Category Archives: Get to know Jennings Paige

So I looked at my last blog post just not and saw that it was in May.  May…June…it’s July…..that’s pretty good for me!  I blogged just a couple of months ago!  And then I saw that it said 2017 next to the month.  WHAT?!  I HAVEN’T BLOGGED IN OVER A YEAR!?!??  I’M THE WORST!!!  All I can say for myself is….Facebook.  I live there, in iphone land, while I pretend to parent Gracie and Hudson in real life.

It’s summer, so the kids are home from school and for the first time, I didn’t put them in any kind of summer camp.  They just wanted to stay home like little slugs.  Gracie, at 12, is really into making art.  She draws, paints, sews and sculpts all day, every day.  She lives in an online art community of kids who draw things for each other and send them online.  It’s awesome.  I can’t discourage such a thing.  Even her friends from school are artists.  She has a couple of little girl friends who come over and hole up in her room with her to make art.  The only time I ever see them is when they make animated videos and need to film each other somewhere outside of Gracie’s bedroom.  Really, I can’t complain.  As long as I leave her alone to work on her art, she’s a happy girl.  She never bothers me to take her places or buy her things.  She just hopes I don’t drag her away from her nest to go on a Jeep adventure.  She’s sick of my adventures.  The kids are kind of Jeep’d out.  Not me. My Jeep addiction is going strong.

Hudson is 8 now.  He was diagnosed with ADHD.  We tried changing his diet, using nutritional supplements and this light/sound therapy before resorting to medication.  I was hesitant to give him any kind of prescription medications due to the fact that he was born addicted to opiates when I adopted him.  He has a genetic history of drug addiction, so I didn’t want to put him on any controlled substances.  When Hudson was a newborn, I held him every day in the NICU while his tiny body went through drug withdrawals.  The doctors kept him very sedated so he wouldn’t suffer, but it was still a terrible time for me.  I’ll never forget the way he would stiffen up, jerk and sneeze a lot when he was so tiny.  He had a feeding tube the first few days because he wouldn’t eat.  By the third day, he took a bottle from me and ripped his own feeding tube out, though, and showed the doctors he was healthy and strong.  He was such a good baby.  For the first month, he was so sleepy from the anti-withdrawal medications, I didn’t even know what his cry sounded like.  He barely woke up enough to fuss over a dirty diaper or hunger.  The rest of the time, I just held him or wore him in a sling, and he slept.  Since then, he hasn’t had any developmental delays at all.  He has done well in school, except for his hyperactive tendencies.  To make a long story short, after trying several holistic approaches to treat his ADHD, I finally just asked our family doctor for medication.  He prescribed low-dose Vyvanse and since then, Hudson has excelled in school and at home.  He’s a pleasure to be around.  He’s smart.  He can read! Really well!  He’s a changed boy.  So….in spite of my hesitation to medicate a boy once addicted to controlled substances, doing so has been wonderful for Hudson.  I’m just glad we don’t have a lot of the struggles with him that we used to.

He likes playing games – any kind of game – and he’s really good at most of them.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve played his first game of Monopoly, trying to go easy on him, only to have him make huge, bold moves and proceed to quickly beat all of us.  He is so good at Connect 4, he teases his opponents saying things like “don’t let me win just yet….” and then his opponent is dumbfounded and has no idea where to go next.  And damn if Hudson doesn’t do exactly what he says he’s going to do.  Every time.  He’ll be like “I’m gonna roll a 3 and a 4, take the pirate gold, and head back to my port.”  And then he’ll do it.  I don’t know if there’s some career in gaming, but if there is, Hudson will find it.

JPP is doing really well this year!  With a lighter workload, I’ve been able to put more time and energy into each session.  I filmed a commercial for my business earlier this year with the talented Jackie Palmer Films.  She managed to capture everything about me and what I do in just over a minute-long film.  Check it out here: commercial film JPP 2018.

Making the commercial inspired me to offer integrated film and photography sessions, which I’ve named Storybook Sessions.  Now they are my absolute favorite sessions.  It’s more work for me to make a slideshow incorporating film and the final images, but the results are so worth it.  These slideshows will be cherished by my clients for the rest of their lives.  I can see each one of them watching it ten years from now, saying how glad they are they had it done.  In fact, I want it done for my family.  Emily is a photographer now, and she’s really, really good.  She’s helped me film my storybook sessions, and I’ve also hired a videographer a few times.  They basically film my clients while I’m posing and photographing them.  Later, the final images are worked into the film clips, which are slowed down and set to music.  The emotional impact is intense.  Every one of them makes me choke up with tears, and laugh, and smile.  Imagine how the parents in the films must feel!  I need Emily to help me do my own family’s storybook session.  In the meantime, here’s one I made for the Lloyd family.  This is one of my first ever Storybook Sessions.  Judging by the parents reaction to the photos, I’d say it was a huge success! JPP Storybook Session

I’m trying to offer discounted Storybook Sessions to my former clients so they can try it.  Even if it’s something you only do once, I think every family should do it.  The memories we make last a lifetime.  The only regret you’ll have is not doing it more often.  It’s so worth the effort.  If you’d like more info on our $250 for $500 summer storybook session, call Dani at 805-490-1180.  🙂

Here’s a whole bunch of recent sessions I’ve done!

