When Jodi Wegge gave birth to her daughter Lindsay in 1999, the baby was three and a half weeks early and a breech birth. The placenta erupted and she had an emergency cesarean section, losing so much blood that she died on the table for 32 seconds as her organs shut down.
"The baby was fine, and I had a two percent chance," said Wegge, now 47 and from Sturgeon Lake, Minn. She lost her uterus in a hysterectomy, but luckily retained her ovaries.
Today, Wegge's daughter is 16, but she also has 13-year-old biological triplets who were conceived through in vitro fertilization with her husband Dan's sperm and her own eggs.
She owes it all to gestational carrier Meredith Olafson, who at the age of 47 has just "retired" her uterus after giving birth to 15 children, four of them her own.
The Wegge triplets were the first of 11 surrogate children that she delivered over the last 16 years. And on March 29, Olafson gave birth to her 11th and last surrogate child, a girl.
"I am stopping because of my age and six C-sections," said Olafson, a private nurse from Fargo, N.D., and a grandmother. "It's kind of a lot, and it's time to say we're done."
The Wegge triplets were the first children born from a gestational carrier in the state. The families hired a private attorney who eventually helped write the laws of surrogacy in North Dakota.
"I love her," Wegge said of Olafson. "I call her every year on their birthday at 7 in the morning. When the phone rings on April 29th, she knows it's me and I simply say, 'Thank you.'"
Olafson, who has four children of her own aged 16 to 24, has given birth to two sets of triplets and a set of twins, as well as three singletons. None of them are her biological children, because the parents supplied the embryos.
"We never went into it to make money," said Olafson, who has a sense of humor and the full support of husband Jay. "Our intention was for people who are unable to have their own children to go through the same torment as we went through with our children."
"It is easier on families, too, knowing they are their kids -- and for my family, knowing they are not related to them," she said.
Olafson is, perhaps, the most prolific surrogate mother in the United States, only outdone by Carole Horlock, a British woman who has given birth to 12 babies for other women and now lives in France.
Jill Hawkins, also British, is pregnant with twins, her ninth and 10th surrogate babies. Both women have been criticized for risking their health and being "addicted" to pregnancy and media attention.
In the largely unregulated world of surrogacy, Olafson seemingly stands out as a role model who chooses to help others for all the right reasons.
"What Meredith has done is to unselfishly help people become parents," said Karen Synesiou, director of the Center for Surrogate Parenting in California, which did not work with Olafson. "How can anyone criticize her?"
Synesious's agency, the largest one in the country, helped David Furnish and Elton John become parents.
"What is remarkable is the two sets of triplets and a set of twins," she said. "Usually there are complications after multiples and that combined with premature delivery excludes a person from being a surrogate mother again."
Typically, agencies won't use a surrogate mother who has had more than six surrogates, delivered twins prematurely or has had multiple cesarean sections, according to Synesiou. All of Olafson's six pregnancies as a surrogate were C-sections.
Even three pregnancies is considered a lot for a surrogate mother, she said.