FRYEBURG – When Kelley Hodgman-Burns spoke to her husband about her desire to carry another couple’s embryo to term, she recalled standing in the kitchen and watching her three children swinging outside.

“It’s really about gratitude,” the very pregnant Hodgman-Burns said, sitting at her dining room table Monday afternoon before her girls returned from school. “I can’t imagine what our life would be like without kids.”

So the 35-year-old mother of three, and a residential life director at Fryeburg Academy, decided to be a surrogate mother, her way of giving another couple the chance to be parents.

But in two unusual twists to an already uncommon story, Hodgman-Burns has ended up the birthing surrogate to a colleague at Fryeburg Academy and carrying not just one baby, but three.

The moment Hodgman-Burns of Fryeburg and Erica Fox of Stoneham, the 33-year-old biological mother, as well as Fox’s husband, Travis, and two grandmothers-to-be, got their first look at the ultrasound last fall, most of the family started jumping and hollering at the sight of three fetuses.

But that wasn’t everyone’s first reaction.

“Kelley and my husband had this look of shock on their face,” Erica Fox said. “Then there was this question, are there any more?”

In early September, after the two women’s biological cycles had been synchronized with drugs, doctors at the Boston in vitro fertilization clinic implanted Hodgman-Burns with three fertilized embryos from Fox to increase the chances that one of them would thrive. Two ended up taking, and one of the embryos split into identical twins.

“I’m totally fine with whatever God has in store for us,” Erica Fox said.

Hodgman-Burns said she decided to be a surrogate mother after being struck by the grief of neighbors and friends who had lost children during the past few years. She couldn’t help but be even more thankful for her own fortune, she said.

“We’ve lived a pretty charmed reproductive life,” Hodgman-Burns said. She and her husband Bob, 36, who teaches history at the academy, have Isabel, 10, Anna, 6, and Lucy, 2. “We had easy pregnancies, easy deliveries, healthy children.”

After visiting an infertility clinic in Massachusetts to investigate the possibility of becoming a surrogate mother, Hodgman-Burns was put in touch with Fox through a mutual friend. By coincidence, Fox teaches special education at the same academy as Hodgman-Burns.

When Fox called Hodgman-Burns to talk, she knew immediately Hodgman-Burns could help her.

“It was important to me that whoever was carrying my babies had a loving family, because I knew that would be passed along. I knew she would care about the babies and do the best she could for them.”

The women worked out a 22-page legal contract, with help from a Portland law firm that specializes in adoptions and gestational surrogate law.

Fox and her husband, who runs T. Fox Builders Construction Co. in Fryeburg, had been trying since 2000 to have children. Three in vitro attempts failed, and Fox said that sometimes makes her wonder now that she’s expecting three newborns.

Fox has polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is a common endocrine abnormality that affects 5 to 7 percent of women of reproductive age and is a leading cause of infertility.

Fox said she and Travis contemplated adoption, but Travis believed there was still a chance they could have their own children.

The costs of adoption and surrogate birth were equivalent, Erica Fox said, without naming a dollar amount.

Hodgman-Burns said the money will allow her to take her girls to Disney World in Florida, which will be something of a reward for not being able to sit on their growing mother’s lap.

Hodgman-Burns, who has gained 45 to 50 pounds, said carrying triplets makes it hard to take full breaths or eat big meals. Also, as the pregnancy has progressed, she’s become more fatigued.

Fox often comes over to help with the children or throw a load of laundry into the machine. She also drives Hodgman-Burns to doctor’s appointments. “I have the best-case scenario,” she said. “I absolutely feel so close [to Kelley and the babies], because Kelley has made that possible. If they’re moving, she says, “Quick, quick, come and feel it!”

Fox, who casually starts sentences like, “When we first found out we were pregnant…'” said Hodgman-Burns answers every question she has. “I read pregnancy journals and say, “‘Is this what you feel like?’ When we go to the doctor’s appointments, I’ll journal how things are going for her, for the babies.” She also has been taking drugs that will enable her to breast-feed her girls.

Although the delivery date is the end of May, doctors are predicting a premature birth. Hodgman-Burns is planning to have a c-section at Maine Medical Center in Portland because of the high-risk pregnancy.

“There’s a part of me that wishes it were me,” Erica Fox said. “But I couldn’t pull it off as well as she has.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.