 

So far in 2017, I’ve done a lot of extended family sessions, especially this month!  I’ll know next year to be sure to offer a special for extended family shoots around the holidays.  Sometimes my family and I like to travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico to visit my favorite aunt.  We try to spend every New Year’s Eve in a hot tub in the snow is Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  That is my heaven.  Other than that though, I tend to hang out around town, planning my marketing and promotions for the new year.  I’m usually pretty open for sessions, especially around the holidays and New Years, into January and February.  Of course, extended family sessions are always great, if you can get everyone together on the same date and time.  They are a lot of fun.  I love when siblings, cousins and grandchildren all join in for an extended family session.  Our best promotion are available in January and February.  Everyone who completes a session before Feburary 28th, 2017 will receive half off all session fees, plus print credits.  We always offer mini sessions, full session, and extended family sessions.  If you are interested in any of the above, text or call us!  (805) 490-1180.

The first family is the extended family of one of my favorite clients, the Thompson family.  Bill Thompson has two handsome brothers, each with a family of his own.  The Thompsons I know have two teenagers, Hailey and Reese, and their beautiful mom, Lorraine.  One of Bill’s brothers has a 2 year old boy with his wife.  The oldest brother has four children – an older son and daughter, plus two younger sons and their mom.  One of the oldest grandchild has a family of her own, including the two little ones and her husband.  This session was taken on a cool winter day at the Thousand Oaks Library Park, although we were blessed with some warm light and green trees this afternoon.  I bet Grandma and Grandpa are so proud of all their children, grandchildren and grandchildren.  There is a ton of love and laughter in this wonderful family.

The second family, particularly Tom and Mario, are personal friends of mine through our shared surrogacy experiences.  Tom and Mario’s baby girl, Josie, was carried by a surrogate and is now the most precious, sweet-natured, tough little girl at 18 months.  After our shoot, she wanted to hold my hand while we sat for appetizers at Stonehaus, at the Westlake Village Inn, and she thought I was hilarious during our shoot, too!  It was a real treat to spend the afternoon with Tom and Mario and little Josie.  Because they live near Chicago, I don’t get to see them too often.  However, I have gotten to see little Josie when she was just a few months old, and again.  Maybe I’ll get to see her every year, and I’ll become her Tia Jennings.  Love love love.  Since Mario’s family is located in Southern California, we were able to get his brother and sister, along with their children and partners, for a nice extended family session.

As many of you know, Ryan and I lost our surrogate-carried twin babies, Julian and Aria, last January 29th, late in the second trimester of the pregnancy.  Sudden premature birth at 21 weeks caused the near-immediate death of our tiny, fragile children.  In fact, our surrogate’s husband held Julian and Aria as they died in his arms, while Ryan and I drove frantically to meet them at the hospital.  The day we met our beautiful twins was the day we said goodbye to them, along with our dreams, our life savings and the joy, the zest my husband and I used to feel for life in general. The death of our twins is nobody’s fault; we know that much.  There is no blame to be placed, and no particular event caused this loss.  Ryan and I did our best, our surrogate did her best, the doctors did their best.  We tried to do everything the correct way; we went through what we thought was a reputable surrogacy agency, we used a healthy surrogate and most of our legal contracts were done professionally and correctly, as far as I can tell.  To read my letter to my babies and the story behind their existence, please visit:  http://jenningspaige.com/2015/02/a-letter-to-my-babies/

twins goodbye107Our child loss has been compounded by the agency owners, Jon and Christy Anderson, who have repeatedly made and then retracted promises of good faith to continue helping us realize our dream of a living baby.  Jon and Christy Anderson did all of this for us and and three other Surrogacy Together couple in the name of charity.  As Jon explained to me in person back in April of 2014, Surrogacy Together’s goal is to bring awareness to the community, to help four couples a year who could not otherwise afford surrogacy and make it affordable by getting professional services donated to the four couples.  One of those professional services to be waived was the agency fees.  It only makes sense for a non-profit company to NOT profit off agency fees, right?  It does to me.  So.  Ryan and I agreed to be paraded by these people as one of the four Surrogacy Together couples online, in print, while speaking at an event they held, setting up fundraising accounts in our name, putting our story in magazines and on all of their websites to promote themselves, etc.  Like the other three couples, all of this was agreed to via e-mail, text and talk or in person.  Because all professional fees were supposed to be waived under Surrogacy Together, none of the couples were asked to sign an agency contract before entering into their charity arrangement with Surrogacy Together.  To my knowledge, the other three Surrogacy Together couples were never even asked to give anything back to the agency, although I was asked to trade plenty of free photography to their companies.  Seems to me, Christy and Jon are a little confused by what charity means.  We clearly did have a trade agreement in place (see emails below), and we were most definitely one of the 4 Surrogacy Together couples from 2014-2105.

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It is also my opinion that the contract they made us sign was put together hastily without any attorneys to explain what we were signing, unlike all the other legal documents we signed.  I feel like we were coerced into signing their contract. Why?  Because Christy and Jon waited until we had a surrogate ready to cycle, embryos created, paid for and genetically tested, legal clearance was in, surrogacy contracts were in, medical clearance was done, and we had already taken a loan for $50,000 and placed it in escrow with another $8,000 good faith money for our baby, not to mention deeply emotionally invested once we had crossed all those hurdles.  The way the agency came up with this contract and had us sign it at the last minute is just immoral if you ask me.  Wrong. Bad.  Mean. Greedy.  We didn’t want them to delay our IVF cycle with our surrogate, so we signed the stupid contract literally days before our surrogate began medications to prepare her body for the transfer of our embryos.  I feel the timing and legitimacy of the contract we signed with Expect Miracles Surrogacy was and is….shady as fuck, just like its owners.  That is why I feel my husband and I were absolutely coerced into signing this document to prevent huge delays in our IVF cyle with our surrogate.

