How far would you go to help out a friend? It's a question that may be easy to answer in theory, but could you actually follow through with the request? For one Sioux Falls woman helping out a friend was an easy decision, it was just a nine month process.
The Haugan's and Miller's are not related, but they are pretty much family. Jenn and Joy's friendship began as a product of their husbands, but theirs is a friendship that has only gotten stronger through the most difficult of circumstances.
"If I could write a story and put a name to it it would be: You can't make this up, you just can't. Because it just felt like one obstacle after another, after another." said Joy Haugan.
Just before her third birthday, Joy's daughter Olivia was diagnosed with leukemia. As if that wasn't enough, while her daughter battled cancer, Joy and her husband Ryan were in a fight of their own.
"I had had three miscarriages in 2012 and so after the third miscarriage we decided to go to a fertility specialist and find out what was going on." said Haugan.
Doctors found that Joy's uterus had not repaired like it should have from her pregnancy with Olivia. Joy would never be able to carry another pregnancy full term.
"That doctor had also said that it was a miracle that myself or my daughter was even alive from that first (pregnancy), from her birth." said Haugan.
Joy was devastated, her dream of growing her family was ending. But when Joy had given up all hope, it was Jenn who helped restore it.
"What they went through, as a mom knowing I have no problems having kids, I had two very easy childbirths and knowing that I could do this, I just threw it out there and said if you would want me to, I would do this for you." said Jenn Miller.
Jenn offered to become a gestational carrier. The baby would be Ryan and Joy's genetically, but carried in Jenn's womb through In Vitro Fertilization.
"It's not very common but it does happen especially in women where they have a medical problem that if they get pregnant it puts their life in jeopardy." said Dr. Keith Hansen, a fertility specialist at Sanford Fertility and Reproductive Medicine.
In fact, the first ever IVF gestational carrier in the United States was from Aberdeen. In 1991, grandmother Arlette Schweitzer carried her own grandkids because her daughter was born without a uterus. Since Schweitzer, there haven't been many gestational carriers in the Midwest. Jenn's offer to carry the Haugan's baby makes her one of just 10 other gestational carriers in South Dakota according to Sanford Health's records.
After plenty of prayer and thinking things over, in the summer of 2013, the two families met with Dr. Hansen to discuss the next nine months and future. In most cases, the carrier is a family member or stranger, but a best friend? Even this doctor was completely blown away.
"It's really amazing what a friend will be willing to do to help out another person and it is really incredible I think that they would be willing to help them do this." said Dr. Hansen.
To do the IVF procedure Jenn had to prepare her body with a few extra hormone shots and then wait for her next ovulation for Dr. Hansen to plant the embryo. Then In the fall of 2013, all those obstacles in joy's life began to come down. After 840 days of battling, Olivia's cancer journey ended and another journey began.
"He's just an active little guy, like my daughter was." said Miller.
That's right, Baby Haugan was a boy. Jenn may have been the one carrying him, but the two friends shared the pregnancy in every sense of the word.
"Even if she doesn't get to feel him kick and everything, I text her and say you know your son has been really kicking me today! We are sharing this together together even if she's not able to actually have him, she knows what he's doing." said Miller.
Other than the cost of the doctor's appointments Jenn did not take a cent from Joy. This is her gift, quite possibly the greatest gift anyone could give.
"I am doing this because I can, you know I'm not thinking I'm going to make a career out of this after it's all said and done, this is something that I can do for my friends. All the compensation I'm going to get is being able to see you guys have that baby that they weren't going to be able to have." said Miller.
On June 23rd, 2014, George Haugan was born. He's healthy, happy, and these two families are closer than ever. There's a saying you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. Well, whoever said that obviously never met Jenn, Joy, and Baby George.
Even though Jenn refused any sort of payment, the medical cost for I-V-F isn't cheap. The Haugan's still have plenty of bills to pay and are hoping to take Jenn and her family on a trip to Florida as a small way of saying thank you. If you would like to help out, the Haugan's have set up a gofundme.com profile to raise funds for the family.