Surrogacy gives 1 Britton couple new baby, extended family
ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — On the afternoon of Aug. 3, 2018, in a Fargo, North Dakota, delivery room, proud new parents Elizabeth and Gavin Waletich grasped the hands of Heidi Fritz, the woman who had just given birth to their daughter.
Out in the waiting room, a group representing all three gathered for the birth of the special baby girl. In that moment and for many to come, it didn’t matter who was biologically related to Wren Waletich. It only mattered that she was loved by all of them.
The three families were brought together by a medical miracle and represent a broader, beautiful definition of what it means to be a family. Nearly a year after her daughter’s birth, Elizabeth Waletich can still hardly believe the good fortune her family has had.
“This was more than I could have ever dreamed of,” she said. “I just really feel like God had his hand right where we needed it.”
The story of Wren’s journey into the world and her parents’ experience with surrogacy is one near and dear to Waletich’s heart.
Britton native Waletich, 27, has known for years that she would not be able to have her own children. She had a partial hysterectomy when she was 15, meaning only her uterus was removed. Her eggs did not have to be preserved artificially because she had no underlying health concerns.
As a result, Waletich began considering surrogacy and adoption at a young age.
She was convinced she would want a closed adoption — one where there is no contact between the biological parents and adoptive family. But having gone through her journey with Fritz, Waletich has a much different opinion.
“Now, I see how beautiful it can be. It would just be a blessing for Heidi to be a part of (Wren’s) life, too,” she said. “You can only dream that it can be this good. I can’t believe it gets to be us. We get to have Wren, and she gets to have all this love. Through all of this I have grown so much as a mother, and I owe all of that Heidi.”
Waletich learned of Fritz through her cousin. Fritz had been a surrogate once before, and Waletich’s cousin thought Fritz might be able to provide guidance or offer advice about the process.
In spring 2017, Waletich and Fritz decided to meet up in Fargo, where Fritz lives. They visited for six hours that day, and the connection was instant, according to Waletich.
“It was just like fate kind of hit me in the face,” she said. “We were so lucky because now having gone through it one time, I can really, really see how scary it can be working with a stranger or anyone who’s never done it before. Starting this journey is something we didn’t see at the moment, but it kind of fell in our laps.”
Waletich and Fritz realized quickly that their ideas on how a surrogacy should work, including boundaries and relationships, were aligned.
“Heidi had a clear plan for herself if she were to do this again, and it was exactly what we could’ve asked for,” Waletich told Aberdeen American News. “We met in March, did the extraction (of eggs) in July and had the first transfer in September. It was kind of a whirlwind six months.”
The Waletichs did a gestational surrogacy, meaning that Elizabeth’s egg was fertilized first and then placed into Fritz’s uterus — a technique known as in vitro fertilization. Fritz is not biologically related to Wren, but carried and delivered her.
Because she knew her fate at such a young age, Waletich said she didn’t face the emotional turmoil that often accompanies infertility complications or assisted reproduction methods. That doesn’t mean the journey was without its ups and downs, though.
“There were times where I think I mourned not being able to carry the baby, but it didn’t weigh on me too heavy,” she said. “It wasn’t until after the (first) failed transfer, for the first time in my life I thought I might not get to do this. It was a huge low point for us.”
But those feelings melted away when the second procedure was a success in November. That’s when the more complicated part of the surrogacy began. The Waletichs had to hire lawyers, work out health insurance and set up a new bank account.
“There’s a lot of moving parts there. I don’t think I realized how big a leap of faith it was,” she said. “I feel like we just got so lucky.”
During their journey to parenthood, the couple set up appointments at hospitals in Aberdeen and Sioux Falls in hopes of establishing a doctor and figuring where to begin in the long process ahead. Waletich learned that the options she had were financially straining and lengthy. It’s difficult enough to be paired with a surrogate through an agency, let alone privately, she said. Agencies she researched had waiting lists of 75 families or more. Waletich left each appointment feeling discouraged.
Much of her anxiety was tied to the financial stress of the process. There were times when she thought she and Gavin had spent their last dime and wouldn’t be able to afford to move forward. To prepare for the procedure, Fritz had to take $5,000 worth of medication, which the Waletichs paid for.
“So you’re just over the phone, hoping she did everything right. That’s huge, it’s nonrefundable,” Waletich said. “How do you find somebody to carry the most precious thing in your life? And to trust somebody with the financial and legal aspects you have to go through . . . It’s a huge thing. Heidi did everything perfectly.”
As the pregnancy progressed, Waletich and Fritz developed a close bond. Waletich and her husband went to the majority of the doctor appointments, sometimes taking others along to share in the joy, with Fritz’s permission.
“She was so gracious about all of us. She welcomed us with open arms,” Waletich said. “It takes a very special person to do this on an emotional and physical level.”
Fritz gave the Waletichs gifts throughout the pregnancy to help them build a foundation around their daughter’s birth and feel even closer to the process. Many of them were keepsakes for Wren, such as a baby blanket and a book designed to explain surrogacy to children. Others were more for the parents, like a list of foods Fritz craved while carrying Wren.
When Waletich wasn’t able to go to the first appointment at which Wren’s heartbeat could be heard, Fritz recorded it and, as a surprise, put the sound inside of a stuffed animal bunny. After the birth, she gave the family a memory book full of professional and candid photos taken throughout the pregnancy.
Sharing those gifts with Wren is especially important to Waletich. She doesn’t want Fritz’s role in the birth to be a secret — Waletich wants her daughter to understand, as she gets older, where she came from.
“I want that to be her reality versus news that we share with her,” she said. “I’ll never take (that gift) for granted. Wren will never be confused. I would love to be able to give our future children that same understanding for how they came to be.”
Throughout the pregnancy, until Wren was born, Waletich and Fritz spoke daily. Now, because of busy lives and hectic schedules, that’s down to once a week, perhaps more. But they have plans to get together in the near future for sleepovers and extended family gatherings.
When Wren was born, Fritz’s father gave the infant a keepsake silver coin — like the ones he’s given to all his other grandchildren. It doesn’t matter that Wren is not related biologically to Fritz and her family, Waletich said. That simply means there are more people to love her. It’s a gift Waletich never knew she wanted for her children, but one that she’ll always cherish.
Asked whether Wren will have a relationship with Fritz as she grows up, Waletich is firm.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I feel like our story is just beginning.”
Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com