Unique, rocky path to motherhood: A family's story of courage, faith

February 16, 1993|By New York Times News Service

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Mark Wesolowski popped the question -- "Will you have my baby?" -- to a woman old enough to be his mother in a supermarket parking lot.

"I thought it was impossible," recalled the 53-year-old woman. "I thought, 'I'm too old. I've gone through menopause.' I wanted to help. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking it won't work."

But it did. Two months ago, the woman, Geraldine Wesolowski, Mark's mother, gave birth to a 6-pound, 8.2-ounce baby who is both her child and her grandchild. The infant is being raised by her son, 31, and his wife, Susan, 33, who cannot bear children.

Geraldine Wesolowski, who was takenback a decade or more through biological time, is thought to be the oldest, and only the second, American to give birth to her grandchild through in-vitro techniques. But fertility specialists predict her success will persuade thousands of families to follow her example. A 42-year-old South Dakota woman gave birth to twin grandchildren in 1991.

"This is just the beginning," said Dr. Ida M. Campagna, the obstetrician who attended the Wesolowski birth at Sisters Hospital in Buffalo, and who already has received inquiries from families around the world.

Like so many love stories, the Wesolowskis' tale is laced with drama and tragedy.

*

In 1981, Susan -- then married to a man named Cooper and who had miscarried three times -- was involved in a severe car accident. Fearing internal injuries, doctors planned to take X-rays and asked her if she was pregnant. "No," she said. They checked with a blood test. It was positive.

But the placenta separated from her uterus in her fifth month of pregnancy. She was taken to the hospital hemorrhaging.

Despite the problems, the baby, Michael, was born months later, but his mother continued to bleed intermittently because of a clotting disorder and had a hysterectomy.

In 1984, Michael, who was then 2, came down with what doctors thought was flu. He got sicker, and doctors shuttled him through hospitals before finding that he had a rare lymphatic disorder, Kawasaki syndrome. By the time he was released from Philadelphia's Children's Hospital shortly after Christmas 1985, the Coopers were buried under $86,000 in medical bills, and they were told that their son's death could be imminent.

Eventually, the Coopers divorced.

*

Mark Wesolowski couldn't take his eyes off Susan. "He stared at me every time I walked out the door," she recalled. They lived in the same apartment complex in Montgomeryville, Pa. While riding with afriend one day, she saw his parked Corvette and left her phone number tucked under the windshield wiper.

He called some days later. They started spending hours chatting around the pool and soon became friends. When they both had to move in April 1986, they decided to cut expenses by sharing a house in Telford, Pa. That's where their platonic relationship turned romantic. But Susan said she never thought they had a future. They talked about marriage, but floundered on the issue of children.

"I wasn't going to put myself in the situation where if he wanted kids, I'd have to go through another divorce," she said.

The tension between them mounted. They considered adoption, but rejected it.

On Aug. 7, 1988, Susan noticed a 5-inch ad for the Christian Fertility Institute in Easton, Pa. It was an announcement of the Lehigh Valley clinic's 25th and 26th in-vitro babies.

"One day I'm going to see this doc," she vowed. So she clipped the ad and put it in Mark's bureau.

Two frustrating years later, they dug out the clip and went to the clinic.

Dr. William Cooper -- head of the fertility clinic and no relation to Susan -- advised her and Mark to use a surrogate mother.

"Where do we find a surrogate? Susan said. "The five and dime? The Yellow Pages?"

Dr. Cooper had a candidate, a Michigan volunteer. But the volunteer's doctor said she wouldn't help an unmarried couple. That caused much anxiety.

Mark said: "All of a sudden the marriage part of the relationship was thrown back in there. I was scared. I didn't want to be pushed into the marriage. One minute we're fine, going along knowing we can't have children; the next we find out we can, but we have to get married."

Susan said: "I was afraid he'd say no. It was too quick."

But the couple came to the conclusion that they should marry, which they did, on Aug. 18, 1990.

The Wesolowskis then started working with potential surrogates, but they were unsuccessful. After much discussion, the couple agreed that Mark's mother was the solution. It took a month, but Mark Wesolowski finally summoned the courage to pop the question. "Dr. Cooper believes it's possible for you to carry the baby," he remembers telling his mother. "What do you feel about that?"

"I'm too old," she said.

But Mark told her that Dr. Cooper said he could reverse menopause and asked her to talk with him. The older Wesolowskis took two weeks to think about the idea. Finally, Mark's mother asked him to set up an appointment with Dr. Cooper.

The embryos were transplanted into Geraldine Wesolowski late last September. "It's over in a blink of an eye," she noted that evening in her diary. Four days later, she went to meet Dr. Campagna and to ask her to be her obstetrician.

But the first two transplants failed.

"I was willing to stick with it, but I was worried maybe it was doomed," Geraldine Wesolowski said.

They tried again in January. On May 4, the transplant worked.

The pregnancy, the cost of which was largely covered by health insurance, was relatively uneventful until late December. Then Dr. Campagna decided the surrogate mother was retaining too much fluid and scheduled her to come in to Sisters Hospital Dec. 28. Labor was induced, and a son was born.

The Wesolowskis named the boy Matthew -- meaning gift of God.

Would the family do it again? "My heart and mind would, my body couldn't," Geraldine Wesolowski said.

"I think she's done enough," her son said.

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