“It’s not my baby!” Many people don’t have a reason or the opportunity to say that sentence, but last year it was Amanda Chambers’ tagline.
A few years ago, when Amanda’s brother and sister-in-law asked her if she would consider being their surrogate, she immediately said, “Oh, of course!” and then didn’t think much about it again. Amanda and her husband, Chuck, have a 19-year-old son and feel like their family is complete. But Amanda also understood deeply that others have struggled to grow their families.
That was the case with her brother Rusty Suson and his wife, Amy. Rusty has a son from a previous relationship, but when it came to growing their family, things were complicated. Amy has a heart condition that prevents her from being able to maintain a healthy pregnancy and endure childbirth. “When I was 13 years old, I was told I would never have children,” Amy says. “I’ve heard this my entire life, and I struggled with it a lot after I got married. But a few years ago, my cardiologist told my husband and me that we could pursue in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with a surrogate. It was life-changing, and we began praying.” The IVF process is lengthy and expensive, but it meant that Amy and Rusty could have their own child. And yet finding a surrogate who would willingly go through the enormous toll on her body would be a huge hurdle. To carry a child that isn’t yours for 40 weeks is no small decision.
But when Amy and Rusty finally started to move forward with the IVF process, Amanda began to think seriously about their need for someone to carry the baby. She wasn’t super comfortable with the idea of a stranger doing it, and she knew Amy felt the same. “I’m done having my own babies, but I still have all my working parts,” Amanda says with a laugh. “Amy and I have been good friends for more than five years, and my brother and I are extremely close.” Losing their parents when they were young really bonded them—so much that Rusty and Amy often called Amanda “Mom” because of the role she often plays in their lives. And Amanda just knew if the tables were turned, they wouldn’t have hesitated to do it for her. Amanda’s heart was immediately in, but she needed to talk to her husband. “Honestly, how do you present to your husband that someone else wants you to carry their baby? It sounded crazy,” Amanda says. “But he was so sweet. His first concern was the risk for me. And ultimately, he said I was the one who was going to have to do all the work and be the ‘oven.’ It was really my decision, and he would support me whichever way I went.”
In early 2017, the four of them sat down in Amanda’s living room and talked it all out. It wouldn’t be easy. There would be huge sacrifices of time and comfort. Amanda’s body would obviously change, her relationship with her husband was sure to change, there were many tests and drugs and doctor visits to consider, and there was always the possibility that it wouldn’t work. But Amanda was willing to try. “I had the utmost confidence in Amanda being our surrogate,” Amy says. “I knew she would take great care of our child and she would allow me to be part of the journey. I was overcome with gratitude.” Amid nerves and big hugs, they came to a decision that would change all their lives.
After meeting with the fertility specialist, they started the surrogate process. Amanda had to get blood tests and scans done and even a small surgery to ensure she was healthy and in the best place to have a successful pregnancy. Amanda and her husband also underwent a psychological evaluation to ensure they would be capable of handing over the baby to Amy and Rusty. Understandably so, it’s standard procedure for anyone considering surrogacy. The psychologist asked them some questions and then the big question: “Are you going to be okay carrying this child and then giving it up?” Amanda thought about her first pregnancy with her son. She remembered having the distinct feeling that this baby in her belly belonged to her, but this situation already felt completely different. She felt a healthy sort of disconnection when thinking about this potential pregnancy. “I told the psychologist that nothing about this child would be me—it was all Rusty and Amy,” Amanda says. “I knew I’d have a deep love for the baby, and it would be my wished-for niece or nephew, but I was done having my children, and at the end of it all, the baby wasn’t going home with me.” The psychologist asked Amanda’s husband the same question, and they were allowed to continue. “I was prescribed hormone pills and started taking prenatal vitamins to prepare my body,” she says. “Amy even came over every night for more than three months to give me hormone injections because my husband couldn’t do it, and I couldn’t do it on my own. Needless to say, we got very close!”
