Never giving up

Ashley Salter of Conway proves the path to parenthood is not always a straight line….rather, it can include the twists and turns that come with unexpected. Regardless, the end result is always more than worth the journey.
Married to husband Brent for nine years, the couple met while attending the University of Tulsa. “We dated through college, then broke up during our senior year,” says Ashley. She moved to Dallas, and he moved to Los Angeles. During this time apart, they realized they were meant to be together. After five years they reconnected, married, and moved to Conway.
While Brent is a Conway native, Ashley is from Siloam Springs in Northwest Arkansas. “It made sense to move back to Brent’s home, and we knew it would be a good place to raise a family,” she says. Brent joined his family’s business and works with Salter Properties. Ashley is an outside account executive with Bloomberg BNA. Currently, she is involved with working on the committee to build the new HAVEN house. The couple also supports the American Heart Association.
While attending college, Ashley was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare heart condition. “I was playing basketball intermurals and went into cardiac arrest while playing,” says Ashley. “That is when they diagnosed me with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD). According to the Cleveland Clinic, “ARVD is a rare form of cardiomyopathy in which the heart muscle of the right ventricle is replaced by fat and/or fibrous tissue. The right ventricle is dilated and contracts poorly. As a result, the ability of the heart to pump blood is usually weakened.”
ARVD is often genetic, and its cause is unknown. Ashley had a defibrillator put in after her diagnosis. She has undergone additional surgeries to replace batteries in her device as well, which is typically done every seven to 10 years. “In 2005, when I lived in Dallas, it was shocking me a lot. They tried to do an ablation to the heart, and I got a blood clot in my lung somewhere during the process,” she says. As a result, Ashley was also diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder. She has been on blood thinners since this time, in addition to taking medication to regulate her heart rate. ARVD is quite often fatal.
At the time of her initial diagnosis, Ashley was primarily occupied with learning about her condition and its management. While her cardiologist broached the subject of children, she was not in that phase of life during that time. “When I lived in Dallas, I would talk about having children with my doctor, but it wasn’t really on my radar.” However, when she and Brent settled in Conway, the subject resurfaced. “We really started talking about it, and I wanted to know what my options were,” she says.
Once she established an Arkansas-based cardiologist, she questioned her new doctor about having children. “He said no. He would be more comfortable if I didn’t,” she says. “Much of it is the medication I have to take. They also don’t know what would happen to me or to the baby,” says Ashley. She wanted to be certain, so she also consulted her cardiologist in Dallas, who sided with her Arkansas doctor. “We even went to a doctor at UAMS for a third opinion, and he basically said, ‘you would be signing your life away.’”
After the third clear “no,” Ashley and Brent were determined to study their options. “We decided to go to Arkansas Fertility for a checkup and to learn about our options. Everything [with us] checked out great. We learned we could basically take one of two routes: adoption or surrogacy,” she says. “We decided to go the surrogate route once we had time to discuss. We found out Arkansas Fertility worked with an agency out of Texas, so we started the process,” she says. There are multiple ways to use a gestational carrier, and the Salters considered many options. Ashley thought about her sister as a potential gestational carrier, but she was pregnant at the time so was not a viable choice.
The couple made the decision to find a gestational carrier using the services offered through the clinic. The process of matching with a surrogate was lengthy and involved. “In our application, we explained what we were looking for in a person down to religion and personality. It is a long-term relationship, so it has to be a good fit.” Brent and Ashley reviewed applications and found a surrogate they felt could potentially be a good match.
“Once we selected someone we were interested in, that person reviewed our information,” explains Ashley. “We wanted to have a big role in the process and be hands on, where others may not want to be involved at all and don’t meet their surrogate until delivery. We also wanted someone in Arkansas but ended up with someone in Oklahoma. That was fine; we truly went with the best fit for us.”
Another reason an Arkansas-based gestational carrier would have been simpler is the legal system. According to Ashley, Arkansas and California were considered among the most surrogate friendly states at the time as far as legal protections and procedures. Oklahoma, where the Salters’ surrogate delivered, was considered much less friendly. “Fortunately, the county she lived in was known for being a little more surrogate friendly than most of the state. And the doctor we chose used a gestational carrier as well, so they were all familiar with the process, and it made that part a lot easier,” says Ashley.
“When we first met Lindsey Taylor [the surrogate] and her husband, we liked them right away.” Ashley explains it is best for gestational carriers to have already had their own children, as it helps with the post-birth process. “Once we decided on our surrogate, the agency helped with the pairing up and the paperwork. They take care of the financial and legal parts, the things you don’t want to talk to the surrogate about, so you can enjoy the pregnancy.”
The Salters’ surrogate came to Arkansas Fertility to undergo in-vitro fertilization. “There was a lot of coordination involved; she had to take shots and go through the process of IVF.” The surrogate became pregnant on the first transfer, and the Salters learned they would become first-time parents to a baby girl. “We were able to tell our parents on Christmas Eve,” shares Ashley.
“As a female, you may dream of being pregnant and having your own kids. When you can’t, it can be heartbreaking, plus you have to trust someone else to take care of your child [while pregnant]. Developing that relationship and expecting a baby is a lot at one time. Someone told me to think of it as them babysitting your child for nine months. You have to pick your battles,” says Ashley. She and Brent remained in constant communication with their surrogate throughout the pregnancy. “We talked all the time.”
Nine months later, the couple’s first child, daughter Sutton, was born. She is now three and-a-half years old.
Through the process, Ashley and her surrogate became friends. She and Brent remained so involved, they knew who to contact when they began discussing a sibling for Sutton. “Once we decided to have another baby, we knew we wanted to go through the process with the same gestational carrier since we already had such a good relationship,” says Ashley.
They implanted their one remaining frozen embryo from the first round of IVF, but it was unsuccessful. They then went through the same process a second time and had a textbook IVF experience. “They put in two and found out we were having two! We knew there was a good chance because they showed us the statistics before the transfer; we decided we would go for it.”
Both Brent’s and Ashley’s mothers, along with Sutton, accompanied them to the ultrasound, where they were able to see the twins. “Our surrogate was so excited; she was rooting for us to have twins. Brent’s jaw dropped!” She carried the Salters’ twins, Sterling and Salem, now one, to almost 37 weeks.
“It was a long process, but it was overwhelmingly positive. We wanted the perfect person, and it could not have worked out better. She was put on this Earth to have children; she was a rock star. She was never sick with either pregnancy,” says Ashley. They maintain contact with their gestational carrier today. “She and her sons just came for the twins’ birthdays,” Ashley says.
As for life now, she says, “The days are crazy! It is hard, and the first days are a fog now. With the twins, there were nights when Brent and I would not know which one had just eaten! They looked so much alike; we didn’t know who to feed. Everything was wild with kids 30 months apart and one set of twins.” They make sure to accept help from their parents and grandparents when they can. Ashley adds, “I wish time would stop for just a minute. It is crazy, but fun, and I wouldn’t trade it!”