With the birth last month of twin girls for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, surrogate pregnancy once again assumed center stage. After years of infertility following the birth of their son in 2002, the couple chose to have another woman gestate the embryos they created.
Much has changed in surrogacy in the two decades since the high-profile Baby M case, in which the surrogate was the baby’s biological mother and unsuccessfully sought custody after the birth.
The legal proceedings in that case helped affirm the validity of surrogacy contracts in the US, which are now standard. Some states have laws that protect the commissioning parents in surrogate pregnancies. And in a vast majority of surrogate pregnancies today, the surrogate has no genetic link to the baby.
Still, surrogate pregnancy is illegal in some states, including New York, and it remains fraught with controversy despite that thousands of American couples — most of them not celebrities or especially wealthy — are happily bringing up children they could not produce on their own.
Joan Fleischer Thamen and her husband, Frank, of Miami Beach, Florida, are among them. They married when she was 38 and immediately began trying to start a family, “but nothing happened,” she said in an interview. They nearly exhausted their savings with fertility treatments and seven attempts at pregnancy through in vitro fertilization.
“After the seventh failure I was emotionally worn out,” Joan Thamen said. “Then someone told me a friend had found a surrogate through the Internet. That’s how we found Cathy, who said ‘I really want to do this for you.’ We offered her what we thought was a fair amount — US$12,000 — and said we’d hire an attorney to draw up a contract and we’d pay for her medical insurance.”
Three embryos left from the Thamens’ attempts at in vitro were implanted in Cathy’s womb. Ten days later they learned that one was viable. When Cathy was in her fourth month, Thamen discovered to her amazement that she, too, was pregnant and that their due dates were identical.
‘COOKED IN DIFFERENT OVENS’
The Thamens are now the delighted parents of 5-year-old boys, David and Jonathan, born 23 days apart and “being raised as twins cooked in different ovens,” as Thamen says she explained to the boys. Cathy and her husband and son remain good friends with the Thamens; the families visit often and the Thamen boys consider Cathy an aunt.
Surrogate pregnancies don’t always blossom into lasting friendships, of course, and many people consider the process repugnant. It has been called a violation of natural law, a form of prostitution or baby selling, an exploitation of poor women, and a privilege of the rich and famous who may not want to disrupt their careers or their figures by giving birth to their own children.
Reputable agencies and lawyers who specialize in surrogacy guard against the exploitation of women who serve as surrogates and against spurious reasons for seeking a surrogate pregnancy. In virtually every case they process, the intended parents, like the Thamens, cannot produce their own children, yet want children biologically related to them or choose not to wait the years it can take to adopt.
People may choose to have a gestational carrier bear their children if the woman lacks a uterus or has a malformed uterus; must take medication incompatible with pregnancy; or has had repeated miscarriages or failures at in vitro pregnancies. Or, in the case of a male couple or single male, if there is no woman involved.