The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy Is Transforming the American Family

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9781250054449: The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy Is Transforming the American Family

From the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love comes a riveting new narrative about surrogate pregnancy from both sides of the equation―the parents and the gestational carrier.

Once considered a desperate, even morally suspect option, surrogacy is now sweeping headlines, transforming the lives of celebrity mothers and fathers like Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman and Elton John, and changing the face of motherhood and the American family. But how much do we really know about it? And is it really as easy and accessible – emotionally, financially, legally and physically – as magazines make it out to be? We often hear about successful outcomes, but little about the journey – about the precious hope that starts it all, the ups and downs of finding a surrogate, the heartache and obstacles, the risks and expenses at every step, or the unbelievable joy when years of determination pay off. In The Baby Chase, acclaimed writer Leslie Morgan Steiner weaves three stories together ― of a nurse, a firefighter, and the Indian gestational carriers and doctors who helped them ― to provide one intensely personal look at what makes surrogacy so controversial, fascinating, and in some cases, the only ray of hope for today's infertile parents-to-be.

Rhonda Wile and her husband Gerry struggled for years with infertility. With perseverance that shocked everyone around them, they tried every procedure and option available – unsuccessfully – until they finally decided to hire a surrogate. While surrogacy was being touted as a miracle for hopeful parents, for Rhonda and Gerry, it seemed an impossible and unaffordable dream. Until they came across the beaming smile of a beautiful Indian woman on the internet... and, within a few short months, embarked on a journey that would take them deep into the emerging world of Indian carriers, international medical tourism, and the global surrogacy community.

Moving, page-turning, and meticulously researched, this complex human story is paired with an examination of the issues―religious, legal, medical and emotional―that shapes surrogacy as a solution both imperfect and life-changing.

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About the Author:

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER is the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love and the editor of the highly acclaimed anthology Mommy Wars. She is a frequent speaker on surviving domestic abuse, and her TED Talk on relationship violence has been viewed by over one million people worldwide. From 2006 to 2008, she wrote the popular "On Balance" blog for washingtonpost.com. Steiner received a BA from Harvard College and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. She now lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and three children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Part 1
 

What’s the Big Deal About Not Having Babies, Anyway?
 
