On a December evening in 2015, Nicole Barattini and her husband, Kevin, were eating dinner at a Long Island steakhouse with a couple they knew socially, Shawn and Lianna Fives.
Years before this outing, Nicole learned that due to a rare blood disorder called TTP , if she got pregnant, she or the baby were at a high risk of dying.
Adoption or hiring a surrogate were out of the question due to the high cost topping $90,000.
A few female friends offered to carry for the couple (Nicole had harvested and frozen her eggs, since TTP is not genetic), but for various reasons it had never worked out.
That December night, Lianna (already a mom of five) announced a surprise solution: She would carry a baby for the Barattini’s, for free.
The Barratini’s were stunned. “To see their faces, their excitement, I don’t think they believed it themselves,” Lianna recalls.
“I was blessed to have five kids and they are all amazing and I couldn’t picture my life without them,” says Lianna, 37. “And to see this family so deserving it broke my heart.”
On February 10, 2017, Lianna delivered twins, a boy and a girl.
“Lianna and Shawn saved us,” says Kevin, 35, who works for the town of Smithtown, N.Y. and has a DJ business. “You hit rock bottom and you think it’s the end of the road. We are literally blessed. There are no words.”
About six years ago, Lianna had heard about Nicole’s inability to have children through a mutual friend.
At the time, Lianna was between her second and third child, and felt she could not be a carrier for the Barattini’s until she was finished having her own family.
In New York, surrogacy for pay is illegal. However, altruistic surrogacy — which means one carries the baby for free, and also known as being a gestational carrier — is allowed, according to surrogacy attorney Melissa Brisman.
Following the birth of Lianna’s last child on June 2, 2015, she made up her mind to become a carrier. She also got a promise from Shawn, a busy funeral director, to help more with child care.
“At first it was difficult for me to get a sense of why she wanted to do this,” says Nicole. “She is an angel. She wanted to do this out of the kindness of her heart.”
Shawn started giving Lianna hormone shots to prepare her body for the implantation of the embryos created with Nicole’s eggs and Kevin’s sperm.
After a second IVF attempt succeeded, both couples went to 95 percent of every doctor’s appointment with Lianna’s obstetrician, Dr. Richard Klein, sometimes twice a week.
“We had so much fun during the pregnancy, the delivery,” says Klein, who has known Lianna since delivering her first child over 13 years ago.
Lianna’s gift “was to me the most you could ever do for a friend, to do something like that,” says Klein. “What a generous thing to do for a friend.”
On Labor Day, the couples — by this time the closest of friends — created a joint surprise baby announcement party for 60 guests, and included the Fives’ children, then ages 13 to 1.
Despite a lot of people asking Lianna how she would be able to give up the babies, “We said, ‘Their buns, my oven,’ ” she says. “I will always have a connection to the twins, but I had no problem with letting them go.”
On February 10, both couples were in the operating room with Dr. Klein for a C-section, required because one of the babies was breech.
First Dominic was born, followed minutes later by Luciana.
“I felt hot and dizzy,” says Nicole. “We saw the whole thing.”
The Barattini’s annointed Lianna and Shawn the babies’ godparents. Nicole and Lianna, who share the same March 1 birthday, are “closer than we’ve ever been, I don’t have a sister but I’d consider her like that,” say Nicole. “We don’t hold back, we are open, honest and I am constantly turning to her for guidance.”
Nicole “still can’t process” Lianna’s generosity.
“Every time I look at the babies it reminds me of what she went through, she never complained, ever,” says Nicole.
“We have a strong faith,” she says, “and I believe things happen for a reason, and I believe that energy you put in comes full circle, and I think it will with her.”