In the fall of 2005, when Erica and Travis Fox finally found out they were going to be parents, they never expected to have triplets.
“I screamed so loud,” said Erica Fox, 41.
For at least five years, the Maine couple, who live in Stoneham, tried to get pregnant naturally and with the help of fertility treatments, but they couldn’t conceive.
“It just didn’t work,” said Fox. “We’ve been through in vitro (fertilization) ourselves a couple of times, and failed. On the last attempt, we decided that ‘this was it.’ I was so nervous about going through it again and having it not work.”
But they “wanted to give it another shot,” Fox said.
Fox is a special education teacher at Fryeburg Academy, where a woman named Kelley Hodgman-Burns, 35 at the time, also works as a counselor, and was coincidentally thinking of becoming a surrogate mother.
Fox’s husband, Travis, owns his own construction business T. Fox Builders Inc. in Stoneham.
“I have a mutual friend – and he has a mutual friend – who knew that Kelley was thinking of wanting to carry (children) for somebody,” said Fox.
Gestational surrogacy – an emotionally intense and legally complex process that involves a woman carrying and delivering a baby on behalf of another couple – was an option the Foxes hadn’t yet considered. If the method didn’t work, Fox said, the couple likely couldn’t afford to keep trying to get pregnant.
“It’s a very emotional process,” Fox said.
In 2004, their mutual friend introduced the Foxes to Hodgman-Burns, who is married with three daughters, Isabel, 19, Anna, 15, and Lucy, 11.
Turns out, Hodgman-Burns was perfect for the job.
“I knew immediately that she was the person I wanted to carry my children,” said Fox, who was 33 at the time. “She was amazing. She knew so much about pregnancy and birth. She was so confident.”
Beginning in the early 2000s, Hodgman-Burns knew parents in the community who had lost their children, born and unborn, by illness and other incidents. She remembers watching her daughters play together on the swing set through the kitchen window one afternoon in October 2004, when she felt particularly grateful. In that moment, she said, she felt “compelled” to start the process of becoming a gestational carrier.
“Why am I so lucky?” she thought. “Why me, and not these other people? I couldn’t imagine not having my kids.”
“Pregnancy had been relatively easy” for her, as well.
“It was textbook. I experienced absolutely no issues. My kids were healthy,” she said.
That year, she discovered an agency called Circle Surrogacy in Boston, filled out an application, and met with a social worker to begin the process of becoming a gestational carrier.
In the early winter of 2005, she received a call. It was Fox.
“She shared with me her series of loss and her IVF (in vitro fertilization) attempts to start a family,” said Hodgman-Burns. “By June of 2005, there was a contract that outlined what I had agreed to do. I agreed to carry three (children). Best-case scenario, I figured it’d be twins.”
The entire experience, from beginning to end, was “surreal,” she said.
“There were dozens and dozens of doctor’s visits from start to finish, starting with seeing if I was viable, or a candidate that made sense. Once I had clearance, and after meeting with social workers and lawyers, I had to go back (to the hospital) in spring and early summer (2005) to begin the process of taking the hormones to ready my body and make sure I had a clean bill of health,” Hodgman-Burns said.
The Foxes declined to say how much the process cost them. But according to Circle Surrogacy, a company that provides a full line of surrogacy and egg donation programs, the general cost for a gestational surrogacy, including all agency and attorneys’ fees, as well as medical and insurance costs, ranges from $100,000 to $150,000, depending on the program a family chooses.
In September 2005, implantation of the embryos in Hodgman-Burns’ uterus took place at Boston IVF, one of New England’s leading infertility treatment centers. Fox produced 21 eggs, and she and her husband were able to fertilize 18 eggs with his sperm in a Boston IVF laboratory that were used to develop the embryos.
The following month, Fox and her husband learned that Hodgman-Burns had become pregnant with triplets.
“Once it was determined I was pregnant and carrying multiples, I was transferred from Boston IVF to an obstetrician/gynecologist in Portland,” said Hodgman-Burns.
“I can remember her putting my hand on her belly when the babies had moved,” said Fox. “I felt very emotionally connected with her and the babies.”
At three months pregnant, Hodgman-Burns said she looked six months pregnant. She remembers Fox’s husband asking, “Are you sure there isn’t a fourth one?” she said. “We were all shocked.”
