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Kansas City woman acts as surrogate for her cousin

"If she wasn’t able to carry herself, then I wanted to carry a baby for her."
Amanda, Marisa and Baby Maya
Posted at 5:32 PM, Mar 22, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Amanda Schulte's cousin, Marisa Merliss, has always been at her big life events, be that graduation or her wedding.

Now, Schulte can say she was there for one of Merliss' biggest moments: becoming a mother.

Amanda Schulte and her cousin, Marisa Merliss.

Merliss and her husband, Michael Minarik, lost their only child during birth. Soon after, she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma.

"My husband and I had gone through some fertility issues, as well, before we had our oldest," Schulte said. "So my heart just broke for her."

Schulte said it was no question — if Merliss couldn't carry a baby, she wanted to be the one to do it.

"I knew the feeling that I had when I held my first child after having miscarriages, and I knew the feeling it would give them, and for me to be able to make somebody feel that way was just very empowering," Schulte said.

Amanda and her youngest daughter look through old family photos.

Merliss and her husband had embryos frozen before her diagnosis. Schulte went through fertility treatments and found out she was pregnant in November 2022.

Schulte has three kids of her own, and said her fourth pregnancy was pretty easy.

"Everybody’s concern was, 'You’re going to be too attached, how are you going to give that baby up?'" Schulte said. "And then some people were like, 'Oh that’s gonna be your baby,' and I’m like, 'No it’s not.' Biologically, it’s not my baby, it’s their baby. You know, their bun, my oven."

Merliss and her husband live in New York City but were able to visit Schulte once a month during her pregnancy.

On July 13, 2023, Schulte gave birth to a very healthy baby Maya.

Baby Maya, Monphotography

"They didn’t get to experience that joyful birth and here I’m bringing their daughter into the world, but I felt like it was about them," Schulte said. "I wanted them to be able to experience that joyful moment."

The journey was something they documented very well, but even without the pictures, it's something Schulte will never forget, all while she's right beside her cousin.

"It was just like looking at, you know, a miracle baby that was just like a niece to me," she said.