Sisters as surrogate mothers (Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy|Getty Images)

Juliet Pearrell, left and Jen Kimble, right

More and more women are doing just that. But is it weird when your daughter is your niece? These two sisters say no—in a story you may never forget.
A stuffed baby duckie.” That’s what Emma Grace Pearrell told Santa she wanted for Christmas. The three-year-old had been eagerly waiting her turn to sit on his lap at the kids’ holiday breakfast held by ambulance volunteers in Brunswick, Maryland. Santa heard young Emma’s request and gave her a big smile. “You are a special little girl,” he told her.
Santa didn’t know the half of it. The mother he handed her back to, Juliet Pearrell, is also Emma’s aunt.
Let us explain that: Juliet, 39, a software systems analyst, used an egg from her sister, Jen Kimble, 27, to have a baby. And they are hardly unique—sister-moms are one of the biggest new trends in the fertility world. In fact, 5 to 10 percent of women who use donor eggs to conceive are now choosing to get those eggs from a sibling, according to fertility experts and data shared with GLAMOUR by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. (Cases in which men give a brother sperm are also rising but on a smaller scale.) “The tradition has been that everything about a donor must be anonymous,” says Robert Brzyski, M.D., Ph.D., former chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s ethics committee. “Now there’s much more interest in having information on the donor. And when you use your sister, you have the family DNA.”
Granted, the idea can seem awkward—it’s not like your husband is having sex with your sister, but their sperm and eggs are, effectively, hooking up. Still, the Pearrells, like several couples GLAMOUR spoke to, are proudly open about how they chose to have a baby. Recently, in what’s become a typical exchange, Juliet found herself telling the story to a stranger at the mall, who then asked, “Were you afraid that your daughter was going to have a bond with your sister?” Juliet didn’t blink: “Well, she does have a special attachment to her aunt Jen. But our mom died when we were young. We felt like the only way to keep our family going was to do this for each other.”

Every sibling pair on these pages (see “Meet the Sister-Moms,” on page 123) has a saga to tell, but for Jen and Juliet, Emma’s birth became a happy ending to an unbelievably heartbreaking tale.

The ultimate gift
Juliet was 12 and Jen just six months old when their lives were first torn apart. On Friday, October 25, 1985, their parents packed everyone into their silver Honda Accord and headed home from a beach getaway. Roughly halfway through the drive, a van smashed into the passenger side, killing the girls’ mother.

After the accident the family, dazed with grief, tried to regain a sense of normalcy. But within a year, Juliet and Jen’s father, an Air Force officer, began dating someone new. “For me that was too fast,” says Juliet, who ran away to Washington, D.C. There, at age 13, she found herself on her own in the inner city, and the streets quickly turned dangerous. “I ended up eating out of trash cans and exchanging myself for somewhere to sleep,” she says. “You do bad things in order to stay alive.” After six months of toughing it out, she realized that home couldn’t be any worse. But when she returned, the house was vacant. “I just sat there on the porch,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do, where to go. So I turned myself in to the police.”

From there she landed in foster care and bounced around from family to family, growing angrier and tougher with each failure. After the fourteenth placement fell apart, her social worker, Tracey Sasso, put her in a car and drove her to a no-nonsense couple in Nokesville, Virginia. “You’ve got to make this work,” Sasso said. “I have nothing left.” That last-chance foster mom, Erma Koontz, took one look at the cocky 15-year-old walking through the door and melted. “I saw this very sad girl with a chip on her shoulder,” Koontz says, “and I think that’s why I fell in love with her.” Juliet stayed through the rest of her teens and came to call Erma Mom.