I Gave Birth to Triplets for My Friend
An Emotional Time
As she stood up to leave, Frana Sadler embraced her friend Susan Dunaway, then gently kissed the newborn triplets who were dozing on Susan's lap. The infants had recently been released from the neonatal intensive care unit where they'd spent the first days of their lives, and Frana was paying them a visit. Now she needed to get back home -- to the condo next door, across a five-foot landing -- to her own three children. She was about to close the front door when Susan called after her. Frana then stuck her head back in the room. "Thank you so much," Susan whispered.
"Oh gosh, of course," Frana replied, as if Susan was thanking her for a casserole she'd brought over. The two women -- Susan, 29, a slim blonde, and Frana, 37, still in hormone overload from her recent pregnancy -- smiled at each other, then both burst into tears.
"It was just so emotional," Susan explains. "I was finally holding my babies in my arms, but if it weren't for Frana, that moment never would have happened."
It was "that moment" that the two women and their husbands had been working toward for the past year. In an extraordinary feat of teamwork, Frana had carried Susan's unborn triplets for eight months as a surrogate mother, while Susan acted as another kind of surrogate mom to Frana's three children, moving across the country and taking care of them while their mother was incapacitated by her high-risk pregnancy.
The story of how it took a village not to raise children but in this case to give birth to them could happen only in the 21st century -- but its themes of sacrifice, friendship, and longing for family are as old as time.
The Keith and Weber clans of the Texas Hill Country, north of San Antonio, have been extraordinarily close for nearly half a century. Frana Keith Sadler's father not only practiced law with Susan Weber Dunaway's grandfather and father, but he and Susan's father were also best friends. Growing up on neighboring ranches, the three Weber kids and six Keith children drifted in and out of one another's homes almost like cousins. In fact, Susan remembers, as a girl she idolized Frana and used to fantasize that Frana was her elder sister. "She always had a magnetic personality and charisma," Susan says, "and she still does." The two families shared good times, as well as tragedies. The worst of these were the deaths of Susan's father when she was 13 and of her 27 -year-old brother eight years later.
Both men died of complications from an inflammation of the heart muscles called cardiomyopathy. Susan had inherited the same condition but was able to manage it with medication. The drug she takes, however, is known to cause severe birth defects. A few days before Mother's Day 2008, Susan's cardiologist gave her some devastating news: It was absolutely unsafe for her to go off the drug for nine months of pregnancy.
"Of course, I knew he might say that, but I still wasn't emotionally prepared," says Susan. "I grieved that I'd never experience a pregnancy. At some point I'm sure we would have considered adoption. But then we didn't have to."
That's because Frana, upon hearing about the cardiologist's verdict from Susan's mom, immediately piped up, "I'll have a baby for her." (Not for nothing is the five-foot-tall former designer known within her family as "Ready, Fire, Aim.") Yet Frana felt confident about volunteering because she'd had easy pregnancies and delivered her two younger kids without drugs. "I'm a go-for-it kind of person," Frana says, "and I thought Susan had already had enough disappointment."
But first she had to run the idea past her husband, Mike. "I've stopped my wife from doing a lot of crazy things," he says, "but this seemed different. I could tell how important it was to her."