Battle Lake woman answers sister's prayers by carrying her child through surrogacy
ANDOVER, Minn. - On a quiet family camping trip along Minnesota's Rum River, surrogacy might seem like odd topic to come up.
Five years later, sisters Kari Thorp of Andover and Tara Bladow of Battle Lake, Minn., can't seem to remember who even brought the idea up. But without a second thought, two sisters pressed forward through a miraculous journey some might call the most beautiful gift a sister could give.
Growing up as a teen in Wyndmere, N.D., it didn't take long for Kari Thorp to know something wasn't quite right with her body. As her friends and sister experienced their first menstrual periods, that part of life remained a mystery for Kari.
Kari and her mother, Wendy Johnson, traveled to Rochester, Minn., to consult a specialist.
What she learned shattered her dreams of having a family. The doctor told Kari that for some reason her uterus never fully developed. Because of this, it was necessary she have a hysterectomy.
On Kari's senior skip day, she traveled with her mom and a close friend back to Rochester for a surgery that would result in many tears and painful challenges ahead.
"The dream of having a family was all I ever wanted," she said. "My dream was literally being cut from me. Looking back, I would have asked more questions. 'Is this my only option?' "
Tara went to visit after the surgery and stayed with her sister.
"I remember feeling really awful, because even though at that time neither of us were in a place to have children, that was, of course in my mind right away. ... She'll never have that option," Tara said.
Moving forward in her life, Kari knew she had to reveal this news to whomever she dated.
"You have to say at some point ... 'I can't have kids,' all while nervous, will this end our relationship?"
When Chad Thorp entered Kari's life, this was exactly how she felt.
"I can't even remember how or when I told him. We were dating somewhere between three to six months," Kari recalls. "He was shocked, scared and just unsure about what would come in our future. As a result, I hurt for him."
Chad and Kari eventually married, and although Chad had son Mason prior to meeting Kari, they were determined to continue to build their family. As Kari said, she "put a bug in her sister's ear" about the idea of surrogacy, possible only because Kari was able to keep her ovaries, the key in avoiding hormone replacement therapy.
"I watched a lot of my friends have kids, but the biggest hurdle was watching my sister Tara have kids," Kari said.
With each of her three children, Tara remembers struggling with how she would tell Kari she was pregnant, wondering how it would make her sister feel.
"I remember being happy yet thinking, how will I tell Kari?" Tara said.
"I always made sure she was the first one that I told."
Kari adored her nieces and nephew, but knew a part of her heart wasn't yet whole.
In 2009, a year after Tara gave birth to her third child, Tara agreed to give her sister what Kari physically could not do, carry and give birth to her nephew.
Kari went through a "practice round" of IVF to make sure her body and ovaries would respond to the medicine before Tara would begin any treatments. Fortunately, Kari's ovaries responded well and soon treatment began for both sisters.
The next step was to sync their cycles. Even though Kari has never had a period a day in her life, her body still goes through the monthly sequence of hormones that every woman does.
Kari's first egg retrieval wasn't considered a success. Doctors were able to retrieve only five eggs and two were implanted while the remaining three didn't survive, leaving none to be frozen. It was setback they had to accept, and their only option was to wait those long 14 days to find out if her sister was carrying a baby.
"Those are the longest 14 days of your life," Kari said.
A couple weeks later, Kari learned her sister wasn't pregnant through a voice message from the clinic. Again, acceptance of another disappointment set in.
In addition to the pain of this new loss, Kari became very sick from what doctors believed was an infection from the egg retrieval process. After a run of various antibiotics, Kari was hospitalized for 13 days, just to return home and come down with pneumonia, placing her back in the hospital for another six days.
Her reproductive doctor recommended she not try again.
"She wanted to remove my ovaries," Kari said. "I wouldn't let her. I told her that I wanted to try again."
At the same time, uncertainly came from her family.
"My husband and sister were scared, asking me if I really wanted to put my body through this again."
Unsure, Kari and her mother attended a fertility conference in the spring of 2011. It was here that they met a new doctor from the Mayo Clinic.
"We made the appointment thinking, what more do we have to lose?" Kari said.
The time came once again to wait for the pregnancy test. This time Tara and Kari couldn't wait, as advised for the clinical test, so Tara took a home pregnancy test. Soon a call of excitement rang in,
"It's positive!" Tara said.
At 2:42 p.m. on May 27, Gavin Michael Thorp was born via cesarean. Despite three healthy deliveries of her own children, Tara said Gavin was stuck behind her pelvic bone. "His heartbeat was going down and my blood pressure was going down."
In spite of the labor troubles, Gavin was born healthy and ready to meet his mom and dad for the first time.
Both families retreated to the sisters' parents' home for about a week after the birth, allowing both families to have some time with Gavin.
Looking back, Tara doesn't regret the gift she was able to give her sister.
"Wouldn't anyone do that for their sister?" she said. "It's such a short amount of time for such a beautiful gift."
Tara carried Gavin for nine months and created a bond with her nephew that most aunts will never experience.
"He's my nephew, but he's my special nephew," Tara said.