It had been almost a year since Amanda said yes to her part in this adventure. But before that, Amy and Rusty had spent a difficult year working with doctors to get embryos ready. In March of 2018, all the pieces finally came together. “This was their one shot,” Amanda says. “They were literally putting all their eggs in my basket!” With much prayer and nervous excitement, they did the transfer and then they waited. “I kept taking pregnancy tests, and they kept coming up negative. I was just devastated,” Amanda says. “I remember praying, ‘Please, please don’t let this be the end.’” Days always seem longer when you’re waiting for something, and after 10 days of torment, Amanda went to her doctor for blood work, thinking it would confirm the negatives she had been seeing for days.
“That afternoon, I received a call from the doctor’s office saying I was pregnant! I couldn’t believe it,” Amanda says. “I had taken so many pregnancy tests that were all negative! I called Amy and told her the news, but they had called her too. We just cried and cried on the phone together.” This was the long-awaited, can’t-believe-it’s-actually-happening miracle they had all been praying about for several years. But this was also the beginning of another year of heavy sacrifices, crying prayers, unexpected joys, and deep spiritual battles.
Early on in the pregnancy, doctors said there was a real possibility of miscarriage—the baby, a girl, wasn’t growing at the rate they were hoping. But baby girl continued to grow, and Amy went to every doctor appointment with Amanda, which, as other complications arose, ended up being more often than they originally expected. “We soon found out that the baby had a heart defect. The diagnosis was complicated and didn’t look good,” Amy says. “But from the very beginning, from the negative pregnancy tests to the 50 percent chance of miscarriage to this heart diagnosis, I felt the Lord whispering to me, ‘I Am the great I Am. Bigger than statistics, science, and what the world expects, and I can make anything happen.’” The two couples prayed ceaselessly, praying for the baby by name—Madilyn Elizabeth—and struggled to not listen to negative reports or the enemy’s lies while doctors worked to pinpoint exactly what the heart condition entailed, a task that proved difficult. “Madilyn didn’t move around much. She mainly kept to her spot, except when I was getting a sonogram, then she was not cooperative at all!” Amanda says with a laugh. “One time, we spent two hours at Cook Children’s trying to get a good sonogram, and she just wiggled and moved the whole time.” Madilyn’s feistiness, although frustrating for doctors, was encouraging in the face of such a diagnosis, especially when the days and months ahead were long and fraught with worry.
“I kind of became a hermit. I was tired a lot. I couldn’t see my feet,” Amanda says. “At the time, I was also taking college courses at night. So I would just work, go to school, come home, and lie on the couch.” Amanda hadn’t been pregnant in 20 years and didn’t remember all the aches and pains or getting so big, but Amy and Rusty were at her beck and call for whatever she needed. Toward the end of the pregnancy, Amanda also experienced a fair amount of back pain and even had difficulty walking. Rusty bought her a massager for her back and promised to gift her a full spa and massage treatment after Madilyn was born. (“It was the least he could do!” Amanda says jokingly.) But in the meantime, going out, especially in the searing Texas summer, was still a chore. And even trips to the grocery store or a restaurant came with their own challenges. “People would look at me and say, ‘Congrats, you’re pregnant!’” Amanda says. “And before I knew it, I was replying, ‘It’s not my baby!’ And then I would have to explain that I was a surrogate. Sometimes I would joke and laugh with people that Amy and Rusty were just ‘using me for my body.’ It was good to have a sense of humor about it.”
But there were some days she felt a lot of pressure— this fragile gift was growing inside her. It was on those days that Amanda and her husband’s relationship, as well as her relationship with the Lord, truly deepened. “He would rub my feet after a long day or tell me I was beautiful when I was gaining weight like crazy,” Amanda says. “On days when I thought, What have I done? we would pray together, and I would be reminded of the end goal—a beautiful new life. He was a good husband supporting me in a pregnancy that wasn’t ours.”
