It wasn’t a summons, but Jeri Potts, then an assistant principal, must’ve taken some cue from Craven’s tone.
“I was thinking, what does she need me to do? Did I do something wrong?” Jeri said.
Monica had been thinking and praying about that meeting for a year, but Jeri had no idea about the topic.
“It took a while to finally get my nerve up to talk to her,” Monica said.
She hemmed and hawed during the meeting, so Jeri said, “Monica, have I done anything to offend you?”
“In my mind,” Monica said, “I didn’t know if I was going to make her mad.”
She finally got it out: With the full support of her husband, Raymond, Monica offered to carry a child to term for Jeri and Jason Potts.
“I wanted her to repeat it,” Jeri said. “My first response was ‘What?’”
“That was my response, too, when Jeri told me,” Jason said.
Both Jeri and Jason are 40 years old. They were married nearly 18 years ago, and they’ve tried repeatedly to have children with no success. Three years ago, they tried in vitro fertilization.
“The whole school knew I was going through that, and that it didn’t work,” Jeri said.
As word of that failure spread through school, Monica got the first inkling of her plan. She was pregnant with her third child at the time, and had never experienced morning sickness or any other kind of trouble associated with pregnancy.
“Raymond and I started talking about it and wondering if we could do this and create that separation that needed to be done,” Monica said. “We had multiple conversations until the conversations turned into dreams at night. The thought wouldn’t leave my mind.”
Jeri and Jason reacted with shock at first, then they had their own thinking to do.
“We just tried to digest it and think about it, not just from one side, but from different sides,” Jason said.
“I kept going back to her,” Jeri said. “She’s never had a miscarriage. She’s never had that problem before. I didn’t want to be the cause of those problems for her.”
Jeri also wondered how Raymond would react, but that wasn’t a problem
“It was just something Monica really wanted to do. I was going to support her,” Raymond, 32, said. “We thought about our kids and how happy they make us.”
“We always knew Jason and Jeri would be great parents,” Monica, 31, said.
The four Booneville residents agreed to move forward, but Jeri’s fertility doctor wasn’t confident about the plan. He thought donated eggs should be used, but Jeri and Jason decided any child born would have a mix of their genetic material. That’s why Monica was a “gestational carrier” rather than a surrogate mother.
Raymond gave his wife hormone shots to convince her body that it was pregnant, then the transfer of three embryos took place in Memphis.
Two weeks later, the four were on the front porch of Cracker Barrel when they got the phone call with word that Monica was pregnant.
“We bought the two rocking chairs that Monica and Raymond were sitting in when we found out,” Jason said.
“They’re out front,” Jeri said.
Monica’s pregnancy progressed without a hitch, just as she’d expected. Two of the embryos developed, and they were named Helen and Frances.
The Cravens’ children, 2-year-old Caroline, 3-year-old Carter and 6-year-old Trey, knew something different was happening.
Jason said, “Caroline would point at Monica’s belly and say, ‘Potts babies! Potts babies!’”
Monica’s parents and in-laws were a constant source of support. They looked after the children during doctor’s visits that sometimes involved three trips to Memphis in a week.
“The pregnancy was fine,” Monica said. “It was never unpleasant, until the bitter end when I had 11 pounds of baby in me.”
After 36 weeks, the babies were born by C-section at North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital on Oct. 23. Frances arrived at 10:25 a.m. and weighed 5.8 pounds. Helen appeared two minutes later and weighed 5.13 pounds.
“I bet we had about 40 people in the waiting area,” Jason said.
“It was a party,” Raymond said, while pointing around the room. “We had my family, her family, his family and her family.”
Jeri had a room across from Monica. The girls spent two nights in the hospital, one more than Monica.
Carter Craven learned how to pick Helen out when she was in his mother’s belly because she did most of the punching and kicking.
“That was Carter’s thing,” Raymond said. “That’s how he recognized Helen after she was born.”
In the past couple of weeks, the Craven clan has visited with Jeri, Jason, Helen and Frances, but there’s no doubt where the girls belong.
“They sleep well, unless they’re hungry or wet,” Jeri said.
“They’re nothing like our kids,” Raymond said.
“That’s the truth,” Monica said.
Jason and Jeri had given up on having children until Monica made her offer. If this had failed, they wouldn’t have tried again.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” Jason said. “We just thank the Lord for it.”
Monica said 4 C-sections are enough for her, and she doesn’t plan to deliver any more babies. But she was glad to help others share in a blessing she treasures in her own life.
“I just love my kids so much,” she said. “We got to give that to someone else. It feels pretty cool.”
Jeri recently sent Monica a text that meant a lot to her: “I totally get why you did it now. I love being a mom.”
Jason and Jeri knew the babies were coming, and “excited” probably doesn’t describe the way they felt in the days before Oct. 23.
The reality, though, has proven to be more than they ever guessed or hoped for.
“It’s not just the babies,” Jason said.
“You get a lifetime of memories. It’s something you don’t expect,” Monica said.
“The babies are awesome, but you get all the moments that follow,” Jason said, cradling Frances.
“All those moments that make up their lives,” Jeri said, with Helen asleep in her arms.