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However, this “Special Consideration” appeared at the time to have me and Ryan covered.  We signed this assuming the writing meant the same as what we’d agreed to with the Andersons months before.  We thought this paragraph meant that after we got our baby (or babies) home, and all bills were paid for them, the agency would get to keep any leftovers in the escrow account if there were any money left over.  I feel like the wording in the whole contract is confusing and conflicting, but the EMS owners assured us our agreement was in place and it’s all outlined in this paragraph:

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Ryan and I had no reason to suspect the Andersons had any bad intentions at that point.  We just thought it was strange how they asked for it at the last second and didn’t have a lawyer review it with us before signing.  Had we not signed this contract though we would have had to start over with our surrogate’s IVF cycle, which would alter everything about the process.  The costs go up and the success rates go down the more you mess around with a woman’s body and hormones and stress and timing with her job, etc.  I’ve been through this so many times, I am very familiar with statistics and facts surrounding fertility.  You don’t delay an IVF cycle over some small personal matter like the agency all of a sudden wants you to sign a contract before completing your IVF cycle.  You just don’t.

Everything went all fine and dandy after that, though.  Our cycle was not delayed over the contract because we signed it quickly enough.  Our surrogate got pregnant on the first try with healthy twins.  She and the babies grew beautifully, and to our knowledge, all professional services had been donated and most were already complete.  We paid the remaining balance to our escrow fund due for twins by 20 weeks gestation, and we watched Julian and Aria grow into beautiful, perfect little human beings with little unique personalities we could see on ultrasounds every couple of weeks.  The only thing left to do before finishing their nursery and throwing a baby shower was to establish our parental rights in court.  It wasn’t done.  
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By the end of 2014, I had completed 12 different photo shoots for Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together, and delivered hundreds of carefully retouched, high-resolution digital images to them to use however they liked.  The value of these services under my normal business costs totals over $40,000.  None of that was ever credited toward our journey in any way.  Not one dollar, not one parking fee, not one tank of gas was ever reimbursed or credited as promised.

Our embryos were well along the way in the process of being created at the fertility clinic with IVF.  Our surrogate started medications for the cycle, embryos were transferred in September, and we had a confirmed hearbeat by October 1st, 2014.  Clearly, the contract was done hastily at the last minute, and that has been the biggest hurdle ever since.  Money.  Of all things, we finally got shut down by money, even though we’d spent $75,000 to have these babies.  Can you blame me for thinking Expect Miracles Surrogacy is the worst surrogacy agency on Earth?  I think it’s a pretty fair conclusion to draw.

When the twins died, Ryan and I, the biological and in every other way REAL parents of these two babies, were not even allowed to have our names on their birth certificates.  Legally, they weren’t ours yet, and we were told by an attorney that the process to establish parental rights for deceased babies was tedious, expensive and basically pointless.  So, our surrogate and her husband are in fact the legal parents of our twins, and that means we have no rights to the medical records involved, although we still got to pay for all the burial/cremation expenses.  It’s a cruel world sometimes.  The grief, the loss of our twins was unspeakably bad.  Everything you’ve ever heard from a grieving parent is so true it rattles your bones when you have to join the awful club of bereaved parents and you start reading some of it, hearing some of it.  It’s forever a burden to us and to our surrogate that something tragic happened and there was nothing we could do to stop it, make it better or change it.

IMG_1347 bwMonths after our loss, we were all starting to heal a little and move forward.  We decided with the blessing of our doctors to start trying again for a baby, using the remaining embryos we still had from the original IVF cycle.  Our surrogate wanted to try again, and we wanted to give her the chance.  Our subsequent embryo transfers all failed, and we ran out of embryos by the end of 2015.  Ryan and I didn’t know what to do at that point, except to see what we had left and see if we could scrape up enough to make new embryos on an even tighter budget.

Sometime around the summer of 2015, Ryan managed to get a copy of the accounting from our escrow account, showing us what was spent and when.  Most of it looked legit to us, but then one thing stuck out like a sore thumb from two different escrow accounts – the first one we had when the twins were alive, and the second one we opened after they died.  It was that day that Ryan and I discovered several payments had been made, all payable to Expect Miracles Surrogacy, for thousands and thousands of dollars, during the pregnancy and after it ended as well.  Cue the eye bulge.  WHAT?!  WAIT WHAT???  $5,000 taken out here, $3,000 there, $5,000 there, $5,000 over here again, etc.  See below. The green ones came from the first escrow account when our surrogate was pregnant, but their dates are still way off.  Heartbeat was confirmed October 1, but they didn’t withdraw the fee until December 10th?  We were already in the second trimester when they claimed they were owed a fee due at HB (heartbeat).  The second green one is a withdrawal they seem to have made randomly and without good reason.  The white ones are from the second escrow account.  NONE OF WHICH WE SAW UNTIL LATE 2015, which was roughly 17 months after Jon asked US to be one of THEIR Surrogacy Together Couples and promote THEM!  In my opinion, this right here showed us that the people we trusted actually screwed us over really badly, and that makes them bad people who should be avoided like a nasty STD.  In my opinion, it is completely unreasonable to expect us to have a crystal ball and see what they were doing with our money.  We trusted they were doing the same thing for us that they were doing for the other Surrogacy Together couples.  We had no reason to suspect or look for anything like this:

