Starting a family is a huge milestone in one’s life, but what if you are suddenly confronted with the reality that your family picture will never include children? The Barattinis faced exactly that ordeal, but instead of resigning to their fate, they persevered. Even after years of failure, they found hope even in one of the darkest moments of their life.
The Barattinis’ Dream Family
Kevin and Nicole were married in 2010. They settled down in Long Island, New York. They were ready and looking forward to starting a family of their own. But after a couple of years, they were still struggling to conceive. They consulted many specialists over the years but they all point to one source of the problem: Nicole’s health issues. There are different health issues that can prevent a woman from conceiving. Nicole was told that her specific health issue was the reason for her failure to conceive, but the Baratinis were still hopeful that there could be a way to minimize the risks.
Nicole’s Health Woes
Nicole had a rare blood disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). It is an autoimmune disease that can cause the sufferer’s blood to clot and it can be fatal. The blood clots, called thrombi, can cause severe damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and other parts of the nervous system. If left untreated, there is a 95 percent chance of death. But Nicole’s condition had been stable for years now and she’s even able to live normally. There seems to be nothing physical that’s preventing her from conceiving. So what’s really the problem?
The Grim Prognosis
Nicole’s disease first manifested when she was just 16 years old. There were small bumps covering her entire body, she had a fever, jaundiced eyes, and felt fatigue. Laboratory tests revealed that she had very low platelet count. She spent days in the hospital being subjected to plasma exchanges. The doctors were eventually able to devise a medication plan that could manage the TTP and improve Nicole’s quality of life. Without her medication, Nicole’s health would immediately deteriorate. The doctors also revealed another catch: the medication would harm any baby that Nicole would conceive.
Imparting the Bad News
Nicole could conceive after all, but at the expense of her own health – even her own life. It was quite devastating and Nicole had to break the news to Kevin. The rug had just been pulled from under Nicole’s feet and now she had to face her husband’s reaction. It was nerve-racking. Kevin could still recall that exact moment. “I got home from work and Nicole had that look on her face like something was wrong and I’m never going to forget it, I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘The doctor doesn’t think we can have children.’ And, you know, nobody wants to hear that.”
Accepting the Reality as a Couple
Though they had been told by many doctors that they wouldn’t be able to conceive, there seemed to be a tone of finality from the latest prognosis. The doctors specifically explained the harm that could befall the baby inside the womb, the harm that could also translate to Nicole. Amidst their despair, the Barattinis sat down and talked about their future. Nicole toyed with the idea of actually trying, that maybe her body can handle any ill-effects, but Kevin immediately shot down that idea. It was just too big of a risk. They should just accept the matter, no matter how frustrating it was for Nicole – she couldn’t carry their baby.
Finding Feasible Options
There were other ways that the Barattinis can have children. Fertility specialists assured them that TTP wasn’t genetic and there was no risk for any future offspring they might have. It was great news. Modern technology and medical procedures could help them circumvent their specific problem. Another person could carry their baby to term through surrogacy. Nicole already had her eggs frozen. If surrogacy failed, they could also look into adoption. But these options seemed to also lead them to a dead end.
The Common Setback
As they were weighing their options, the Barattinis realized that there was a common setback that could prevent them from achieving their dream: expense. The cost of hiring a surrogate was $75,000 and up. Nicole and Kevin were sure that they couldn’t afford to expend that amount especially since it wouldn’t be the only expense they would need to prepare for. Their research on adoption also yielded the same result. Adoption could get quite expensive, especially the legal fees. Private domestic adoptions could cost an upwards of $39,000 if done through adoption agencies and $34,000 for independent adoptions. This does not even account for the time it would take to process the adoption.
More Setbacks Surface
The Barattinnis were discouraged by the costs of their limited options. They totally abandoned the idea of adoption and focused on other option of surrogacy. But more setbacks surface. It was illegal to hire a surrogate mother in the state of New York, where the couple resides. Technically, they could pay for someone living outside the state but the cost was the primary concern. Hiring someone living out of state would certainly cost more than the already considerable cost in-state. Their only option was to ask someone to become their surrogate for free, and that was quite a favor to ask.
