In Sally’s words …
What inspires me: I am constantly amazed by the beauty of nature and of people. Inspiration is everywhere. Inspiration does not necessarily have to be grandiose. It can be the free, graceful flight of a bird. It can be that unique colour of the ocean. It can be the simple questions of a child. It can even be as simple as a random act of kindness, such as a smile, that can change someone’s life. I truly believe that every person has something inspiring to offer.
Best advice: As simple as this sounds, it is important to appreciate every day. Live it and experience it with each one of your senses. I love this quote: “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.”― Dalai Lama XIV
Sally Lucas thought life had already dealt her the worst it could muster when she received her cancer diagnosis. Her mum had died of cancer three years before, her brother had committed suicide two years before that. Now, as Sally sat across the doctor’s table listening to the cancer diagnosis, the despair of the past flooded back. Cervical cancer. Immediate hysterectomy. You’ll never have kids. The doctor’s words fell upon her like hammers.
That was seven years ago. Speaking to Sally today, all warmth and radiant smiles, there’s no sign of the dark days behind her. For Sally refused to let tragedy define her. She survived her cancer. And she and her husband Richard are parents to a four-year-old son Finley. The threesome couldn’t be happier.
The doctor’s words fell upon her like hammers.
From bliss to despair
It is the kind of life Sally envisaged not long after first meeting Richard while holidaying in Las Vegas. After chatting to Richard while out on the town in Vegas, Sally leaned to her sister Anne Barbour and whispered that she’d met the man she would marry.
Within a year Sally had swapped her fast-paced Hollywood lifestyle for the laidback vibe of Richard’s home city of Perth and married this down-to-earth Aussie. While she missed her sister and dad back in California, she relished her new love, her new life, and dreamed of the family they’d have together.
Then came the cancer diagnosis. “I felt like someone had smacked me,” Sally says. “I had just gone through the death of my brother, my mum, I wasn’t around my family. I just sat there alone, totally blown away.”
Sally’s sister Anne Barbour flew from the states to be with Sally. This couldn’t be happening, Anne thought. Everyone they’d known with cancer was dead. Not this for her vivacious and beautiful sister.
Not this for her vivacious and beautiful sister.
The cancer was too aggressive to wait the month needed to freeze Sally’s eggs for a possible future pregnancy. She underwent surgery within two weeks, a complete hysterectomy and removal of part of her lymph nodes. “I was newly married and dealing with the idea of not only surviving but not being able to produce a child, of having my insides gone,” Sally says.
The surgery was successful. There wasn’t even a need for chemotherapy. While thankful to have survived, Sally couldn’t help but mourn for her lost hopes of bearing a child.
Sally couldn’t help but mourn for her lost hopes of bearing a child.
It wasn’t long before Sally and Richard started the long, drawn-out and tedious process of applying to adopt a child. They sat courses, read books, were tested, interviewed, had their house assessed. And finally they received approval to adopt. Yet their chances remained dim. No-one would offer a child to a parent who’d suffered cancer. Sally would need to be at least five years cancer free before adoption agencies would consider her.
For Anne, hearing of her sister’s pain from her home in Los Angeles, was heartbreaking. She’d witnessed the sheer love Sally had poured into her niece and nephew. “I remember her saying to me, ‘oh well, maybe my destiny is just to be the world’s best aunty’,” Anne recalls. “And that just broke my heart. The thought of her never experiencing the joy and love you feel as a mother just resonated with me.”
“The thought of her never experiencing the joy and love you feel as a mother just resonated with me.”
Surrogacy idea surfaces
And so the idea of surrogacy surfaced. Anne mulled it over to herself. She researched. She pondered. She decided to wait until her second child was born to see if she really thought she could do it. Within a week after giving birth she brought up the idea with her husband Scott. “He said ‘if you’ve brought it up you’ve already made up your mind’,” Anne says. “He supported me 100 percent – he was concerned about my emotional state and how I would be but I always felt I knew I’d be ok.”
Meanwhile, back in Australia, Sally and Richard were celebrating Christmas with Richard’s family when Anne called via Skype to make her surrogacy offer. “It was one of the best calls I’ve ever made in my life,” Anne says. “It was the first time I’ve ever seen my sister speechless. They were floored. But we knew it was the right thing to do.”
Sally and Richard had never considered surrogacy as an option. It was illegal in Western Australia at the time. But Sally and Anne were American. And it was a common occurrence there. They dared to let themselves hope.
They dared to let themselves hope.
Choosing an egg donor
In America, Anne embarked on hormone injections to prepare her body for a baby, an often excruciating ordeal that left her hips bruised for a year afterwards.
In Australia, Sally and Richard embarked on the surreal task of choosing an egg donor. They had to choose three possible donors to present to the surgeon to choose from. They’d sit at the computer, trawling through page after page of possible donors. But how does one choose the biological mother of their future child? “We didn’t want to choose just based on looks, we didn’t want a Hollywood baby,” Sally says. “I just thought I’d know when I saw her. And I did. She sounded so much like me – quite creative, a writer, she looked after herself.”
Sally and Richard then journeyed to the states where Richard’s sperm were cycled with the donor’s eggs. They’d had to return home by the time the resulting embryo was inserted into Anne’s womb and endure an anxious 10-day wait to see if it had taken. Sally barely slept the night her sister awaited her pregnancy test results. Anne called with the news – she was not only pregnant but her hormone levels were so high they suspected it could be twins. “I was super excited. I wanted to give her twins – it would be an instant family,” Anne says.
