Washington - Growing up as twins in Oregon, Whitney Bliesner and Jill Noe didn't look much alike and they had different interests. But they were fiercely loyal and close.
Their bond was built on day-to-day interactions like helping each other with homework and confiding their secret high school crushes. When they lived in separate states during college, they spoke almost every day.
But last year, at age 34, their twin bond was taken to a new level. Bliesner, who had fought a rare genetic disease since childhood, was struggling because her health prevented her from having children. So Noe, a former star shooting guard for the Arizona State University basketball team, stepped up with the ultimate assist:
"You know what? I'll be your surrogate," Noe told Bliesner shortly before Christmas in 2017, as they were wrapping stocking stuffers for a family party.
Bliesner was stunned. They'd always been close, but carrying someone else's baby - even your sister's - was an enormous commitment. Pregnancy isn't easy for most women.
And earlier this month, Noe - after somehow avoiding morning sickness and having an otherwise uneventful pregnancy - delivered two healthy babies, a boy and a girl. Her twin was by her side during her C-section.
Rhett and Rhenley were delivered at Portland's Providence St. Vincent Medical Centre on June 7.
"It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed in my life," said Noe, who is on maternity leave from her sports marketing job at Nike.
Whitney Bliesner and her husband, Pete, an engineer, are now sharing feeding and diaper duties at their home in Oregon City.
"I couldn't ask for a better sister," said Bliesner, who is taking time off from her job documenting medical billing codes as she happily adjusts to life with two newborns. "And I know that Jill will be the world's greatest aunt."
Noe called herself a "house" for the babies to grow in for nine months, rent-free. Though she admits it was a house with a lot of love, and also that it was an emotional experience for her.
In fact, Noe hopes to go through in vitro fertilization again at some point with her partner, Maya Gross, 31, a firefighter.
The experience was profoundly emotional for Bliesner as well, who wondered if she'd be able to have a family after years of struggling with health issues brought on by Neurofibromatosis Type 2, a disorder that causes the growth of noncancerous tumors in the nervous system.
Over the years, she had six brain surgeries to remove tumors, and Bliesner lost the vision in her left eye and much of her hearing. She also opted to have a partial hysterectomy when doctors told her that pregnancy could worsen her condition, she said.
"My first symptom of a problem was a lazy eye when I was about 13," Bliesner said. "Because there's a 50 percent chance of passing this on, my husband and I decided to explore other ways of having a family."
She added: "I always wanted to be a mom, but I didn't want to put my child through what I went through."The Washington Post