Cancer threatened N.J. womans dream of motherhood. Then her sister stepped in. –

When Kristin Patchell gave birth this year, she didnt become a mom. She became an aunt.

On April 22, in a hospital room in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the 40-year-old delivered a miraculous and long-awaited gift for her sister Kelly Della Rosa when she delivered her niece and Della Rosas first baby.

Years earlier, Patchell already a mom of two, living in Jefferson, Pennsylvania had agreed without hesitation to be a surrogate for her 33-year-old sister.

Their journey one of heartache and endurance began in 2016 when Vernon resident Della Rosas breast cancer resurfaced for a second time at age 29. After receiving treatment, her doctor informed her that getting pregnant would raise her hormone levels and put her at risk for a third cancer reoccurrence. But, Della Rosa had already frozen some of her eggs before starting chemotherapy for her initial diagnosis four years earlier, meaning gestational surrogacy was an option.

(Della Rosa) knows how much cancer impacted her life and her ability to control the outcome of things... It took away options. As her older sister, Ive always wanted to be the person that could offer support and love, Patchell said. I wished during those times when she was in treatment there was something I could do to help her to get through it. So when this opportunity came up... it was definitely something that made me feel like I could and should be in a position to offer that.

For the pair, and Della Rosas husband Matt, the surrogacy process was not as easy as they first imagined.

The steps of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, seem simple enough: An egg from the mother is fertilized in a lab with sperm from the father to create an embryo, which is then placed into the surrogates uterus during the implantation stage. However, prior to the embryo transfer, the surrogate takes hormone medications meant to prepare the uterus for conception and mimic a naturally occurring process early in pregnancy. The timing of the transfer must be planned perfectly for a successful implantation, which Patchell likened to a puzzle.

Patchell was on multiple daily fertility medications she had to take at specific times, two of which were self-administered injections. At times, Patchell said, shed be traveling, and it would be time to take one of the injections, so she and her husband would pull over to the side of the road for the jab.

Kelly Della Rosa holding her newborn baby Hannah after her sister, Kristin Patchell, gave birth. Her sister served as a surrogate for Della Rosa, who was unable to be pregnant because she is a cancer survivor.Courtesy of Kelly Della Rosa

With five viable embryos, the sisters had only five chances at a baby.

The first attempt was in June 2019, Della Rosa said. Patchell had a positive pregnancy test result afterward, but it ended in a miscarriage. Two more transfers also resulted in miscarriages, and the familys frustrations were difficult to keep at bay.

At one point, Della Rosa said, her sister even switched to a gluten and dairy-free diet at the advice of her doctor, who said the change could increase the chances of a pregnancy. Della Rosa says her sisters determination is part of what got them through a dark period.

We expected it to kind of go smoothly and it didnt, Kelly Della Rosa said. When you do IVF, its not always a guarantee that you have a baby so it was a pretty dark period for all of us and it was pretty stressful. There were times when Matt and I wanted to give up and Kristen was so positive about just staying the course and we did.

As each one kept failing, it was very difficult for us to see our options dwindling down, and wondering if the next ones gonna work or not. If it doesnt, what do we do from here? Each one was more and more heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, Matt Della Rosa, 37, said.

Finally, in August of 2020, the fourth transfer attempt was successful, filling all three with relief. But there were a few extra hurdles.

Matt and Kelly Della Rosa had to petition a court in Pennsylvania to have their names listed as parents on their babys birth certificate, Kelly Della Rosa said. The court order, drawn up by a reproductive lawyer, was signed by the Della Rosas, Patchell and her husband and doctors who delivered the infant.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented another obstacle. Matt and Kelly Della Rosa werent allowed into any of Patchells doctors appointments, with the exception of a few ultrasound scans, Della Rosa said. Matt also could not be in the operating room during the birth. FaceTime, they said, was their friend.

That was pretty challenging, especially because we waited a long time, so we had to adapt and just kind of accept some of those things for what it was, Kelly Della Rosa said.

The couple named their baby after the Biblical figure Hannah, a barren woman who was blessed with a child after praying to God. The babys middle name is Kristin, in honor of Patchell, Della Rosa said.

For Patchell, whose children are 4 and 2, being able to help give her sister a child was the greatest reward, and the entire process gave her a new understanding of what it means to be hopeful, she said.

As a parent, I know what a gift parenthood is so that was obviously a driving force. Weve journeyed this together and so theres an intensity to it, but theres also that idea of when you get to like the top of the mountain, you can see the view from a different perspective, Patchell said. I really have reoriented myself to the idea that to be hopeful, it means you persist, it means you keep to the plan, and you cry on each others shoulders if you need to or you remind yourself that whatever the outcome is, youre strong enough to endure it.

Matt and Kelly Della Rosa holding their newborn baby Hannah.Courtesy of Kelly Della Rosa

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Avalon Zoppo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AvalonZoppo.

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Cancer threatened N.J. womans dream of motherhood. Then her sister stepped in. -

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