Family enjoys first Christmas with little Lumi after friend's surrogacy
- Credit: Coral Putus/Sarelle Payne
It started as a conversation on a girls' holiday four years ago but a powerful act of friendship has seen a Suffolk family spend their first Christmas with the little girl they thought they would never have.
Sarelle Payne and Coral Putus have been friends since meeting at the Douglas Bader pub in Martlesham Heath as teenagers.
The pair have been brought closer after Sarelle offered to carry her friend's baby.
Coral, from East Bergholt, was told she would not be able to carry a baby as a teenager and advised surrogacy and adoption would be possible options.
In July 2017, while on holiday the friends were talking when Sarelle learned about Coral's situation, offering to research and act as a surrogate.
Coral, who attended St Albans School, in Ipswich, said: "From the age of 17, I was told I couldn't carry a baby.
"I was told I could have a surrogate. Doctors and people make it sound a lot easier than it is. When we started looking down that route, we found how much harder it is, to fund a surrogate, to go through IVF, all the stress.
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"She [Sarelle] was absolutely shocked and said 'I would carry your baby'. I thought she knew.
"Friends have made those comments before, and I think it's a way of making you feel better but after Sarelle got married she kept bringing it up, that's when I realised how serious she was about it."
Sarelle, who is mum to Joey, 11, and Charlie, four, said: "When I found out she couldn't have children or have her own, I just couldn't imagine. That moment your child is born is handed to you. I cannot explain that feeling and to imagine somebody not being able to have that feeling and not being able to achieve it for themselves."
Lumi Putus was born on September 30, 2021 after many appointments, counselling sessions and national lockdowns, in what was the "most amazing morning".
Sarelle, 33, went into labour in the early hours but when it was time to alert her friends, things "really sped up".
Coral said by the time the couple walked into Sarelle's living room, in Melton, she was in the birthing pool with Lumi in her arms.
The new mum said: "She is such a content little thing.
"We stayed with Sarelle and James until about 2pm with our little baby. It was the most amazing morning, I was all high on dopamine.
"She is the first grandchild, so it is very special.
"It's really hard to get my head around. Lumi wouldn't be here without Sarelle."
The surrogacy process for both families was long and "anxiety-provoking" said Coral.
After speaking to husbands Harry and James, the surrogacy process began, meeting with the team at Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Wickford.
Together the families had to seek legal advice to understand their rights and receive counselling.
Sarelle, who went to Kesgrave High School with Coral's husband Harry, said that during her pregnancy the emotional connection was different than with her own children.
The mum-of-two said: "You never know how you are going to feel. You have the counselling to make sure you understand the emotions, the hormones. It was a bit of a worry.
"But when it is your own child you imagine the future with the children in it. I was carrying their baby and I wasn't thinking about my friends' child."
Lumi was born using one of Coral's fertilised eggs that was transferred to Sarelle, after carrying out an egg collection the week before the country was plunged into lockdown for the first time.
Coral said: "I was given two dates and I went for the March date and a week later we went into full lockdown and the clinic closed. Who knows where we would be right now?"
Then in January 2021, a further lockdown was announced but the clinic was allowed to stay open and allow the embryo transfer to take place.
But due to restrictions, Harry and Coral were not allowed to be by Sarelle's side, something that would usually happen and had to wait outside in the car park.
Coral said: "We drove up and sat in the car park and waited for it to happen, and were hoping Sarelle would come out looking positive."
Both women praised the midwife service for navigating restrictions and being able to make Coral and Harry feel included during restrictions when the number of people at appointments were limited.
At the 20-week scan, Sarelle learned the sex of the baby to throw Coral and Harry a gender reveal party and later a baby shower.
"Normally when it's your baby shower you're not involved in the planning. I was planning it for Coral," she said.
Ahead of Christmas, the families enjoyed a visit to the zoo.
Sarelle added: "It's [Christmas] going to be really special for them."