The Backup Plan: A Grandchild in His Grandmother’s Belly But Also A Nephew in his Aunt’s

By: Shelly Grinfeld | Last updated: Dec 13, 2023

Michelle and Jonathon (Jono) were high school friends who parted ways after graduation but fate brought them back together. They fell deeply in love and as made plans to start a family, realized that it may not come together traditionally. They encountered An unexpected plot twist in pursuing their dream of becoming parents.

Michelle and Jono’s two unborn children await them in both their grandmother’s and aunt’s bellies. Family was important to both of them, but this was a whole new level of closeness they hadn’t experienced before. Michelle having fertility issues may just have been a blessing in disguise.

Falling in Love

Michelle and Jono had been friends in high school but when she ran into him during a stroll around town things were quite different. There was an undeniable spark after losing contact for several years. Michelle jokes that he suddenly became attractive as if he wasn’t before. Maybe he was and she just didn’t notice until that moment.

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Source: Jonathon Harley / Facebook

From that moment the rest was history, it was the beginning of a beautiful love story and after several years of dating the big question was popped, “Will You Marry Me?” Spoiler, the answer was an enthusiastic yes. They had a “big European wedding” that was reminiscent of the Macedonian heritage that Michelle grew up with so close to her heart.

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A European Wedding

Michelle knew that she would have obstacles when she decided to start a family and she of course disclosed all this to Jono right off the bat. She was never known as one to let some obstacles or challenges stand in the way of what she wanted and luckily Jono was the same. Jono loved her wholeheartedly and vowed to support her every step of their journey together.

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Source: Holly Prins / abc.net

Michelle and Jono decided to get married in 2019 in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by all their loved ones. It was a joyous occasion and nothing seemed to be able to get in their way.

The Journey of Pregnancy

Michelle greatly anticipated motherhood and raising children with Jono so saving money from the start for IVF was the main investment in her piggy bank. The journey was about to get harder and more emotional as time went on. They both knew the longer they waited the harder it would become especially as their 30s approached.

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Source: Michelle Harley / abc.net

As she entered her mid-20s and talks of starting her and Jono’s family became more of a reality, she went to her doctor to understand more of what this process would look like. A series of medical scans determined that she had a unicornuate uterus. This is a congenital disorder, in more simple terms, it means that she lives with only half of her uterus and therefore only one ovary and fallopian tube. Normally women without this disorder have one ovary and two fallopian tubes.

The Dangers of a Baby Bump

According to doctors, Michelle would still be able to carry a baby but it could cause some serious complications. Undergoing such a pregnancy would be nothing short of risky. As studies suggest there are increased risks than in a normal pregnancy.

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Source: Michelle Harley / Facebook

Some of these risks include pre-term delivery and increased likeliness of miscarriage. Additionally, if a hemi-uterus is detected then it must be removed altogether. This makes not only getting pregnant a challenge but also carrying the baby to full term and delivering it difficult and complicated.

Unwanted Bumps in the Road

Both Michelle and Jono started to try to get pregnant almost immediately after they got engaged despite not being sure they wanted to dive into parenthood right away. They realized that the road to even becoming pregnant would be long and difficult to conceive so they rationalized their head start. Although things were about to get tricker than they originally thought.

Source: Jonathon Harley / Facebook

Michelle had been prepared for this moment and as they turned to IVF she drew all the funds she had already saved for this moment. After several rounds of IVF, they were still unsuccessful, but they didn’t give up hope.

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Tight Knit Family

Being so close to her mother Jasmina Pandevski, and sister-in-law, Sophie Falzon, Michelle confided in them both the struggles and the emotional rollercoaster that she and her now husband Jono faced. Jasmina raising Michelle and her siblings and Sophie with a family of her own both experienced motherhood up close and wanted more than anything for Michelle to be able to have those special moments with kids of her own.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

As they both watched Michelle and Jono struggle with their journey to become parents up close, they both made a promise to themselves that they would do anything they could to help.

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In Love with Kids

Jasmina, Michelle’s mother says that she knew how much Michelle wanted to be a mother.  As told by Jasmina, Michelle, is “a school teacher, she loves kids.” She and her daughter have always had a close relationship and she only wished that Michelle could have the same relationship with her future child.

Source: Jonathon Harley / Facebook

Jasmina amidst all this struggle remembered that she happened to see an American television segment where a 50-year-old woman became a surrogate for her son and thought how beautiful it was.

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Baby Names or Bust?

Additionally, after countless rounds of IVF treatments, Michelle finally got pregnant through the process of egg collection and embryo transfer as well. She remembers feeling overwhelmed with relief at the success and having feelings of gratitude. Nevertheless, she still took everything with a gram of salt while Jono raced to think of baby names.

Source: midjourney

Michelle tried to keep Jono in check because complications were to be expected and she wasn’t 100% sure that things would go as smoothly as she hoped.