“I grew very quickly,” and by March, she said, “I was enormous.”
Each year, about 750 babies are born in the United States using gestational surrogacy, according to WebMD. A gestational carrier is the baby’s “birth” mother and is not tied to the baby biologically.
A traditional surrogate, on the other hand, is a woman who is artificially inseminated with the sperm of the father. The surrogate is the baby’s biological mother.
According to the Modern Family Surrogacy Center, which is based in California, while the concept of surrogacy dates back to biblical times, the first traditional surrogacy wasn’t performed until 1980. The first successful pregnancy done via egg donation was conducted in 1983 and, two years later, the first gestational surrogacy took place.
Both traditional and gestational surrogacy can lead to various legal issues regarding who is the true parent of the child, especially when the surrogate mother decides to keep the baby as her own, according to surrogacy center. Issues often involve the transfer the parental rights from the surrogate to the intended couple; how and where the embryo implantation will be done; what fees and expenses will be paid by the surrogate and the intended parents; and how the surrogate will cooperate with the intended parents once the child is born.
In the case of Hodgman-Burns and the Foxes, the legal negotiations went smoothly.
“Our contract was very smooth,” said Fox. “Kelley and I actually were pretty hand in hand to what we both agreed on. It covered fees associated with Kelley being our gestational carrier, what we needed to pay for, etc. Some couples are very private and the gestational carrier can’t discuss them or their situation. We covered life insurance for her, maternity clothes and her lawyer fees.”
Around midnight on April 8, 2006, the triplets were born at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
According to the contract, and because she was carrying triplets, Hodgman-Burns had a cesarean section, or C-section.
According to Fox, one baby weighed 5 pounds and 6 ounces, one weighed 5 pounds and 2 ounces and one weighed 5 pounds. The babies were born at 12:01 a.m., 12:02 a.m. and 12:03 a.m.
“She carried them so well,” said Fox.
“I was 331?2 weeks, and while I was not full term, they were pretty big for triplets,” Hodgman-Burns said. “There was a huge number of people in that room for these three little babies,” she remembers.
The babies, named Dakota, Sierra and Cheyenne, spent a couple of weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, said Hodgman-Burns. When it came time for Fox to take them home, becoming a mom was no longer a goal for her. It was real life.
“I remember being like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t do this,’” she said. “I took this new-mom role on, and (Hodgman-Burns) had to step back into her family and be a mom. She was a rock for me through the pregnancy. I am very thankful there was someone out there that could do this for me.”
Though Hodgman-Burns admits she grew somewhat emotionally attached during the pregnancy, she was prepared to deliver the babies for another family. She was glad she could have that “shared experience with Erica,” she said.
“They call me Aunt Kelley,” Hodgman-Burns said of the triplets.
Two-and-a-half years after her triplets were born, Fox discovered she had uterine cancer and had to undergo a hysterectomy, meaning Fox would no longer have the chance to have children. But thankfully, said Fox, she and her husband already had three healthy little girls.
“It was just a nightmare. But looking back at it now, we really were blessed,” she said.
Dakota, Sierra, and Cheyenne turn 9 years old in April.
Throughout the pregnancy, Fox would bring Hodgman-Burns to doctor’s appointments, help her take care of her kids and assisted in household chores when her husband, Bob, was away for military commitments.
“She was very involved and very respectful,” said Hodgman-Burns. “Her mom even took me shopping for maternity clothes. It became very much a family affair.”
To this day, their conversations evolve mainly around this one, life-changing experience, said Hodgman-Burns. The women occasionally talk on the phone, or say “hello” and hug each other in the halls at Fryeburg Academy.
“The bond that her and I developed was pretty cool,” Fox said. “I never would have been able to be a mom if was not for Kelley. I feel blessed to be given the gift of my own children. I love them to the moon and back.”
Great ExpectationsFrom left, Erica Fox, gestational carrier Kelley Hodgman-Burns and Fox’s husband, Travis, hold the Fox family’s triplets in 2006 after Hodgman-Burns gave birth to the three girls that April at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Courtesy photoKelley Hodgman-Burns, from Fryeburg, gave birth to these triplets in April 2006 as a gestational carrier. The three girls, Dakota, Sierra, and Cheyenne, are daughters of Erica and Travis Fox, of Stoneham. Courtesy photo