Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist



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Someone else’s baby

The Mail on Sunday 31st March 1985

Ted and Carol wanted a baby – at any price. Now they have two, Samantha (below with Carol) and Pamela, both fathered by Ted but born to different surrogate mothers. Douglas Thompson reports.

Ted and Carol used to drive through Florida’s Alligator Alley and then fly halfway across America for lunch with Mary and Jim. Soon they were making the same trip for dinner with Donna.

A 2,500-mile round trip is not so far if you want a baby badly. Now, thanks to their marathon lunch and dinner appointments, Ted and Carol are the proud parents of two bright, red-headed girls. One is a year old, the other a year-and-a-half. Confused? You will be, because Mary is Samantha’s mother and Donna is Pamela’s mother but Carol changes the nappies. Donna and Mary were well-paid surrogate mothers, or rent-a-mums according to the headline terminology when Britain's first commercial surrogate gave birth earlier this year to a 7lb 13oz bundle of moral and legal headache called Baby Cotton.

Still, the long-term effects of baby making for profit (which is soon to be made illegal in this country) on tomorrow's generations, and the rights and wrongs, are not major considerations for couples like Ted and Carol who desperately want children. The maternal and paternal instinct is so strong that they are willing to pay the price dictated by the genetic market place of the Brave New World. The age-old question ‘Where do I come from?' is more complicated than ever now that a child can have five 'parents' through the options of in vitro fertilisation, embryo transfer, embryo freezing, artificial fertilisation and surrogate motherhood. There could be the egg donor, the sperm donor, the surrogate who gives birth and the couple who bring up the child.

Of all the new ways of life, surrogate motherhood has provoked the most moral panic and hostility and possibly the most problems for couples like Ted, now 51, a successful real estate broker on the Gulf coast of Florida, and his wife Carol, 44, the adoptive mother of Samantha and Pamela.

It was his first marriage when he married Carol 14 years ago, her second. Her first lasted seven years and resulted in acrimony and a daughter Debra who is now 22.

Carol is a jolly woman with a loud laugh which echoes around the family's rambling white-painted clapboard home which sits on four acres of river-bank at the end of a snaking dirt road. They have the adjoining six acres of orange grove, a $20,000 truck, expensive furniture and wardrobes of clothes. Samantha and Pamela, when you count up the bills, cost them something in the region of $70,000.

Carol spent the first nine years of her second marriage trying to get pregnant. 'I went through all the tests, took shots, took pills to stir every­thing up, had my tubes checked, had incisions and surgery.' she says.

"I went through every kind of pain imaginable because I believed it was worth it. I wanted more babies and Ted wanted our baby. Finally, after all the pain and humiliation, I was told that my tubes were too scarred. I told Ted, "Why don't you just divorce me. You want babies so badly, find someone who is capable . . ." But he didn't want that. And if he could not have his own, he didn't want any at all.'

By chance, Ted read a newspaper advertise­ment for a surrogate agency in Detroit. The same day Carol saw the head of the same agency taking part in a TV chat show. Carol says that she was the one who began pushing the surrogate mother idea and today, as the two girls roll around the floor with their expensive toys, she defends it: Ted wanted his very own blood - and it's not as if it is done right in bed.

'You're getting something that's your very own and you're helping out this other woman. The money helps the woman, the man gets a blood relative. You have to have a pretty clinical attitude but you also have to go along with an open mind.'

That is what she says now, but as she and her husband drove and flew across America to Detroit and the offices of surrogate Mr Fixit, lawyer Noel Keane, she had to cope with numerous different, and often conflicting, emotions. 'From the time we saw Noel and he showed us his portfolio of women, I started to get feelings of resentment, of jealousy, of frustration, of hatred. I had this feeling that I didn't want my husband having a baby with another woman.

'I was getting irritable and nasty and didn't know which way to turn. But I had to get these feelings out of my system because if you care for your husband and you know he's a fine person why not give him something he deserves? So I said I would go through with it.'

The search was on for a surrogate mother to be impregnated by artificial insemination. Noel Keane received his $5,000 fee and in return he opened up his file of potential surrogates. The first surrogate was chosen by Carol, for reasons she cannot explain. But she was no beauty.

She says: 'After the insemination she came barrelling into the doctor's office, ran right up to my husband and gave him a big hug. But it didn't mean anything, really, and from that point of view it was easier. She wasn't great-looking, either, which boosted my ego a bit. And she was nice and considerate.'

But not fertile. After three tries she had not become pregnant. Matter of factly, Carol remembers: 'I suggested she have her tubes checked out and they were bad. We had to drop her and check out sonic others. It took us nearly two years. I chose one girl who would have been ideal. It cost us nearly $1,000 to fly to Detroit but ten minutes before we arrived she dropped out of the programme.

'Still we pressed on, and with each girl I felt some kind of resentment. By the time I met Mary [she points to Samantha still playing on the floor in her navy-blue jumpsuit] I still felt like that, but it faded.'

Mary was 29, a ballet teacher who did not smoke, use drugs or drink heavily. She passed the screening tests and she was bright. Carol recounts happily: 'We grabbed her up as quickly as possible. You'd be surprised how many people are after these high IQ girls. We took Mary and her husband out to lunch because we wanted to find out as much as possible about her life and they wanted to know where the baby was going.'

But what if Mary had an attack of maternal love? Surrogates have been known to break their contracts and keep the babies. Ted never doubted that the contract would be kept. 'It was business,' he says. 'It was not conceived out of love. It was more easy for her to give up the baby. And she had her mind all prepared for this. She had two children of her own. She was doing what she thought was a good thing for everybody and was getting something in return.'

