Another path to Motherhood: I thought not giving birth to my own babies would make me less of a mom

After two kidney transplants and multiple miscarriages, IVF with gestational surrogacy brought Sarah the family she dreamed of

Sarah and Brian Scantamburlo with son Gianluca.

Sarah and Brian Scantamburlo with son Gianluca.

The 2-year-old boy who calls me mommy has big, brown eyes, his dad’s curly Italian hair from his own youth and is a lover of all things Nick Jr.

Many people say children are gifts but Gianluca is so much more than that in many ways – he is the blessing we feared would never be possible.

Being his mom means joining him on his little boy adventures, watching his face light up with wonder when he spots a big truck and giggling with him when he feels Play-Doh in his hands. He is the amazing light at the end of the years-long tunnel of infertility.

And on Tuesday, May 27, Gianluca became a big brother to our newborn son Paolo.

The journey to motherhood was nothing like I pictured it. It came with years of discouraging doctors’ visits, injections and hormone treatments and the heartbreak of unsuccessful pregnancies that might have stemmed from health issues related to my two kidney transplants. One memory that will always stay with me is watching my unborn baby’s heartrate trickle down softer and softer until it was no longer possible to be viable for life. It is those brief moments in time where we all have to make decisions to be stronger and continue whatever fight will get us to our goal.

A month to celebrate

Today, my husband Brian and I are thankful to have the family we always wanted. With the help of University of Michigan Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility specialist Dr.Senait Fisseha and U-M’s Center for Reproductive Medicine, we were able to have Gianluca through IVF and gestational surrogacy.This week, we were blessed again with the birth of Paolo, who arrived just days after another important milestone – the day my own mother donated her kidney to save my life in 1997.

We also welcome Paolo to the family just as we prepare to celebrate Brian’s father’s birthday on May 29. What better gift to give the families that yearned so greatly for grandchildren than a new grandson?

Needless to say, May is a special month for us.

Honestly, I grappled with the idea of surrogacy. It was not something I even considered until experiencing multiple miscarriages and failed adoption attempts. The idea of seeing someone else carry my child and know that she would feel those first kicks and watch the baby grow in her belly left me feeling empty and possibly un-bonded to my child. I toiled with the idea that somehow it would make me feel like less of a mother or a woman because my body was failing to do what it was meant to do.

Gianluca became a big brother

On May 27, Gianluca became a big brother to baby brother Paolo.

I was wrong

My love for Gianluca was instant. Being able to see his little head during the delivery gave me such a rush of emotion- this was real and our lives would never be the same. From that moment on it was me that was there when he flashed his first toothless grin, when he took his first steps and when he said “mama” for the first time. I feel no less of a mother. That is impossible when I walk out the door and he says, ‘I lovvve you sooo much, Momma’.

A non-conventional journey

But the road to having these incredible little people in my life was far from blissful. I was just a teenager when I started experiencing bouts of sickness from Henoch-Schonlein purpura, a disorder that essentially turned my immune system against me, causing unparalleled stomach and joint pain as well as internal bleeding. At age 18, I was told that I needed an emergency kidney transplant. My mother Gail was a match.  There was never a question about whether she would be my donor – her only concern was how fast we could do it.

Just three months later, we were both wheeled into surgery so she could give me her kidney. It was a selfless gift that I can only now understand as a mother myself. I cannot imagine the pain of having a child so ill and the uncertainty as to what the future may hold. Watching me balance school at U-M with emergency room visits, rejection episodes and multiple procedures surely was stressful for my parents. Then, a year after getting married in 2006, I needed another transplant- this time, my sister Susan put her life on hold to be my hero.

A few years ago I met another woman who would change my life: the labor and delivery nurse who agreed to be my surrogate for both of my children. I went to her ultrasound appointments, she sent me belly photos and even now, we go to each other’s kids’ birthday parties.

But IVF with gestational surrogacy is not for everyone. Insurance only goes so far, which can make it very expensive. There are attorneys involved. There is a lot of uncertainty. Perhaps most difficult of all, you have to trust someone – in my case a complete stranger – with the ultimate responsibility.

After having your heart broken so many times, taking that leap of faith is not easy. For us, it was well worth it. We know it every time we look at Gianluca and we knew it the moment we met his brother.

I am eternally grateful for the support of family and friends and the compassion of Dr. Fisseha who was there during both the most devastating and most amazing moments of this journey. She is not only a brilliant physician but also a loving person – the kind of person you want championing for you in the medical profession when your trajectory goes way off course.

During a month when people celebrate Mother’s Day, it is clear that the word mother is merely a noun. What you do with it is what dictates the kind of role model you are for children and the greater footprint you may have in the world. Having been surrounded by selfless, giving, talented and incredibly loving women, I realize my life is complete. I hope the legacy we leave our children will guide them through life and help them fight for what they want. Arduous roads lead to the greatest gifts – and my sons are the greatest gift of all.

Take the next step:

fertility ann arborUniversity of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine brings the expertise of infertility specialists and research scientists together to help each of our clients have access to the latest fertility therapies and technologies available through one convenient center.  We offer a full spectrum of assisted reproductive technology options, including IVF, fertility preservation, intrauterine insemination, donor insemination, and pre-implantation genetics diagnosis.


university of michigan women's hospitalThe University of Michigan’s Women’s Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital is a leader women’s health care.  Consistently ranked among the America’s top gynecology programs by U.S. News & World Report, U-M is committed to unsurpassed patient care for women.