 

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We were particularly peeved when we saw that the largest of the deductions were taken against our knowledge or consent AFTER our babies died!  They died in January of 2015, so why were we billed an additional $14,000 in March, April and November 2015?  Why is that important, you ask?  Because it shows, at least in my eyes, BAD FAITH.  My husband and I, my children, my surrogate were all being advertised to the world as a charity case but still paying their full normal agency fees the whole time?  How the hell does that make any sense?  And for a pregnancy that was only halfway done and babies that had a 0% chance of survival?  Our surrogate certainly wasn’t paid her entire compensation fees, but EMS felt like the full amount was rightfully owed to them?  And totally unlike the other Surrogacy Together couples’ arrangements?  WHAT???  In my opinion, these “do-gooders” straight up scammed my family out of $22,000, and they’re standing behind a bullshit contract to defend themselves.  It just doesn’t sit well with me. I believe that while Jon and Christy Anderson originally did intend to help us have a baby, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to profit from our situation when it turned sour.  I believe they failed to provide invoices throughout the pregnancy and to this day in a weak attempt to deliberately hide their wrongdoings with our money. I also believe they lied to us for a very long time to avoid being sued or exposed by the truth about all of this.

Back to our story!  When we found the huge money withdrawals, Ryan contacted Christy right away to ask her what that was all about?  First, Christy claimed the withdrawals were a mistake and would be corrected:

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Later, Christy seemed to change her mind.  She sent a follow-up email:

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In conversations between Christy and Ryan over the phone, she assured him (and he then assured me) many times over the next several months that the full amount was still credited toward our “journey” to bring home a baby.  Our first surrogate was ready and willing to give up her pregnancy compensation completely to help us, and Ryan and I made the mistake of believing Christy when she said she was going to help.  We were never comfortable with them moving $22,000 of our dollars from the escrow account that was set up to monitor that money.  At the same time, we felt powerless to change it and bullied in an already awful situation.  We believed the best chance of having a baby was to move forward with the agency and hope they used our money to do it.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were comfortable or happy with the new arrangement; by then, we trusted them about as far as we could throw them.  Actually, I stopped wondering if Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together was shady to KNOWING they were.  That sucks.  Just when I thought I was getting better picking out the jerks from my life and avoiding them!

Not too long after we spent another $15,000 creating new embryos and we had no money of our own left in escrow, it was finally time for EMS to start paying for our expenses from our $22,000.  The very first bill was rejected, and an employee of theirs told us to talk to Christy about it again.  Again, my husband contacted her asking for more clarity.  We thought you said this, now you’re saying that, which do we believe now? That time, Christy didn’t respond, even when Ryan let her know in writing that we would take legal action if she didn’t respond.  She didn’t.

Based on the following email from Ryan, I so badly wanted to trust EMS so that we could move forward again.  We were down to just the $22,000 “invisible credit” of agency fees and they appeared not to budge on it.  I cut all ties with the agency and began seeking legal counsel at that point.

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What does a person do when she feels so wronged in such a situation?  I don’t fucking know, but here’s what I did.  I wrote bad reviews about their agencies on Facebook and on my photography blog and on Yelp.  I told the world I believe these people are scam artists disguising themselves as surrogacy advocates.  I said, and I still believe, that their actions were at least immoral and possibly even illegal.  I shared this story.  Within a few hours, I had a huge response from other people who felt they had been wronged in some way by the same couple – former employees, friends, surrogates and intended parents.  I contacted a well known and respected specialized attorney and shared our story with him.  He was so compelled by it, he offered to represent our case against Expect Miracles Surrogacy completely pro bono (that means free).  SWEET!  I wrote down his name in my bad reviews about Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together, because I thought that spoke volumes for our complaints.  I believed for the first time in over a year that someone good was going to fight some evil on our behalf.  He asked me to remove all of my bad reviews in an effort to show good faith while we try to work something out with the Andersons, out of court.  I did it right away and have not posted anything about it since.

Now Christy and Jon Anderson under Expect Miracles Surrogacy have hired an attorney and are now threatening to sue me for libel unless I go online on every social media platform and tell the world I lied and I regret every negative thing I ever said about Christy and Jon Anderson, Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together.  Ha!  So much for my good faith efforts to shut up about this big fat freaking elephant in the room!  Their demand letter is so ridiculous to me, I just laughed and laughed when I read it.  Hilarious!  Here’s the funniest part:

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Christy and Jon will do whatever they do.  Sue me for libel or don’t.  I really don’t give a shit anymore.  I’m not afraid of the truth like they should be.  I’ve made a lot of bad decisions based on emotions since losing Julian and Aria, but I haven’t lied to try and bring down some super great company that helps people create families.  I’m not worried one bit about a libel case against me for telling my story.  I’ll post my negative reviews of them right back up on all the social media platforms I can.  The Andersons probably won’t like it, but if they really want to spend thousands trying to prove that a negative review is the same as libel and defamation of character, I say go ahead.  I also think if they had thousands to burn in court, they probably wouldn’t have needed to take our money in the first place.  The burden of proof is on them in a case like this, not me, but I have the proof and the truth I don’t think they have.  It makes me wonder how many attorneys are getting rich off of bullshit libel and defamation lawsuits made against reviewers on Yelp and other consumer-reviewed websites.  Is there some law I’m not aware of that says companies are allowed to do anything they want and can sue you if they don’t like your review of it?  I suppose anything is possible – after all, Donald Trump is the freakin President!).  I just think telling the truth about our experience is a good thing, no matter how unfavorable the outcome may be for the business being reviewed.  I think potential surrogates or intended parents have the mental capacity to read reviews like mine and make their own decisions. If you’ve read this far, congratulations.  I know I am long-winded, forgetful and repetitive.  Thanks for hangin in there with me.

