On March 26, Lisa Auten gave birth to her sister’s twin girls, Ashlynn and Tierney.
The idea of surrogacy started off as a joke between Auten, 35, and her younger sister, Melissa Kayser, 33, who suffered nine miscarriages and a failed in vitro fertilization attempt, before deciding surrogacy was her best option to start a family with her husband, Court Kayser.
“I told her, ‘You can use my uterus!’ ” Auten tells PEOPLE. “And we laughed and joked about it. But then I was like, ‘Wait, you can actually use my uterus.’ ”
With support along the way from Kayser, Auten carried and birthed the baby girls, born via a cesarean section.
“I am so incredibly grateful for what Lisa did,” Kayser tells PEOPLE. “She gave up a year of her life to help us become a family and that is something I could never repay. We have two beautiful little girls, all because of my incredible sister.”
The sisters, who both live in Omaha, Nebraska, have always been “best friends,” so when Kayser told Auten about her fertility issues, especially the nine miscarriages, it broke her heart.
“I watched her go through loss after loss and she would send me a text saying, ‘Another miscarriage’ ” says Auten. “It was devastating to hear her talking about it, because she has wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember.”
Kayser sought advice from fertility experts who told her she should consider surrogacy.
“Nobody knew if I could carry,” says Auten, who does not have children of her own. “But if I could help in any way I was going to.
“We talked about her doing surrogacy with a stranger, but she trusted me the most of course and I wanted to do this for her.”
In August 2016, Auten went through an embryo transplant procedure. Doctors implanted two embryos because one was poor quality.
Six days later, Auten took a pregnancy test — and it was positive. Both embryos implanted, so Auten became pregnant with her sister’s twins.
“It was a total shock, but from that moment on, Melissa was there every step of the way,” says Auten. “She was the biggest supporter. I live alone, but she was always over and taking me to doctor appointments and ultrasounds.”
The sisters say they learned a lot about each other during the emotional process, becoming closer than ever.
“We had conversations we’d never had before,” says Auten with a laugh. “Pregnancy can be somewhat personal, so I had to open up and let her in to know where we each stood emotionally.”
The baby girls were born one day before doctors had originally planned to do the C-section.
And both sisters call the birth “absolutely amazing.”
“Seeing Melissa and Court, I could just see the raw emotion in their face looking at the babies in the hospital,” says Auten. “Seeing the emotion on their faces, it was beautiful.”
The sisters, who first shared their story on KETV, live near each other, and Auten visits her sister and the twins every week.
“We want to make sure they know the journey we’ve all been on,” she explains. “We plan on being open about it and I’ll remain very involved in their lives.”
Kayser, who calls her sister a “beautiful soul,” is forever grateful.
“I don’t think I could ever put into words what it meant to have my sister as my surrogate,” says Kayser. “She made this journey exciting, beautiful and a lot of fun.”