The holidays this year were a little more magical for Bob and Melanie Biver, of Fairview Heights — they got to share them with daughter Blake Emilya, who is 5 1/2 months.
“No one can tell you how much you are going to love this little person and how much it’s going to change your life,” said Melanie. “No one can warn you how it’s going to be. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Blake came into the world at 9:11 p.m. July 8 at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis, thanks to Bob’s sister Emily Werner, who carried their baby.
“My husband Rick and I have three children of our own,” Emily said last summer. “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.”
Melanie, 35, had four miscarriages and had learned of a genetic problem that kept her from carrying a baby to term. The Bivers thought long and hard before taking Emily up on her offer to be a surrogate. The couple was already working with Sher Fertility Institute in St. Louis.
“In vitro costs were over $10,000,” said Melanie, a respiratory therapist for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. Husband Bob, 39, is office manager at Chem Station in St. Louis. “They take my eggs and his sperm and put them together. The embryos have to grow for five to seven days, then 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.”
Emily, a Kirkwood High School math teacher who lives in Fenton, Mo., and husband Rick have three sons, Jake, 10, Gavin, 7, and Sam, 4. They introduced the subject of surrogacy to the boys with a book, “The Very Kind Koala.”
“I also told them, ‘Mommy’s doing this for Bob and Mel,” said Emily. “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.’”
Life for Emily is back to normal.
“It feels like I have picked back up with my life and my three crazy boys. We are so busy I don’t think too much about it.”
This week, she has her basement to think about. The Werners are dealing with water damage from the recent heavy rains.
Almost six months after giving birth, Emily has some perspective on her selfless gift.
“It was the most amazing experience I have ever been through,” she said. “It was so rewarding. My body still isn’t what I wish it was. It’s OK. We have a beautiful baby and happy parents to show for it. She’s just so happy and my brother and Melanie are so happy. It’s just awesome to see.
“Every time I see (Blake), I think, ‘Oh my gosh, you were inside me at one point. Right now, she was inside me longer than outside. I know that will change in the next couple months.”
Emily recently heard from a couple of women who are thinking about being surrogates.
Her advice? “Communication is so important — before the pregnancy, through the pregnancy and after the baby is born. Just keep those lines of communication open. So much goes into it, you have no idea when you jump in.”
We talked to Melanie for an update on Blake.
Q: What is Blake’s personality like?
A: “She’s really funny, always smiling and laughing and she just cracks herself up sometimes. She likes to put everything in her mouth. We started her on rice cereal. She’s a champ with that. She’s a happy girl.”
A: “Your life changes completely. You plan everything around them. You can’t just up and go to the store.”
Q: Do you attract more attention when she’s out with you?
A: “She’s like a magnet. People look at her. They want to see her, talk to her. They will say, ‘She’s so cute.’ She’ll smile at them. Before I would do my thing, get what I need. Now we have a little magnet. She attracts everybody.”
Q: What about surrogate mom Emily?
“Emily got to keep her overnight a couple weeks ago. It was her first overnight without Mom and Dad. I think she did pretty good over there. She slept in one of the boy’s rooms. The other two ended up with her during night. They all want to get their time in to see her.” Along with the rest of the family. “My sisters come over to play with her. Mom and Dad ask, ‘Can we come and take her and show her off?’ Bob’s family, too. They all want their turn.”
Q: How was it going back to work?
A: “It was hard, but being at home 9 1/2 weeks was awesome,” said Melanie. “I got to feed and change diapers and entertain her. It was fun to go back to work, too. You need your adult interaction. I work 12-hour shifts. I only work two or three days a week, not each day.”
Q: What did you get her for Christmas?
A: “Blocks, new toys, new clothes. I haven’t really bought much. She’s not going to notice.”
Q: How has it changed the holidays for you?
A: “I appreciate everything a lot more.”
Want to see more of the Bivers’ story? Check out their blog, www.biverbabyjourney.wordpress.com.