A mother’s love times 2
By Dawn MacKeen, Staff Writer, Newsday, NY,
January 12, 2003
Isabella came into this world three weeks ago much like
Delores Hughes’ own children. She let out a long yawning
cry, with the full might of her tiny lungs.
From her hospital bed in Port Jefferson, 54-year-old Hughes
focused on the 7-pound, 9-ounce baby with the shot of black
hair and high cheekbones, arms flailing about. Those features
reminded her of her youngest, Lori, whom she had given birth
to – 30 years earlier.
Hughes holds her granddaughter Isabella, whom she gave
birth to last month. Hughes, 54, acted as surrogate
for her daughter.
The resemblance made sense, since
Lori is the biological mother of Isabella. Because
Lori couldn’t become pregnant, Hughes carried
Lori and her husband’s child for them. Doctors
did this by extracting Lori’s eggs, fertilizing
them with her husband’s sperm, and then transferring
the embryos into Hughes’ uterus.
“If she needed a kidney, I would gladly give
it to her,” Hughes said last week. “But
she needed my uterus for nine months. Who else but
a mother could do this? It’s unconditional love.”
Ever since Lori was 16, she knew she could never carry
a child. As the years passed, Hughes said her heart slowly
broke watching Lori care for her sister’s and brother’s
children, knowing that Lori so longed for one of her own.
Three years ago, Hughes, a Manorville resident, consulted
her husband, Tom, and a doctor about the possibility of
becoming a gestational carrier for Lori and her husband.
And then she made the offer.
“It’s been so many years of talking about this
and dreaming about it,” said Lori, who didn’t
want her last name or her husband’s name used for
privacy reasons. “It’s hard to believe that
she’s finally here.”
Hughes, a youthful woman with shoulder-length brown hair
and hazel eyes belongs to a small but growing class of women
who are pregnant in their early 50s. There were 239 of them
in 2001 alone, a 66 percent increase from only four years
earlier, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
And she is part of an even more select group of those carrying
their own grandchildren.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association
found that there’s no medical reason to exclude women
in Hughes’ age demographic from pregnancy. Although
there is an increased risk of pregnancy-associated diabetes
and high blood pressure, which could compromise the blood
flow to the fetus, most babies and mothers – or gestational
carriers – are fine. And that was certainly the case
with Hughes and Isabella.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, a 50-year-old was clearly
middle-aged ad now clearly that’s not the case,”
said Dr. Richard Paulson, lead author of the November JAMA
study and director of University of Southern California’s
fertility program, where a 63-year-old underwent a procedure
that led to the birth of a girl in 1997. “Harrison
Ford is in his 50s and wasn’t he the “Sexiest
Man Alive”? We are not seeing 50-year-olds ready to
retire and watching TV.”
Hughes and Lori are thankful not just for the baby, but
also for the way their doctors and the staff at St. Charles
Hospital & Rehabilitation Center treated them when Isabella
was born. They say they respected the unique relationships,
and the importance of acknowledging that Lori was the mother,
not Hughes. They have heard of what they call ‘horror
stories’ of other biological mothers not being able
to hold the baby after delivery, or who weren’t treated
with much respect.
Shortly after the birth on Dec.
21, doctors placed Isabella in Lori’s arms.
Then she was passed to Hughes, who whispered, “Merry
Christmas.” Dad was next. Grandpa Tom, Delores’
husband was rolling the video camera on the child
they call “baby Bella.”
But the one thing that upsets this family is that
under New York State law, Isabella is not Lori’s
child. She is technically her sister. On the birth
certificate, Hughes is listed as the mother until
an adoption is finalized.
in a recent family photo.
“It’s bizarre,” Hughes said on a recent
afternoon, sitting in her living room in a pair of overalls
and matching blue cotton shirt, looking much younger than
a grandmother of five children. She is taking time off from
her job as a social worker to recover from the birth, which
required a cesarean section. Behind her, family photos of
three generations of the Hughes family hang on the wall,
and decorate the tops of the end tables, showing her other
two adult kids, ages 34 and 32, and their children as well.
Lori shuttles in and out of the room, tending her child,
changing her and feeding her. Lori brings Isabella to visit
grandma at least once a week.
“If it was something between a mother and daughter,
why does New York make it so complicated?” Hughes
said. “It just seems odd that this is their child
and that they have to go through this.”