As for the cost, 'The surrogate's fee is generally $10,000,' says Carol, 'but Mary asked for $15,000 before being inseminated. Plus there was a lot of going back and forth, hotels, food, taking people out to dinner. We didn't want to be cheap about it.' Quite straightfaced, she adds: 'We enjoyed ourselves on the trips, it was like a honeymoon.'

And rather a remarkable one. After a year, just when Mary was about to be discarded, she finally became pregnant. Carol, in the joy of the mo­ment, told Ted: 'If you want more children, now's the time. I can handle it now, but I don't know how I'm going to respond in a year from now.' So they searched for surrogate mother number two and along came Donna, aged 19, who worked in her family's jewellery business. She qualified, was paid $10,000 and quickly became pregnant.

Samantha, Mary's baby, was born prematurely weighing just 4lb 5oz. Mary nearly died. Her placenta had separated and she lost an enormous amount of blood. Ted and Carol missed the birth and it was three weeks before Samantha was in their arms. 'She was so beautiful it was just like having my own baby,' says Carol. 'When I got her I just poured out crying. I couldn't help but accept her immediately. It was just like I had had her myself.'

Pamela had an easy birth, weighing 8lb 1oz. She was just a day old when she got on a jet with her father and 'mother'. Carol legally adopted the two girls and she is listed on their birth certificates as an adoptive mother. Ted is the 'real' father. The day will come when Samantha and Pamela will be told of their alternative entry to the world.

When Ted and Carol are confronted with society's concerns about surrogate motherhood they are defensive, especially Carol. She says: 'Why are people so against this? It's mainly women who want to know how a woman can give up a baby. But surrogate motherhood is as old as the Bible (Genesis, Chapter 30: Rachel can give Jacob no children so she puts forward her maid Bilhah as a substitute mother and two sons are born).

Our friends and relatives have accepted Samantha and Pamela. In fact, it didn't matter to me what they thought. They aren't earning my bread and butter. Ted is, and he wanted them. Anyway, what right have people who can have children to say that you have no right to have a baby if you can't have one?

'Everyone makes this big issue out of how we are going to explain to the babies when they get older. In fact, it will be simpler than telling a child it is adopted.

'I can say, "This is your father." I have papers, I have everything to show them what we went through to get them. The fact that he is their father means a lot too. That's someone they have a claim to, plus the fact that I raised them.

'And if they want to know about the mothers who bore them I have pictures of them. That's an advantage of surrogate over adoption. If you need help, you can call them. Both babies are A-negative blood, but neither Ted nor I are. So if a blood transfusion is needed, these two women will help. They don't want to know everything that's going on, but if we desperately need their help they are there.'

Ted, who so desperately wanted his 'own blood' spends his days at the office running a highly successful high-pressure business. Carol spends her days 'picking up after these two".

I’d be lying if I said there wasn't some resent­ment at having two very young kids when I'm 44 and should be out enjoying life. I used to go where I wanted, do whatever I wanted, buy whatever I wanted. I'd go to Miami where Ted's got a $5,000 limit on one of his credit cards and blow the lot. I'm used to spending, but I can't do that now. I think all mothers have a little resentment from time to time if they've got kids around their necks. There may be a little more resentment from me, I don't know.'

'Of course Carol had to make adjustments,' says Ted. 'But she's happy and so am I. Both these girls were wanted so badly. When I come home at night the girls are here and we're a family. If I had the money, I'd do it again.

'Sure, I'm 51.1 could have a stroke tomorrow, but so could a 25-year-old. I'm going to be a good daddy, the best, and prove it over the years.

'This surrogate thing may be the future. Who knows? It may work out better than 100 per cent natural children. We can't know if there will be problems in the future. Folks put possible problems to me and there ain't another couple of hundred that I haven't thought of. I think it is all how you bring up your children. You do it with love and I can't foresee problems.'

As he says, Ted and Carol and anyone else can only guess at the reaction of Samantha and Pamela when they are told the details of their birth. One indication is provided by Suzanne Rubin of California. Born through artificial insemination, she was 31 when she discovered that the man she had called Dad was not her biological father. She felt betrayed: 'It took away half of what I was and replaced it with a blank space. I want to know my background.'

Ted and Carol feel, at least, they can offer up pictures of the surrogate mothers. But what if Samantha and Pamela want to go and stay with their surrogate mothers? What legal rights do the surrogate mothers have? At least two sperm donors have gone to court to establish visitation rights to children created with their sperm.

One lawyer argues: 'The courts are trying to create families. It's hard enough for people to get along with their ex-wives or ex-husbands in order to bring up a child decently, let alone impose that upon two people who have never had any relationship whatsoever.'

At the Sperm Bank in northern California donors can leave details of themselves to be made available when offspring reach 18. One in five donors have done so.

Peter Forbes is a gynaecologist working and living in Sherman Oaks, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. As a medical student in Washington DC, he provided sperm for 33 pregnancies. Because of the possibility that one of 'his child­ren' could prove paternity he altered his will so that any child not born by his wife would only get one dollar of his estate. Forbes has also warned his children: 'Don't marry anyone from Washington DC.'

He alludes to the ever-increasing possibility of incest. There are reports of doctors in some states stopping weddings between children who shared the same donor. So, what if Samantha unwittingly meets and falls in love with one of Mary's sons? Ted and Carol and hundreds of other couples have these questions, and more, to face up to.

Ted repeats again that he sees no reason to anticipate problems other than 'normal difficulties'. Carol isstill not sure how she is going to cope. As she walks along the river-bank she agrees that life is not straightforward or simple. But she encourages herself: 'Life with kids isn't that way, anyway.' Not any more.

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