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November 28, 2013

‘Miracle’ birth blesses Thanksgiving holiday

NEW CASTLE — The number gathered around the Thanksgiving table at the Lamb household is slightly bigger than last year.

Smiles are brighter and thankful prayers are in abundance for the little bundle of joy in a rocking baby seat at the family’s North Beaver Township homestead.

They look at the blue-eyed cherubic face that frequently breaks into a smile and they know she is nothing short of a miracle.

Saturday marked four months since Anna Balvine Marks entered the world from her aunt’s womb, and 13 months since she was conceived in a petri dish.

Dr. Joann Lamb, a Neshannock Township physician, gave birth to Anna on July 23 for the baby’s biological parents, Melinda and Ed Marks, who are her sister- and brother-in-law.

Lamb is married to Melinda’s brother, John Lamb, and they have three children of their own.

Melinda and Ed tried four times to have a child, but she miscarried every time.

Then Joann came to their rescue.

Melinda, 41, and Joann, 42, have been friends for most of their lives and went to Mohawk schools together. When Joann married Melinda’s brother, they became family as well.

After Melinda’s miscarriages, she and Ed consulted an infertility specialist. There was no explanation for why she could get pregnant but couldn’t make it through the first trimester.

Joann, sensing her despair, would send her sister-in-law text messages saying, “I have an empty womb for you.”

At first, Melinda took it as a joke, but Joann insisted she was serious about the offer to become the gestational carrier of a future niece or nephew.

“It was the easiest decision for me,” said Joann, who has run a family medical practice since 1999. “It’s something I wanted to do to help them.”

She knows women who have had babies for other couples, she said, and “that’s what made me think I should seriously pursue it. Everyone who knows Ed and Melinda know they are wonderful with kids and I saw this as an opportunity to help.”

Plus, Joann thought it would be fun to be pregnant one more time.

“A lot of women feel like I do, and I got to experience it again but didn’t have to deal with the dirty diapers and waking up in the middle of the night. And I get to enjoy her all the time. One look at Anna tells us we were doing the right thing.”

In addition to being Anna’s aunt and surrogate mother, Joann is her godmother.

The decision was made in early February 2012.

Dr. Kelly Palumbo, a New Castle obstetrician/gynecologist, referred them to Dr. Robert Leon Collins, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist in Pittsburgh.

“Given our ages, we’re lucky this worked,” Melinda said. “I asked her, ‘Is this something you really want to do?’ And she said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Then the preparations started.

The embryo that became Anna was produced Nov. 13 from Melinda’s eggs that had been fertilized using Ed’s sperm. All three were implanted in Joann’s womb and one was a success.

After implantation, Joann was sent home for 48 hours of bed rest. A week later, her pregnancy test was positive and confirmed by an ultrasound.

That was Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving last year, Melinda recalled.

“We were decorating outside for Christmas and they called me first to tell me she was pregnant, because I’m the mother,” Melinda said. “I was beside myself.”

The couples didn’t tell anyone at first and after 12 weeks, they shared the news with family only.

Anna’s birth came earlier than doctors had predicted. She was delivered at 3:28 p.m., July 23 at Jameson Hospital. Palumbo performed an emergency Cesarean section because the baby was breach.

Neither woman knew the baby’s gender and both couples were in the operating room for the surprise at delivery.

The day Anna came home, “it was just a whole new feeling,” Melinda said. “It was like a light switched on.”

She and Ed both become teary-eyed when they talk about it.

“Without Joann, none of this would have been possible,” Melinda said. “What a good-hearted, selfless person, and to be so strong, knowing it’s not your child. There’s nothing I could ever give her in return for what she has given us.”

Joann, too, found that postpartum tears flowed without warning. Some were from the miracle, some from the hormones, but most were from happiness, she said.

“I was a lot more emotional than I thought I was going to be. Your body’s going through changes, too. It wasn’t like I was missing her and sad, I was just emotional because everyone was happy and healthy. It was more of an overwhelmed kind of feeling.”

Joann said her children — Lily, 10, Johnny, 8, and Luke, 6 — were excited to welcome Anna into their lives as their only cousin.

Melinda and Ed have been married 12 years and have lived in their two-story Highland Avenue home since then. They met while working at Ellwood City Forge.

Ed, 41, is an engineer and works for Ellwood Mill Products as manager of engineering and maintenance. Melinda is content as a stay-at-home mom.

Ed said he is grateful for the selflessness Joann has shown his family.

“It’s a wonderful gift,” he said. “It was a huge commitment from her and it was a relief that everything came out well. We’ll never be able to repay her.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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