 
Mother’s Day, 2011. In the golden twilight of her cactus-studded front yard in Mesa, Arizona, forty-year-old Rhonda Wile looked nothing like a woman who had endured six harsh years of failed fertility treatments. One surprise vasectomy. One heartbreaking miscarriage. A painful divorce. One suicide attempt.
Most of all, Rhonda looked absolutely nothing like a woman who, after years of despair, was finally expecting twins in August.
Instead, sipping iced tea in the auburn shimmer of the sun setting on the desert, Rhonda Wile looked like a stunningly attractive-yet-approachable young wife posing for a Cialis or Viagra commercial. She wore a red cotton V-neck shirt and crisp white shorts that accentuated her trim, hourglass waist. Her long blond hair was glossy and thick. She appeared surprisingly well rested for a nurse who had just come off a twelve-hour shift. Over five feet seven inches tall, with a striking, curvaceous figure and a friendly grin, she smiled with the warmth of a woman not overly aware of her charm.
Despite the fact that she’d spent Mother’s Day working her usual 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. schedule, Rhonda radiated optimism like a halo. Rhonda had spent most of a decade mired in fear that she’d never join her sister, mother, and childhood friends in that most exclusive club: motherhood. These days, she mainlined hope like a drug—even when she shopped at Target, changed an IV drip at work, or slept at night next to her husband of eleven years.
This Mother’s Day, for the first time since being a child, hope felt like an emotion Rhonda could count on.
As a nurse, Rhonda knew, objectively at least, that her mad, burning desire to have children sprang from the universe’s most powerful biological craving: to create life. Perpetuation of our species is the instinct behind our sex drive, the logic behind sexual attraction. Nature wants us to give in to both urges, the sexual impulse and the deep craving to have children.
That intellectual understanding did not make Rhonda long for children one iota less.
Gerry Wile, Rhonda’s husband of more than a decade, had stayed home on Sunday while Rhonda worked. A Maricopa County firefighter, Gerry was a six-foot-tall, broad-shouldered, heavily muscled, former military man with a buzz cut. He, too, looked straight out of central casting, the type of handsome, rugged man who revs a Dodge Ram pickup truck through a muddy ravine, smiling reassuringly as dirt spews out from the mammoth back tires.
Gerry was barefoot and shirtless in the dry Arizona heat, watering the cacti and walking with the light feet of a quarterback. His body was accustomed to jumping out of airplanes and carrying 110-pound, five-inch-diameter hoses from his fire truck directly into the wildfires that raced through the desert brush. Laugh lines were etched into his sunburned cheeks. He was a guy who, while hauling you safely out of a burning building, would crack a joke to make it seem like you’d come through a memorable adventure, not a near-death experience.
The fading Arizona sun showed off the butterfly tattoo on Gerry’s ripped right calf. On his left rib cage, there was another design, large and intricate enough to rival Lisbeth Salander’s famous dragon tattoo. The ink depicted a huge elephant head. It was an elaborate representation of Ganesh, the Indian god devoted to removing obstacles. The elephant head was overlaid with two tiny baby footprints, the type you see stamped onto a hospital birth certificate.
Strange ink for a forty-four-year-old fireman and military veteran.
As a firefighter, Gerry knew that the desire to nurture and protect children was nearly as powerful as the urge to create them. Nothing generates more adrenaline in firemen than children’s toys scattered on the porch of a burning home with a family trapped inside. This is also a biological imperative of our species, because as any firefighter knows, human infants are among the most helpless offspring in the animal kingdom.
For most parents, as for most firefighters, the instinct to protect children outweighs even our instinct for self-preservation. Even though we sometimes cannot stand our own kids. Even though no one, not even Rhonda or Gerry, wants to sit next to a crying baby on an airplane, few parents would hesitate to run into traffic—or a burning building—to save a child.
All just as nature intended.
Rhonda and Gerry knew the U.S. Department of Justice statistic that every year in the United States over 100,000 children are abducted. A distinctly unnatural desire: to steal someone else’s child. Imagine what you would do if your child were kidnapped, if a force outside your family, someone with no interest in how deeply you love your child, had the ability to destroy your family, your biological link to eternity.
How much would you pay to rescue that child?
How far would you travel?
Would you ever abandon the search?
Rhonda, sitting on her brown living room sofa with Frankie, her white shepherd-Catahoula pooch, often watched America’s Most Wanted on television alone during the long evenings when Gerry worked overnight shifts at the firehouse. From the show, she had learned the comforting data that, fortunately, the vast majority of abducted children are found within hours. Only roughly one hundred kidnappings a year result in the death of a child. It consoled Rhonda to know that few parents understand this misery firsthand.
However, Rhonda and Gerry understood all too well an anguish nearly identical to the trauma of losing a child. Failure to conceive or give birth to a baby is a kidnapping of a different variety. Over the course of their eleven years together, Rhonda and Gerry’s dreams had been stolen. It didn’t matter that their lost children were never born.
Every year in the United States, an astonishing number of children—more than one million babies—are lost to infertility and miscarriage. These losses don’t make national headlines. At times, even best friends and close family members never learn of them.
Yearning for a child—and not being able to have one—represents an ache that is complicated to capture or measure, even for sufferers and fertility doctors. For some, to die without creating life adds up to two deaths: one’s own, and the opportunity a child represents to defy mortality.
“It feels like constant starvation,” says Rhonda Wile, speaking slowly, searching the cobalt desert horizon outside her home like a crime victim trying to recall an assailant’s features for the precinct sketch artist. “You’re hungry all the time, even when you’re sleeping. You gradually understand that you are going to be starving, starving for a child, for the rest of your life.”
How far would you go to have a child?
Would you harvest your eggs or sperm at age twenty-two, your fertile peak?
How many rounds of long subcutaneous needles, hormones flooding your body, and invasive, expensive surgeries would you endure?
Where could you find the money? Would you sell your car, your house? Ask your parents to hock their retirement condo?
What would you do to help someone else have a child? Write a character recommendation for an adoption agency? Lend a friend money? Donate an embryo? Carry a stranger’s baby in your uterus?
Picture that you’d spent your life savings on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other fertility treatments, and you still didn’t have a baby. Could you make one final reckless gamble? Would you be able to find the nearly $100,000 needed to finance the most desperate solution: paying another woman to create and carry a baby in her uterus for you?
At forty, nearing the end of her fertility road, Rhonda knew the answer. She and Gerry, after trying to get pregnant dozens of times, dozens of different ways, had found a radical new solution.