I strongly feel that it would be incredibly risky (and stupid) to trust, befriend or do business with the Andersons or their many companies, ESPECIALLY if it’s about Surrogacy.  In my opinion, if you see Expect Miracles Surrogacy or Surrogacy Together, RUN.  I think they are greedy bastards and their for-profit company needs to go down in flames, kinda like how their non-profit status got suspiciously suspended this year (hmmmmm, makes ya wonder…..).

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If I can save one more person from being victimized by, in my opinion, the biggest couple of players in the surrogacy community, then it’s ALL worth it.

Dear Julian Griffin Ashker and Aria Paige,

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You were the most loved and wanted babies that ever graced this Earth.  As much as it still hurts, I want to tell you your story so you can take it with you always. Hold it in your hearts like we will hold you in ours.

I met your daddy on a somewhat-blind date at Disneyland in 2011. Your big sister Gracie was 5 at the time, and your big brother Hudson was almost 2.

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I’m not sure if I believe in love at first sight, but it was something like that when I first saw your daddy, buying coffee at Panera Bread before we were going to meet inside the park.

We had already talked a lot by text, but 11/1/11 was the first time we actually met. He lived in San Diego and I lived in Thousand Oaks – about 3 hours away.

By the end of that wonderful day at Disneyland, we were already talking about you, and which one of us was going to move. I told your daddy right away that I couldn’t carry a baby myself, but our friends, Dave and Sabrina, who helped us meet, had used a surrogate to carry one of their babies, so he said that sounded okay to him. If we wanted children, we could find a surrogate, too.

After we got married the next year, we talked about having a baby often. Your daddy never had a baby, and he wanted to experience it from the beginning. I have always loved babies and have always had to try very hard to have them. I wanted more, and I wanted to share the experience of a new baby with your daddy. He just seemed made for it, and I knew If I saw him loving on our baby, I would love him even more. We started the process for him to adopt Gracie and Hudson legally, and we started looking into surrogacy to have a baby.

After a lot of thinking and juggling finances and talking to my old fertility doctor, we found out we just couldn’t afford it. It would have wiped us out financially to the point that we could’ve easily wound up broke, bankrupt or homeless. We couldn’t risk that for our family, so we abandoned the plan. I was sad, but back then, I didn’t even know what sadness really was.

It’s just that the wanting you never went away.  I missed the time that normal mommies and daddies have together to bond with a new baby. I wanted to experience that with your daddy even more than I had before. I wanted to know what his babies would look like. Gracie and Hudson were long out of the tiny baby stage. I was sad that he wouldn’t get to experience having a new baby with me. I found myself walking though the baby aisles at Target and touching baby bottles, all shiny in rows on store shelves. It was all so fun, but like a far-off dream that couldn’t come true.

One night in early 2014, your daddy and I went to a party and met a whole bunch of wonderful surrogates and intended parents, and I took pictures of all of them to help promote Surrogacy Together. A pretty girl in a red and white polka dot dress approached me when I was taking pictures and chatted with me for awhile.  She asked if I was a surrogate, and I said no, I was a photographer and actually looking for a surrogate of our own.  She said surrogacy was something she’d always wanted to do when the time felt right.

A couple of days after the party, the cute girl in the red dress wanted to be our surrogate!  We were thrilled.

Daddy and I met her and her husband a few days later at a pizza place. Your daddy had just that day had a skin cancer removed from the top of his head, and was wrapped up like a mummy all over his poor head to protect his wound. We were a little afraid we would scare them off with his mummy head, but they were super nice about it.

Daddy and our surrogate, along with her husband and I, hit it off instantly. We told each other about our children, and found out we both had an 8-year-old named Gracie!  We also found out we both had four-year-olds, too. They had their daughter, and we had your big brother, Hudson. They also had a third child, who was the oldest. We soon grew to love all of them, too.

After much talking and laughing over pizza and beer with me, your mummified daddy and the couple, we were very excited to get to work on making you. We had the green light to make a baby!  Yay!!

Your daddy and I did a procedure called in vitro fertilization, where the doctors take one mommy cell and one daddy cell together and put them together in a tiny dish in a laboratory, and let it grow into an embryo, which is just a tiny cluster of baby cells, smaller than you can see with the naked eye. On the fifth day, the doctors put the embryo into a cozy warm womb like our surrogate’s, and the parents-to-be wait and hope that the embryo will grow into a baby.

We had seven embryos tested for genetic abnormalities, which happened to tell us the sex of each one, too. We had 3 boys and 2 girls, plus 2 more that couldn’t be tested because their equipment failed. But which one to put in our surrogate?  A boy?  Or a girl?  We already had one of each at home, so that didn’t help. Your brother and sister didn’t help us decide, either. Hudson only wanted both a brother and a sister, and Gracie wasn’t all that thrilled about having any new babies in the house.

