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When a pregnancy went badly wrong for Jamie Pursley, she feared she would never have children of her own. Then her cousin made her the most generous o er a woman can make for another. They tell their stories to Abigail Pesta

our bond for life
It turned out I had a condition no-one had known about: a birth defect that had resulted in two small uteruses. The baby had grown too big for one of them and the womb had burst, creating massive internal bleeding. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on the verge of dying. A chaplain came to pray over me. I was too out of it to realise she’d been summoned to give me my last rites.  Hours later I emerged from surgery, alive, but with no baby and no uterus. My husband, Jake, was there, along with my parents. Everyone was crying. I told them, “It’s OK. I saw him,” referring to my baby. During surgery, as my child was being taken out of me, I had seen a vision of my grandfather holding an infant in a blue blanket. In the dream, my grandfather, a man I’d dearly loved and lost, held up my baby to show me, as if to say, “See, he’s

Her body, my baby...

The stunning proposal came on Christmas Eve. My cousin Kristen Broome offered to carry a baby for me, since I no longer had a womb of my own. She wanted no compensation, nothing in return – she simply wanted to help. She made the offer to my husband and me, her own husband by her side, at our home in North Carolina in December 2011 – the same month I had lost my own child and nearly my own life.  I had been 16 weeks into my first pregnancy when things had gone tragically wrong. I was 26 years old and studying to become a primary schoolteacher. One morning, I suddenly felt intensely ill after taking a final exam. I remember an all-over pain so extreme, I was unable to move or speak clearly. My professor called an ambulance and I was whisked off to hospital. 


Jamie Pursley (centre) watches as newborn son Liam is tended to by a nurse.

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Right: Kristen and Jamie react to seeing the baby’s face during a 3-D ultrasound two months before the birth. Below: Jake Pursley cuts his son’s umbilical cord as Jamie holds him for the first time.

An overwhelmed Jamie bonds with Liam. Above: talking to her unborn baby.

We decided to push ahead. Some friends advised us to wait, but Jake and I were both ready. We’d spent years waiting to get pregnant, saving up money and making sure the time was right. So we hired a lawyer and drew up a legal contract that laid everything out, with Kristen agreeing to give up the baby at birth. We addressed every possibility, down to details like the fact she wanted to drink a little coffee during the pregnancy. We agreed we would tell the child he had been carried by Kristen.  She and I entered weeks of psychological counselling to make sure we were ready. Then we both took fertility drugs to ready our bodies: my eggs would be joined with Jake’s sperm and the resultant embryos implanted into Kristen in the hope that one would take. In July 2012, two

alright.” That’s how I knew the baby had been a boy. We named him Robert William, after my grandfather.  My ovaries were still intact and the doctors said I could still be a biological mother, but that I would need someone else to carry the baby. It’s hard to describe the levels of sadness and confusion you go through after an experience like that. One thing that helped was Jake and I decided to start a foundation to help infertile couples like us sort through their options. We named it the Robert William Foundation, after our son. I was amazed by Kristen’s offer and also impressed by her thoroughness, as she had done a lot of research into gestational carriers. Jake and I both knew we wanted to do it. I remember feeling overwhelmed by Kristen’s generosity. She and I had grown up going to family gatherings together, but now we were busy adults; we weren’t

down to details like the fact that Kristen wanted to drink

We addressed every possibility,
a little coffee during the pregnancy
Jamie Pursley, Liam’s biological mother

in touch with each other on a regular basis. Her offer was incredibly selfless. At the same time, a new set of worries began. Twenty-two years old at the time, Kristen was juggling a job, a young son, and a husband who was about to be stationed overseas with the air force. I worried about relinquishing control of carrying my baby. I also worried that the child would bond with her and would want nothing to do with me. I knew there was a possibility Kristen could grow attached to the baby and not want to give it up. I didn’t think she’d do that – we were family; I trusted her. Still, there were so many unknowns. Biology is a powerful force.

embryos were implanted. They both took: Kristen was pregnant with twins.  Jake and I were thrilled, but a blow came soon after: Kristen lost one of the twins. I thought, here we go again; nothing is certain. Kristen and I saw each other regularly, and I spoke to the baby in her belly so he would know my voice. It was surreal watching her grow bigger with my baby boy. There were times when I felt jealous that she could carry him and I couldn’t. I began using a breast pump and taking drugs that would stimulate lactation and help me breastfeed. Then, last April, it all happened. The doctors induced labour and


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Jamie blogs about her experience at Her foundation is at

Kristen’s waters broke, gushing out and shocking me. It took just a few minutes for her to push the baby out. Jake and I were there and I helped the doctor deliver my son with my own hands – a simply incredible moment. He stared deep into my eyes, and I knew we would be fine. Moments after Jake cut the baby’s cord, I walked over to a chair and nurses helped remove my theatre gowns. Liam’s fresh skin was placed on mine. It was like electricity running through my veins, the moment my heart became whole. I just stared at him, repeating the phrase over and over in my head, “This is real – this is happening.” When Liam opened his eyes, he looked straight at me, and my worries about whether we would bond vanished. I recognised him not in a physical manner, but in my heart. Jake and I spent a little time with Liam and then Kristen held him. We were all very emotional. She said she didn’t feel a connection to him like she had with her own son, and I was relieved. Still, when she and I parted ways at the hospital, it felt strange because we had arrived together. I worried Kristen would feel discarded or used when she got home. We agreed to make time to see each other regularly. She is Liam’s godmother, and now we text and message nearly every day. Jake and I have always wanted two or three children. We have one more frozen embryo and plan to undergo this process again in a few years. I’d definitely recommend it to people who have no other means of having children.

