A Best Friend’s Precious Gift

Rusti Gephart (right) with best friend Kelley Niide, who was the surrogate mother for Gephart's daughter Averi | Nathalie Walker photo

Rusti Gephart (right) with best friend Kelley Niide, who was the surrogate mother for Gephart’s daughter Averi | Nathalie Walker photo

When Rusti Gephart gave birth to her first baby Sydni on Thanksgiving Day 2003, she was excited about being a new mom. But it didn’t turn out quite as planned.

Despite a normal pregnancy, she had some life-threatening complications during delivery, and her husband, John, had to make the difficult decision for doctors to perform a subhysterectomy (removing her uterus).

“It was super traumatic; I almost died,” recalls Gephart. “I remember the doctor saying it’s boggy, it’s boggy. I just kept bleeding and my uterus wasn’t contracting to stop the bleeding.”

Emotionally, the couple was torn between the joy of a new baby, health and recovery for Rusti, and the sadness of not being able to have more children.

“We wanted to have more children, so at that time the whole dream was done, it was shattered,” says Gephart. “I went through crazy depression, even though it was, ‘Hey, you can adopt a baby or be a foster parent or have a surrogate.’ All of those were possible, but in my brain it wasn’t probable.”

On March 31, 2013, Gephart welcomed her second daughter Averi. Best friend and maid-of-honor Kelley Niide, whom she met in 1992 as a freshman at Punahou, served as the surrogate.

“Right after Sydni was born, Kelley would say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll have your baby,'” recalls Rusti, who is director of field operations at United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

But Kelley would go on to have her own children, 3-year-old Emma and 5-year-old Sammy, with husband David.

“After my second one, I turned 35, so I was like, ‘Rusti, it’s now or never,'” says Niide, a biologist at Waikiki Aquarium. “And I knew I didn’t want to have any more (of my own) kids.”

So with the support of their families, the surrogacy journey began at Pacific In Vitro Fertilization Institute. In just one try, Niide was pregnant with one baby.

The entire process, though, isn’t so simple. For about three months, Niide had progesterone shots daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Then, of course, there’s giving birth to the baby, which Niide did a month before the expected due date, and after laboring for about an hour and a half without an epidural.

“My biggest fear wasn’t so much the baby but, God forbid, something happens to Kelley that happened to me,” says Gephart. “That’s what I feared the most, and that’s why I was so reluctant to sort of go ‘OK, let’s do this.’

“I think the defining factor was how Kelley had shared with me about her dad’s mom.” Niide goes on to explain how her father is one of four kids, but there actually was a fifth child, a brother, whom they gave to an aunt because she couldn’t have children.

“I cried when I saw Kelley (in the hospital),” says Gephart, who has been working with a lactationist and now is able to breast-feed Averi. “To have another baby was my dream, and there was a point in time where my dream was taken away from me. But then you have these angels in life, and when I was ready to accept this gift, it’s not like granting someone a wish – like for a car or a house. This was something that would take a toll on her emotionally and physically.

“You just never realize (the possible role of) the people you meet in life. When I met Kelley in high school, it was almost like fate. We’re best friends but we’re more like sisters. She’s the reason our family is now whole. She’s my hero.”