Six weeks later Anne called Sally via Skype as she underwent an ultrasound. From the other side of the world, Sally heard and watched the beating of two hearts – her unborn babies – inside her sister’s womb.
Sally heard and watched the beating of two hearts – her unborn babies – inside her sister’s womb.
However, one of the heartbeats was faint. It was unlikely to survive. Anne was crushed she wouldn’t be able to provide the instant family she’d hoped to, but Sally remained ecstatic about any hope of parenthood. “She was still on cloud nine from having one [embryo],” Anne says. “I was definitely a little sad as I wanted to give them two babies but listening to her excitement and gratefulness made it ok.”
Then morning sickness. Anne hadn’t suffered morning sickness with her other two pregnancies but this was the real deal – a nausea that lasted 18 weeks and returned at 28 weeks for the rest of the pregnancy. But Anne never regretted the choice she’d made. “Not once,” she says. “I had no issues, I was totally fine with it. I never ever questioned if I’d be able to go through the process of handing the baby over. I knew it was going to be fine.”
For Sally, watching her sister endure the agony of the hormone needles, then suffer through morning sickness, was gut wrenching. “I think I went through every emotion possible in that nine months,” Sally says. “I saw her get the injections, I could see her eyes well up from the pain. I just couldn’t believe this person was doing this for me – the selflessness of it, watching her going through what she did and thinking she’s doing it for us. But she just said she knew what a gift she had with her own children and she couldn’t imagine us going through life without it.”
“I just couldn’t believe this person was doing this for me.”
By the time Anne’s due date was approaching, they all felt they’d been through an emotional cyclone. During the last trimester they discovered the unborn child had a heart defect. Surely they couldn’t have come this far for it all to end in pain? They prayed, they hoped, they cried. And the heart condition corrected itself before birth.
Sally and Richard travelled back to the states before the due date and waited, and waited. But this baby was not in a hurry to arrive. Eventually Anne was induced and had an epidural but suffered a severe allergic reaction to the drugs. On top of this, the baby was breech. The cord was wrapped around his neck. Fear gripped their hearts. “It was so scary,” Sally says. “I just kept thinking ‘what if she doesn’t make it, what if the baby doesn’t make it’?”
For Anne, the birth was a daze. “I couldn’t stop vomiting, I was dizzy, I felt like I couldn’t focus on anything, my blood pressure dropped really low, into the danger zone,” she says. “I remember turning to my sister and saying ‘I feel like I’m doing to die’. But she was amazing. She was a full on labour coach, she never left my side.”
It’s a boy
Finally the doctors brought Anne’s blood pressure under control and she recovered the energy to push. The new life they’d all longed for was here. The doctors handed the baby boy straight to Sally to lay upon her chest. Richard cut the umbilical cord. “We just couldn’t believe we were holding our baby – a year before we thought this would never be possible,” Sally says. “I remember feeling a million emotions – it was one of the happiest days of my life but I was also worried about my sister, and feeling guilty, but also euphoric. I felt all emotions all at once.”
Watching her sister’s joy from the hospital bed, Anne knew the pain had been worth it. “It was the most amazing sight,” she says. “It still gets me teary eyed thinking about the moment when they became parents. They were both crying. It was incredible. Watching someone else in that moment is just amazing.”
“I remember feeling a million emotions.”
It was recommended that Anne not see the baby to start with but she couldn’t help herself. She was dying to meet her nephew. She dialled Sally’s hospital room from a nearby room and said she wanted to visit. “She wasn’t supposed to see the baby but she just said ‘I’m his aunty’,” Sally says. “She was so excited about becoming an aunt. And I was worried about how she was going sitting in a hospital room with her husband and no baby after giving birth. But as soon as she saw him I knew everyone was ok. She had the biggest smile.”
After being discharged Sally and Richard went to stay with Sally’s dad while Anne returned home to her family. Anne continued to express milk for the baby, whom they’d named Finley.
Anne says while she mentally felt ok about not having a newborn to nurture, her body felt something amiss. “It was interesting,” she says. “I remember my body felt that it was missing a baby. It wasn’t that I was longing for a child but I definitely felt like something was missing. I wasn’t really emotional and mentally I was ok but when they were gone those two weeks I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to see my nephew.”
When they did meet two weeks after Finley’s birth Anne’s conviction that she’d done the right thing was confirmed. “It was like – that’s my nephew!” Anne says. “I never thought I was anything more than a house for him. And I still had my own one-and-a-half year old and three-and-a-half year old at home – they helped me bounce back.”
A new family
After six weeks Richard and Sally returned home to Australia with their new son. “We were on this euphoria that every new parent has, thinking this is real, we have a beautiful son, he is so gorgeous,” Sally says. As before, she kept in close contact with Anne, their bond as sisters stronger than ever.
“We were close anyway so I could never have imagined us getting any closer,” Sally says. “But for anyone to do this – to go through the morning sickness and the drugs and the birth – the selflessness of it, the strength. How much thanks can you give? There’s nothing we can do to thank them enough.”
For Anne, seeing Finley, Sally and Richard happy is thanks enough. “I really don’t think I did anything above and beyond what any sister would do,” Anne says. “I knew how amazing my sister would be as a parent. She has the greatest capacity for love. I knew it from the way she loved my kids with all her heart. They were meant to be parents.”
“They were meant to be parents.”