It was a week before College Decision Day and Kai Hammond still hadn’t made up his mind.
Kai, 18, a Carver Center senior and the second oldest of the Hammond triplets, had narrowed down his college choices to Berklee College of Music and Howard University. His mother, Camille, thought the choice should have been made by then. Kai’s siblings, Aaron and Simone, had decided to go to Morehouse College and Spelman College, respectively, more than a month earlier. But Hammond said Kai, her “creative,” was “keeping her on pins and needles.”
“Two of my kids knew last month. But there was a last-minute negotiation and compromise figuring out where the next step would be for him,” the Reisterstown mother and physician said.
The family set an in-house decision date of April 30, and Kai ultimately decided to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“As a parent at the end of the day, all you have is your best intention and hopes for the kids as to what they will do next,” Hammond said. “Under my roof, I have a degree of control. But when they are in Washington, D.C., it might as well be a million miles away. The heartbreaks and victories will be their own. You want the best for your kids. You have to trust that all you have done will be for the best of them.”
Camille Hammond said she cherishes moments like this. It’s a reminder of the lengths she went to achieve motherhood, and the help that she received from her own mom, Tinina Cade.
“I’ve never been pregnant,” she said.
Eighteen years ago, Cade served as a surrogate grandmother and carried Hammond’s triplets 32 weeks to birth. She was 55 at the time.
“My mom didn’t do it because she wanted more kids, she did it because she wanted to support her daughter,” Hammond said. “My mom and I have always been very close. My mom and dad and I have talked every single day of my life.”
Surrogate grandmothers are rare, though not unheard of. A 56-year-old Utah woman last year served as a surrogate for a son whose wife had had a hysterectomy, according to People magazine. In 2020, Oprah Daily reported that a 51-year-old Chicago woman (and marathon runner) served as a gestational surrogate for her son-in-law and daughter, who had struggled with infertility. That same year, BBC News reported, a 61-year-old Nebraska mom became a surrogate for her son and his husband.
It was in fact Cade’s idea to become a surrogate for her daughter. She broached the idea with her daughter and son-in-law after researching it with her husband, Ronald.
“I knew I had to do it when I saw my daughter’s eyes. She was that bright, happy, optimistic person, and her eyes had dimmed over,” recalled Cade, who retired last year as the associate vice president for student development at the University of Richmond.
Hammond, and her husband, Jason, an orthopaedic surgeon, were shocked by the proposition.
“They kind of laughed at us,” Cade recalled. “We had done our homework. If it really was possible and if my health would not be compromised, we wanted to do it.”
After age 35, which is considered a pregnancy at an advanced maternal age, the risk of complications that might lead to a cesarean section delivery increases, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is also a higher risk of chromosomal conditions, such as Down syndrome, for babies born to older mothers. And the possibility of miscarriages and stillbirths increases with age.
Despite being told that she would have a 1% success rate, Cade experienced a relatively easy pregnancy. And, Hammond and Cade are quick to say, it did not cause any tensions between the two.
The only stress came in the form of Hammond experiencing PTSD from years of dealing with infertility struggles.
“You’re always worried that something bad will happen. Your mind always goes to the worse place,” she said. “I was waiting for the bad thing to happen. We were holding our breaths until we heard the scream of the babies. And then there was so much joy and gratitude. All of the grief and pain ― I don’t want to say was washed away, but I had come full circle.”
After the triplets were born, Hammond’s mother-in-law stayed in her home for three months helping out.
“Both sets of grandparents have moved up to be closer to us,” Hammond said. “They both live within two or three minutes of where we live. Every Sunday night we have dinner at my mother-in-law’s house.”
Hammond, a physician whose residency was in general preventative medicine and fellowship was in preventative oncology, has redirected her life to reproductive and maternal health issues — particularly among Black women.
Her nonprofit organization, the Cade Foundation, has hosted several events this year, including the Maryland Reproductive and Maternal Justice Summit in March. The organization has awarded $2 million in grants for women and couples battling infertility.