The night before the transfer, your mommy (that’s me) had a stroke of genius. I told Daddy, let’s put back one of each and see what God decides to give us!  Daddy was worried about having to buy a bigger car and buying two of everything and paying for all of it (twice), but I told him to man up. We had already been through a lot and came out on top. If anyone could handle twins and two older kids, it was us. We would figure it out. Two it was.  Our surrogate agreed. Two embryos!

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You can only imagine the surprise and delight when we discovered you both stuck in our surrogate’s tummy!!  The doctor showed us each of your beautiful beating hearts and counted the beats. At 8 weeks, we heard your hearts beating and saw the beginnings of your faces starting to form!  Daddy and I had never seen anything so amazing in our lives.  We made you guys, and we admired our hard work.  We showed you off to anyone willing to look at your pictures or listen to us talk about you.

The four of us met up a lot to check on you two and hang out together. We became fast friends, and then our kids did, too.  We went out to eat together and went to the movies together. We went shopping for baby clothes and craft beers.  We went to the lake and went boating, too.  They were our family, just like you.

In November 2014, we went to see you on a 3D ultrasound at only 10 weeks with your big brother and sister. You guys were so adorable, even at that age!

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You had little legs and arms, and we couldn’t help but notice how active you were, Aria. We laughed as you flipped and kicked and waved your tiny hands and feet. Julian, you also gave us a show, but it was your sister always stealing the limelight.  We could see you, Aria, poking at your sac where Julian was just on the other side, almost like you knew he was there with you and you wanted to say hello. The kids were delighted by your little baby antics, and we left with some cute photos and a DVD video. We adored you and just couldn’t wait to meet you.

At 12 weeks, you passed all your tests with flying colors and we graduated from the fertility clinic and started seeing a high risk baby doctor in San Diego, closer to where our surrogate lived.  At 14 weeks, you really looked like babies, with clearly defined fingers and toes and faces. Just beautiful. Nana and Papi (Daddy’s parents) came to your 14 week 3D ultrasound. They had never seen one before!  I sat next to our surrogate on the table and we watched you two again with all the kids, only this place had a huge movie screen!  Again, Aria, you were all over the place. Kicking your poor brother in the head, crossing and uncrossing your legs like you were a tiny dancer.  Julian kicked back a bit more by then. I think you were starting to annoy him.

Gracie and Hudson got to pick out a stuffed animal and put an audio recording of your heartbeats inside the stuffed animal. Gracie picked a little wolf for your heartbeat, Julian, and Hudson picked out a little lamb to put your heartbeat in, Aria. We will treasure these memories of you always.

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Ashker twins baby A

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It still seemed like forever till we could meet you, although I met you far sooner than I wanted to. But to pass what I thought would be a very long time, I designed the best nursery you’ve ever seen for you guys! You would have loved it!

Daddy and I built you a nice dresser that would double as a changing table.  We bought up the entire newborn section of carters clothes one day. And when our friend Emily got a good employee discount at nordstroms, we stocked up on all the baby gear they had. Two fancy swings, two baby carriers, a diaper bag, more clothes, pacifiers and bottles and sterilizers and diapers and formula machines and teething giraffes. All for you!  All with love so you would be comfy and happy in your new home.  I felt like you both growing in our surrogate’s tummy so perfectly was your gift to me, and your beautiful nursery was going to be my gift to you. I also ordered you a custom metal art moon that lights up and says I love you to the moon and back. And I found a cute shaggy gray rug at pottery barn kids to match your theme. The cribs were on back order until February, so we left the guest room as was until we got all the pieces together.

The Monday before you were born, I went to see you on a 3D ultrasound again.  It felt like I hadn’t seen you in so long. You were 20 weeks by then, looking so cute.  I was hoping to see what your faces looked like. Daddy had to work that day, so he couldn’t be there, but of course our surrogate and her husband were able to join us, and so did two of our friends.

To my surprise, I could actually tell what you both looked like!  It was hard to see your eye shapes on the ultrasound, but you both had your daddy’s nose and mouth for sure. You were gorgeous. You were growing perfectly and still very active in there. You two were always so playful!  You must have sensed each other’s presence early on. We watched your little personalities develop before our eyes. I texted all the pictures to your daddy, and your Hamma (my mom) and to Nana and Papi (Daddy’s parents). I even texted them to our fertility doctor to congratulate him on his beautiful work!  I also visited my friend Sabrina, who was in the hospital scared she might deliver her baby, Nash, too soon. Her body calmed down and Nash was fine. Sabrina and I think you two had a lot to do with that, and she thanks you both for helping Nash stay inside and grow big enough to be born. All was well, so I drove home to work and be with my favorite people.

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On Thursday, January 29, 2015, suddenly everything changed. I was back to work, happy as can be, doing photo shoots and training my new employee.

Our surrogate called me around 5:00 pm and told me she was bleeding. I told her not to panic. Bleeding is very common in pregnancy, especially with twins. I started googling bleeding at 21 weeks with twins while she and her husband drove as fast as they could to the hospital to check on you both.  Our surrogate told me she was really scared. I told her over and over to breathe. My best friend just went through this and she was fine, the baby was fine.  Sabrina was still upstairs at the same hospital our surrogate was going to so they could check on you.  Daddy texted me on his way home from work, to go outside and look how beautiful the sky was.  Indeed, it was the most breathtaking sunset we’ve ever seen here.  I felt….uneasy…about the sunset.  It looked a little too heavenly for my taste.  I told him what was going on as soon as he got home.

