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Jumping in Heart First: Bellefonte native gives couple the ultimate gift through surrogacy

by on February 01, 2018 11:10 AM

Talk to Shevel Simonetti for more than five minutes, and it immediately becomes clear: she’s a giver.

“Anyone who knows me knows I just love giving gifts. I’m always giving little presents to people,” she says.

Once you get a glimpse of her compassionate and generous personality, it is not completely surprising to learn that a few years ago she decided to give what she calls “the ultimate gift” to a New York couple who desperately wanted to be parents: the use of her womb.

The 28-year-old mother of three girls, ages 8, 6, and 4, Simonetti and her husband, Josh, decided after the birth of their third baby that they did not want to add any more children to their own family. But, she says, “It was about five months after we had our third daughter, and I was kind of going through that withdrawal phase, that sadness of not having any more babies. I was watching TV, and this was just when all the celebrities were coming out with stories about surrogacy. I had no idea what it was, really. But I saw a story on television about two sisters, and it really intrigued me. So I just started researching it.

“I researched for about a week straight before I sat my husband down and said, ‘I really want to do this.’ And at first he kind of laughed it off, but I kept bringing it up, until he said, ‘OK, if you really want to do this, let’s do it,’” she says.

Simonetti eventually decided to post her profile on a website (surromomsonline.com), and was immediately overwhelmed by the response.

“I got hundreds and hundreds of responses in the first two days. I didn’t know where to start, and I wasn’t even sure if I absolutely wanted to do this at that point,” she says. “It was one of those, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I just get myself into?’ moments. But when I started to read through these emails, it was so eye-opening.”

The testimonies from couples who were struggling with infertility really touched her, she says.

“People don’t understand what couples have to go through to have a baby sometimes: how much money it takes, and how much emotionally and physically they give of themselves to make it happen. It was very emotional for me to see that side of things.

“One email hit me especially hard – it was so in-depth, talking about this couple’s struggles, and there were so many similarities in our beliefs and even in our personalities,” Simonetti says. “We exchanged phone numbers and we started talking, and right then and there, from that first call, I knew: ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’ I fell in love with this couple, and my husband loved them, too.”

Still, at this point, she says, “I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought, ‘This will be a piece of cake for me; I’ve had such easy pregnancies. This will be no problem.’”

She had no way of predicting just how difficult the journey was going to become.

The first hurdle involved choosing a fertility clinic. Because the parents were from Syracuse, New York, which is home to the world-renowned CNY Fertility Center, Simonetti had to decide if she was willing to make the four-hour drive from Bellefonte on a regular basis.

“We don’t have a fertility clinic anywhere close to us here in Central Pennsylvania, but theirs was absolutely amazing. So that was something during this process that [my husband and I] had to decide – are we willing to travel that much, having three little kids of our own? Ultimately, we just went for it.” 

In order to prepare her body to accept an embryo from the parents, she needed to be put on an intense regimen involving nine medications at a time, including hormone injections and oral medications.

Then, she says, “A two-week-old embryo would be implanted into my uterus, and we’d wait 10 days to see if it ‘took’ or not. It was a very stressful time. … Just exhausting, and an emotional roller coaster. My husband didn’t know what to do with me sometimes, because one minute I’d be so happy, and the next I’d want to be left alone and crying in a corner somewhere.”

Unfortunately, despite a history of getting pregnant easily, she had to endure five rounds of this before she finally became pregnant this time.

“It was a really hard journey. When we got to our fourth try, I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ It’s just so hard on you, emotionally and physically. I needed to take a little break and think about whether I wanted to continue. I took a few months off, and then I said, ‘Let’s try one more time.’ I just felt something, I wasn’t ready to give up. … We did [try again], and very soon, I just felt weird, I was getting nauseous, so I took a pregnancy test and it was positive!”

Her pregnancy was quickly confirmed by a blood test, but she soon ended up in the emergency room, fearing she was miscarrying. An ultrasound allayed her fears, but also showed something a bit unexpected: not one, but two beating hearts.

“I called the parents in Syracuse and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re having twins!’ They started screaming and jumping up and down. It was a really exciting time, and scary, all at the same time,” Simonetti says.

Everything went smoothly in the pregnancy up until the 30th week, she says, when she developed preeclampsia, a dangerous condition involving high blood pressure. From that point on, she started receiving blood transfusions and had to be monitored around the clock.

At 34 weeks, she went into labor and quickly developed complications necessitating a helicopter transport to Hershey Medical Center, where doctors performed an emergency C-section. While the twins were born healthy despite arriving six weeks early, Simonetti herself struggled, requiring eight blood transfusions in the operating room, and suffering more physical complications before finally recovering and being released from the hospital one week later.

As soon as they knew she was in labor, she says, the babies’ parents rushed from Syracuse to Hershey to be present for the birth.

“They were so awesome. They said, ‘We just want you to be healthy, we want you to be safe, we want you to be OK.’ You know, most parents would probably be just worried about their babies, but they were always saying, through the whole entire pregnancy, ‘Are you OK? We want you to do what you’re comfortable with, we want you to do what makes you happy and healthy first and foremost.’”

The parents are very private people, Simonetti says, so she does not share their identity, but she remains close to the family.

“They send me pictures all the time,” she says. “[The mom] texts me and keeps up with me, and I just love them. I still love them to this day.”

Simonetti shares no DNA with the now 1-and-a-half-year-old twin girls, and actually, she says, “Because I had all the complications and they were in the NICU for two weeks after birth, I’ve never met them outside of the womb. We’ve seen pictures of each other, and the mom has made a book for them, so they know who I am but we just never actually met in person.”

As far as her own children, despite their young ages, they did seem to grasp the concept of Simonetti’s surrogacy.

“We told them from day one that these were not our babies. They always knew that they were the other parents’ babies and they were growing in mommy’s belly,” she says. “They surprisingly understood a lot more than I thought they’d understand. Anytime anyone would comment in public, our kids would step up and say, ‘Those are not our babies.’ So they understood that we would not be bringing them home to our house. … They were great about it.”

Simonetti and her husband, Josh, grew up in Bellefonte. They now live in Lewisburg, where she works at a private Christian school and her husband is a youth pastor.

Simonetti would advise anyone considering becoming a surrogate to do very thorough research first.

“There are a lot of details that go into this that you don’t realize, a lot of legal details, and you have to know exactly what you want and what you are comfortable with. You can’t compromise that,” she says. “The most important thing is, you have to do this out of love. I think at first a lot of people only see the money side of it or the benefits they might get from it, but you have to go into this heart first. Definitely heart first.”

Karen Walker is a freelance writer in State College.

 

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