Beth Gaudino and Anna Howat take sisterhood to a whole new level.
After the heartbreak of losing twin newborns, Gaudino, 32, is expecting a child through surrogacy via her sister, Howat, 29, who previously experienced miscarriages herself. The expecting mother and aunt, who reside in Tolland, Connecticut, participated in a celebratory “rainbow baby” maternity photoshoot on Sept. 30 to honor the children they’ve lost.
A rainbow baby is a child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. The term comes from the idea that after a storm there is new hope.
Howat recalls being in the car with Gaudino in May 2015, on the way to get their nails done, when her sister revealed the news: she was pregnant with twins.
Howat was ecstatic that she was going to be an aunt. But she couldn’t stop her eyes from filling with tears. Howat had suffered her first miscarriage five months prior in Dec. 2014, and her second miscarriage just three weeks before her sister’s pregnancy announcement.
” ‘You just have to be happy for her. You just have to forget what you went through and just be happy,’ ” Howat says her husband told her. “So it was rough, but it was also exciting because they were my niece and my nephew.”
At the same time, Gaudino was also uneasy about her pregnancy. She didn’t want to let herself get too excited. Gaudino, who has endometriosis, had difficulty getting pregnant and eventually conceived via IVF. But her pregnancy was considered high risk, and in August 2015, she gave birth to her twins at just 20 weeks after a premature rupture.
Sadly, her babies, Grace and Savage, both died within hours. Then, just two months later, in October 2015, Howat suffered her third miscarriage.
The sisters mourned their losses together.
“We went through similar things together, so I could understand what she was going through and she could understand what I was going through,” Howat says. “I think that the whole experience, my miscarriages and her losses, brought us much closer.”
Later that year, the tables were turned. Howat became pregnant with her now 1-year-old daughter, Penelope, in February 2016. During her sister’s pregnancy, Gaudino failed to become pregnant from an IVF treatment.
After Howat gave birth to her daughter, she asked her doctor about the surrogacy transfer process.
“I remember [Gaudino] telling us that the doctors weren’t sure if she was going to be able to get pregnant, and she was obviously crying, and I just remember saying: ‘Well, I’ll just carry your baby,’ ” says Howat. “It wasn’t even like an offer, and there were no questions. It was just like, obviously I would do that for [her].”
The successful transfer happened in May 2017 and the baby (a girl to be named Charlotte Grace, after one of the twins who passed) is due in February.
The sisters, now a mother and expecting mother, participated in a “rainbow baby” photoshoot organized by birth and newborn photographer JoAnn Marrero.
This year was Marrero’s second annual rainbow photoshoot. The event was complimentary for expecting mothers and included hair/makeup prep and prenatal massages.
“Doing complimentary, annual rainbow sessions is important to me as I lost a baby prior to having my son Michael. As a professional birth photographer, I see so much joy, yet at times, a lot of sadness,” Marrero tells PEOPLE. “This year alone I have photographed over 200 babies. It’s heartbreaking when you photograph a baby and then get the news that several hours later they passed away.”
Marrero’s first rainbow baby photoshoot last year featured a mother who had experienced six miscarriages.
Gaudino and Howat’s lives are intertwined beyond the surrogacy. The two are married to first cousins, and Howat recently moved into the house next door to her sister.
The sisters want their kids to grow up together.
“I hope one day my kids’ families are just as close as we are. My parents are amazing, married over 30 years and a great example of what parents should be and have each other to lean on,” Gaudino tells PEOPLE. “I would hope that all of the cousins and siblings would be just as close as us.”