As Kaitlyn Munoz held her daughter in her arms for the very first time, she looked at her mother with tears streaming down her face, full of gratitude.
Her mother, Chalise Smith, was in the hospital delivery bed and looked back at her daughter with matching tears filled with love that has no bounds.
Smith — a 50-year-old mother of eight from Pleasant Grove — gave birth to her own granddaughter on May 17 as a surrogate for Munoz, who was unable to carry her own child.
The decision to be a surrogate for her daughter came with a lot of prayer and consideration, Smith said, and as a mother it was difficult to watch her daughter experience infertility.
"When Kaitlyn got married, she wanted so badly to have a family, and tried unsuccessfully for three years," Smith said. "She has always had that nurturing and selfless loving nature about her, being the third of eight kids. When I had my eighth baby, she was just 13, and loved being a part of that. Watching her struggle to start her own family was really hard."
Munoz was diagnosed with endometriosis, making it difficult for her to get pregnant. She was, however, able to harvest four embryos in 2019. One of those embryos took, and she was able to give birth to a healthy baby boy named Callahan.
That delivery, however, had some complications, as Munoz was only able to make it to 33 weeks. She was then diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome, in which the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells that produce saliva and tears, and affects the kidneys. For the safety of her life, doctors advised that she should not attempt another pregnancy.
With two embryos left and a strong desire to have another child, Munoz didn't know what to do. So she reached out to her mom.
"The day that Kaitlyn found out that she wouldn't be able to carry another child, she sent me a video that documented her emotions," Smith said. "She told me that she was feeling peace and gratitude that she could be here for her son, and that she was thinking about having a surrogate or adopting to grow her family."
A thoughtful process
After that conversation, Smith said that she had the feeling that maybe she could be the surrogate for her daughter, but didn't tell her for several weeks. She also said that she wanted to make sure that the thoughts she was having weren't just emotionally driven.
"As a mother, we get so involved in our children's lives, emotionally," Smith said. "There's just these different ties we have with our kids and so I questioned myself. 'Do I really know what I'm saying?' I needed to make sure this wasn't just jumping into this emotionally because I was wanting to do this for her. I wanted it to be the right choice. I was going to be 50. I'm experiencing this other stage of life. I needed to make sure this is the right thing, and that I had support."
Smith said she kept these thoughts to herself for three weeks before telling her daughter.
"In my own prayer and thoughts and seeking my own answers, I kept it to myself; I didn't even tell my husband," Smith said. "Three weeks later, I was folding laundry and I had this impression that I needed to call and let Kaitlyn know that I would be willing to do this. So I called her, and she was just sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store waiting for her son to wake up. We just chatted — just some small talk — and then I had the thought to just tell her.
"My heart was beating really fast. I told her that I would like to carry those two embryos. She was silent, and I could hear the emotion building up on the phone. She said, 'Do you realize what you're saying?'"
Smith explained that she knew full well that her daughter had concern for her because she had experienced the in vitro fertilization process, and didn't want to put her through it — especially at her age.
"I saw Kaitlyn go through the IVF process, and I know what it entails," Smith said. "There's all the shots and so many emotions that are involved with it, and I told her that I understood the risks, and that I had been praying about it for three weeks. Then she told me, 'I was just sitting here thinking about who could I have carry my embryos, and you called me up.'"
Smith explained that not only did the decision to become a surrogate require thoughts and prayers, but there were a lot of logistical things involved to ensure that her body was healthy enough to carry another baby. She also said she wanted the support of both her husband and her son-in-law.
With all those boxes checked, Smith went through the IVF process, and was successfully able to become pregnant with her granddaughter.
The gift of life again
After a full-term pregnancy, which Smith said went really well, she gave birth to a 7-pound, 13-ounce girl named Alayna Kait-Chalise Munoz after mother and grandmother.
"Kaitlyn, her husband and my husband were all there in the delivery room," Smith said. "It was an amazing experience, and there wasn't a dry eye in there.
"There were many during the pregnancy who tell me how hard it was going to be to hand the baby over after I carried her for nine months, but that wasn't the case. I knew from the beginning that this wasn't my baby. This was a gift for my daughter that she couldn't do for herself. I would do anything for any of my children."
For Smith, the baby girl is another grandchild.
"From the very minute that baby came and was placed in her mom's arms … to see the joy of her and her husband, it filled my heart," she said. "It did everything I thought it would. I've never once looked at Alayna and thought it was my baby. I look at that baby and say, 'That's my granddaughter.'"
Munoz, who was on her way home to Texas when KSL.com connected with her, expressed her gratitude for her mother's gift, and for her son's younger sister.
"My mom and I have always had a close relationship; she is my best friend," Munoz said. "My mom did a lot of things for me, growing up, that I couldn't do for myself, and 25 years later she did something I couldn't do for myself again. She brought me the greatest gift: Alayna."
As for Smith, she said she is not only recovering well, but feeling great. Munoz said she is thoroughly enjoying her family of four, and that Callahan is often heard saying, "Me and Alayna are best friends."
To follow more of Munoz's journey, she is documenting it on her Instagram account @creatingourfam.