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Our surrogate was checked into the triage unit at the hospital within 30 minutes of her first call.  They hooked her belly up to monitor her contractions, which were coming about 2 minutes apart. That’s too many contractions for so early in the pregnancy, so they gave her two medicines that are supposed to quiet the uterus and not allow it to dilate any more.  Her labor progressed anyway, and rapidly.  I told Ryan what was going on when he got home with the kids, and we tried to stay calm.  I started texting with our surrogate’s husband, and everything just happened so fast.  Nothing happened the way it should have.  Our story should have ended the same way my best friend’s did – with a healthy baby after a premature labor scare.  It didn’t.

I heard from our surrogate and her husband that the ultrasound machine came and the doctor on call saw that baby A’s (that’s you, Julian) sac was bulging out of the uterus a tiny bit, and her cervix was dilated 1.5 cm (not much, but not great). At first, it didn’t sound so urgent.  They said they had to stop the contractions first, and then they would put it an emergency cerclage in the morning – that’s where they stitch up the opening so you can’t come out early.  Your sac had not ruptured.  Her husband and I texted each other as I sat in the closet in my bedroom and cried and prayed.  You weren’t fine. You were in danger.  I quickly grew worried, then scared, then plain terrified.  My worst nightmare unfolded in the next hour.

You were both born anyway at 8:11 and 8:13 p.m. that day, in spite of everything the doctors and nurses tried to do to stop it.  You both lived for a little while in our surrogate and her husband’s arms.  We couldn’t get there in time to hold you while you took your last breaths.  I’m so, so sorry for that.  I wish I could have told you in person, while your ears were still working, how much we loved and wanted you.  How our hearts would never be whole again without you.  I wish I could’ve held you in my arms with your Daddy when you first came into this world and then left it, just like a whisper in the dark.  I pray you both know how badly we wanted you both anyway.  I hope you know that we were connected spiritually long before we ever met or said goodbye.  We were yours and you were ours.  You were real and you were here.  You matter.

I texted my mom that night, when we knew you were coming any minute and you weren’t going to survive.  I just said “can you come over?”  She texted back “What’s wrong?”  And I wrote “I’m so sorry to say.  The babies are coming.  They can’t stop it.  We have to go hold them.  They’re not going to make it.”  And with those words written, my heart officially shattered into pieces and I just lay on my closet floor and sobbed, shocked.  I couldn’t even speak when Ryan came in to ask for the update.  I only showed him the text messages.  He held me there on the closet floor while I cried and cried, unable to speak at all.  Our friend Emily was downstairs making tacos for all of us.  I said “I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know what to do.”  About a hundred times.  No one knew what to do.  I told him we can’t get there in time, that you were going to die before we could make the 3 hour drive.  Eventually, your daddy said, “We have to go.  Let’s just go now.”  I packed an overnight back in a complete fog of shock, confusion, pain…and a strange feeling of guilt I couldn’t put my finger on.

I couldn’t hide my tears when your 5-year-old brother Hudson came upstairs to my bedroom looking for me to tell me dinner was ready.  I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I told him I had some really bad news about our babies.  I said something happened to our surrogate, and the babies were born before they were ready and were too small to survive.  I told him the truth.  You were already born and you died and went to Heaven to be angels, and how sorry I was to have to break his heart by telling him the news.  Daddy and I had to leave right away, so we could come hold you and tell you how much we would miss you.  I remember apologizing over and over to my little boy, that we weren’t going to get to bring the babies home to be his little brother and sister like we thought we would.  I watched helplessly as his little face crumpled and he started to cry. His tears were the real grieving kind.  The raw pain kind of crying that sounds and feels so different from other crying spells.  We held each other for awhile there on my closet floor.  I told him it was going to hurt for a long time, and we would always miss our babies, but we were still a family.  I told him I was so thankful I already had the little boy of my dreams there to hug and kiss, and I felt so lucky to have his sister, too.  We couldn’t get up from the closet floor for awhile.  We just rocked there in the dark and held each other.  Finally, Hudson told me I needed to bring each of you a lollipop to take to Heaven, from him.  We decided to go downstairs together and pick out the best two lollipops to give to our beloved babies.  I still had to tell Gracie, and Emily, and the rest of the world.  I couldn’t eat one bite of our freshly made taco dinner.  I wanted to throw up, but I took two anti-anxiety pills instead.  I’m not sure those pills even took the edge off the piercing heartache of that night.

Your sister Gracie was happily coloring on the kitchen table when we went downstairs.  I had to sit down with her and tell her the same thing.  She had just turned 10, and I truly thought she wasn’t as emotionally invested in you as we were, or like Hudson was.  I was so wrong.  My heart shattered for the third time in 30 minutes when I saw her face also crumple and her big eyes fill with tears.  She cried much harder and longer than I expected.  She, like many of us, had grown very attached to you two specifically.  She asked me if she could come with us to the hospital to meet you and hold you, but we knew we would be gone a long time, far from home, and it was going to be too sad for too long.  If we lived closer, I would have let her.  Sometimes I still regret not taking them with us.  At the time, I didn’t think an adolescent girl with a big tender heart could handle two days of watching her parents in total despair.  We told her to stay with Hamma and Hudson and comfort each other until we came back.  I kissed her and hugged her and reminder her I wasn’t a mom at all before God gave me her.  I reassured her that we loved her, and we would make it through this hard time because our love is so strong.

