Kim Bentley sat with three folders on her lap. Each one contained its own sad story. The sweet-natured, soft-spoken critical care nurse knew whichever folder she chose, several lives would change.
"By the time they get to this point, I'm it. I'm their last-ditch hope," she said, remembering that time in September of 2008. "I can't imagine what that's like."
After years of thoughtful research, she had decided to become a surrogate mother for a childless couple.
Bentley's interest in becoming a surrogate began nine years ago, after the birth of her first child, Mckayla. The once career-minded nurse said all goals fell by the wayside when she saw her daughter for the first time in the delivery room.
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"It totally changed my way of life," said Bentley, 38.
As she went on to have Alex, now 6, from her first marriage, and Abigail, now 2, with her husband, Lee, 47, her heart would become heavy watching family and friends who struggled to become parents.
When she approached Lee with the idea of surrogacy, he was supportive. Widowed after 19 years of marriage, Lee was never able to have children with his first wife. Now a father to Abigail, he knew the joys of parenthood too.
The Bentleys decided to use an agency that specializes in surrogacy to maneuver them through the legal matters. The contract they signed, 24 pages long, covered every issue that could arise, even the right to keep Kim on life support until the baby could survive in the event of a tragedy.
Once Bentley passed a battery of tests, the agency gave her three folders of couples looking for a surrogate.
One folder contained the story of Kelly and Bill. Kelly, 39, a dentist, was told at age 15 that although her eggs were viable, she would never be able to carry them herself. Her husband, Bill, 46, a real estate businessman, shared Lee's desire to become a father, even in his late 40s.
They met for lunch in Kelly and Bill's hometown, a small coastal community in Maryland, chatted for hours like old friends and knew by the end of the meal they were a perfect match.
Over the next several months, a unique relationship was formed. Bentley remembers Kelly telling her, "I'm never going to be pregnant. I want to be pregnant through you."
They would speak weekly and visit monthly, one mother telling the other of pregnancy milestones, letting her in on the precious gift she was holding for her, which turned out to be twin girls.
In the delivery room, as Kelly held her girls for the first time, Bentley recognized her expression, that look of intense love between mother and child she had first felt nine years ago. She felt no sadness, just joy.
"I'm giving something back to someone that was theirs to begin with."