The hip hop dance group Kalamity is known for its efforts to help Southern Utahns facing various challenges in their lives. But the dancers also believe in taking care of their own.
When Chelsea Judd confided in fellow Kalamity members about her struggles with infertility, the group provided support and encouragement. But Kalamity founder and coach Tia Stokes offered even more.
She gave Chelsea the opportunity to become a mother.
Tia, a Hurricane resident, says her desire to serve was inspired by her late father, who taught her that even if she doesn’t have much to give, she can always do something for someone. That’s why she started Kalamity.
“Along with serving the community, it’s about serving each other too — loving each other,” Tia says. “It’s important for me, as a coach, to live that in our own dance community.”
The infertility fight
Chelsea and her husband, Steve, live in Santa Clara and have been married for 10 years. They first began trying to have children about seven years ago.
“We pretty much did everything you can do,” Chelsea says of their efforts to get pregnant. “We had only planned on having maybe a couple of kids, so we weren’t in a big rush.”
Initially they focused on tracking Chelsea’s ovulation cycle. After a few years with no success, they tried other options, including three attempts at artificial insemination. When that didn’t work, Chelsea began taking Clomid, a medication that stimulates ovulation.
“We pretty much did everything you can do. We had only planned on having maybe a couple of kids, so we weren’t in a big rush.”
Eventually they decided to resort to “more drastic measures.”
That included in vitro fertilization, or IVF, a process where the ovaries are medically stimulated to grow several eggs, according to the Utah Fertility Center. The eggs are then collected from the ovaries and sperm is added to fertilize the eggs in a laboratory. A few days later, the fertilized eggs are transferred to the woman’s body to develop in her uterus.
In the spring of 2015, the Judds decided to try IVF. For the first step, Chelsea gave herself 47 hormonal injections to control ovulation timing and increase the production of mature eggs. A final shot is given at the end of the cycle to trigger the release of the eggs.
“I was really scared to give myself shots,” Chelsea admits in a YouTube video she created to tell her story.
But she gradually became more confident and by the time she administered the “trigger” shot, she was comfortable injecting herself.
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A few days later they drove to the Utah Fertility Center in Pleasant Grove for the egg retrieval process, where the mature eggs are aspirated through a needle into a test tube. An average yield is 15 eggs.
“After I woke up from the egg retrieval, then they told me there were five eggs that they were able to retrieve, which is not very many,” Chelsea says in the video. “So that was kind of a red flag right there.”
The eggs were then injected with Steve’s sperm, resulting in three fertilized embryos. Following a short incubation, the embryos were transferred to Chelsea’s uterus. Although the eggs fertilized, the medical staff estimated only a 20 percent chance of success because the embryos were fragmenting.
“We left that day from the fertility center just really defeated,” Chelsea says.
Two weeks later, Chelsea had a blood test to see if she was pregnant. The test came back negative.
Johanna Hendrickson, a physician’s assistant in Heber City, formerly worked for the Utah Fertility Clinic and was part of the medical staff during Chelsea’s first attempt at IVF.
“Chelsea was the model patient,” Hendrickson says. “Her eggs were bad, basically. She got this terrible news but she took it with such stride. We didn’t see that type of optimism very often.”
Tia Stokes watches as Chelsea Judd plays with her daughter,Buy Photo
Tia Stokes watches as Chelsea Judd plays with her daughter, Giselle, on May 2 at Nisson Park in Washington City.When Chelsea faced fertility issues, Tia donated eggs for in vitro fertilization. (Photo: Brian Passey / The Spectrum & Daily News)
An offering of love
After Chelsea’s first attempt at IVF failed, the Judds began considering other options, including adoption. But Chelsea still wanted the opportunity to give birth, which meant using an egg donor.
She spent time looking through anonymous donor profiles but felt as if it would be strange not knowing the identity of her child’s genetic mother.
“I thought, ‘That’s weird. I don’t want to do that,’” she says.
It was a “sad couple of weeks” for the Judds as they mourned their diminishing options.
When Chelsea told her fellow Kalamity members that egg donation might be the only option left, one of the dancers suggested Tia, a mother of three, become the egg donor.
Chelsea dismissed the suggestion as a joke but Tia began to seriously consider it. After talking with her husband, Andy, who voiced his support, Tia met with Chelsea and officially offered to donate eggs.
“It felt inspired,” Tia says. “I really wanted to help her have a baby.”
Tia just had one point of consideration: She jokingly warned that Chelsea might have a “brown baby.”
Both Chelsea and Stephen are white while Tia is Polynesian with Hawaiian, Samoan and German backgrounds. But race wasn’t an issue for the Judds.
“Secretly I thought, ‘OK, if she ends up looking like Tia, great, because I think Tia is gorgeous. So that’s fine with me.”
“Secretly I thought, ‘OK, if she ends up looking like Tia, great, because I think Tia is gorgeous. So that’s fine with me,’” Chelsea says.
Hendrickson says parents who consider egg donors typically want babies that will look like them. For that reason, it’s common for family members — whether they are siblings or cousins — to donate eggs. Even when using anonymous donors, many parents will choose a donor profile that provides a greater chance for resemblance.
Yet, with Chelsea and Steve, the most important factor was the person they chose as their donor.
After hearing Tia’s offer, Chelsea began to feel excited. She discussed it with Steve and was initially surprised by her husband’s enthusiastic support. She worried that he might think it was strange to have a baby without a genetic connection to her.
“I love this about Steve,” she says. “He did want to be a dad but he’s never put pressure on me to go through any of the medical procedures if I didn’t want to.”
