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‘Twins with a twist’: biological mom and surrogate were pregnant at same time

“It’s the miracle of all miracles."
Ian and Margo Sheldon with their two babies, Sofia Grace and Austin Olivier. Sofia is four days older and was carried by a surrogate. Austin was conceived naturally. They have been discharged from Victoria General Hospital and will be heading home to Jasper, Alta., in the next few weeks. Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

In the six years that Margo and Ian Sheldon tried to have a baby, they endured the pain of multiple miscarriages and a full-term still birth. Witnessing the couple’s heartbreak, Margo’s foster sister, Meena Buckham, offered to be a surrogate and in October, through in-vitro fertilization, she was implanted with the couple’s egg and sperm. Shortly after, Margo found out that she and Ian had conceived naturally and last week, both babies were born within four days of each other at Victoria General Hospital, a rare case that Ian is calling “twins with a twist.”

“It’s a very long-awaited day, I’m totally thrilled,” said Margo, speaking minutes after being discharged from hospital Monday afternoon. “There’s been a lot of tears today.”

Margo beamed as she cradled Austin Olivier Sheldon, who was born via C-section on June 20, at 3:28 p.m. In Ian’s arms was Austin’s older sister by four days, Sofia Grace Sheldon, who has a matching shock of dark brown hair.

Buckham delivered Sofia on June 16, at 4:39 a.m. with her husband, Kevin, and Margo by her side. Buckham brought Sofia to the hospital Monday so they could be united as a family of four.

Margo, 42, calls the two her “double rainbow babies,” which refers to babies born after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

The two siblings met on Father’s Day, when Buckham brought Sofia to the hospital for a visit. Margo breastfed both babies and she and Ian, 48, looked in wonder at the two children they thought they’d never have.

“It’s the miracle of all miracles,” Ian said.

Ian said medical staff at Victoria General Hospital have been marvelling at the unique situation.

“They’re saying they’re a bit like twins but not carried in the same womb,” Ian said. A friend came up with the term “moon twins” because they’re born under the same moon, he said.

Kat Leblanc, an Island Health perinatal social worker who helps families going through surrogate births, said she has never seen a situation where both the biological mother and the surrogate were pregnant at the same time.

“I think it’s very rare, I’ve personally never seen it,” Leblanc said.

Austin was born two weeks before his due date of July 4 and Sofia came five days before her due date of June 21.

Austin, the chill one, is a bit “meatier,” Margo said, weighing seven pounds, 14 ounces compared to the wide-eyed Sofia, who was born six pounds, 13 ounces. On Monday, Austin wore a grey onesie that said “I’m kind of a big deal” and Sofia wore a white tutu dress with a pink head band.

Margo and Ian live in Jasper but chose to deliver in Victoria because Buckham, a 44-year-old mother of two, lives in Langford, where she works as an educational assistant. Ian and Margo said the doctors and nurses in the Mother Babe Unit have been accommodating in letting Margo stay in the next room after Sofia was born and allowing Buckham and Sofia to visit after Austin was born. The hospital has restricted the number of people who can be in the delivery room and the number of visitors because of COVID-19.

The couple chose Austin’s middle name to honour his stillborn brother and Sofia’s middle name “because we’ve been given so much grace along this journey here,” Ian said.

The couple met in Edmonton in 2012 when Ian, a successful landscape painter, sought spiritual advice from Margo, a spiritual healer and medium. Their friendship blossomed into a romance and in 2014, they moved in together and started trying for a baby.

It was May 30, 2017, when Margo, more than 41 weeks pregnant, delivered a stillborn baby named Olivier. Doctors could not find a medical reason to explain why Margo was having repeated miscarriages, she said.

During a cottage trip on Shuswap Lake in the summer of 2018, just after Margo discovered the baby she was carrying in her sixth pregnancy did not have a heart beat, she told her foster sister she still wanted a family, but could not bear the pain of another loss.

“She asked how I was doing,” Margo recalled. “I said ‘I’m dying, I can’t do this again.’ ”

Standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes, Buckham offered to be the couple’s surrogate.

“Ian and Margo have been trying for so long to start a family and I knew they would be great parents,” Buckham said. “I figured, if I’m able to, I would totally give that gift to her.”

As a teen, Buckham was raised by Margo’s parents after difficulties in her own home, so she and Margo were raised like sisters.

“I think it’s one of the most selfless and beautiful acts,” Ian said of Buckham’s offer. “It’s courageous and so huge of the heart.”

Margo and Ian travelled to Victoria three times in 2019 to do three rounds of IVF, where Margo was given fertility hormones so her eggs could be harvested and fertilized with Ian’s sperm. They chose to do the treatments at the Victoria Fertility Clinic.

To fund the treatment, the couple borrowed $50,000 from a friend in what they jokingly refer to as their “baby mortgage.”

After one round of IVF, the couple decided to elope. In the presence of a few friends, they were married on a beach in Tofino on April 30, 2019.

On Oct. 3, one viable embryo was implanted into Buckham, resulting in a successful pregnancy.

After the stress and anxiety of the IVF process, Ian and Margo decided to take a trip to Mexico. It was in Sayulita that they conceived Austin.

Ian returned to Jasper to work and Margo stayed in Mexico with a friend. Margo took a pregnancy test in late October after missing her period and texted Ian to say it was positive.

Because of their previous losses, the couple was guarded with their emotions.

“You can’t relax until you have that baby in your arms,” Margo said.

Buckham said she was “over the moon” with happiness when she found out Margo and Ian had conceived naturally.

The couple plans to spend two more weeks in Victoria before returning to Jasper.

Buckham and her husband hope to bring their sons, Brent, 13, and Dean, 11, to visit in December.

“She’s given us this profoundly huge gift,” Ian said.

Margo said after all their pain and loss, the family has a “happy ending and new beginning.”

“I don’t want to say all the sadness was worth it,but I feel like the bravery paid off. It’s such a massive sense of relief and completion and a sense of peace. I’m finally a mom.”

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