Kristen and Liam just after his birth. Above: Kristen in labour. Above left: being discharged from hospital – Jamie (right) asked if she could experience the new mother’s wheelchair, too.

depression after the birth of my own son. My husband

I had suffered from postnatal
Kristen Broome, Liam’s surrogate mother

wasn’t sure I should become involved

When I told my husband I wanted to carry another woman’s baby, he had some serious concerns: What if I didn’t want to give up the child when the time came? What if there


was emotional fallout? I had suffered from postnatal depression after the birth of my own son. My husband wasn’t sure I should become involved. But my cousin Jamie needed me: she’d just lost a baby and her fertility in a traumatic medical emergency. I knew I could help. Honestly, I didn’t give it a lot of thought – it just seemed like the right thing to do. My life was in a bit of flux at the time. My husband, Lee, and I had been married two years earlier, when I was 20. Soon after, we’d moved to the UK when he was stationed there with the air force. I delivered our son, Hayden, while we were overseas, and then suddenly we all moved back to the US after Lee’s father was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Within months, Lee’s dad was gone. I was feeling a little lost. When I heard what had happened to Jamie, I found a purpose.  I did some research online to see if other women had suffered from emotional issues after carrying a baby for someone else. I didn’t think I would want to use my own eggs for the pregnancy, but I knew I could use Jamie’s and so I felt I could handle it. When I extended the offer to her, she had a look of relief on her face;

her husband looked dumbstruck. They went for it, and we spent weeks working out the legal contract and talking to a counsellor. During that time, I did worry about wanting to keep the baby, especially because everyone – my friends, the counsellor – kept asking if I really thought I could do this. They said I might not have control over my feelings. I worried that they were right: you can only be so strong. Still, we moved forward, and Jamie and I began taking intense hormone treatments to prepare our bodies. Lee was onboard with the pregnancy now, but he knew he would be deployed soon, which was a concern for all of us. In those early days, the hormones made me feel angry and evil, but something funny happened, too: my body felt really in sync with Jamie’s. One day, I desperately craved brownies. The same day, she did, too. Neither of us even really likes chocolate. When I became pregnant with twins in mid 2012, Jamie was thrilled and I felt happy for her. But after about 10 weeks, I lost one of the babies and I felt devastated, like I had failed Jamie. I struggled to shake that feeling. Yet, at the same time, I had an interesting realisation: I wasn’t as

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Kristen, Jamie and Jake celebrate Liam’s birth. “I had done this incredible, life-changing thing,” says Kristen. Right: Jamie in Liam’s nursery. Below: baby Liam, totally unaware of his special entry into the world.

emotionally connected during this pregnancy as I had been with Hayden. I wasn’t paying as much attention to the ultrasounds, eager to see every single thing. It was as if my body understood that this was another woman’s baby. I seemed to have a natural disconnect. Nonetheless, I still worried what would happen to me emotionally when I gave birth. I also suffered from major morning sickness and migraines. I grumbled to Jamie at one point about feeling ill and she said, “I would give anything to have those feelings.” After that, I felt sort of guilty and didn’t complain so much. Other issues arose, too. I was working at a credit union and taking care of Hayden, who was now two years old and demanding a lot of attention. He was confused by the trips to Jamie’s house and feeling needy. Lee, meanwhile, had left for Afghanistan. It was a tough time, but Jamie and Jake took good care of me and paid for expenses related to the pregnancy. Late in the pregnancy, Jamie wanted me to move in with her, but I thought it would be too confusing for Hayden. So we moved in with my mother, near Jamie’s home. It helped to have the extra support from my mum. I also spent several days a week at Jamie’s house. I knew she wanted me there full-time; it was a somewhat difficult time for us, working through that. Throughout my pregnancy, I spoke with Lee online every day. Oddly, the day I was due to give birth, he and I couldn’t really speak. He texted

I realised I didn’t feel any kind of
intense connection to him at all. Yes, there was a bond,

but it was more like he was a nephew
Kristen Broome, Liam’s surrogate mother

me moments before I began to push, telling me there was about to be a communications blackout on his base. I pushed out the baby in about three minutes, and it was amazing to watch Jamie becoming a mother. She held her new baby boy while I watched, and I knew I had done something really special. Anyone who has functioning parts can become a mother – but I had done this incredible, life-changing thing for someone else. About an hour later, I held baby Liam for the first time. It was very emotional, but not for the reasons I expected – I felt emotional because I realised I didn’t feel any kind of intense connection to him at all. Yes, there was a bond, but it was more like he was a nephew, not a son. Interestingly, when I held him, he wouldn’t look at me. He heard

Kristen blogs about her experience at

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Jamie’s voice and was looking around for her. I cried, mainly out of relief. When I left the hospital, I felt anxious to get home to my son, thankful that everything had gone smoothly. I knew that Lee, who had been so supportive throughout the process, would be home in just a few short weeks. However, in the days after I gave birth, new emotions arose. The journey was suddenly over and I started to feel left out. When I was pregnant, I had been needed; I was a huge part of Jamie and Jake’s life. Of course, I wanted them to be their own family and enjoy their new son, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit rejected now that I was on my own. My pregnancy belly was going down and something about that made me feel sad, too. It was all over.  Eventually, I told Jamie this and we agreed that we both should go to counselling to discuss our emotions in the wake of Liam’s birth. We went to our first session in July. My husband is home now and we’re talking about having another child ourselves next year. What I did for Jamie was both fulfilling and lifechanging. I’m proud to have done it. I

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