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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Miracle babies make this Mother's Day extra special for moms

Brandi Cotten wasn't feeling great. She and her husband, Carlton, were on vacation with other family members. She wondered if maybe there was a very good reason she felt weird. There was a way to find out.

"I found out at just before midnight Mother's Day 2014 that I was expecting, so I always say I found out I was going to be a mother on Mother's Day," she said. "I had known that something was not right, so I took the pregnancy test while my parents were asleep."

Of course, everyone was ecstatic. It was the first child for the Cottens, who live in Saucier. Beyond the usual morning sickness, Brandi felt fine as her baby grew, and she went about her life, excitedly looking forward to the day when she truly would be a mother.

"I didn't have any complications," she said.

Then Sept. 14, all of that changed.

"I had a hair appointment that morning. I called and told (the stylist) I'd be late, that something was not right," she said. "Well, it was more than I thought."

The baby was coming early -- very early.

Kourtlynn Cotten was born at 1.8 pounds and 11 inches long and was put in the neonatal intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.

"She was in the hospital for 102 days," Cotten said. "We did a lot, a lot of praying. We just kept praying."

Brandi wasn't able to hold tiny Kourtlynn until about three weeks after she was born.

"When I finally got to hold her, I just kept saying, 'I'm sorry.' I thought it was something I did. We really don't know why she was so early, but I was blaming myself," she said.

Kourtlynn finally left the hospital months after she was born.

"She came home Dec. 22," her mother said. "She was like our little Christmas present."

Today, Kourtlynn is a healthy 14-pound baby "and then probably some; she has a doctor's appointment coming up," Cotten said.

As soon as she said that, baby Kourtlynn looked up at her mom with a happy giggle.

"I've learned that I can't be selfish anymore," Cotten said. "I have to be selfless. It's all about her."

The first-time mom has some advice for others.

"You are your child's biggest advocate," she said. "Do what's best for your child, and go with your gut feeling."

Nicole McClendon

Nicole McClendon had two children, Nicholas and Miya Yuratich, from a previous marriage when she met David McClendon in Ocean Springs. She also had become a mother to her younger brother, Taylor Capers, he was 11 years old after their mother's unexpected death when in 1999.

The couple married and formed a family. Still, David, who had not been married before, yearned to be the father of a child, and Nicole wanted to be able to give him that wish.

But she had some health issues, including polycystic kidney disease, which meant she could no longer carry a baby. The McClendons looked into the possibility of in vitro fertilization.

"We looked at two different surrogates, but they both fell through," Nicole McClendon said.

Her cousin Kim Harvey lives near Baton Rouge. The two grew up together and have been as close as sisters since childhood.

"We used to talk to each other while we were waiting in the car line every day," Harvey said. "So after the second one (surrogate mother), she said, 'I really had a feeling this was going to work.' Then she said, 'I think of you as the closest thing to a sister to me. You should carry my baby.'"

"Jokingly! I said it as a joke!" McClendon added quickly.

"Now, I had three kids, and the youngest is 10," Harvey said. "But I got to thinking more and more about it and thought, why not? She is like my sister."

"Kim and I really are like sisters," McClendon said. "Our grandmother raised me, and Kim was around all the time, and we really loved our grandmother. We lost her about three years ago."

Harvey talked it over with her husband, and they agreed to the idea "of carrying a baby," McClendon added, emphasizing the "a." "Then Grandma came to her in a dream."

"She said, to me in my dream, 'I'm very proud of you, very proud of you.' Then I woke up and said 'Really?'" Harvey said.

"I think things happen for a reason," McClendon said. "I think Grandma knew this was meant to be."

Five embryos were extracted from McClendon and two were implanted in Harvey to increase the chances of at least one "taking."

The chances turned out to be really good.

"Oh, I knew what had happened. I knew when I took the pregnancy test four days later," Harvey said. "That thing was blinking at me. I knew it should not be as red as it was."

The roller coaster emotional ride was almost over for McClendon. Harvey was going to carry twins for Nicole and David.

"It had been over a two-year process," McClendon said. "We kept hitting the wall, hitting the wall. I wanted to see it in black and white, on paper, before I really believed it, but she was (carrying twins). We had already agreed that if it didn't take, we would adopt. But it took."

McClendon went with Harvey to doctor appointments and cooked for her family. Harvey, who was 38 during the time she carried the twins, agreed 2014 was "a trying year."

"I felt like I was the husband,'" McClendon said with a laugh. "I'd tell her 'You're so beautiful!' I would massage her feet. When I would go over and cook for her family, it was I like I was in that show 'Wife Swap.' I would cook something and her kids would say, 'Uh, what is that?'"

On Oct. 21, Harvey went to Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, along with her husband and the McClendons, where she gave birth to Lola Kate (6 pounds, 12 ounces) and Stella Reese (6 pounds, 2 ounces), 10 minutes apart. Stella, who was much smaller, was put in NICU until she was strong enough to go home.

Harvey sees the twins about once a month "but I wish it could be much more often." McClendon now is affectionately called Nanacole by Harvey's children, very close to the Mamacole nickname that neighborhood kids have given her.

"And she's Kikki," McClendon said of Harvey.

As for the twins, Lola Kate looks "just like her dad, and Stella, as you see, looks just like me," McClendon said.

Lola, a little social butterfly, is still a bigger baby than more-serious Stella. But the girls already know they have a special bond. During the interview, they clutched each other's tiny hands.

"They do that all the time," McClendon said.


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