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Labor of love

by and Today /  / Updated 

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Many couples struggle with the challenges of infertility. The story of Kathy and Rob Adzich is not one of them. Theirs is the unique story of a loving couple who wanted nothing more than to start a family. After going through agonizing cycles of elation and grief, they were stymied and defeated, but not for long.

In loss, often comes giving. Such was the case with Kathy and Rob Adzich of Cupertino, Calif., who 11 years ago were newlyweds trying to start a family. When they lost three babies in three years, a nurse loaned her womb to help give them three more.

"It’s just so hard to comprehend what someone would do for a complete stranger and it’s just a complete labor of love," Rob says.

The Adziches and the nurse, Stephanie Kalenda, recounted their story of grief and elation in a "Today" show segment that aired on Thursday.

About 22 weeks into her first pregnancy with Rob, Kathy went into premature labor and a stillbirth resulted.

Just two months later, Kathy was pregnant again. An ultrasound at 16 weeks showed nothing amiss. But shortly after, she went into premature labor again, and once more delivered a stillborn son.

"I just said, 'What is wrong with me, what is wrong with my body? Why is it so broken that it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do?'" Kathy recounted.

Saying goodbye againDuring her third pregnancy, doctors sewed her cervix shut and confined her to bed rest in order to prevent premature labor. When she started having contractions at 19 or 20 weeks, she was hospitalized and prescribed drugs to stave off labor. After about a month, on June 15, 1996, Kathy gave birth to a boy the couple named Jakob.

But Jakob’s lungs were too underdeveloped, and the baby died in her arms a few weeks later.

Staff at the hospital in Santa Clara allowed Kathy to spend two days with the dead baby in a hospital room while she grieved –- a gesture of compassion she is trying to get other hospitals to replicate today.

"I am forever grateful to that hospital that they did not kick me out, they let me do what I needed to do.  I spent the time. I said goodbye, I got his handprints, his footprints."

The couple's loss also deeply touched the nursing team that cared for Kathy and baby Jakob.

"It just seemed so unfair that here was this loving couple who you just felt like they would be the best parents in the world, and they couldn’t have a successful pregnancy," said nurse Stephanie Kalenda.

A stranger's kindnessA few days after Jakob’s funeral, Kalenda called the Adziches.

"She said, 'You know I’m a labor and delivery nurse and I deliver babies all the time. There's a lot of people that shouldn’t be parents but there’s some that should and you should be parents.  I have a good uterus, let’s use it,'" Kathy recalled.

Kalenda, then a 38-year-old single mother, offered to be a "gestational surrogate" -- to carry Rob and Kathy’s next baby in her womb.

"I really hadn’t thought about doing it until I heard this doctor say, ‘If I wasn’t going to start my own family, I'd carry a baby for her,' and something clicked in me where I said to myself, you know, that's something that I can do."

Kalenda’s primary concern was how giving birth to someone else's child would affect her 5-year-old daughter, Katie.

"I think what we ended up telling her was that Kathy’s tummy was broken and she couldn't carry a baby, so she and Rob are going to make a baby and then a special doctor was going to put it in me.  And Katie was just like, 'OK.'"

Kalenda said she always understood her role --that she was carrying the baby for someone else.

"I did always consider it Kathy and Rob’s pregnancy, not mine, to the point where if someone asked about the pregnancy I’d tell them, and people were often taken aback that it’s not my baby. It never was. It was always Kathy and Rob’s."

On Aug. 24, 1997, Rob and Kathy Adzich welcomed a healthy baby boy delivered by Kalenda in the same hospital where the couple had lost three others. They named him Gabe.

"Our families stormed the room and it was just the hugest celebration," Kathy recalled.

Three years later, on Sept. 14, 2000, Kalenda served as surrogate again to the Adziches, this time delivering twins -- Anika Stephanie, a girl, and Dominick, a boy.

The gift of lifeToday, the Adzich children, now ages 6 and 9, call Kalenda their "fairy godmother." Kathy sends Kalenda flowers or other gifts on her children's birthdays.

"Stephanie has been spectacular through this entire process. It’s very important to her that we have our own family unit and it’s important to her that she has her own family unit," Kathy said.

The emotional journey of Robert and Kathy Adzich is the subject of an upcoming documentary film, "Broken Womb," being produced by Grace Kahng at Santoki Productions. Kathy Adzich is also working on two Web sites, Trusting the Journey, about finding hope and compassion in times of despair, and Jakob’s Room, a philanthropic organization urging hospitals to allow people dealing with the loss of loved ones a 24-hour stay to grieve and say goodbye. She is also writing a book, "Before the Flowers Die," about her experiences.

Kathy, 41, and Rob, 39, say they’ll be forever grateful to Kalenda for the ultimate gift of life.

"I think when she goes to heaven, the pearly gates are going to be so wide, they're going to roll out the red carpet." Kathy says in the documentary. "She’s given three people a life on Earth. I just want her to know I love her and I would climb the highest mountain and swim the deepest sea to do anything to repay her."

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