The word "family" has taken on new meaning for one group of friends after one of them donated an egg and became a surrogate for the others.
In July, Kelsey Benton of Kechi, Kansas, delivered baby Ezri, a daughter, in a surprise home birth for her close friends Amy and John Cardenas of Yuma, Arizona.
Ezri's arrival on July 7 was the culmination of a plan the friend group hatched several years ago.
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Amy Cardenas, 39, has been friends with Neva Benton since they were in college together and became friends in 2015 with Kelsey, who would later become Neva's wife. Amy and John Cardenas married in February 2020.
It was the Bentons who approached the Cardenases with an idea that would prove to be life-changing.
"We were in Kansas visiting Kelsey and Neva and we were sitting down for dinner and drinks," Amy Cardenas recalled to "Good Morning America." "I was like, [to John], 'They have a question for you.' And Neva was like, 'Hey, can we use your sperm? We would like to have a kid,' and then Kelsey is like, 'And I'll donate an egg and carry for you.'"
Amy Cardenas said at the time, she and John hadn't even gotten engaged yet but they had both discussed their desire to have a family. However, at 27, Amy Cardenas had a hysterectomy, the only option she said she had left at the time to treat stage 4 endometriosis. Starting a family would have to look a little different for the Cardenases.
Amy Cardenas said she wasn't sure at first how John would react and the four friends initially joked about the idea, but soon, the joke turned into serious conversations. The plan was for Kelsey Benton to donate her eggs and carry two children -- first, a biological child for the Bentons, and second, another child for the Cardenases.
"We kind of all were like, 'Yeah, let's do it.' And so then we talked about it for another two years, I think, just the ins and outs and what all we would have to do," Kelsey Benton said.
The four friends decided to use an at-home insemination service -- Mosie Baby -- and the process was successful both times.
The Bentons' daughter Ora was born first in June 2021, making the Bentons, who had previously adopted three children from foster care, parents of four.
Then, in July this year, while the Cardenases were visiting the Bentons in Kansas, Kelsey Benton started to experience contractions and went into labor unexpectedly at home.
"I told Neva, I said, 'Let's just go to the hospital, I think it's time,'" Kelsey Benton recalled. "So [Neva's] arranging all of this stuff on the back end, to get people at the house to hang out while the kids are asleep. Amy and John are on their way home. And so then I come to the foot of our bed and I had another contraction and I felt pushing, and it was not an intentional push, my body just did it. And I was like, 'Oh, yeah, nope, definitely not going to make it [to the hospital]."
Neva quickly called 911.
The Bentons said that within an hour, baby Ezri had arrived in their bathroom, as paramedics and the Cardenases rushed to the Benton home. With paramedics present, John Cardenas was able to cut Ezri's umbilical cord and Amy Cardenas was able to initiate skin-to-skin contact with their newborn soon afterward.
"He was able to cut the cord. They wiped her off, they gave her to me and it was just instantaneous," Amy Cardenas said of their love for their new arrival.
"Before she was even here, she was loved by not just John and I, but Kelsey and Neva and people that are really close to us. She has been wanted and loved since day one, so I really hope that she feels that," she added.
John Cardenas said the experience of teaming up with the Bentons, whom he described as "very loving" and "very giving" and whom he views as his "sisters," to start a family of his own felt like a "natural" process.
"If I can advise anybody that decides to go down this route of surrogacy, it really is more of a test of faith and perseverance," the new dad said. "If you want anything enough that you're going to work on it, the hard work part just comes naturally. You really got to keep the faith and you've really got to keep the perseverance to get through it."
Today, Ezri, who was born healthy, is back home in Arizona with her parents and the friends say they all share a unique connection that goes beyond a traditional friendship.
"It's more family than it is a friendship. We're auntie and uncle to their children and it just seems like the most natural thing, and they're auntie and auntie to Ezri, so it's like a bond now -- it's like the rest of our lives," Amy Cardenas said.