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Despite Michelle being guarded and skeptical about a smooth pregnancy, Jono immediately as he put it, “was already onto baby names.” He even wrote down some names in secrecy to start their list.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

Unfortunately Michelle’s fears were not without merit as she within a mere seven weeks was found to be hemorrhaging and was taken to the hospital. Although she miraculously didn’t miscarry

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What Doesn't Break You Makes You Stronger

Many people struggle with fertility issues. In married couples, an average of 1 to every 5 couples where the woman is in her 30s has trouble conceiving their first child. If you have health struggles or limitations that number is even greater.

Source: Michelle Harley

Fertility only gets more difficult over time as you age making it harder and harder to conceive.

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Michelle was immediately put on bed rest and spent the remainder of her pregnancy with serious anxiety. She couldn’t enjoy even a single moment of pregnancy because she was so afraid of something going wrong.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

Michelle would do anything to make it to the 24 weeks needed to deliver a viable baby but as fate would have it her water broke only after 18.

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Their baby did manage to survive for several days but infection levels rising meant that unfortunately Michelle and Jono had to face the reality that they needed to part with their child.

Baby Ralph Source: Michelle Harley

This was especially heartbreaking since they wanted a child for so long and they were seemingly so close to having their miracle baby.

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Uncharted Territory

Jono remembers that day in the delivery room, there were about five other women giving birth and screaming at the top of their lungs and he felt devastated knowing that his wife was about to give birth to a baby that wouldn’t make it.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

Even though there was an inevitable end to their tiny baby, they decided to name him Ralph. Michele remembers crying nonstop and not being able to control her emotions in the midst of feeling like she had failed her child.

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Michelle said that she, “felt like my body had failed my child…” in that she couldn’t protect him. The dangers didn’t stop there, as Michelle pushed out her placenta she developed a hemorrhage and needed to be rushed into the ER.

Source: midjourney

Jono could feel his heart breaking even further remembering thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to lose her’,” Jono says. “I was thinking, ‘What if she doesn’t make it? I’ve got nothing left to live for’.”

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To their luck, Michelle made a quick recovery and managed to stabilize rather quickly. Both Jono and Michelle even managed to spend some numbered moments with their newborn, Ralph, even if it was cut short.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

Even though Ralph’s life was quite short they are so proud of their baby and state that “he’ll always be [their] son and a part of [their] family,” according to Jono. We are sure Michelle without a doubt agrees.

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A Planted Seed

After such trauma and tragedy, it can be a long journey to recover but Jono and Michelle were lucky to have such an incredible support system around them. From the worst time in their lives stemming from deep hopelessness, their families became closer than ever.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

They all leaned on each other for support during this rough time. Doctors came to Michelle and Jono informing them that if Michelle fell pregnant again it would be too risky for both her and the baby. Their window of opportunity seemed to be closing.

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After all that this young couple went through, Jasmina and Sophie decided to jump into action at the chance to help Michelle and Jono start a family of their own. Jasmina, at age 52 got pregnant with Michelle and Jono’s baby while Sophie, age 34, also carried another of their babies at the same time, but not the way you think.

Source: Holly Prins / abc.net.au

Michelle says, “There’s a lot of feelings that go along with this surrogacy journey…” “Number one, it is so weird watching your mom pregnant with your own child.” It’s truly an unconventional situation but quite a selfless act indeed.

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Mothers Can Do Anything

Before embarking on this surrogacy journey Sophie was not familiar with this process but she knew that she would do anything for her sister-in-law and brother.

Source: Sophie Falzon / Facebook

Sophie has three children of her own with her husband Michael and had already completed their beautiful family and wanted Michelle to be able to have the same.

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For Michelle’s mother Jasmina, her maternal instincts kicked in and she wanted to protect her daughter from any additional health complications like what she endured that threatened her life.

Source: Jasmina Pandevski / Facebook

The idea of surrogacy was thrown around previously but it hadn’t been a serious conversation up until Michelle faced life-threatening complications as a result of her previous pregnancy. Jasmina firmly stood her ground in offering to become a surrogate for fear that Michelle would once again be put at risk.

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Both Jasmina and Sophie offered to help Jono and Michelle without being asked making it an even more beautiful and selfless thing to do for the ones they love. Jono and Michelle were both touched by their willingness to go through with this surrogacy. It is no easy journey.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

Michelle was feeling so much grief regarding the prospect that she would never be able to experience motherhood that she was extremely touched and thankful that both Jasmina and Sophie would volunteer to do this for her and Jono.

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Full Steam Ahead, Double Team

They all immediately went to Michelle’s doctor to tell him of the idea and proceeded with caution. Ultimately her doctor was in favor but advised psychological counselling and tests to be conducted throughout.

Source: Australian Story / abc.net.au

People who undergo surrogacy expose themselves to all sorts of possible medical problems so it was important to make sure everyone was healthy and able to undergo the surrogacy process.

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Jasmina, even though she was both healthy and in shape, she was almost considered not able to carry a child because of her age so everyone involved had to move quickly to speed up the process and put it into effect.

