The first onesie mom Melanie Biver put on newborn Blake had a red-letter message: “My aunt is kind of a big deal.”
And she is.
Aunt Emily Werner was the surrogate for her brother Bob and his wife Melanie, of Fairview Heights.
“My husband Rick and I have three children of our own,” said Emily, a Kirkwood High math teacher who lives in Fenton, Mo. “I thought Bob and Mel deserved a chance to be parents. They would be such good parents. I thought they might not get that chance.”
Never miss a local story.
Blake Emilya — named for Emily — Biver came into the world at 9:11 p.m. July 8 at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis.
“It was a long induction,” said Emily, who turned 36 the day she gave birth. “She wanted to stay in there. All of mine were seven-hour labors. She was 12. She was comfortable. As soon as she was ready, it was easy peasy.”
Bob and Mel were in the delivery room.
“Bob was able to cut the cord,” said Melanie. “He handed her straight to me.”
She pronounced the moment “overwhelming, a rush of emotions, happy, excited, tearful, all at once.”
Blake Emilya has a pretty complexion and light brown hair.
“She kind of looks like me when I was a baby,” said the new mom.
Two days later, Melanie and Bob brought baby Blake home to their neat ranch home near Pleasant Ridge Park. Blake may not notice for a while, but her parents created a charming room with a purple, yellow and gray color scheme. A yellow stand held baby photos of Melanie and Bob. Another photo showed pregnant Emily in the foreground with Melanie and Bob behind. A handmade quilt rested on a bed rail. Racks of new books, waiting to be read, lined a wall.
“We have several children’s books about surrogates,” said Melanie. “They will be in her room.”
Emily and Melanie sat alongside each other at Dr. Amy Ruggeri’s West County office on July 1, then went in to see the doctor together — something they did throughout the pregnancy.
“It’s been very crazy, but very good,” said Emily of the surrogate experience. The pregnancy was normal, but the lawyer stuff and psychological stuff was a surprise.
“You don’t know till you get into it,” said Emily. “It’s all been good, but more than I knew going in.”
Their best advice: Communicate. Talk things over with each other and all involved.
What did Emily’s husband Rick think of the idea? “He wasn’t so excited,” said Emily. “He said, ‘I will support you. We have three of our own. They deserve at least one kiddo.’ I don’t think a husband is ever happy to have a pregnant wife. Let’s be honest.”
Rick, a network analyst for Sinclair & Rush Inc. in St. Louis, helped.
“He did things I can’t do, such as getting down on the floor and playing,” said Emily. “In the beginning, they didn’t want me to lift anything over 10 pounds.”
Emily, who has a can-do personality, took each challenge in stride. How did she explain the situation? It depends if you were a good friend or not.
“I’d say, ‘I’m pregnant with my brother’s kid.’ For people I didn’t know, I would just say, ‘I am being a surrogate for my brother and his wife.’ Every reaction has been positive. It’s an interesting conversation to have.”
Even more interesting when she talked to her three sons, Jake, 10, Gavin, 7, and Sam, 4.
“I bought a book, ‘The Very Kind Koala,’ about a surrogate. I also told them, ‘Mommy’s doing this for Bob and Mel.’ The 4-year-old was confused at the beginning. He said, ‘I am going to be a big brother?’ ‘No, you are going to be a big cousin. That’s Mel and Bob’s baby.’”
That’s Emily’s mindset, too.
“I feel like I am pretty strong mentally. This is not my baby. I’m just carrying her. I think I will be OK. I think everything will be just fine without having a newborn and being sleep deprived.”
Melanie, 35, a respiratory therapist for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, looked forward to all the things that come with a newborn.
“I’m nervous, excited,” she said a week before her daughter was born. “It’s all the emotions.”
Dr. Ruggeri delivered Emily’s three sons.
“I’ve been in practice 24 years,” said the dark-haired doctor, seated on a stool in her office. “This is my first (surrogate patient).”
She and Emily have a good rapport.
“It’s fun to work with Emily. She’s easy. She knows how to do this really well. She came here about 10 weeks pregnant. You did the insemination at Sher Institute. After delivery is what’s different. Feeding the baby, bonding.”
Both Melanie and Emily will have adjustments.
