Fertility specialists aid mother's gift: Carrying her daughter’s child
Cervical cancer survivor Emily Jordan and her husband, Mike, are proud parents thanks to University of Chicago Medicine oncology and fertility specialists and to Emily's mother -- who served as a gestational carrier.
Before Elle Cynthia was born on August 30, 32-year-old Emily anxiously awaited her daughter's due date with her hand on her silver-haired mother's pregnant belly.
Beaming the same wide smile as Emily, Cindy Reutzel, 53, joked that she became a gestational carrier for her daughter because she loves being a grandmother to her son's two boys.
"It's my selfish motivator," Cindy kids.
Thanks to Cindy's willingness to carry her daughter's child, and the efforts of their University of Chicago Medicine physicians and staff, she and Emily are able to laugh together and share in the joy of the 7-pound, 12-ounce newborn's arrival.
"The Medical Center physicians are some of the most amazing people I've ever met," Emily said. "And to me, this grand gesture by my mom is a continuation of everything she's always done for me. As a mom, she's doing everything she can to provide me with a full life."
Emily is in high spirits as she looks toward a bright future for her daughter. But there was a time when a happy outcome seemed an impossibility.
Two years ago, Emily was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her best option for recovery: a radical hysterectomy. For a young woman set on having children, this was devastating news. With a heavy heart, Emily opted to undergo the radical hysterectomy. But Diane Yamada, MD, chief of the section of gynecologic oncology University of Chicago Medicine, lessened the blow.
"She was and has been so compassionate and loving to me and my family throughout this whole thing," Emily said.
Dr. Yamada explained Emily's ovaries could be spared and the eggs they held could be used for in vitro fertilization.
"This was a very difficult situation to put her in and it required a remarkable person to be able to digest all the information we gave her in a very short period of time," Dr. Yamada said. "But there was essentially no going back for her once the decision was made. So we felt it important to present her with as much information as we could. My philosophy of compassionate care is to present the patient with her options in a sensitive way and support her in whatever decision she makes for herself."
Following the several-hour surgery, Cindy never skipped a beat.
"It was pretty much right after surgery when my mom and I talked about how devastating this was and she said, 'I'll carry your baby for you,' " Emily said. "My husband, Mike, and I thought it was an amazing offer, but we didn't think it was realistic."
Cindy continued to reassure Emily. "For me, being a parent is one of the greatest joys and accomplishments in life. For her to not have that opportunity -- the idea was devastating to me," Cindy said. "I wanted her to be able to have a relationship like I have with her and her brother."
After taking time to recover physically and emotionally, Emily decided to give her mother's offer a chance.
They were referred to Helen Kim, MD, director of in vitro fertilization in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine, and her colleague, David Cohen, MD, associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, who ran numerous physical and psychological tests. Cindy, Emily and Mike passed with "flying colors," Cindy said.
The medical team then walked the Jordans and Cindy through every step from paperwork and progesterone shots to extracting Emily's eggs, creating embryos in a lab and placing the embryos in Cindy's body. Once they were able to confirm a viable pregnancy, Cindy was on her way to what doctors have called an impressively normal pregnancy.
As the executive director of the Chicago Association for Research and Education in Science, which supports research initiatives at local VA hospitals, Cindy believes that the last year has been an embodiment of many things.
"Doing this gives me a new appreciation for the positive outcomes of research," she said. "This is what research is about -- to provide opportunities for people to be healthier or do things they wouldn't be able to do otherwise."
For Dr. Kim, making the right connections between physicians, surgeons and fertilization experts is key to successful and happy outcomes. "I think people are becoming more aware of their options following surgery, and I hope this will lead to the creation of many more beautiful families," she said.