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Sisters serve as surrogates for another sister

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CINCINNATI - There's an unexplainable bond between sisters, and you know this if you are lucky enough to have one. When your sisters are hurting, you feel their pain. And some sisters will do just about anything to help that pain go away.

At age 28, Tanya Ratcliff had just found out that it wasn't likely that she would be able to have a baby.

"I was sitting in the car crying with my two sisters," she said.

Ratcliff has three sisters and a brother and has always wanted children.

"I come from a big family, my husband comes from a big family. I always wanted to have four kids," said Ratcliff.

This wasn't the first time in Ratcliff's life that she received bad news from a doctor.

"When I was 16, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer," said Ratcliff.

After a five-year battle, her mother passed away when she was in college. A couple years later, Ratcliff met Dan and they got engaged. This was almost perfect because he wanted a big family too, but then came more bad news.

Ratcliff tested positive for the breast cancer gene, and decided to have a double mastectomy before the wedding. With her family history, fertility specialists advised her to have a family immediately. But after the long process of surgery, fertility treatments and starting in-vitro fertilization, Ratcliff received more bad news.

"[Ratcliff] also had some genetic or congenital issues with the lining of her uterus that would make it very difficult for her to be able to carry," said Dr. Michael Scheiber, a reproductive endocrinologists at the Institute for Reproductive Health.

Ratcliff said she was worried, too.

"We had started the IVF process, had the egg retrieval and were getting ready to implant embryos, and the chemistry in my body wasn't a good environment so had to freeze all of them. So we already had all these embryos, we had done all this work to produce these kids that were just waiting for us, and we just didn't have a home for them," said Ratcliff.

Her sisters were with her when she found out that IVF would likely not be successful.  

"I'm sitting in the front seat crying and they said, 'Well, we've been talking, and somebody in this car is going to have your baby by end of this year,'" said Ratcliff.

It was an astounding offer.

"It was completely overwhelming, especially because it was two of them. So it was, 'Wow, that both of you would be willing to do this.' It is just such a huge physical and emotional sacrifice, they both have their own families," said Ratcliff.

Ratcliff's sisters, Tara Schamel and Cassie Darrah, gave her the greatest gift of all and now she has two children.

"When you're from a tight-knit family, it's hard to conceive of individual happiness, your sisters and brothers triumphs are your triumphs and their sorrows are your sorrows, so when [Ratcliff] and Dan were going through this- it was really sad to be on the sidelines," said Schamel.

Schavel and Darrah became gestational surrogates for [Ratcliff] and Dan. Through in-vitro fertilization they were implanted with Tanya and Dan's embryo's. Schamel had Lucy in April and Darrah had Connor in July.

"I don't even know if i could put into words actually what type of feeling it gave to me to be able to provide something like this for my sister," said Darrah.

Then, things changed again.
 
When Lucy, their first baby, was only 3 1/2 weeks old, and the family was on their first vacation, Ratcliff wasn't feeling well so she called one of her sisters who suggested she take a pregnancy test. She thought it was a crazy idea, but did it anyway.  

The home pregnancy test was positive, but Ratcliff had false positive tests before so she called her doctor.

"We ran over to the doctor and he was able to do an ultra sound that day so I hadn't even told my husband yet and already had this ultrasound and seen the heart beat and they said I was 6 1/2 weeks pregnant."

Conner hadn't even been born yet and Ratcliff was pregnant. Their third baby is due at the end of December, which means the Ratcliff family could have three children within one year.

"After everything that we had been through and all the things that we had tried that this would just happen on a whim, you hear about that but you don't think that that ever happens to people. So we were completely shocked," said Ratcliff.

"My sister [Schamel] always says, who knew that when I had Lucy that three of us were pregnant with your kids," she added.

Ratcliff said she could never have asked her sisters to do this, and she knows her mom is always watching.

"I think that my mom would be honored to have raised kids that want to do those types of things for each other and I think that she'd be really proud. When I was giving up hope, I would always think about mom and how I know she's pulling strings up there and somehow she made it all work out," said Ratcliff.
 

Ratcliff's Blog

Institute for Reproductive Health

Link to Dr. Scheiber's book & e-book, The Fast Track to Fertility

The cost of surrogacy can range from $20,000 - $120,000

Surrogacy in Ohio

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