The Stratford Beacon Herald
Thursday, August 31st, 2000
"A Gift of Children"
Stratford mom makes Maryland couple a family by carrying their twins.
By Michele Greene
For many Canadians, surrogacy is a controversial issue. Should a woman be expected to relinquish the child to which she has just given birth? Is it fair to the infant to be taken from the only mother he or she knows? Should women be paid to carry another women's child?
Some call it "baby selling." Others see it as the rich renting the wombs of the poor. But Sally and her husband of Stratford call it a gift.
"It's nine months of my life to give two people a family," said Ms.Rhoads.
She is a gestational surrogate mother, pregnant with twins. In other words, the bbies she is carrying are genetically the children of another couple. Embryo's created from eggs of the intended mother and fertilized by the sperm of the intended father were transfered into Mrs.Rhoads' body.
She said she is giving a couple from Maryland something that was taken away. The intended mother was eight months pregnant with twins when she was in a car accident. She lost the babies and underwent an emergency hysterectomy, losing any chances of conceiving and giving birth to any other children, said Mrs.Rhoads.
The couples hopes for a family were dashed until Mr. and Mrs. Rhoads agreed that Mrs.Rhoads would be a gestational surrogate mother for them.
"I'm so excited that these people will have a baby," said Mrs.Rhoads.
Mr.and Mrs.Rhoads themselves recently experienced the same thrill when their son Tristan was born Jan.1,1999. Mrs.Rhoads said she sees surrogacy as a way of giving that joy to another couple.
The topic of surrogacy caught her interest when she was a high school student at Northwestern Secondary School in Stratford, she said. She remembers studying a surrogacy case in one of her classes. The concept of having a child for another woman intrigued her. In fact, she told her h usband about her interest shortly after they met in North Bay, where she went to school to study mental in health in the aboriginal population. She didn't give it much more thought until Tristan, the couple's first child was born.
"After Tristan was born, I felt bad for people who couldn't have children," said Mrs.Rhoads.
In March, when he own son was just a couple months old, Mrs.Rhoads began thinking about surrogacy again. She did some research and visited several Web sites on surrogacy. Mr.Rhoads said he was taken back when she told him she wanted to be pregnant again - this time, with the embryo of another couple. After thinking about it for a couple of days and doing some research on his own, Mr.Rhoads said he agreed it was something they should do.
"I thought about Tristan. When he was first born, he was the best thing that happened to me - besides Sally. I imagined what it would be like if I didn't have him in my life," said Mr.Rhoads.
He said they wanted to be able to help another couple have the same happiness he and Sally have experiencd since Tristan made them a family.
The couple did more research on the subject together and eventually posted a classified ad on an Internet Web site on surrogacy. They received more than 200 responses from childless couples who wanted Mrs.Rhoads to carry a child for them.
In sorthing through the couples, the Rhoads applied two criteria to the applicants.
One criterion was not to work with anyone who expected Mrs.Rhoads to donate her own egg for a pregnancy, something one couple wanted her to do. The couple hoped her red hair would be a trait passed on to a baby, she said disgustedly.
Donating her own egg would make her a traditional surrogate mother. In traditional surrogacies, the intended father's sperm fertilizes an egg belonging to the surrogate mother. The intended mother has no genetic connection to the baby. Essentially, the birth mother is also the genetic mother and actually agrees to give up her custodial rights to that child.
This was the case in the landmark Baby M case in 1985, when William and Dr.Elizabeth Stern made a contract with Mary Beth Whitehead in which Mrs.Whitehead agreed to be a "surrogate mother". However, she had a change of heart and refused to give the child to the Sterns. The Sterns took legal action to gain custody of the child and deprive Mrs.Whitehead of all her parental rights, including the right to see the child. The New Jersey State Supreme Court decided that: 1) the contract was not valid; 2) the payment of money to a "surrogate mother" was child selling and therefore illegal; 3) surrogacy was potentially demeaning to women because surrogacy made people think of them as "walking wombs;" and 4) Mrs.Whitehead had parental rights to Baby M - for Melissa, the name chosen by the Sterns. The court's unanimous decision was to award custody to Mr.Stern.
It was a case that captured the attention of the public for months and brought the issue of surrogacy, and traditional surrogacies in particular, into the forefront. Mrs.Rhoads pointed out that no gestational mother has ever legally fought for custody.
The Rhoads decided that Mrs.Rhoads would be a gestational surrogate mother only. In Mrs.Rhoads case, she is carrying fetuses which genetically are not the children of her and her husband.
"These are not my children. These children don't have my blood," said Ms.Rhoads.
The Rhoads were also reluctant to enter into this experience with anyone who was more concerned about fees. It's the exchange of money which is considered amoral by many, and brings up the perception that surrogacy is a form of baby selling. But money is a part of surrogacy. Of the 200 replies the Rhoads received from their ad, a large number asked what fee she would expect for carrying a baby. Fees normally range between $18,000 and $25,000US.
The Rhoads said they agreed to accept a $10,000 fee - nominal compared to what others were willing to pay - to help pay some of the Rhoads' living expenses while Mrs.Rhoads is unable to work. She said she felt sick to her stomach and required a lot of rest in the early part of her pregnancy, an experience quite different from her own pregnancy.
"With Tristan's pregnancy, she was fine," said Mr.Rhoads.
Mr.Rhoads who works at Q Lube in Stratford, said the fee they are receiving is enough to keep them comfortable in their modest lifestyle.
"We don't believe you should get pregnant for money," said Mrs.Rhoads.
In many ways, Mrs.Rhoads compares gestational surrogacy to an adoption through the Children's Aid Society. Besides any legal costs, there is no charge for the child. It should be the same way for babies delivered by surrogate mothers, she said.
The couple from Maryland is paying for legal costs, such as a name change for the baby which will carry the Rhoads' name when it is born. They are also covering all of Mrs.Rhoads' medical expenes. There were two trips to a New Jersey clinic for Mrs.Rhoads for tests, including a three-week stay for more tests, the transfer of the embryos to her and two days of required bedrest. At home, she also underwent injections for 12 weeks, she said.
Besides the demands on her body, the pregnancy also strained Mrs.Rhoads' relationship with her family. She said her family was quite surprised about the couple's decision to carry a child for another couple. In fact, her family is incredibly concerned about the impact on Mrs.Rhoads' health and what the long-term implications for her, she said.
"We go through a lot so these people can have a baby. It's a gift," said Mr.Rhoads.
The twins are due in December and will be born in Stratford General Hospital, said Mrs.Rhoads. So far, she added, all of the health care workers she has met have been supportive and interested in her pregnancy. As soon as she goes into labour, the intended parents will begin their journey to Stratford for the birth. They are making their first trip to Stratford in the first week of September to see an ultrasound of the twins.
Mrs.Rhoads is confident she will not have second thoughts about turning the babies over to their genetic parents. She said she is thrilled that these people will finally have a family after the trauma they have been through. They will be able to enjoy what Mr.and Mrs.Rhoads and Tristan have experienced as a family. Mrs.Rhoads said she is also glad that the intended mother is undergoing treatment so she can breastfeed the twins.
"It would give her that bonding she didn't get during the pregnancy. It would show them that she is their mom."
The Rhoads have created a Web site which includes information and links on surrogacy. Also, it includes a daily journal of Mrs.Rhoads' pregnancy.