- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

NEVADA, Texas (AP) - Kelley McKissack raked her hands through her daughter’s soft blond hair, sweeping a portion in a Pebbles Flintstone-style ponytail toward the top of her head.

“Which one?” McKissack asked, holding a package of hair clips before Kelcey, one day shy of her first birthday. The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/2ihauYT ) reports with a stubby finger, the baby pointed to a glittery silver barrette.

“The sparkly one? I like it best, too,” McKissack, 29, said, fastening it as Kelcey wiggled out of her lap and crawled toward a pile of toys one room over. Grasping a wall’s edge, she pulled herself upright.

“She’s so close to walking,” grandmother Tracey Thompson, said, beaming at the blue-eyed baby who once grew inside her.

A year ago, the then-54-year-old Thompson labored for 38 hours at Medical Center of Plano, waiting to give birth to her granddaughter.

For nearly a year, she carried the girl as a surrogate for her daughter.

“That was a tough nine months,” Thompson said. She felt the child’s kicks, fluttering like butterflies, as she soaked in a bath. At night, as her husband, Ben Thompson, drifted to sleep, she’d grab his hand and press it against her stomach.

“Even at 54, it’s still the most beautiful thing to me,” he told The Dallas Morning News last year of the pregnancy.

On Jan. 6, 2016, Thompson delivered a healthy, rosy-cheeked girl by Caesarean section as McKissack, of Wylie, peeked warily over the curtain and saw the baby’s head poking out, tiny eyes blinking. They named her Kelcey - a combination of Kelley and Tracey. Though Thompson delivered and carried the baby, she is biologically McKissack’s and her husband, Aaron’s.

“There’s nothing more amazing in the world than the birth of your own child,” McKissack said. “I got a mixture of having the mother’s emotions but seeing it from the father’s perspective.”

Moments after Kelcey was born, McKissack held the newborn, dressed only in a diaper and a beanie, and pressed the baby’s warm skin against her bare chest.

“We bonded instantly,” she said.

Thompson’s pregnancy with her granddaughter was much harder than those with her now-grown children. She was constantly exhausted and had indigestion and nausea hit her randomly. She couldn’t help her husband mow their 50 acres or carry the feed for their longhorn cattle in the small Collin County community of Nevada where they live.

“Now, this is fun,” Thompson recently said, trailing Kelcey as the child crawled through her home, shutting doors leading toward the backyard and bedrooms. She said her energy returned and indigestion disappeared the day after the birth.

“The best part is watching my daughter be a mom, seeing how much she loves Kelcey and her happiness with her,” Thompson said. “You feel like you did something good because they’re such good parents.”

Three times, McKissack and her husband, Aaron, tried to have a baby. Three times, she miscarried - the third one on Christmas Day 2014.

“That’s all I ever wanted to be,” McKissack said of motherhood. “I’ve never been like, ‘Oh I want to go to college and do this and do that.’ I just wanted to be a mom.”

After her third miscarriage, she talked to her doctor about using a surrogate, but he explained there could be legal complications.

He said, “You want to trust someone like you trust your mother,” McKissack recalled to The News last year.

When she was 13 years old, McKissack - after some complications with her menstrual cycle - casually asked her mom during a car ride, “What if I can’t have kids one day?”

“I said, ‘Would you carry my baby for me?’ ” McKissack recalled.

“I told her, ‘of course,’ not really thinking it would happen,” Thompson said, laughing.

In April 2015 - after an extensive medical checkup, a visit with a counselor and a series of hormone injections - Thompson was implanted with a 5-day-old embryo, transferred to her womb with a catheter as her family stood beside her.

The surrogacy “didn’t surprise me at all,” said Nancy Grubbs, Thompson’s 78-year-old mother and Kelcey’s great-grandmother. “Tracey is probably the most giving person I’ve ever known.”

McKissack smoothed the back of Kelcey’s hair, teasingly saying she was trying to disguise a mullet growing at the nape of her daughter’s neck.

Kelcey gives toothy grins, showing off a row of eight baby teeth. Described as an independent but happy baby - much like McKissack - she says “Mama” and “Dada” and sometimes “hi” and “bye.”

A curious explorer, she scoots fearlessly next to visitors, placing her hands on their bended knees and shrieking in laughter. She grabs for pens and gnaws on the bristles of a green plastic toothbrush Thompson hands to her as teeth poke like growing seedlings through her gums. She licks almost everything - the wall, her bathwater - as if she’s a puppy.

“I don’t know how this year has already passed by,” McKissack said.

Since the birth, McKissack and Thompson have received emails with questions from others contemplating surrogacy.

Not all the comments are positive, however. While pregnant, friends and strangers looked at Thompson, puzzled. Some suspected she had a beer belly. At church, Ben Thompson would sometimes point to his wife’s stomach and joke that the baby wasn’t theirs and that “he watched the guy do it.”

Now that the story has become public, McKissack reads comments about inbreeding and others calling her selfish for not adopting.

“I don’t think people understand the process,” said Amy Miller, McKissack’s friend who has two adopted children and also was surprised by the negativity toward the family’s story. “I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t Tracey do that for her?’ “

One day, the family will tell Kelcey the story of her birth, even before she’s old enough to understand.

“Surrogacy is a good thing. It’s not a bad thing. It helps families build,” McKissack said.

Though the McKissacks have four more embryos, they haven’t decided whether to grow the family with another child. Whatever they decide, one thing is sure - Thompson says she won’t be a surrogate again.

“She has Kelcey now.”

___

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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