Andrea and Keston Ott-Dahl are women whose lives have been distinguished by life-changing choice after life-changing choice. Six years ago when Keston, rock musician, was performing, Andrea was in the audience. Smitten and brave enough to approach Keston and say,” You’re mine,” to which Keston replied, “You’re much too young for me.” Andrea, not the least discouraged, said, “No, I’m not. You’re mine.” That was it
Then next huge life-decision came at a party where Andrea was reconnecting with friends she had not seen in a long time. When the conversation drifted to children, Andrea she did what any happy mother might do. She brought out pictures of her two children from a previous relationship, at which point her friends told her of their fertility problem, how they tried for 6 years to have a baby, had spent a quarter of a million dollars, and were denied adoption because they we gay. When Andrea was given the choice to be a surrogate for another lesbian couple, she knew her answer would be yes. Because she has two children from a previous relationship, she knew two things for certain; one was that she made beautiful babies, and the other was that she could not deny another woman the joy of having a child. And, simple as this seems, no it was not.
Keston said they would have to think about it, but the three women had started a rushing train, and Andrea was powerfully motivated by the feeling that she would, with this surrogacy, be righting a long-ago wrong. Keston could not deny her that. What they did not expect was that getting pregnant would take longer than they thought because Andrea would have fertility issues of her own. Keston, always Andrea’s knight in shining armor, found a supplement that would regulate hormones. Bingo pregnant. Everybody was happy. The ultrasound showed them, for the first time, their perfect baby girl. They joked about how long the baby’s legs were. They laughed as they said she was going to be a basketball player. Everyone was on cloud nine not expecting a cloudburst.
When the doctor came into the room to tell them something was wrong with the baby, Keston and Andrea could see fluid buildup on the back of her neck that indicates Down Syndrome. They were horrified when the doctor told said, “This is the point at which prospective parents chose to start over.” Because they had gone through so much to get pregnant, they needed more information. Andrea was devastated.
The women who were waiting for this baby were tending towards termination. They felt it was their decision and their decision alone. When Keston and Andrea told the waiting mothers that they did not want to terminate, they were briefly threatened with a lawsuit. They sought legal council, and were told that no judge would ever require a woman to terminate her own biological child. It was after all Andrea’s egg and donated sperm so there was no genetic connection with the contracting mothers. But what about Keston’s hesitance?
When Andrea told Keston it was her decision, she realized that the life of this baby was in her hands. Andrea’s only request was that Keston watch some videos about the capabilities of people with Down syndrome. Frightening a prospect as that was, and definitely not what she signed up for, once she saw the videos, she knew right away that she wanted to keep this baby. This news was one of the happiest moments of Andrea’s life. She says she knew she would be, “freed from punishment of having terminated this child, that we would have the child, love her and give her every opportunity to thrive,” starting with the brain-boosting supplements she took during her pregnancy.
The family started to learn sign language and enrolled their beautiful daughter Delaney in an early intervention program. Delaney now knows probably 150 signs, talks in 3-5 word sentences, runs, jumps, belongs to a playgroup, has therapies occupational, speech, physical as well as a developmental specialist who helps with socialization aspects. She is happily on target developmentally in every way with typical children. Andrea’s other two children and Keston’s adult children and one grandchild live together in the same love-infused house, so there are lots of people to teach, protect and support Delaney. Keston says about being Delaney’s parents, “We knew and we chose this. Our moments of grief were only for the two intended moms.”
Keston now runs an international chocolate company called Toe-rific Chocolates, a marketing company that sells chocolates in the shape of feet to podiatrists, people who want to get their foot in the door, or anyone who needs a foot-shaped hello. They have a very clever fund-raising product to benefit children with Down syndrome. Their book Saving Delaney is coming out on April 12 with a book signing and a chance to meet Delaney. The world is invited.
Do Keston and Andrea write letters? Yes, many to each other. They talk about the things they will have to explain to Delaney as life goes on about how she got into this world and maybe love letters to her will be the vehicle that carries her personal history. Until then, Delaney can hear Andrea and Keston, in their own voices, talk about their family history, how Delaney came to be theirs, and how, in fact, she saved them instead of the other way around.
Keston and Andrea know that parents are always proud of their children but say, “When you have a child who has a disability and is told, ‘you can’t’, then you are even prouder.” Keston says that when, long ago, they saw that ultrasound, they saw a perfect baby. She smiles and adds, “She is a perfect child. She never let us down.”