Source: Australian Story / abc.net.au

Some of the questions Jasmina was asked in counseling seemed like they didn’t apply to hear as told by Jasmina. Counselors “asked how would [she feel about attachment to this child afterward.”  No matter what she would always be the grandmother so she didn’t seem concerned about having to disconnect from the child after the fact.

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Jasmina was also quite surprised by the situation she ended up in for the reason that she hadn’t pictured revisiting pregnancy during this stage in her life let alone for her grandchild. But as she puts it, “It’s just, they need an oven and I have to cook it.”

Source: Michelle Harley

We already know about how, Sophie Falzon, stepped up to the plate without hesitation to carry her future nephew as another surrogate.

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Has D-Day Arrived Yet?

Sophie at the same time also wanted to fall pregnant rather quickly since she also wanted to resume her career. She took a very technical approach as simply being the carrier vessel for Michelle and Jono’s baby.

Source: Michelle Harley / abc.net.au

According to Sophie, “I never had any reservations about the emotional side of it,” she says. “I prepared myself from the very beginning that at D-Day, bubs is out and straight into their arms.” But can you guess what the real surprise was?

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Both Sophie and Jasmina, besides both of them offering to be the couple’s surrogate, the most surprising part is that they both fell pregnant within seven weeks of one another.

Source: Holly Prins / abc.net.au

There has been some confusion around this whole thing amongst everyone’s day-to-day, with people constantly asking the couple “how is your sister pregnant with your baby.” How does that even work?

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Two of Everything

As Michelle and Jono continue to explain to those around them and strangers alike, they are the genetic parents to both children conceived through IVF, and Jasmina and Sophie are simply carrying them to term.

Embryos implanted successfully ; Source: Jono and Michelle Harley

Michelle explains, “Our embryos were made from my eggs and Jono’s sperm, so Mum and Sophie are just carrying and growing babies that are genetically ours.”

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Before the wonderful successes of surrogacies Jono and Michelle’s journey to become parents was a difficult one but not without immense love and acceptance. They struggled with fertility issues and the loss of a baby that Michelle was carrying at 19 weeks.

Source: Australian Story / abc.net.au

This proved to be not only disheartening but also dangerous. Michelle was close to losing her life as a result.

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Partnership Amidst Struggles

In Michelle’s words, simply put, “Fertility sucks. It is just all-consuming.” Michelle says it ends up being “all you think about. It is all you want. You will do anything in order to become pregnant and have a child.” But approaching the journey with love and understanding for each other is key.

Source: Australian Story / abc.net.au

Michelle and Jono vow to make sure that this part of their children’s story is normalized and that it will be another memory to share with them as they grow up. According to these parents “There will never be a moment where we sit them down and tell them, it will just always be, ‘Oh, that’s you in Aunty Sophie’s belly and that’s you in grandma’s belly’.”

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One Big Happy Family

Part of the need to document every step of this pregnancy journey is also due to having these babies know where they come from and their unique journey to get here.

Source: Australian Story: Harriet Tatham

Michelle goes on to further emphasize that they, “thought it would be really nice to hang up a photo in their nursery so that they will always know where they came from.”

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Brothers Hugo, left, and Spencer, right were not born far away from each other with Hugo being born in December 2022 while his brother, Spencer, in January 2023. Talk about being almost twins!

Source: Harriet Tatham / abc.net.au

Do you think that they’ll end up in the same class when they start grade school? We definitely want a full report keeping up with these brothers.

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Strength in Numbers

When Hugo was first born, the fears Michelle and Jono harbored melted away. It was both an intense and emotional time but a beautiful birth. It took Michelle some time to actually realize that this was her new reality as a mom.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

After waiting for so long to enter motherhood she was in a state of disbelief at first. It was a good thing she had her mom to help her afterward as well, at least after she herself recovered from her cesarean section.

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Baby Bonding

Michelle even got to participate in her babies’ births by having special roles to help her connect to her children’s first moments.

Source: Australian Story / Facebook

Her midwife asked her if she wanted to pull out her baby Michelle loved being able to take part in this magical event. Michelle explains, “I had never thought of that as an option, but I just loved it, it was so exciting and surreal.”

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My Aunt Loves Me, Lou!

Michelle’s younger son even pays a special tribute to his aunt who carried him to term through his name, Spencer Louis Harley.

Source: Australian Story: Harriet Tatham

Sophie, his Aunt’s middle name is Louise so it was a sweet sentiment that Jono and Michelle decided to include as another way to say thank you and mark this joyous occasion.

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Happily Ever After

This family isn’t so little anymore and it is lovely to see how their growth and journey despite hardships has a happy ending. Both surrogates have since recovered and have taken on their rightful roles as Aunt Sophie and Grandma Jasmina.

Source: Harriet Tatham / abc.net.au

The whole family has enjoyed seeing Jono and Michelle grow into their roles as well as new parents to Hugo and Spencer. It’s been a rollercoaster but things seem to have settled for this growing and loving family.

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