BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Right from the start Mike and Ashley Antongiovanni’s journey to starting a family didn’t look typical.

Married in the midst of a global pandemic, they picked up their license in a makeshift drive-thru, had a small ceremony and planned a bigger reception for later. But before they got to that point, they scrapped those plans, to have a baby.

“Right away that was our thing; ‘Hey, we want to have kids right away.’ We have nieces and nephews, and we were ready to join that crew and put some of our own in there,” says Ashley.

Excitement soon turned to impatience. After trying for about nine months, they went to their doctor. He recommended a new treatment that didn’t lead to any success, and soon they were faced with trying in-vitro fertilization, a costly endeavor both emotionally and financially.

“Usually you just think, families are made and that’s just what you do,” remembers Mike.

Their first IVF transfer was successful!

They were expecting a baby girl and finally were on their way to adding to that brood of nieces and nephews. Until Ashley hit 13 weeks. Typically, it’s the time when couples feel like they’re in the clear; past the first trimester, the riskiest time for losing a baby. But instead of relief, Ashley started to feel really ill.

“Around 16 weeks, my blood pressure was skyrocketing, and they had me maxed out on all medications I could be taking, and they were like, ‘we don’t know what’s going on.'”

At this point, Ashley was in the ICU at UCLA. Doctors, still perplexed, performed a detailed ultrasound to examine the baby girl and delivered devastating news.

The umbilical cord no longer had blood flowing through it.

So Amelia wasn’t going to survive. “We came home two days before Christmas, with no baby.” No baby… and a new diagnosis. The pregnancy had triggered a rare kidney disorder. Ashley could never get pregnant again.

“I was 34 and I had to get my tubes tied because we couldn’t have an accidental pregnancy. Because if I was to get pregnant again it would hit my kidneys harder and harder each time, causing kidney failure.”

Ashley and Mike started researching adoption and surrogacy, but soon realized the cost was out of reach. Then Ashley got the idea to start a non-profit focused on infertility. Maybe they couldn’t have a baby, but they could help other couples fulfill their dreams of starting families.

“So we believe God put Amelia in our lives to save us and then also help others,” said Mike.

Amelia Molloy’s Angels officially became a nonprofit in August of 2022. This summer they gave out their third family grant of $30,000 to help with infertility treatment or adoption. They’ll award their fourth grant this December.

“I wish God’s plan was a little bit different, but I wouldn’t change anything right now, we feel truly blessed every day that we get to do what were doing. I think Amelia was sent here for us to help families in this community and I’m glad we get to. Obviously, we would have loved for Amelia to be here,” says Mike.

They were starting families just not their own. But that dream was still there. And unfulfilled dreams can hurt. They couldn’t afford to go through an agency for surrogacy, but that door hadn’t completely shut yet.

Ashley told Mike this past February that before the end of the month, she wanted to close the door on their fertility journey. “When you’re struggling to have a family, having all these doors open, it’s emotionally draining. You’re always hoping and wishing and wanting something and so I told him, ‘I’m done after this. I can’t keep on putting my heart out there.'”

So as a last ditch effort, they made a video asking for a surrogate, and posted it online.

The video made its way to Josie Van Hooser in Tulare. Josie had wanted to be a surrogate for as long as she can remember. She and husband Wade already had two little boys of their own, and when someone forwarded Mike and Ashley’s video to Josie, she says, she felt a sudden sense of peace. The two couples planned to meet.

That was March of this year. Fast forward through months of medical evaluations, doctor appointments and contracts, and Josie is now in her second trimester with baby boy Collins Antongiovanni.

“It’s so much fun. It’s a wild experience, but at the same time it’s still nerve-wracking. I feel like when you have any kind of loss or trauma, it’s hard to get excited, but you have to force yourself to be excited over every little milestone,” said Ashley.

“It’s the biggest honor ever. The fact that someone trusts you with their child’s life, I can’t think of a better honor than that,” said Josie.

As Ashley and Mike wait for Josie to deliver their baby boy into their arms in April, they’re delivering hope to families in Kern County. Families just like them, longing for their arms and hearts to be filled.

“I feel like that’s been my life’s calling, everything in the past makes sense, now that I’m doing what I’m doing,” said Ashley.

Amelia Molloy’s Angels’ second annual gala is Dec. 2.