The morning of April 26, 2015, Rachelle Friedman Chapman tweeted, “Contractions!!!!” An hour later, Kaylee Rae Chapman was born healthy at Mission Health Hospital in Asheville, 7 pounds, 11 ounces.
Chapman, like any proud mother, has since spent sleepless nights caring for her newborn, learning how to handle dirty diapers, sleep cycles and navigating motherhood.
Unlike other mothers, Chapman did not give birth to Kaylee. Laura Humes, a college friend, became the surrogate for Friedman and her husband, Chris Chapman.
Chapman, a 29-year-old quadripalegic, was paralyzed five years ago in a freak accident when one of her bridesmaids playfully pushed her into a pool at her bachelorette party.
Her spinal cord injury resulted in paralysis from the chest down, leaving her with limited use of her arms and legs.
The life-altering injury brought challenges for the Chapmans, but didn’t stop them from a fairytale wedding, a remodeled, handicapped-accessible house and landing a part on an upcoming show for TLC – thanks to national companies stepping up to contribute after her accident.
The night of the accident, Rachelle Chapman asked if she would be able to have children, something that was rarely on her mind as a 24-year-old. With the risk of losing that possibility, she desired it even more.
But one side effect from the accident was dangerously low blood pressure, and the medication used to help was too risky for a pregnancy. The Chapmans turned to surrogacy.
The Chapmans had met at East Carolina University, and they also befriended Laurel Humes. Humes had read Rachelle Chapman’s blog about the accident and her desire to have children, and contacted them through Facebook with an offer to act as their surrogate.
“ECU gave me lots of things in addition to my education – my future husband, my future surrogate,” Rachelle Chapman said.
The Chapmans spent more than $30,000 on the surrogacy process – a quarter of the average price, and with Humes carrying Kaylee for free – and have seen an outpouring of assistance from the community through GoFundMe and reaching out individually.
Despite not being granted paternal leave, Chris Chapman, 32, won’t return to teaching at Heritage Middle School until next fall and will instead help his wife care for their new baby.
“There’s a misconception that it’s all Chris and not me,” she said. “I can hold her, calm her down, feed her.”
Although she can’t hop out of bed in the middle of the night, she can stay up and rock Kaylee back to sleep. Nothing has been surprising, she said, it’s been more like another learning curve.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t think I could do and now I can,” she said, referring to brushing her hair, or her teeth. Now she is learning how to change diapers and feed her daughter with the little function in her hands and arms.
And she has a community. Among her quadripalegic rugby team, she is the only woman, but one of the last to have a child.
During the process, they pursued genetic testing and chose four healthy embryos, all of the same sex, through California-based Surrogacy Together. Rachelle Chapman has that fact in the back of her mind.
“In a perfect world, I would love Kaylee to have a sister,” she said. “If money were no object, I would get another surrogate.”
Embryos can survive for 10 years, she said.
“There might be a cure (for paralysis) in five years, I might be able to have another,” she said. “You never know ... I’d love for them to be little humans for somebody.”
In the meantime, she is plenty busy snuggling with Kaylee, and learning how to change some diapers.