"Now I can’t imagine life without my baby,” Tamika Felder tells PEOPLE
Cervical cancer survivor Tamika Felder's path to parenthood came true thanks to a series of generous acts from people she'd never met in person — including a couple who donated frozen embryos and a fertility expert who secured free services. More than a year after the "kindness train" began, Felder says, her son Chayton was born.
Gazing into her newborn's big blue eyes for the first time after his Nov. 21 birth, Felder, 47, experienced a flurry of emotions. "He was 8 lbs. 2 oz. of love," she tells PEOPLE. "I couldn't believe how much hair he had. I was also in shock that he was mine." As the baby clenched her finger with his tiny hand, she recalls, "I knew that I would do my best to give him my best."
It's a moment Felder, of Upper Marlboro, Md., had been anticipating since she was a little girl. "I'd write baby names in journals and talk about what those babies would be like," she says. As an adult, though, she focused on her career as a TV producer in Washington, D.C., confident that her journey to parenthood would begin in due time. "I was very happy with my life," she says. "I wasn't in a rush."
Then, at just 25 years old, Felder received "soul-crushing" news from her doctor: she had cervical cancer and would need a lifesaving radical hysterectomy, making childbirth near impossible. "I never thought that the choice to have children would be taken away from me," she says.
Felder explored fertility preservation options in the weeks before her hysterectomy in 2001, but "ultimately the insurance wouldn't cover it, and we just ran out of time," she says.
Felder underwent chemotherapy and radiation to go into remission but her fertility loss caused her pain for decades. As friends started having children, Felder found herself having "to go through endless baby showers and act like I was okay," she says. Even though she was excited for her friends, she was "truly devastated for myself."
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After falling in love with Rocky Campbell — who she first met in the early 2000s but had fallen in and out of contact with over the years — and marrying him in 2013, Felder consulted with doctors one last time and then tried to accept that she might never have the chance to raise a baby.
Everything changed on April Fool's Day in 2021, when she got a phone call from Ginny Marable, 37, a fellow cervical cancer "survivor sister" who had been moved by Felder's story, which Felder had shared through Cervivor, an organization for cervical cancer patients she started in 2005.
Just two weeks earlier, Marable and her husband, Sean, of Portland, Ore., welcomed healthy twin boys — Emmett and Grant — via a surrogate. Unlike Felder, Marable was able to freeze embryos before her hysterectomy in 2017. "My saving grace in my devastating diagnosis was the ability to preserve our fertility," says Marable. "Tamika was denied the opportunity to do the same. Sean and I talked about it, and he was very open to the idea of donating our embryos to them, given all that she had done for the community."
When Marable made the offer, "I told her, 'This is not a sick and twisted April Fool's joke,'" she recalls. "Tamika was completely caught off guard." Says Felder: "She said that she's watched Rocky and me on social media, she loves our relationship, and she wanted me to experience motherhood. I was speechless—and I'm never speechless. I literally couldn't stop crying."
Felder talked with Campbell — who had a daughter, Zakiya, now 20, from a previous relationship — when he got home from work that night. "I told her, 'Let's do it,'" he recalls. "I had thought it would never happen for us." When Felder explained that the baby would be biracial — Marable is White, and Sean is Black — he replied, "That's fine — the baby's still ours."
There was just one problem with the plan: the cost of surrogacy. In the U.S., gestational surrogacy can run up to $150,000, according to Stephanie Levich, an infertility and surrogacy expert in Los Angeles.
Felder initially tried to find a surrogate independently. When that didn't work out, fertility lawyer Rijon Charne — a fellow cancer survivor who is the founding attorney of Sunray Fertility Law— connected her with Levich, whose firm Family Match Consulting specializes in donor and surrogate searches.
After just one call, Levich, 41, was committed to helping the couple overcome their last hurdles. "The biggest part was knowing how much love Tamika has poured into the lives of other cancer survivors," she says. "I just thought, 'Gosh, this woman has come so far—and Ginny's act of kindness brought her close to becoming a mom.' The idea of paying it forward, and an act of kindness inspiring another one, was so compelling. Tamika and Rocky are just such a deserving couple."
Unbeknownst to Felder, Levich immediately shared her story with professional colleagues, pleading for discounts or pro bono assistance. When she called Brooke Kimbrough, the CEO and cofounder of Roots Surrogacy, Kimbrough instantly agreed to waive her agency's fees. As for the rest, she recalls telling Levich, "We'll just get the whole community to do it."
Sure enough, Levich helped secure more than $90,000 worth of services within a couple of hours. Felder and Campbell were floored. "Tamika hasn't asked for anything," says Levich, "but she is who she is, and it just makes people want to help."
"I have never been so happy to help out someone like Tamika," adds fertility attorney Charne, who waived her legal fees and did all her work for Felder pro bono. "My heart was filled with such joy to help her on her journey."
More than a year later, the couple's surrogate (whom they keep anonymous) gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Chayton, on Nov. 21. Coincidentally it was also Levich's birthday — "the icing on the cake," says Felder.
"I can't imagine life without him now that he's here. That moment that I met him he was my everything," she says. "He's ours."
It wasn't until February that Felder met Levich and Kimbrough in person for the first time. Felder flew from Maryland to L.A. with son Chayton.
"I wouldn't have him without her," Felder says. "We're attached for life."
Adds Levich: "I meet a lot of babies that I've helped to create, but with him, it's very different."
One of the sweetest moments from the trip? Watching Levich read her children's book From The Start: A Book About Love and Making Families to Chayton. "He is the epitome of what is in that book," says Felder. "He was made with love."
Felder and Campbell are also forever bonded with the Marables, whose twins, now 2, are Chayton's biological siblings. Last July the families spent a weekend together in Portland as they awaited Chayton's arrival. Now the moms talk every week and share pictures of their growing boys.
"There are good people out in the world," Felder says of their generosity. She also hopes that by opening up about her experience she can normalize difficult conversations around building a family. "Be open to the various pathways to becoming parents," she says. "Ask for help. Where there is a will, there is a way."
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