“We talked about this seriously for a couple years and did a lot of research before trying," Kelsey Benton tells PEOPLE
A journey that was years in the making for two couples resulted in two healthy babies.
Amy and John Cardenas wanted to start a family but after Amy had a hysterectomy, their path to parenthood wasn't clear, according to Good Morning America. But their dream of starting a family became possible when her good friend from college, Neva Benton, and Neva's wife Kelsey shared that they wanted to help.
“This journey began as kind of a joke of swapping kids — John would donate and I would carry a baby for Neva and then I [would carry] one for Amy and John,” Kelsey tells PEOPLE. “We talked about this seriously for a couple years and did a lot of research before trying.”
Kelsey says that "as a gay woman I knew that having kids of my own would have to look 'different' but I was not sure what specifically that would be."
She and her wife "began fostering kids about a year into our marriage" and adopted three children from foster care. They also "decided to look into what it would entail to have biological children."
"The process itself is quite expensive and not something we thought we would be able to afford. We decided if we could find a sperm donor that we knew we could try insemination," Kelsey says, noting that she's also "always wanted to be a surrogate if I was able."
Ultimately, after doing their research, the four friends decided to begin the insemination process.
“We got pregnant with Ora on the first try,” Kelsey says of her and her wife's daughter, who was born in 2021.
And when Ora was about 15 months old, Kelsey got pregnant again, but this time, as a surrogate for Amy and John.
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Kelsey describes that pregnancy as “a little harder,” and says she had morning sickness, sciatic nerve pain, fatigue, and began experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions as early as 21 weeks.
Still, sharing the experience with Amy and John was "really special."
“The baby was theirs the entire time and I never had the feeling of anything different,” Kelsey says. “I got to tell them they were going to be parents, Neva and I got to share in seeing their reaction to seeing the baby the first time and finding out the gender."
And possibly most important: The Arizona couple was able to be present at their baby’s birth last month because they happened to be visiting the Bentons in Kansas when Kelsey went into labor early.
“I had some serious contractions and told Neva we weren’t going to make it to the hospital,” Kelsey recalls. “[Neva] very calmly and reassuringly guided me to our bathroom, grabbed some towels and pillows and helped me climb into the tub.”
After first responders arrived, Kelsey quickly gave birth to baby Ezri in the tub, with John cutting the umbilical cord and Amy on hand to experience skin-to-skin with the newborn.
Summing up the experience, Kelsey says that surrogacy was meaningful because it meant she could help “someone add to their family.”
“I didn’t do it for me, I did it for them,” she says.
Kelsey went on to share gratitude for her wife. “It couldn’t have been easy for her to support me through two pregnancies while processing not being able to have kids of her own and then having to pick up the slack while I healed," she says. “I could not have gone through either of these pregnancies or births without her support and unconditional love.”
As for their forever bond, Kelsey says she and her wife "are aunts to Ezri" while “Amy and John are aunt and uncle" to their kids.
“All of the kids in our lives are happy and healthy,” Kelsey adds.
For John, the long road to becoming a dad was a “natural” experience.
"If I can advise anybody that decides to go down this route of surrogacy, it really is more of a test of faith and perseverance," the new dad told GMA. "If you want anything enough that you're going to work on it, the hard work part just comes naturally. You really got to keep the faith and you've really got to keep the perseverance to get through it."
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