“Emily has made a connection to this baby. My concern is for her well-being, that it’s as seamless as it can be. You can’t have something kicking in your tummy, without having some connection.”
“We will all be a mess that day and that will be OK,” said Emily.
“I applaud Emily for her generous, huge gift,” said the doctor. “If I had a sister, I don’t know how I would think.
“You are lucky,” she said to Melanie. “I do see an awful lot of infertility and know how hard it is to live with that.”
The doc’s parting words?
“We will see you next week ... or sooner. I am on call all week. Just be there at 7:30 Wednesday.”
Bob and Melanie met through a mutual friend in 2004. She grew up in Collinsville and graduated from Althoff in 1998. He is a 1994 O’Fallon High grad.
“It was July 9 when we started dating,” said Melanie. “Oh man, it will be 11 years exactly when the baby is born.”
They married Sept. 3, 2011.
“Between the two of us, we have seven godchildren. We also have seven nieces and nephews who we love dearly. We always knew that we wanted to have kids.”
Melanie got pregnant for the first time in early 2012.
“I had the miscarriage in February when I was six to eight weeks along,” she said. “One pregnancy got to 10 weeks.”
The first time Emily offered to be a surrogate, the Bivers declined.
“Was it after the first or second miscarriage?” said Melanie. “We were just going to do it on our own. Thanks, but no thanks. We are going to try some other things.”
“I was kind of blown away and taken aback by the offer,” said Melanie’s husband Bob, 39, office manager at Chem Station in St. Louis. “As great as the offer was, we wanted to try and be successful on our own. I wanted to make sure she thought it through, talked to her husband, her family.”
They suffered two more miscarriages.
“The most disappointing was after the fourth, after we had spent thousands,” said Melanie. “Not that money makes it worse, but we were trying so hard with so much money and effort put into ... We found out my husband and I have something called DQ alpha total match. Because of our genetic matchup, my body rejects the baby. Less than 1 percent of couples have the match we have.”
Normally, something in the sperm’s DNA sends a signal to the uterus that this foreign body (embryo) is OK, allowing it to implant. In the case where the male DNA contribution of the embryo shares the same DQa gene as the mother, this message is thwarted.
The Bivers considered their options: An embryo adoption so Melanie could be pregnant, even though the baby would not have their genetic makeup; normal adoption or having Emily be their gestational carrier.
Bob talked to Emily to make sure she was still serious about it.
“One of my biggest concerns,” said Bob, “was what if something happened healthwise to Emily? How could I look at these boys? That was a big concern going into it.”
They got their parents involved, too. Emily’s offer didn’t surprise her mom.
“It’s just like Emily to make such an unselfish offer,” said Judy Biver, of Shiloh. “Friends will all attest to that. They gave her a ‘pamper Emily party’ in May because she is always planning things for everybody else. Some paid to have her house cleaned. Some brought her meals.”
She watched her son and daughter-in-law struggle with the failed pregnancies.
“It was emotionally devastating for Melanie and Bob for a couple years. This was extremely wonderful. Blake is so pretty and perfect.”
Not a simple process
The Bivers already were working with Sher Fertility Institute in St. Louis, that had been recommended by friends.
Before the surrogacy could be implemented, Sher required a psychological evaluation of both couples and a legal contract that made sure everyone was on the same page.
Emily’s thoughts: “I am not keeping a fourth baby. I will gladly hand her over.”
The plan was for schoolteacher Emily to become pregnant in the fall so that she would still have time to recover before school started.
“In vitro costs were over $10,000,” said Melanie. “They take my eggs and his sperm and put them together. The embryos have to grow for five to seven days, they they pick the best two. At Sher, they won’t (implant) more than two eggs. There was a 60 percent chance that one would take and less than 20 percent chance that both eggs would take. And there was a possibility that they would split and have four.”
The two women had to be on the same menstrual cycle so when the eggs were retrieved from Melanie, Emily’s body would be ready. That process involved medications and 10 weeks of daily shots.
“She got to stop when the eggs were extracted,” said Emily, the gestational carrier. “I had to do shots every night for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. I took a lot of medicine so my body wouldn’t reject the baby. A little pain for 10 weeks is OK. I will say I was happy when the shots were done.”
Ten days after implantation, they headed to Sher’s lab for a blood test to learn if Emily was pregnant.