My mom arrived at our house shortly after.  Hudson ran out to her in the driveway and cried “Hamma, our babies died!” and started sobbing all over again.  My mom hugged us all and held the kids tight, and Daddy and I left to go meet you.  It was the shortest and longest 3-hour drive of my life.  I felt like we were actually barreling at light speed toward something unbearable.  At the same time, my need to hold you and see you grew enormous.  Half of me couldn’t accept it as the new reality, and half of me accepted it immediately and wanted to savor my time with your little bodies, which I knew would be way too short.

When we finally checked in as “visitors” and walked into the hospital room, our surrogate and her husband were both holding you guys, studying your sweet faces.  Her husband got up to hug me first, and I thanked him for holding you while you lived and died.  Then I climbed right in the little hospital bed with our surrogate and hugged her tight and told her how much I loved her, and how we did not blame her and never would, and how it was not her fault.  We cried together, and then, finally, I reached out to hold the two of you.

How can I describe how beautiful you were?  I’ve never been a huge religious person, but I felt like I was looking directly at the face of God in your sweet faces.  I was so happy that I recognized you from your ultrasound photos.  I was so delighted to see you had your Daddy’s nose and mouth like I thought.  Aria, your mouth was a little prettier, just like a little girl, and Julian, you just had Daddy’s mouth exactly.  You both have his upper lip, and his nose, although your nose, Aria, looked daintier.  Your sweet little peaceful faces told me that you had not suffered very much before you died.  Even though you had died hours before, you both looked so perfectly content.  Aria, sometimes I felt like I was catching you smiling in your sleep.  I don’t know what your eyes looked like.  You were still so small, your eyes were sealed shut.  I wish I knew what color eyes you would have had.  I’m guessing blue, but I’ll have to wait until I join you in Heaven to find out.

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Julian, my little man.  You were perfection.  I unwrapped you and checked you out, head to toe.  You had little hair on your head!  It looked light brown.  Your tiny head was bruised because you came out first, but your hairline was cute just like your Daddy’s.  Aria, you had peach fuzz lighter-colored hair, and not as much as your brother.  I think you may have been one of those kids who would have been born with blond hair that slowly turned to brown hair, and your twin brother would have had a lot of brown hair.  I wish I could’ve watched you grow and found out.  Even on that sad night, I was surprised and delighted by how perfect you both were.  It’s the most amazing miracle that you grew into tiny but perfect human being in just 21 short weeks.  You each had tiny eyebrows and eyelashes.  When I opened your little mouths, you had a tiny pink tongue and miniature gums!  I kissed every one of your ten fingers and toes, and I covered your sweet little faces with my tears and kisses.  I touched your tiny ears.  I held your hands on my pinky finger.  You were the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen.  I did not cry when I held you.  My heart was happy.  I thought you were worth any amount of pain when I held you in my arms.  You both had straight little backs, long legs, your daddy’s feet and other recognizable and precious features. I could’ve kept kissing you for the rest of my life.

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Aria, my sweet little princess, your features were dainty, precious, and almost…happy looking.  You weighed the same as your brother (13.9 ounces), you were a half an inch shorter (10.5 an 11 inches each), with a slightly smaller nose, eyes, hands and feet.  I was so in awe of you both.  I bent and straightened your legs and watched your tiny calf muscles move, your ankles flex, your knees moved the same as any sleeping baby.  You actually had the most beautiful curvy little legs I’ve ever seen.  You were strong.  I imagine you would’ve had a strong personality, like your sister, Gracie.  I think that’s why Gracie was so excited to be your big sister.  She’s the kind of girl who thinks it’s cool to kick your brother in the face and do cartwheels in the tummy.

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I could feel God in the room with us that night, holding all of us in His arms through our love for you.

Your Daddy held you for a long time and told you he couldn’t wait to meet you again, either in this life in other bodies, or in Heaven when he can see you again.  He told you how much he loved you.  Then I took you back.  A chaplain came to bless your souls so you could open your eyes for the first time and see Jesus.  I know you already had.  We passed your beautiful lifeless bodies back and forth for hours that night, and the next day, too.  Holding you was actually like holding a piece of Heaven on Earth.  I fell in love with you when I saw your faces, but once I held you both, I knew a part of me had forever died with you.  They say some people only dream of angels, while others get to hold one in their arms.  I suppose that’s true, but holding my own angel babies was more like a nightmare I wanted so badly to wake from.  You were worth the hurt, though. I love you so much, and so does your daddy, and your big brother and sister, and your grandparents, and everyone who ever laid eyes on you or heard your story.

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  You are so loved, little angels.  By so many people.  Thousands of people all over the world have cried at your loss and are hurting with us.  But we will celebrate your life and take the good from it.

I’ll always be your mommy, and I’ll always love you with all my heart.  I can’t wait to hold you in Heaven and see you again.  Until then, I will hold you in my heart, and I will write to you when I feel far away from you.  You will never be forgotten.  Thank you for being my angels.  I am honored to be the one you chose to be your mom, even though I didn’t get a chance to raise you like I dreamed.

Love you forever and always,

Mommy