Mother’s Day will be a quiet, but exceptionally poignant celebration this year for one Bitterroot Valley family.
“We are going to go to our little French bakery in town and get chocolate croissants and coffee and kind of just be together,” says Gina Lee Gossett.
Gossett and her husband Dan and their 8-month-old son Oliver live in Hamilton.
Dan and Gina are active 30-somethings with a passion for adventure.
"I guess we’ve been to every continent except for Antarctica together – hopefully one of these days. But yeah, we travel. It’s one of our favorite things and we just enjoy our time together," Dan says.
But nothing could have possibly prepared them for the past two years. The couple’s story began in 2010.
"We actually connected at my friend Lori’s birthday party," Gina says.
Gina’s friend Lori plays a pivotal role in the Gossett’s lives. We’ll meet her in a few minutes. First though, back to that party.
"I’d always thought [Dan] was kinda cute," Gina says. "We just started talking and we went out dancing, and here we are, 9 years later."
The Gossetts married in 2014. They wanted kids eventually, but didn’t feel the need to jump right in to parenthood.
"But for some reason when I turned 31, I said, 'We need to have one last great adventure and then we need to start trying to have kids',” Gina says.
By December of 2016, Gina was pregnant with her first. The couple was stoked. Their families thrilled.
"But a couple of weeks after that in early January I started noticing weird things were happening with my body," she says.
Meaning unusual discharge and some light bleeding.
"My doctor wanted to check me out and that’s when she noticed a bump on my cervix that hadn’t been there a month before."
It was cervical cancer.
The recommended course of action: tumor removal, chemotherapy, a C-section and then a hysterectomy.
"I was just angry and thinking how unfair it was. I feel like I’m a nice, good person. Why is this happening to me?"
The worst, however, was yet to come.
Intense lethargy set in, as did a fever of 104-degrees.
Blood was pooling around Gina’s embryo and uterine wall. She says it’s not an uncommon condition, but in her case, it was critical. She was going into septic shock and her condition was cratering.
Her local doctors decided to airlift Gina to Seattle’s University of Washington Medical Center, but a blizzard delayed that critical handoff.
Dan says, "When we were staying at Community [Medical Center] waiting for the weather to pass, you were getting blood transfusions. You were really out of it. It was really scary to sit there and watch that."
Gina eventually beat the infection at 13 weeks, but her body had endured a lot.
"And I remember them looking at the screen and saying, 'There', pointing to what I’m assuming was the heartbeat. And they just said, 'I’m so sorry.' And that’s when we found out we lost our baby."
Gina spun into a deep depression.
Dan was heartbroken.
“I literally, I think, blocked or unfollowed any single person on social media who I knew had a kid," Dan says. Anyone below five I completely erased from my life there for a little while."
The Gossetts held on to hope they’d eventually have a baby. But the couple couldn’t get a break. Gina’s cancer continued to spread. A full hysterectomy was now required to save her life.
The couple considered adoption, but Gina, an American of Korean heritage, would have preferred a Korean baby. That kind of adoption can be lengthy, bureaucratic and very expensive. Besides, her heart was set on a having her own biological child.
Their doctors at University of Washington Medical Center immediately scheduled the Gossetts for In Vitro Fertilization treatment. All they needed now was a gestational surrogate.
Gina turned to Facebook for help.
Within about an hour Lori Ross, the same woman who threw that party where Gina and Dan met almost 10 years ago, responded to the post.
"I don’t know what took over my hands," Ross says. "I just typed 'yes'. I didn’t ask my family. I didn’t ask my husband. I didn’t ask anybody. I just typed 'yes'."
Ross offered to carry the baby for free. The Gossett’s would only cover her medical expenses.
"I think the initial yes was, 'Oh, I’m going to help someone have a baby!', but if you actually go and think about all the stuff you’re going to be going through and processing emotionally, you probably wouldn’t do it."
For one thing, the hormone treatments to prepare Ross for Dan and Gina’s embryo were tough on her body.
"It was pretty rough," Ross says. "I had a lot of anxiety in the beginning. Then there was a lot of joint pains. It was hard to walk. Just toward the end, I had really high blood pressure."
Baby Oliver made his grand entrance two weeks earlier than expected. Ross’ water broke at 36 weeks. Her husband was out of town, her kids at summer camp and the Gossetts scrambling to catch the next available flight to meet her in Seattle, where she lived at that time.
Lori Ross was all alone.
"I don’t know how much I actually remember telling Gina this part, but when I got to the hospital, they took my blood pressure and it was so high they started to panic. I was terrified but trying to stay very calm and not really let on how serious my condition was, because I knew there was nothing that Dan and Gina could do to get there faster."
"I had no idea that they were panicked," Gina says. "This just goes to show how amazing Lori was. She was so concerned to make sure we weren’t freaking out."
Turns out Ross’ high blood pressure was a blessing in disguise. The medicine used to treat it slowed her labor just enough to allow the Gossetts to make it to Seattle in time to witness their son’s birth.
"They cut the cord," Ross says. "It's like ‘Your turn now, I’m done. Tag you’re it.' They had to inspect Oliver at the little table that they put the baby on. Gina had this moment where she was going back and forth looking at me; do I stay with Lori or do I go with my son? That moment meant a lot to me because she was concerned I would still need her. We just made eye contact and I gave her this thumbs up to go, and that was it. The world started spinning again. She went to her son and the doctors tended to me to clean up everything and get the placenta out."
Eight months later, back home in Hamilton, Oliver Gossett is an active, healthy, happy baby.
Dan and Gina love being parents. They hope the heartbreak, determination and love – all the emotional investment it took to get Oliver here – won’t affect how they raise him.
"I do worry that I’m going to not let him be a normal kid, like riding his bike in the street with his friends, go run across to the park to the playground. I worry about that," Gina says.
"We’ve been through so much," Dan says. "I think that part of you wants to protect as much as you can. It’s something I’ve thought about and I’m trying to let go of a little bit. Again, in the middle of the night you try and just let him be a baby."
Lori Ross is honored to have carried her friends’ child to term, but says it left her struggling with significant post-partum depression.
"There’s not enough support for surrogates as far as the therapy world. So my goal is to try to bring more support and [raise awarness] that surrogates need lots of postpartum care for their emotional wellbeing as well as their physical well-being," she says. "But I don’t have any regrets, and no, you can’t look at that baby and be like, 'That sucks that I did that [laughter]'."
As the Gossetts enjoy their first Mother’s Day as a family, Mom and Dad may also quietly remember another part of their family who couldn’t be there. On August 26, 2017, Gina wrote a note to their baby who did not make it.
"Today’s the day you should have come into our world. I’m still not sure what to say except that I love you. I know your dad loves you and we think about you often. We will never forget you and you will stay with us always. I had so many plans for us. I know we’ll be together one day, even if it’s much later than I would like. In the short time you were with us, you brought us so much joy and happiness. We thank you for everything you’ve given us, and we love you so much. You’ll be with us forever and we can’t wait to meet you one day. Love, your parents."