The dream to start a family hasn’t been an easy one to fulfill for Erica and Richard Gray.
Seven years ago at age 27, Erica went in for an annual pap smear.
Her doctor spotted some abnormal cells and followed up with a call on Thanksgiving Day.
“I kind of knew something was not great, and she let me know, ‘You have stage three cervical cancer,” said Gray.
With an oncologist, Gray discussed her options. In the end, both decided a hysterectomy was her best option.
“I obviously knew that would take away my chances of having children, which was a hard pill to swallow for sure. My health was the most important thing in that moment,” said Gray.
Undeterred, the Grays spent the better half of the next decade searching for someone to carry their child.
It’s a search that unexpectedly brought them back to Medical City’s oncology department where a surgical technologist overheard Gray’s doctor talking about her struggle to find a surrogate.
“I was like, ‘That’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Kasia Birdwell.
Texts were exchanged, and the strangers made plans to meet for dinner in August of 2019.
The rest is history.
With two of her own kids at home, Birdwell said she’d always had easy pregnancies.
And after watching a coworker become a surrogate, she had a desire to do the same.
“It’s a lot to go through. I mean, she puts her body through a lot for someone else. And especially on top of everything else she’s trying to accomplish in life, work, nursing school, and her two own children and just taking care of her own family. To think of someone else’s family means the world to us,” said Gray.
COVID-19 made their already unique situation more difficult.
Their first embryo transfer was canceled because of the pandemic, and the Grays weren’t able to be there as doctors listened to their baby’s heartbeat for the first time.
Still, as Birdwell carried their son, she did her best to FaceTime, text and keep them as close to the pregnancy as possible.
“It’s been such an awesome journey. It’s a different bond than you could ever explain. It’s more than just having a friend or a best friend, you know. I have their precious cargo with me for nine months and it made us so close,” said Birdwell.
Once strangers, Gray said the women are now as close as sisters.
Still, she said there were times it was difficult to watch someone else carry her child. But, she’s forever grateful to Birdwell for helping them start a family.
On March 4 at 10:34 p.m. at Medical City Dallas, Richard Edwin Gray V entered the world.
He was placed into the arms of his mother, father, and eventually the woman who carried him.
Gray said he’ll grow up knowing her as Aunt Kasia.
“I hope that women see that it is possible. Again, it might not be the exact story you thought it would be but it ends up exactly as it should,” said Gray.