New York State has one of the strictest statues regarding
surrogacy in the Northeast, said Melissa Brisman, an attorney
specializing in reproductive law who is based in Park Ridge,
N.J. Since 1992, it has been illegal in New York to compensate
a gestational carrier, except for medical expenses and other
pregnancy-related costs, such as maternity clothes.
But even for those who can have the procedure done in the
state – because no money is changing hands –
they still have to adopt the child if the baby is born here.
And that can only be done after the baby’s birth.
It’s a process that can take several months and it
is costing Lori and her husband about $7,500.
In Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine,
biological parents have been able to petition the court
prior to the delivery to be listed on the birth certificate
instead of the carrier, Brisman said.
“New York politicians have fixed it so that New York
couples have to jump through excessive amounts of hoops
and also absorb tremendous costs to get this process done,”
said Shirley Zagar, volunteer director of the Organization
of Parents Through Surrogacy. “To do what other couples
do by just getting into bed and having a baby.”
New York was just one of the states to pass restrictive
surrogacy laws in the years following the case of Baby M.
A surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead-Gould, gave birth
in 1986 to a baby girl, who became known as Baby M. Only
Whitehead-Gould, who now lives on Long Island, had grown
attached to the child and didn’t want to give her
up to the New Jersey couple who had contracted with her
to have the baby. In court, she won visitation rights but
lost the legal battle to keep Baby M. At the time, there
were other tragic stories of surrogates swindling money
out of couples, or dying during pregnancy.
State Sen. John J. Marchi (R-Staten Island) sponsored New
York’s 1992 surrogacy bill, which became law. “His
legislation was intended to address abuses,” said
Jerry McLaughlin, his spokesman. “He had obviously
received word through either official sources or anecdotally
of the situation where people were carrying babies and doing
it in a totally commercial basis.”
But now, the traditional surrogacy procedure that led to
Baby M.’s birth is not that common anymore. That was
done by taking Whitehead-Gould’s eggs and fertilizing
them with the sperm of the intended father. In the gestational
carrier procedure Hughes underwent, Hughes’ relation
to Bella is different – it is solely that of grandmother.
Many of New York’s infertile now leave the state
and go to clinics in Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut
and Massachusetts for the gestational carrier procedure,
as well as to find the appropriate person to carry the child.
Though there are no statistics, Brisman estimates that there
are several hundred births each year from New York couples
who are using carriers in other states. The New York State
Department of Health doesn’t keep numbers of how many
born to gestational carriers, either.
“This was unique for having a mother who was willing
to do this,” said Dr. Merle J. Berger, co-founder
of Boston-IVF and associate clinical professor of OB-GYN
and reproductive medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Most
couples who need surrogacy do not have the convenience of
having a relative or friend who are willing to do this for
them. So the [New York] law has excluded the vast majority
of people from dong this.” Berger estimates that about
a third of his patients come from out of state, including
New York, or even other countries.
Because of New York’s restrictions, Lori and Hughes
thought they had no choice but to go out of state, too.
But they could have stayed if they found a place that would
treat Hughes – a challenge since many clinics don’t
take anyone older than 50.
So when Hughes was 52, they drove to Wayne, Pa., to the
Reproductive Science Institute of Suburban Philadelphia
to start the procedure. Their cutoff was exactly her age.
She underwent consultation, which included a psychological
and a medical screening. In a two-year period, they made
five trips there. They kept the cost down by clipping coupons
for the Holiday Inn, but it still added up.
Michael Sobel, left, of reproductive Science Institute
of Suburban Philadelphia, performed the procedure that
“The impulse and drive to carry
on family is ultimately one of the strongest desires
we have in life,” said Dr. Michael Sobel, who
is clinical director of RSI and did the procedure
for Lori and Hughes. “This was a very loving
and caring family, dedicated to continue until their
Ten days after the fourth embryo transfer, Hughes
woke up at 5:30 in the morning and took a home-pregnancy
When the stick started to change to light pink, she kept
thinking that she was imagining it. Since her husband wasn’t
home, she called Lori, but no one answered. A few moments
later, Lori phoned back. By then, the color had changed
to a dark pink.
“When I answered the phone,” Hughes recalled,
“I said, ‘Congratulations! You’re pregnant.’”