“It wasn’t conventional, but they ended up with kids at the end," Lisa Rutherford tells PEOPLE of being daughter Kelsi Pierce's surrogate

By Rachel DeSantis
December 08, 2020 03:39 PM
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Lisa Rutherford and Kelsi Pierce
| Credit: Kelsi Pierce

A Michigan mother and her daughter are celebrating the miracle of life two times over after she served as her daughter’s surrogate – only for her daughter to become pregnant with a baby she was told would be near impossible for her to have.

Lisa Rutherford, 54, gave birth to her granddaughter Everly on Oct. 1, while Rutherford’s daughter Kelsi Pierce, 31, welcomed the newborn’s sister Ava on Nov. 23.

“It makes me proud to say, ‘Hey, we went through this,’” Rutherford tells PEOPLE. “It wasn’t conventional, but they ended up with kids at the end.”

Pierce and her husband Kyle, who live about 12 hours away from Rutherford in Minnesota, tied the knot in 2016, and knew from the get-go that they were meant to be parents.

But by 2017, they realized that their road to parenthood would be paved with obstacles, as Pierce’s doctors informed her that her ovarian reserve was exceptionally low, and both of her tubes were blocked.

Kelsi and Kyle Pierce
| Credit: bella sulle photography

Though the couple began IVF treatments and created five successful embryos, Pierce’s uterine lining was too thin, and despite trying everything under the sun to thicken it — including patches, pills, injections and infusions — nothing worked.

“I was like, ‘I will try anything. You give me something and you tell me it would take five years off the end of my life, I don’t care. I want a baby. I would do anything,’” Pierce tells PEOPLE. “We were just desperate.”

It was about a year into their journey that Rutherford first floated the idea that she could serve as Pierce’s gestational surrogate, a thought that emerged after Pierce first read about a similar story in PEOPLE.

“She was like, ‘Oh my god, I would so do that for you guys,’” Pierce recalls. “But where we were at mentally, we were like, ‘You’ll never have to do that. This will work, my body’s going to respond to the meds eventually. You don’t need to put your body through that at this age’… Not that we didn’t take it seriously, but we didn’t think it would ever come to that.”

Kelsi Pierce
| Credit: Kelsi Pierce

Pierce and her husband, who is in the Army, brushed the idea aside and stayed optimistic, hoping that with continued treatment — and surgery to open her tubes — there would be no need for Rutherford to step in.

Eventually, though, Pierce received the devastating phone call that despite their most valiant efforts, doctors felt as if all options for her to conceive a child had been exhausted.

“It was a very dark hole I was in,” she recalls. “And being a teacher, it’s hard too, because I’m around kids. I used work as a way to stay busy, but then it’s also like, I’m constantly reminded about what I want so badly, which is to have a kid… It was a very depressing time.”

Luckily for her, however, Rutherford’s offer still stood — and after calling around to several fertility doctors, she got the medical OK to officially serve as her daughter’s surrogate.

Kelsi and Kyle Pierce
| Credit: Kelsi Pierce

“After we had talked about it the first time, it was always in the back of my mind,” Rutherford says. “So I called a couple of fertility doctors in Michigan and I think three of them said, ‘No, you’re crazy. We’re not going to do that.’ [But] I found this one and she was awesome. She said, ‘Yep.’”

By December 2019, Rutherford — who also has an older daughter — was preparing her body to be pregnant again for the first time in three decades, and by Feb. 15, she was expecting.

Of course, that’s just where the story begins — because in late March, Pierce received the shock of a lifetime when she learned that she, too, was expecting a “miracle” baby.

Pierce says that despite having stopped all medication and prenatal vitamins, she took a pregnancy test on March 24 out of habit – and for the first time, it was positive.

“It wasn’t anything I thought was even a possibility,” she says. “When I saw the two lines I was completely in awe because I had never seen two lines. I had gone so crazy where I would check them every month and I would try so hard to see lines that weren’t there… So to see it plain in front of my eyes, I was like, ‘No, no, this is a faulty test.’ I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it was so crazy and exciting.”

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Rutherford was just as excited for her daughter, telling PEOPLE that it helped Pierce realize her dream of having more than one child, something that had been uncertain up to that point.

“I said, ‘Well, maybe this is god’s way of letting them have two children,’” she says. “Because the odds of her having another one are very, very slim. So I was excited! I was just elated that they could end up having two kids.”

The pair say being pregnant at the same time was fun, and that they were able to lean on each other to check in on certain milestones.

“I’ve always said my mom’s my best friend,” Pierce says of their bond. “If something bad is happening or I’m having a bad day, she’s who I reach out to. And if something good has happened or I’m excited about something, she’s who I reach out as well. We talk like, five times a day, every day.”

Rutherford eventually gave birth on Oct. 1 to Everly, who was born several weeks early and spent five days in the NICU before coming home on Pierce’s birthday. Then, on Nov. 23, Pierce gave birth to Ava.

“It still feels surreal to me,” she says. “I’m so excited to where they can just notice each other and see what they do. It’s just so amazing. I just stare at them for however long and I’m just like, ‘I can’t believe you’re mine.’”

Rutherford, meanwhile, is enjoying watching her daughter finally get to be a mother.

“It’s exciting because they had wanted kids, and it’s been such a long journey,” she says. “It’s exciting seeing how good of parents they are.”