Asking for a Big Favor
Nicole heard of stories where relatives acted as surrogates. But she doesn’t have close relations that could qualify. She doesn’t have a sister and her mother is past the viable age for childbearing. Asking someone to carry your child to term at no cost at all is a leap of faith especially that the surrogate can face risks. Most surrogates are asked to take fertility drugs to prepare their body for the embryo. These drugs have side effects including ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome that can be quite painful. This does not include the usual complications of pregnancy.
An Outpouring of Support
After facing setbacks upon setbacks, the Barattinis received consolation with their friends and family’s support. A lot offered different forms of assistance with some even volunteering to become their surrogate. News about their plight spread that the couple, especially Nicole found it overwhelming that a lot of people would volunteer for such a thing. Things were looking up for the Barattinis but they soon realized that there are still many challenges along the way.
Not Everyone Can Become a Surrogate
This reality hit them soon enough. Before they were worrying if someone would even step-up to help them, now it is evident that things aren’t as easy as finding a willing volunteer. There are tests that need to be passed and all of Nicole’s friends failed. Women that want to become surrogates need to pass the screening for specific diseases and urine drug screening that will reveal any prescription drugs that can affect the pregnancy. After passing this initial screening, there are more tests to undergo that would determine the uterus’ health and readiness and the candidate’s psychological strength. Being a surrogate isn’t a walk in the park after all.
Someone Secretly Wanted to Help
Kevin had known Shawn Fives for over 20 years. As the friends got married, the friendship extended between their wives. The Fives lived in another town and Shawn’s wife, Lianna only heard about Nicole’s ordeal through a mutual friend. This was six years ago. In her mind, Lianna wanted to help Nicole but she knows that her family is still growing. She and Shawn still want to have more children and at that time, she had just given birth to her third child. But Lianna somehow vowed to herself that she would help and she didn’t know then that the help she is willing to give will not only change the Barattini’s lives but also that of her family.
The Right Time Finally Arrived
Four years after, Lianna made good on her personal promise. At that time, Kevin and Nicole seem to be at their lowest. It was a night in December 2015 and the Barattinis were having dinner with the Fives. The conversation inevitably went to Nicole’s frustrations. She said that she was giving up. There was no hope. What Nicole don’t know that it was the night that Lianna would rekindle that hope. “You know I have five children, Shawn and I want to have maybe one or two more,” Kevin recalled Lianna saying. He and Nicole were confused. Why would the Fives want more children? But when Lianna said that, “Not for me, for you guys…” the Barattinis just started crying.
The Selflessness of Lianna’s Decision
A lot of friends offered the same thing. But what makes Lianna’s offer so special? Lianna has nothing to gain, volunteering to be a surrogate can actually take away a lot of her time for her five children, especially to her youngest child. She had just given birth that July. She also needed to convince Shawn. In the end, Shawn actually had to devote more of his time taking care of their children. There’s also a considerable risk for Lianna. She is already 37 and gave birth to five children. Carrying and giving birth to an artificially implanted embryo is something else altogether. “At first it was difficult for me to get a sense of why she wanted to do this…She’s an angel. She wanted to do this out of the kindness of her heart,” Nicole says of Lianna.
It Can Still Fail
Amidst the joy and exhilaration, there’s still a long road ahead for the Barattini’s. Lianna passed all screening and testing. They were able to go about the legal requirements and Lianna already prepared herself physically, but there’s still the question of the procedure’s success. There are two types of surrogacy, traditional and gestational surrogacy. The Barattinis are looking for volunteers for the latter. Doctors fertilize Nicole’s egg cells and Kevin’s sperm cells through in vitro fertilization (IVF). The resulting embryo is then implanted in the surrogate’s womb. But there is still a possibility of the surrogate not getting pregnant and this is what happened during the first implantation on Lianna.
The Silver Lining
They waited for weeks only to find out that the procedure wasn’t successful. It was their last shot. Their dream child may not happen at all. But they were steadfast. The doctors assured them that they can implant more embryos, increasing the chances of pregnancy. It was another setback but the Barattinis just prayed and waited for another few weeks. Soon their long wait was rewarded. On July 2016 doctors announced that Lianna was finally pregnant! It was dream come true for the Barattinis.
It was a possibility but still a welcome surprise for the Barattinis. Lianna was pregnant with – twins! This is actually common in IVF procedures. Doctors would implant more embryos than necessary to increase the possibility of success. This also increases the possibility of multiple births, something that may not be on the parents’ plans. Indeed, Kevin and Nicole just wanted even one child but they are now blessed with two!
