Giving a gift of new life

Surrogacy: An Abingdon woman shares a special bond with the couple for whom she bore a baby.

December 21, 2003|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thirty-five years ago, Maryann Post of Virginia was a holiday surprise for her family. She was born Dec. 25.

And as Christmas approaches this year, Patricia Leland of Abingdon gave Post and her husband a gift of "unspeakable joy," Post said, and an end to six years of failed fertilization tries, miscarriages and heartache.

Leland, who carried the Posts' baby to term, gave birth to 8-pound, 8-ounce Charles Friday. The child was due Christmas Day, but doctors induced Leland's delivery so she could spend Christmas with her family, and so the Posts could celebrate Maryann's birthday, Christmas and the baby. Both Leland and the baby were healthy, Post said.

"He's gorgeous. He has a ton of blondish hair. It was the most unbelievable moment. He's perfect," Post said.

For Leland, a 32-year-old mother of two biological daughters and a stepdaughter from her husband's previous marriage, having the Posts' baby also fulfilled her dream.

"I have always wanted to help someone," she said. "It's the biggest gift I can think of to give. My own children are such a joy that I couldn't imagine life without them."

Without children, the home day care provider said, life would be "heart-wrenching."

"Delivery itself is an amazing experience," said Dr. James Thompson, the obstetrician who delivered Charles at Franklin Square Hospital Center in suburban Baltimore. "But here we are, expanding a whole separate family that could never have kids. In that way, it is very special."

Producers at The Learning Channel's A Baby Story, thought so, too. They have chronicled the couples' story and will air it - delivery and all - in March.

Post, a human resources consultant, said she wanted to tell the story to dispel the stigma associated with surrogate pregnancies. "What you see out there is myth. I couldn't be happier," she said.

Although surrogacy is an increasingly popular option for infertile couples, such arrangements are rare. According to the Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy, a national nonprofit support group, about 1,000 babies are born to surrogate mothers each year.

Disputes occur in fewer than 1 percent of cases, said OPTS Director Shirley Zager, although media reports are full of high-profile or harrowing surrogacy stories.

Television host Joan Lunden had twins this summer using a surrogate mother. In 1988, the New Jersey Supreme Court ended a noted custody battle when it granted surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead, who was also the biological mother, parental rights but gave biological father William Stern custody of "Baby M."

Since then, several bills to ban surrogate contracts have died or have been vetoed in the Maryland legislature, yet no move has been made to prevent them since 1996. This month, Italy banned all such pregnancies.

The idea of surrogacy - of being compensated for bearing another woman's child - is controversial. Detractors call surrogate mothers heartless, immoral or mercenary.

Proponents, however, argue that it is often easier or more emotionally secure than adoption. It gives couples a genetic link to their children. All service providers are paid, including fertility doctors, so why shouldn't surrogates - the most important part of the process - be compensated as well, they argue.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to help couples who aren't able to conceive and aren't successful with other modes to become parents," Thompson said.

Leland and Post are more like sisters than business partners. Their families visit at holidays, and the women get together for lunch and shopping. Post drives two hours from her Vienna home for every physician's appointment.

The two even finish each other's sentences, although Post met Leland only three years ago after Post struggled for three years to conceive. She and her husband, 34-year-old capital markets and corporate strategist Charles, or "Cap," had considered adoption, but found that maintaining a genetic link was important to them.

And because Virginia outlaws most surrogacy contracts and they are illegal in Washington, the couple sought the advice of Maryland lawyer James Shrybman.

Within four days, he set up a meeting with the Posts and Maryann and John Leland, who were on a surrogate list.

The women remember that they hit if off instantly. They agreed on all the details from the start, they said, from how often Maryann Post would travel to Abingdon for doctor's visits to how often Leland would be able to visit the baby after it was born.

The result was a 65-page contract that covered visitation, fees and other decisions, such as how many fertility attempts would be made and which tests Leland would be required to take. They declined to discuss expenses, which cover medical and legal fees and compensation for the mother to carry the baby.

"Let's just say I have no furniture upstairs in my house," Post said.

According to Shrybman, surrogacy arrangements can cost $28,000 to $45,000, with the surrogate's compensation falling around $18,000.

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