Rhonda and Gerry had spent nearly $50,000 trying to have children together, more than they spent on their house down payment and the purchase of their two cars. Rhonda and Gerry’s baby chase had led them thousands of miles from home, to a perplexing, entrancing country with over 11 million unwanted infants and one of the highest female illiteracy rates in the world. They’d ventured to a faraway land they had never once dreamed of visiting, all in search of a baby they could afford on a nurse and firefighter’s income.
The reason Rhonda looked so svelte was simple.
Although she and Gerry were expecting twins, Rhonda was not pregnant.
The unborn twins were Rhonda and Gerry’s babies, but they were not growing inside Rhonda’s body. Another woman was pregnant with Rhonda and Gerry’s twins. Her name was Gauri.
A dozen times a day, while Gauri went about her chores, when she heated water for breakfast tea for her husband, or scrubbed her children’s dark blue school uniforms, the thought jerked Gauri like a truck horn suddenly blaring in the night: she was pregnant from a twenty-minute medical procedure, without having had sex with the baby’s father. The babies she had carried for five months had been created from another woman’s egg and a stranger’s sperm; she had no genetic connection to them. And she was going to become rich beyond her wildest dreams in exchange for growing these babies for two people she had never met.
Her body. Their babies.
The Wiles knew Gauri’s height and weight, the ages of her son and daughter, her husband’s income, what she ate for breakfast, and the results of her latest blood draw. But they had not met the woman carrying their babies. In fact, they had never even talked to her. Gauri didn’t speak English. Plus she had no telephone. Finally, the woman bearing the Wile twins lived twelve time zones and 8,847 miles away in a small temporary apartment in the Bhandup West neighborhood of Mumbai, India.
“Which made it kind of hard for the three of us to catch up,” says Rhonda today, with a rueful smile.
*   *   *
Having a baby is natural, right?
Also as natural—and as ancient—as the human species itself is difficulty conceiving and carrying babies. Long before words were written on papyrus, or horses painted on Paleolithic cave walls, long before doctors understood what causes infertility, and centuries before birth control and women’s rights advocacy enabled women to delay childbearing, infertility afflicted humans at a steady rate of 10 to 12 percent.
Surprising, then, that studies have shown that almost all women wildly overestimate our ability to get pregnant, at every age, and to have as many children as we want in our lifetime. Infertility is one affliction no one talks about, or assumes will happen to them, until it actually happens to them.
Throughout time and in every culture, women like Rhonda Wile have erroneously borne the burden of blame. The inaccurate historical assumption has long been that infertility was strictly a women’s issue. In the Old Testament, written sometime in the fifth or sixth centuries BC, Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren until a miracle son, Isaac, was born long past her childbearing years. In Genesis, the Lord closed Rachel’s womb until she cried out to Jacob, “Give me children or else I die.” Michal, the daughter of King Saul; Hannah; Elisha; Samson’s mother; even the Virgin Mary’s mother, Anna, and her cousin Elisabeth, all were labeled “barren” women who could not bear children.
The Bible never refers to any men as barren. U.S. history books rarely note that the father of our country, George Washington, was not an actual father. He created no offspring, despite marrying a demonstrably fertile young widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, who had given birth to four children with her first husband by the time she turned twenty-five. Today’s infertility specialists suspect that Washington suffered from Klinefelter’s syndrome, an affliction with symptoms including bad teeth (Washington lost his by his early twenties), unusual height (he was six foot three), and sterility.
Human understanding of male infertility came only with twentieth-century medical technology. The reality is that for 30 percent of cases, experts don’t know what causes the inability to conceive. In couples where doctors can pinpoint the origin, 50 percent of problems lie with the man.
Bias lingers nevertheless. Many cultures continue to shun women when a couple experiences sterility. Many women, in the United States and other countries, blame themselves if they have difficulty getting, or staying, pregnant. An accepted solution in many cultures, cited over twenty times in the Old Testament, was for men to turn to other, potentially more fertile, women to try again, sometimes with legal and societal sanction. An ancient, respected form of surrogacy.
Hiring a surrogate is now, in certain circles, a badge of hipness. Trendsetters today make magazine covers with their surrogate babies. Nicole Kidman. Elton John. Sofia Vergara. Angela Bassett. Neil Patrick Harris. Sarah Jessica Parker. They all have beloved babies born from other women’s wombs. Among the less famous, an amazing 2,000 to 4,000 babies are born each year to surrogate mothers to whom they have no biological connection.
In short, infertility has been a reality for the human race, disproportionately affecting women, for centuries. And surrogacy has always been one of the solutions.
What’s wrong with not being able to have babies, anyway?
You could save a lot of money on birth control and diapers.
With seven billion people, who needs more children in the world?
Maybe infertility is God’s way of controlling the population.
Why don’t you just adopt?
Try telling that to anyone who wants a baby.
Few parents would limit how much they would sacrifice for their children. To anyone with a child, this seems indisputably true. Children are priceless.
Especially to people who cannot have them.
*   *   *
Unless you’ve experienced infertility firsthand, it seems an uncommon affliction. It’s definitely not a “disease.” When infertility strikes a friend or a celebrity on the pages of People magazine, the inability to conceive is easy to brush off as fate. God’s brusque message that, Sorry, kids are not in the cards for you. Few beyond the infertile know the causes of sterility or its commonality. Infertility remains a hidden, taboo disease, with corrosive psychological effects on individuals, couples, and families.
Yet people seeking treatment spend $10 billion a year globally in search of a positive pregnancy test. In the United States alone, $5 billion is spent every year by sufferers willing to pay almost any amount to create a child.
If you have been touched by infertility, your understanding deepens immediately. Dr. Robert J. Stillman from the Shady Grove Fertility Center outside Washington, D.C., has spent most of his sixty-four years immersed in the agonies of infertility and the joys of treating it successfully. He is one of thousands of doctors today who dedicate their entire careers to assisted reproductive technology.
“Are children a gift?” Robert Stillman asks rhetorically, looking around his office crowded with medical charts, pictures of the Grand Tetons and Utah’s Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings, and a large, powerful Dell computer, as he struggles to explain the desire to have children. In a way, this same drive—to help infertile couples—has gotten him out of bed, and in front of a classroom or a patient, each morning for over forty years.
“No. Not just a gift. Are chi...

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