Despite myths to the contrary, Black women have higher rates of infertility than white women (7.2% vs. 5.5%) and are less likely to use in vitro fertilization, or IVF, according to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.
The maternal mortality rate for Black women in 2021 was 69.9 per 100,000, which is 2.6 times higher than the rate for white women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
“I’m a physician. And I am highly educated,” Hammond said. “But I am also a Black woman. My education, my financial resources — all the other things that give me an advantage — don’t protect me because of my race. Black women have the same outcome as women in other developing countries. We are more likely to die of preventable reasons. And it is unfair, but we have to talk about it so women can be more proactive and advocate for themselves.”
Cade, for whom the Owings Mills-based foundation is named, is the face of the organization. Its mission is “Helping families … OVERCOMING infertility!”
“It’s bigger than just our family. Mother’s Day is wonderful for so many and terrible for others,” Cade said. “With a holiday like this, it’s always easier to celebrate with flowers and not realize that there are others who are really struggling that day. We need to make sure there is some care for them.”
Cade showers her daughter with praise for dedicating her life to helping others who are dealing with such a private — and oftentimes painful — struggle.
“I am so proud of Camille,” Cade said. “She decided to help others because she knew how it felt to want to have a child so deeply and to be disappointed time and time again. It’s so easy to become discouraged and give up. What a lot of people really need is a community that really gets them and is positive.”
Stephanie Beall, a physician specializing in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, has known Hammond for more than a decade since joining Shady Grove Fertility, which provides 10,000 cycles of IVF a year.
“I can’t say enough good things about what she does for the community,” Beall said, adding that Hammond provides education, a community for people struggling with fertility and financial assistance to those in need. “It takes a toll. By providing a sense of community for people, she gives them support. It’s so needed.”
Beall describes Hammond as a “bridge” for a community that is oftentimes faced with miseducation, shame and a lack of resources.
“By talking to someone who is also struggling, it helps to make it less scary. She went through her own infertility struggles,” Beall said of Hammond.
Hammond’s three children say they are inspired by their mother’s work.
“I’m extremely lucky to have her as my influence growing up,” Simone said. “To see the work that she is doing for Black women and women who look like me is amazing.”
Kai added: “We’re the product of her hard work. We were conceived in an unconventional way. The process is so spectacular.”
The triplets speak with authority when talking about their birth story. Hammond attributed this to not shielding them — their birth was discussed with them as soon as they could talk. The entire family — including both sets of grandparents — even appeared on ABC’s “The View” when the triplets were 4 years old to discuss their experience.
“It was important for us to talk to them about it, “ Hammond said. “We didn’t want people who didn’t love them or know them to harm them with their family story. It was all love. We wanted them to be proud of that and to be proud of our family history.”
Not that they didn’t have questions growing up.
“I once asked if Granny would be my mother because she birthed me. I was dumbfounded and perplexed by my own birth story,” Kai recalled. “She [my mom] laughed it off. But she clarified instantaneously and said what she would present to anybody. She gave me the full rundown. With my little middle school brain, it was a lot to process. It was a lot. But she explained it.”
Sending the triplets off to college has special meaning for both Hammond and Cade.
“I adore these children on the good days and bad days. These are nice kids. They are bright. They are caring,” Cade, their grandmother, said. “We’re thrilled to be able to see them at this point. When I look at the pictures of them as babies, I say: ‘Oh my goodness, this has come full circle.’ They are going to college, and they will be adults. It’s a real privilege to see that. And to see that you are helping other families.”
Hammond said she is “looking forward” to sending her children off to college.
“They are typical 18-year-old kids. They are ready for independence and new experiences,” she said. “It will be a little scary. But that is the goal. You don’t have these children so you can keep them and have them not leave the house. The dream is for them to be successful and live the rest of their lives. We want our children to be successful and to have their own successful experiences. I want to be a grandma one day.”