Erica Huston-Elem and Katelin Buchanan have been best friends since birth.
“Our mom’s were best friends! Her mom is my godmother … we grew up very much like family,” Huston-Elem, 34, tells PEOPLE. “We just grew up together like siblings. Our friendship has been more than a friendship, it’s a sisterhood. We’ve been there through all our life’s experiences.”
As the best friends grew older, they celebrated milestones and major life events together, like graduations and even marriage. Huston-Elem welcomed two children — now ages 7 and 4 — but for Buchanan, the road to motherhood proved to be difficult. She’s suffered several miscarriages and has gone through many unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
“Over a number of years, there was a lot of loss and heartache on her part. For me, as her best friend, watching her go through that and feeling completely helpless, it was a really difficult situation,” Huston-Elem tells PEOPLE.
She recalls a 2015 conversation with Buchanan: “The moment I realized I could do something more to actually help her and volunteer to carry her babys for her was something I felt very passionate about. I told her … ‘I’d be more than willing to do it for you.’”
Later, Buchanan, of California, learned from doctors that she is unable to carry a baby to term. With that, Huston-Elem jumped into action, and the best friends began preparing for the surrogacy process with Huston-Elem as Buchanan’s gestational carrier.
By 2017, Huston-Elem was carrying twin babies for her best friend.
“Katelin and I talked a million times a day [throughout the pregnancy]. It brought us really close — even closer than we were before,” she tells PEOPLE. “We celebrated each milestone. The pregnancy was really, really joyful.”
Huston-Elem credits her support system for the smooth pregnancy, praising her employer, Deloitte, which allowed her 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. She says her coworkers even sent her flowers during her time in the hospital.
On March 20, Huston-Elem gave birth to Poppy and Oliver Buchanan at 35 weeks. The excited mom and her husband were in the delivery room for the birth.
“The mood in the room was so happy. When those twins came out and they got handed to Katelin and her husband, it was honestly one of the best moments of my life,” she gushes. “It was so wonderful. It was like, okay, mission accomplished!”
The babies remained in the Virginia hospital for several weeks, and Buchanan was able to take the twins to their California home earlier this month — just in time for Mother’s Day.
“All of this was so worth it to see [Buchanan] as a mother. She has wanted this for so long and it’s so natural to her. She is so amazing with those twins and so loving and everything I always knew she would be,” Huston-Elem tells PEOPLE of Buchanan. “Seeing her happy … has just been the greatest joy of my life.”