Steve was also open to adoption if Chelsea did not want to go through IVF but Chelsea says she liked the idea of Steve contributing genetically to their baby. Plus, using an egg donor would still provide her with the bond that comes from giving birth to a child.
Chelsea, however, was still nervous that it might cause difficulties in her friendship with Tia, especially if Tia faced any health concerns because of the procedure.
Hendrickson says the only health issues associated with donating eggs are the physical effects of the hormonal changes. Donating eggs does not affect future fertility. Because the hormones simply increase the amount of eggs that reach maturity, the process only takes the eggs from one cycle.
Tia says she was not concerned about her offer. She and Andy made the choice together and both of them were comfortable with it.
Meanwhile, Chelsea became even more excited at the prospect of Tia becoming her egg donor.
“If someone was going to take my place in that part, I wanted it to be someone who was a good person,” she says.
From pain to bliss
Tia had to go through the same series of hormone shots that Chelsea experienced the first time around. Because she knew the process firsthand, Chelsea says it was hard to watch her friend endure the injections.
Women typically only release one mature egg each month so this increase in egg production has hormonal effects on the woman’s body. Following the trigger shot, Tia says she soon felt the higher-than-normal estrogen levels.
“It was weird,” she admits. “I felt like I was 9 months pregnant overnight.”
Tia then traveled north to the fertility center, where eight eggs were retrieved from her. While traveling home later that day, Tia says she felt as if she was going into labor. With the eggs suddenly gone, her ovaries were contracting, making for an uncomfortable trip home.
Yet the gift of her body and her love paid off. Of the eight eggs retrieved, six were fertilized, again using Stephen’s sperm in the lab. Four of the resulting embryos were considered to be good quality and two were transferred to Chelsea following incubation. The remaining two were frozen and stored for future use.
Hendrickson says transferring embryos is not like an organ transplant, where blood types have to match. The only medical concern associated with an embryo transfer is a slightly higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus.
Following the transfer, Chelsea still had to give herself daily progesterone shots to decrease the chances of a miscarriage. Because the progesterone is an oil compound, the liquid is thick and painful to inject.
Chelsea describes the shots as “awful.” But they also gave her an understanding of what surrogate mothers experience.
“I was basically a surrogate for my own baby,” she says.
To ensure accurate results, the blood test to verify pregnancy is not administered for two weeks after the transfer. In early September 2015 — following what Chelsea calls “the longest two weeks ever” — the test came back positive. After seven years, Chelsea was finally pregnant.
Although the pregnancy was difficult to initiate, once the embryos were transferred it went smoothly. Chelsea says it was an “amazing” pregnancy with no major complications.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better pregnancy,” she says.
On May 18, 2016, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces, and measuring almost 21 inches long.
They named her Giselle.
The gift of motherhood
Giselle will celebrate her first birthday on Thursday. It’s only four days after her mother’s birthday.
Like Tia’s three boys, who also have a white father, Giselle is olive-skinned — noticeably darker than her parents.
“We’ve had people ask if she’s adopted,” Chelsea says. “We knew people were going to wonder.”
Hendrickson says it’s rare to see known egg donors who are not family; it’s even less common to see known donors from different ethnicities.
Tia says she is often asked about whether it’s hard to see a baby that looks like her but is not her child. But she has never felt as if Giselle was her baby. Spiritually, she believes Giselle was always meant to be Chelsea’s daughter. Tia merely helped provide a body.
“For me, it was never going to be weird for our friendship,” Tia says.
Chelsea says she plans to raise Giselle with a knowledge of her relationship to Tia. Although Chelsea will always be “Mom,” Tia is more than just another friend. They figured the title of “Auntie” would fit her perfectly.
Tia has also talked with her kids about the process. While there was some confusion when she traveled north to donate the eggs and came home without a baby, Tia’s three boys, ages 3 to 8, have begun to understand. And they all adore little Giselle, she says.
Tia’s own family continues to grow. She became pregnant last year but miscarried in July. Then in February she found out she was pregnant again. She is due to give birth to her fourth boy on Sept. 28.
Chelsea says she and Steve also hope to see their family grow. She realizes they will most likely have to use the two frozen embryos that resulted from Tia’s donation.
“By the time she’s 2, I need to think about it again,” Chelsea says. “I would like her to have at least one sibling. Otherwise she’ll be a diva princess.”
IVF is not a cheap process. Chelsea says the hormone medications alone cost thousands of dollars. Although Tia refused to be paid for her egg donation, the Judds covered the cost of her medical procedures.
Yet Tia sees the pain and money associated with IVF as small details when it comes to the end result.
“You can’t put a price on motherhood,” she says. “At the end of the day, what’s greater than being a mom?”
Despite the changes to her body during the egg retrieval process, Tia says she is glad she chose to help her friend.
“There’s so much pain in everything, I guess,” she says. “We get to choose those paths we take. It’s just something we do for people that need help.”
Now Tia says she and Chelsea are closer than ever.
Plus, she has developed a bond with Giselle. Tia says she feels a special connection to the child but she doesn’t feel as if she is Giselle’s mother.
“I love Giselle,” Tia says. “But I don’t have the same connection I have with my boys — that longing and wanting to be with her all the time.”
Tia says the opportunity to help bring Giselle into the world will always hold a special place in her heart.
Chelsea appreciates the “cute relationship” her daughter has with Tia. And when she looks into Giselle’s eyes, she can’t help but think of her friend and the gift she gave to them.
“It takes a lot of strength and courage to be able to do something like that,” Chelsea says. “There’s just a lot of selfless love there.”