“I was excited, cautiously,” said Melanie. And nervous. As the pregnancy progressed, Melanie became more comfortable.
“Just like anybody having a baby, you worry all the time,” she said, “even if it’s not a unique situation. We all had thought it was going to be a girl from Day 1 because Emily had three boys. How crazy would it be that she would have a girl for us? We came and got the ultrasound. I had the lady write it down. My husband and I opened it later that night. We didn’t tell anyone till the gender reveal.”
Not even Emily.
Visit from Aunt Emily
Baby Blake had some important visitors the day she was a week old.
Emily and her three sons made the 30-minute drive from Fenton, Mo. A “Spy Kids” movie entertained the blond boys, who stretched out on a dark leather couch in the Bivers’ living room. They waited for Melanie to finish breast-feeding the baby.
Melanie had researched the protocol to induce lactation, and started pumping and freezing milk eight weeks before Blake’s arrival. Now, Blake makes things happen.
It was the second time Emily spent time with the baby she had carried.
“It’s a little bit different than seeing any baby,” she said. “It’s not like seeing my kids, but more than seeing any baby. I miss feeling her. That’s the awesome part of being pregnant, feeling her moving around. I definitely miss her.”
“Now, she’s out here playing around. So, it’s good. I’d rather see her out here in the real world. Her middle name is Emilya like my name with an A. It’s very humbling, very awesome.”
Did Emily ever consider having a fourth child?
“A tiny bit of me,” she said. “I am extremely happy with my three.”
“I ain’t,” said Gavin. “Those two are mean.”
“I am not touching him,” said Jacob, not far from his younger brother.
“This makes you not want a fourth,” said Emily, half kidding.
What was it like for Emily to go home without a baby?
“It was weird,” she said. “I don’t think hard. It was so awesome to see them leave with a healthy, happy baby. The boys went to Six Flags that day. It’s not like I went home to no one. They keep me busy. We had baseball last night. Camps all week. I’m staying busy with these guys.”
She quenched her Diet Dr Pepper craving —she gave up caffeine during her pregnancy — soon after Blake arrived.
“My sister made a Diet Dr Pepper cake, like a diaper cake, only with soda and snacks. My husband brought me a fountain soda and lots of water.”
Recovery has been easy for the surrogate mom, although she still has a few pounds to lose.
“I gained 40-something, 45 when all is said and done, but that’s OK. Look at her. I can be chunky for a while. ... I am sleeping, not getting up with her. It seems like it happened a long time ago. It was only a week.
“I tell people it was just such an awesome experience. I would say everything about it was positive, from the moment we decided it was a go. We were cautiously excited every step of the way. I’m amazed the medical world could make that happen.”
Ten-year-old Gavin found something else amazing.
“How did you get her jeans on?” he asked as Bob held his daughter who was dressed in the “My aunt is a big deal” onesie and the tiniest pair of skinny jeans.
“One leg at a time,” said Bob, cuddling Blake. “I love snuggling with her. I enjoy every second of it: being with her, holding her and playing with her.”
They all took turns holding and examining the new member of the family.
Melanie took photos, adding to the hundreds already starring Blake.
The Bivers’ lives have changed in a good way.
“Our focus is on her,” said Melanie, who will be off work on “bonding leave” till mid-September. “We have to plan everything out. That’s the major change.”
“Get ready to be late everywhere,” said Emily.
“We are just so excited that she’s here,” said Melanie. “I wake up and I am a mommy.”
Want to follow the Bivers’ story? Check out their blog, biverbabyjourney.wordpress.com
The surrogacy process
Best tip: “Be open-minded,” said Melanie. “The medical world is amazing. There are so many possibilities I didn’t know about till this all happened. If I wasn’t open-minded, I wouldn’t have found the best fit possible.”
Legal issues: Each family needed to hire a family practice attorney who specializes in adoption. “They had theirs first,” said Emily, “and he recommended one to me.”
Birth certificate: Emily was initially listed as mother and Bob as father. They filed an affadavit to add Melanie as mother. For the record, there will be an original birth certificate, the affadavit and an amended birth certificate.
Health insurance: Emily’s insurance covered the pregnancy. After Blake was born, the Bivers’ insurance took over for the baby.