Lydia Chapdelain lifts her 3-month-old daughter, Charlotte, out of her swing, gently places her on her lap and feeds her a bottle. Her sister, Jessica Kingsley, is seated on the couch holding Charlotte’s twin brother, Spencer.
While holding her nephew, Kingsley talks about how she’ll prepare for the day when the twins learn she’s far more than just their aunt.
Although Chapdelain and Kingsley are fraternal twins, they couldn’t be more different. From their friends to favorite activities, they kept almost everything separate growing up. Chapdelain attended Sarasota High School and ran track, and Kingsley attended Pine View, where she became involved in the French Club and with the Players Theatre.
Both sisters graduated from Florida State University, and in 1998 Kingsley moved to London. In 2003, Chapdelain and her husband, Ryan, left Atlanta to settle in Sarasota.
In 2004, Chapdelain was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. For two years, she battled the disease and underwent three surgeries. Kingsley returned to Sarasota for two months at a time following each procedure to help take care of her sister.
“I made her eat Cheetos and macaroni and cheese and go walking,” Kingsley said. “That was part of her recovery.”
Chapdelain’s illness strengthened the sisters’ relationship and brought them closer together.
While sitting around the house during one of the recovery phases, the two started talking. Kingsley delicately asked Chapdelain what her greatest fear in life was.
“It was that I wouldn’t be able to have children,” Chapdelain said. “She said, ‘Oh, I’ll do that for you.’ I was obviously overcome with the generosity that she said it so quickly. Not many times in life do you get from another person a selfless act that’s that apparent and that quick of a decision. She was totally serious about it.”
Last June, doctors implanted two of Chapdelain’s embryos in Kingsley’s uterus. Four weeks following the transfer, an ultrasound showed she was carrying twins.
“It was awesome,” Kingsley said. “I had a really easy pregnancy. I was never sick and never on bed rest — I have the perfect physique for carrying twins. My only concern throughout the pregnancy was that I would hate to give them up.”
For nine months, Chapdelain and her husband rushed around to appointments with Kingsley, supporting her with anything she needed. Ultrasounds were never boring, because with eight grandparents-to-be who live within driving distance, the mommies-to-be always had a little entourage following them around like paparazzi.
When it came to naming the twins, Kingsley vetoed names she didn’t like. She also refused to be called “Aunt Jessica,” and instead chose a hybrid of the Greek word for aunt, “thea,” and the Italian word for aunt, “zia.”
“I want to be called ‘Gea,’” Kingsley said. “I wanted something cuter than ‘aunt.’ They have eight grandparents — our step-mom and dad are ‘Lovey’ and ‘Buddy’ — and they can’t all just be called ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa.’ They (the twins) are the first grandchildren, so they get to invent their own names.”
Sometimes, Chapdelain felt a little jealous knowing the babies were kicking around inside her sister’s belly. Like any mother, she wanted to experience the movement herself.
“She was very diligent about making sure I had a similar kind of experience, knowing what was going inside when they were growing,” Chapdelain said. “It was an amazing experience that they were just put there and then they grew, and then they came out.”
While Chapdelain plowed through parenting books and magazines, Kingsley was scanning pregnancy E-newsletters.
“I subscribed to a lot of those,” Kingsley said. “I got one each week that would talk about your baby as a fruit — ‘Your baby is the size of a mango,’ or ‘You have two grapefruits inside of you.’”
Charlotte and Spencer Chapdelain were born Feb. 1. Because the state doesn’t recognize surrogacy, the Chapdelain had to legally adopt the twins. The paperwork was simple and quick and completed just after Kingsley gave birth.
“Within 30 minutes, Lydia was feeding Spencer,” Kingsley said. “Those hormones that kick in and make you a good mom — the ones that help you prepare for motherhood — Lydia had all of those,” Kingsley said. “When they were born, I was like ‘Hmm … I don’t know what to do with that!’”
But, in the past few months, Kingsley has learned how to handle the babies like a pro. Every morning at 8:30, she pulls into her sister’s driveway, ready to help with whatever Chapdelain needs.
“I’m the really intrusive auntie who comes over every day,” Kingsley says. “I always ask if it’s time to feed them — she’s got the master schedule and the plan.”
She may have been a mother for only three months, but Chapdelain is excited for her first Mother’s Day. She has been looking forward to it for a long time.
“It’s kind of surreal,” she says. “I don’t see it as celebrating just me as a mother, but also my husband, who has been very supportive through this whole experience. We’re going to take the day and celebrate how lucky and fortunate we are to be chosen for this.”
Almost as if on cue, Kingsley and Chapdelain swap babies and start entertaining them. Bouncing Charlotte on her knee, Kingsley starts to serenade her with “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain.”
Spencer looks content on his mother’s lap. Suddenly, he looks over at his twin sister and breaks into a smile.
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].