Los Angeles

Life After Death

How a woman went from planning a wedding to planning a funeral then a shower for her baby, conceived from her dead husband's sperm.

The room for baby Remi is coming together. This proud mother has been preparing.

Lenee Nicole Kehnt has even started a scrapbook for her baby girl.

"I am 18 weeks so I am about 4 and half months pregnant," she says.

It is the baby she and her husband, Jeremi, had always dreamed of since their wedding celebration in November 2015.

"He loved the idea of her and he wanted her," she says. "He was the one who came up and was like 'Remi D,' then he was like, she's our remedy, because she was going to fix a lot in our relationship."

Like any married couple, the pair was having financial struggles.

"We couldn't get ahead on our bills," she says. "We were falling behind on mortgage payments."

And this new baby meant expensive infertility treatments. She says Jeremi had a vasectomy after the birth of his son. Lenee and Jeremi have teenage boys from other relationships.

"We were in the midst of a financial crisis really," she says.

Still, the couple sent each other texts, earlier this year, of what baby Remi would mean to their family.

"He fell in love with the idea of being a dad again to a daughter," she says. "I was happy. I was very happy."

On May 20 Jeremi was killed in a motorcycle accident.

"I tried texting him a 1,000 times," she says. "I tried calling a 1,000 times and he didn't answer," she says. "He was killed on impact. There was no trying to save him. There was no keeping him on life support. There was nothing. He was gone. He was completely gone."

Their dreams of having a baby shattered or so she thought.

Just weeks before his fatal accident, Jeremi sent her texts, telling her if anything happened to him, "you can pull sperm from me and then to have our girl."

Kehnt was incredulous. What did he know?

"I'm just saying I'm planning on a worst-case scenario," he texted her.

He texted her, if something happened to him, keep him on life support and "make our daughter."

"She's gonna be my legacy," he texted.

But how?

"I felt like my entire soul was amputated from me," she says. "I did not rationally connect that I needed to go forward with the baby process."

She says her family, who had seen the texts, began making calls. They found California Cryobank, a sperm bank in Los Angeles since 1977.

Dr. Cappy Rothman, the founder of California Cryobank, says the sperm bank is likely responsible for the birth of over 70,000 children, including the first birth from "post mortem sperm retrieval" in the nation back in 1995. The procedure removes sperm from a deceased man. The first baby born from post mortem sperm was in 1999.

"You are on the other end of the phone and can feel the pain that is transmitted from this family that just lost a loved one, it's just hard to say no," Rothman says.

Kehnt wanted hope. The process of retrieving Jeremi's sperm happened at the coroner's office.

Exceeding 24 hours reduces the probability of finding module sperm. It had already 44-plus hours after his death.

There was good news.

California Cryobank found sperm that could work with in vitro fertilization, or IVF, process and create embryos.

In August, Kehnt was implanted with two embryos. Twin girls began growing inside her.

"In one year I went from planning a wedding to planning a funeral and now I am planning a baby shower," she says.

The first doctor's visit confirmed this new reality.

"To see them from eight cell, to then walk in and see their heartbeats, its amazing," says Gayle Marie Badalamenti, the baby's grandma.

But not long after a recent visit, they made a tragic discovery.

"Baby B's heartbeat stopped," Lenee says.

Sophia Gayle, as she had been named, was dead.

Lenee searched for strength.

"I knew at that point I am still carrying Remi," she says. "I am still carrying my baby."

Lenee's is only the fourth pregnancy from post-mortem sperm retrieval, Rothman says. Baby Remi would be the third birth, he says.

It is a process that is not only unique, but to some, controversial.

"I'm not playing God," Rothman says. "I am just helping another human being that is in such pain that I could help."

Family law professor Jan Costello, of Loyola Law School Los Angeles, says there is no federal law that regulates these procedures and births.

"The law is rushing to catch up," Costello says.

Consent is key and in Lenee's case, the texts from Jeremi expressed his wishes.

Costello advises couples to enter into an agreement and ideally have their own lawyers if they are planning a family and think it’s important.

"The only thing that mattered was me, my husband, the love that we shared between us and what he said," Lenee says.

She says not everyone, including loved ones, may agree with her decision.

"I just wanted my husband," she says. "I wanted to hold on to something."

So she continues to plan and a family is rejoicing this holiday season.

"She has made us whole again," Badalamenti says.

Adds Lenee: "She was loved. She was wanted and was planned. Her father loved her."

Lenee has started the Jeremi Kehnt Foundation for young widows and families like heres. You can learn more about the foundation here.

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