS we discovered she lived only 5 minutes away from me. What were the chances?! After many months of prep work that’s involved with any surrogacy journey (counseling, testing, legal documents), we had an embryo transfer in January of 2019.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel
Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel
Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

Our son, Wyatt, was born on September 23, 2019. We had finally completed our family. We have two beautiful, healthy children almost exactly 2 years apart. One girl, one boy.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

Still to this day, I feel like I need to pinch myself when I realize our family is complete. There were so many years of pain and heartache when I didn’t know how we would ever have a family. So many years of feeling hopeless, not knowing how to move forward.

But here we are.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

Because of our 7 year journey to complete our family, I also decided to start a new business called Around the Beanstalk. The name is a nod to my son, Jack, and the business was created in honor of him.

I believe every baby — whether it’s a failed embryo transfer, early miscarriage, late pregnancy loss, stillborn — deserves to be honored, remembered, and have their legacy kept alive.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

This simple belief is why I created the Beanstalk Binder. I want to give every person embarking on an IVF journey a beautiful way to document all of their babies in one place. It’s part organizer, tracker, and journal for your IVF journey. Every baby, even ones who were not able to survive outside of the womb, deserve a space in this world. Throughout my IVF journey, I often felt even more isolated because there weren’t any products geared towards me. There are pregnancy journals, yes. But what about the IVF portion? What about documenting my surrogacy journey? I took the reigns into my own hands and created a product that anyone struggling with infertility can enjoy… chronicling your IVF journey as you grow your family over the years.

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

Struggling with infertility is TOUGH. It’s an emotional roller coaster, and can be so heartbreaking. To everyone out there who might be feeling like I used to, PLEASE keep moving forward. Keep putting one foot in front of another, and you will get there, someway, somehow. The journey to grow your family might be a roller coaster and not look how you envisioned, but I promise it’s all worth it in the end. All of that worry and anxiety was worth it. We made it. There were so many tearful nights where I didn’t think we’d ever get here. But here we are — we’re on the other side, and my hope for all of you is you’ll all be standing right where we are, with a completed family, so very soon.”

Courtesy of Tina Heinnickel

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tina Heinnickel from Harrisburg, PA. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more touching stories like this:

‘My stomach was ‘without signs of life.’ I was uncontrollably weeping. The thing I was meant to do, I couldn’t.’: Woman recalls infertility and adoption journey, ‘Our world changed forever’

‘I was 6 weeks postpartum from a pregnancy that ended with me giving the baby up. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I sat, tears rolling down my face.’: Surrogate says ‘there is no greater joy than making somebody else a mama’

‘Not many husbands would support their wives bringing someone else’s baby into the world, but mine did.’: Woman births 2 rainbow babies after infertiliy, becomes surrogate for struggling couple

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