Doctors scheduled a date for a C-section due to Madilyn’s condition, and Amanda was cautious not to overexert herself and to listen to all the doctors’ instructions. They all feared Madilyn would come early, but she needed to grow as much as possible in the womb first.
As the date got closer and the knowns and unknowns about Madilyn’s heart condition threatened to steal the joy of nesting and getting ready for her arrival, Amy and Rusty spent even more time in prayer. “I had peace through most of the process, but there were times I just felt overwhelmed. For months, I got on my knees and placed everything in the Lord’s hands so many times,” Amy says. “Every time I did, He would answer. I knew miracles were possible.”
On the morning of the C-section, everyone was nervous. They all wanted Madilyn to be okay. “It was a little scary for me. I didn’t have a C-section with my first, so this was all new,” Amanda says. Only two people were allowed in the operating room with Amanda, so her sweet husband stayed behind so Amy and Rusty could be right there when Madilyn was born. Amy sat by Amanda and talked with her the entire time. “When they pulled Madilyn out, she didn’t cry. I couldn’t feel anything or see Madilyn, and I remember looking at Amy frantically and saying, ‘What’s going on? Why isn’t she crying?’” Amanda says. “But finally, Madilyn let out a cry. We were all so relieved and excited.” As doctors cleaned Madilyn and weighed her, Amy went back and forth, relaying all the information to Amanda, and then Amy got to hold her daughter for the first time. “We both laughed when she came out looking just like her daddy,” she says.
Because of Madilyn’s heart condition, doctors from Cook Children’s were also there to examine her. They let Amy and Rusty both hold her for a moment and then whisked her away to find out what was happening with her heart. “I didn’t cry during the delivery or when holding her for the first time; I cried when we heard Madilyn’s heart defect diagnosis of pulmonary atresia, which was a lot less complex than the diagnosis they recorded in the womb,” Amy says. “I knew then she was going to be okay.” Madilyn had her first little heart surgery three days later to help repair some of the defect. And the day after her surgery, Amanda got to hold her! “I knew, in the end—despite all the injections, sonograms, blood tests, back pain, weight gain, and crazy hormones—it was all worth it.”
Now, Amanda is on the mend, and Amy and Rusty are settling in to new parenthood with this spirited, adorable baby girl. “Throughout this process, I always joked with them that I had the easy part—nine months and it’s over,” Amanda says with a laugh. “They have her for the rest of her life!” To hear Amy and Rusty talk about Madilyn, they are only too happy with that arrangement. Thirty-nine days after her first surgery, Madilyn finally left the hospital. The Suson house is filled with baby gear, toys, little coos, and cries as they all anxiously wait for Madilyn’s second heart surgery to fully repair the defect. She should be able to live a normal, healthy life. “At first it was so odd to hear a baby cry in our house. For three years we circled our child in prayer, and some days it’s hard to believe it really happened,” Amy says. “Since Madilyn’s arrival in November, being a mom is just now beginning to sink in. I’m so grateful.”
Amanda is just as excited to have a baby girl added to the family. She and Amy still text every day. They share pictures of Madilyn or little outfits they saw or ideas for her one-year-old birthday party. “We kept hitting all these hurdles, but she’s finally here,” Amanda says. “I love her to death, and we’ll always have a connection—she lived inside me! I’m truly honored to have been part of bringing her here.”
It was a long journey before they saw Madilyn’s face or heard her laugh. But it was God-ordained from the start. “Through Amanda’s willingness, Madilyn already has an amazing testimony—the Lord brought her here in a special way,” Amy says. “And I know Amanda put her life on hold for a year and sacrificed much to make this happen. I will never be able to thank her enough for helping me have the child I never thought was possible.”
Amanda, Chuck, Amy, and Rusty all attend the North Fort Worth Campus. Madilyn Elizabeth, born November 12, 2018, will have her second heart surgery this spring. We will all be praying for a swift and full recovery!