SALT LAKE CITY — One Utah couple’s struggle to start a family did much more than bring them together — it potentially saved two lives.
When Jen and James Lowe married in 2016, they didn’t waste time trying to start a family. Jen was in her thirties and the couple knew time wasn’t on their side. The next several years brought surprise after surprise, but no baby.
The couple resorted to in vitro fertilization after six months and no pregnancy. By early 2019 things looked good. The IVF had worked. They had one embryo — one they lovingly called “EmbryLowe.”
The day was one the couple said they will never forget. It was supposed to be one of the happiest days of their life, but, it took a dark turn.
“The exact day we found out about the embryo is when we found out about my cancer,” Jen told KSL-TV.
She had Stage 3 ovarian cancer. She would need immediate chemotherapy and a complete hysterectomy.
In the blink of an eye, pregnancy was off the table for the hopeful couple. That’s when a family member stepped in. James’ sister agreed to be a surrogate.
“So we transferred in, like, the end of November and found out, like, the week before Christmas we had lost the baby,” James said.
The one and only chance for the couple to have a biological baby was gone.
Just a few months earlier, Ben and Brianna Bigelow had twins — the result of a successful round of IVF after suffering back-to-back miscarriages. They recounted the heartbreak they felt losing babies while those around them were pregnant.
“I don’t think it detracts from the excitement for them, but it heightens the feeling of loss and sorrow that we were feeling at the time,” said Ben.
They felt so lucky to have their babies. One night, as the couple wrapped up the day, Brianna scrolled through Facebook. She and James went to school together and had reconnected in recent years. Her friend was asking for help. He and his wife needed a surrogate.
“It’s something that’s so intimate but you also have, like, no recourse other than like, hey, I need to humble myself and ask for help,” said James.
What James couldn’t have known when he wrote that post was Brianna had already thought about becoming a surrogate, years ago. Even more so after she and Ben had struggled to carry a baby to full term.
“I remember reading it, and I turned to Ben and said, ‘What do you think about me throwing my name in the hat?'” Brianna said. “Once we went through our fertility issues, that’s when it really hit home for me that, like, would be really awesome to a be a part of.”
Brianna sent her friend a message. It was a message he had hoped he would get.
The two couples started the process. After some serious conversations and lots of medical tests, the Lowes used a new embryo with a donor egg and the couples started a new, nontraditional, and surprisingly comfortable pregnancy together.
Brianna has a teenager, and that pregnancy was easy. Carrying her twins wasn’t.
She said she felt cheated, and wanted to experience pregnancy again. This gave her the opportunity to do that, all while sharing the excitement with the Lowes. Ben enjoyed it, too.
“Being able to go through this with them has just been really crazy and fortuitous in a way that feels wonderful, and just very natural,” Ben said.
Jenny felt the same.
“I feel like, not only do I get to share that excitement with Ben, but I’m sharing it with James and Jenny,” she said.
The Bigelows said the thought of giving the baby to someone else after birth added to the excitement.
“In the end, we get to hand that little bundle off and, you know, walk away,” said Ben.
The Lowes treated the pregnancy just like it was their own. They went to doctor appointments, had a gender reveal party and prepared for the birth.
In late February, baby Hope made her debut. The name was significant for the Lowes.
“It became a very reoccurring theme throughout my treatment and through our fertility struggle. People would give us things or say things about the concept of hope,” explained Jen.
While the birth itself was easy, following delivery, Brianna was rushed back to the hospital in heart failure. As it turns out, baby Hope revealed a condition in Brianna she had since birth. Now she knows about it and can take appropriate action to keep it in check.
The Lowes said had they never started down the road to a baby, Jen’s cancer diagnosis could have come too late. For the Bigelows, baby Hope potentially saved Brianna’s life, as well.
“Things are as survivable as you make them,” says James. “As long as you keep the faith, and you keep hope, everything will ultimately be OK.”