A Journey Together
As they shared the happy news with friends and family, the Barattinis did not do it as a couple but as one with Fives. They essentially became a family as they celebrate the wondrous journey together. They organized a joint party on Labor Day weekend of 2016. They announced the happy news in front of 60 guests which includes the Fives’ children. This was just the first of the many joint activities the two families would share.
The Positive Experience
“All four of us, I think we made 95 percent of the doctors’ appointments… Everything we did, it was all as a group,” Shawn said of the experience. Dr. Richard Klein, Lianna’s obstetrician thought that the check-ups were “so much fun” describing the excitement radiating from the two couples. The bond that the Barattinis and the Fives share is actually rare, especially in surrogacy. Most of the time surrogates are governed by restrictions and legal limitations as stipulated in the contract. After the baby is born, the connection is cut but the Barattinis and Fives intend to forge a lifelong bond.
The Bundles of Joy
Dominic and Luciana Barattini was born on February 10, 2017. Shawn and Barattinis were there when it happened. “Nobody ever questioned why we were there or why there were four people,” said Nicole. Lianna had to undergo a C-section as the babies were in breech position. Dominic came out first and then Luciana a few minutes after. “I felt hot and dizzy…We saw the whole thing,” said Nicole. Everyone was bursting with joy that there were even tears as the twins arrived. “It’s probably the most amazing thing because you think it’s the end of the road, now here we are with two beautiful children,” said Kevin.
The Special Connection of Motherhood
Lianna wanted Nicole to feel the joy of motherhood – the same joy that she felt with all of her children’s birth. “I was blessed to have five kids and they are all amazing, and I couldn’t picture my life without them. And to see this family so deserving, it broke my heart.” A lot of people asked Lianna about how she was able to easily give up the twins. Her only answer was, “Their buns, my oven…I will always have a connection to the twins, but I had no problem with letting them go.”
They Became a Family
They were friends, but now they share a deeper bond. The Barattinis did not separate the Fives from the twins’ lives, they instead welcomed them in, making Liana and Shawn the twins’ godparents. Nicole now also considers Lianna as a sister. They have the same birthdays and Nicole somehow feels that they are “closer than we’ve ever been, I don’t have a sister but I’d consider her like that…We don’t hold back, we are open, honest and I am constantly turning to her for guidance.” Even after the twins’ birth, Nicole can’t still seem to process Liana’s selflessness. She never complained, Nicole remembers and as she looks at the twins she is reminded of Liana’s generosity.
They Gained More than What They Lose
Psychologists say that a lot of intended parents continue to grieve for all the years they were not able to carry a child. They failed many times and are desperate for the surrogacy to work. They are easy to disappoint especially when things do not work out immediately. But it seems like the Barattinis already grieved their losses long before the twins arrived. “We have a strong faith,” Nicole said, “and I believe things happen for a reason, and I believe that energy you put in comes full circle, and I think it will with [Lianna].”
They Want to Give Back
It had been an incredible journey for the Barattinis but they know that it won’t be the same for everyone. The couple is now working on a campaign to make commercial surrogacy legal in the state of New York. “We have been working with local legislators and Reproductive Specialists of New York to make surrogacy recognized in New York State. That being said we are happy that our story went public to help others in the time of need,” said Kevin in a Facebook post. Nicole added that “There are people out there, like Lianna, that will do it out of kindness – and it’s easier to find them than it seems. It’s never the end of the road.”
Why are the Barattinis Campaigning for Legalization of Commercial Surrogacy?
Lianna offered the Barattinis a compassionate surrogacy. She wasn’t paid or compensated in any form; so why would the Barattinis push for commercial surrogacy when couples can just look for people like Lianna? It all boils down to the state laws. New York State has one of the strictest law against commercial surrogacy. It is one of the six states that still prohibit commercial or paid gestational surrogacy. If that doesn’t make things difficult, state laws also make compassionate surrogacy more complicated. There are strict guidelines and surrogacy contracts cannot be enforced. There are also no pre-birth orders that can put the intended parents’ name on the child’s birth certificate. The surrogate is considered the “birth mother” and can only relinquish her rights in the post-birth order.