Kelsi Pierce can’t stop gazing at her girls. With their identical features and matching dresses, they look every inch like twins.
Except they’re not. Ava Rae and Everly Rose were born eight weeks and 750 miles apart.
Two different hospitals, two different months and two different wombs – Kelsi’s… and her mum’s.
Kelsi, a 31-year-old teacher, laughs: “It isn’t unusual to have your mum close by when you’re having your babies.
“But for grandma to give birth to one of them? That’s pretty crazy!”
Kelsi never set out to break the mould. When she wed military fiance Kyle in 2016 they planned to have a baby as soon as they could.
So, after Kyle’s nine-month stint in Iraq ended in 2017, they began trying.
Months came and went but nothing happened.
With a growing dread, Kelsi, who lives in Minnesota, US, visited a doctor.
She says: “Every result was bad. My oestrogen was low and my eggs were like those of a 40-year-old. After each ap- pointment I’d sit and sob my heart out.”
Doctors then diagnosed blocked fallopian tubes and Kelsi’s mum, Lisa Rutherford, then 52, flew from her home in Michigan to be with her daughter as she had corrective surgery.
In the hospital Lisa picked up a magazine that changed everything.
Kelsi remembers: “Mum showed it to me and said ‘Look, here’s a 50-year-old mum carrying a baby for her daughter. I would do that for you’.
“I just laughed and replied ‘Mum, you’re crazy. We’d never let you go through all that’.”
Kelsi focused on more IVF but doctors discovered her uterus lining was too thin to maintain a pregnancy.
The months of failed treatments that followed took a heavy toll.
Then, in January, came the news Kelsi and Kyle were dreading. There was nothing left to try but adoption or surrogacy. They could afford neither.
That’s when Kelsi thought about her mum. Lisa had talked again about being a surrogate…so they picked up the phone. It was the call for which Lisa had been desperately waiting.
She says: “Watching Kelsi go through years of infertility was heartbreaking.
“As a mum all you want to do is help your children, to take away their pain.”
Lisa began calling doctors. She remembers: “Three thought I was crazy.
“I’d had a pulmonary embolism the year before. When they found that out they wouldn’t help.
“But a fourth doctor said that as long as I passed all the medical tests, she’d work with me.”
Lisa’s husband Paul, Kelsi’s father, had concerns. She says: “Like Kelsi and Kyle, he worried about the impact on me. But I’m very strong-willed. If it was possible to help I was going to do it.”
Living a 12-hour drive away meant Kelsi and Kyle couldn’t be there for the embryo implantation. “We watched on Facetime,” laughs Kelsi.
“It was the strangest thing, realising that I was seeing my mum being implanted with her own grandchild.”
And, eight anxious days later, Kelsi woke to find a message from Lisa.
She says: “I saw the picture of the positive test and just freaked out.” Five weeks later Kelsi and Kyle travelled to see her mum’s scan and see her baby up on the monitor.
She recalls: “There was such joy at seeing the heartbeat and overwhelming gratefulness to mum.
“But I’d prayed for so long to get pregnant that it did feel a little sad. It felt wrong to be jealous of my own mum!” Kelsi gave up all hope of ever becoming pregnant although she carried on using the pregnancy tests.
She says: “I know it sounds odd but I’d bulk-bought so many it had become a habit.” In March she took a test as usual. It was positive. “I just screamed,” she says.
“I immediately texted a picture of the test to Mum.
“I thought she might say ‘What the heck have I gone through all this for?’.
“But, of course, she was thrilled. She said ‘We’re both going to be having your babies!’”
Both mums were doing well. Lisa says: “When I had Kelsi and her sister I was sick non-stop. This time I felt fantastic.
“Then we found we were both carrying girls, which was incredible.”
However, at 36 weeks, Lisa developed pre-ecplampsia. It meant the baby would have to be born in just 12 hours.
Kelsi and Kyle made a long-distance car dash, arriving just in time.
Everly Rose was born by caesarean, weighing 5lb, 5oz. Lung complications led to a stay in intensive care but six days later she was well enough to leave hospital.
Kelsi says: “Finally I could take a breath and let it sink in that I was a mum at last…all the while feeling our second daughter move inside me. It was the most wonderful thing in the world.”
Lisa returned to Minnesota with Kelsi, Kyle and the baby for the last weeks of her daughter’s pregnancy.
And when Ava Rae was born last month weighing 7lb 3oz she had the joy of seeing her two granddaughters meet for the first time.
Kelsi, with her two beautiful, healthy, not-quite-twin daughters, still feels she is in a dream.
And she says of Lisa: “With her sacrifice and selflessness, she’s shown me just what being a mum should be. I hope that I can be as good a mum to our girls as she has been to me.”