Making Babies: 21st Century Families
2:32 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Ties That Bind: When Surrogate Meets Mom-To-Be

Originally published on Tue January 29, 2013 3:55 pm

Second in a four-part report

As she approached her sixth month of pregnancy last year, Whitney Watts' cervix had started to shorten. It's a common problem with twins. Watts was concerned, and was taking care not to overexert herself.

But it's probably fair to say her condition was far more frightening for Susan de Gruchy, the woman who had hired Watts to be a surrogate because she and her husband were unable to conceive. Nearly 400 miles away, de Gruchy was obsessed with worry.

"Here I am in Boston and I'm having to trust that she's not going up and down stairs," de Gruchy says. "I became a little consumed with that."

Watts remembers floating in the pool in her bikini after her doctor approved a short vacation. But de Gruchy remembers Watts telling her about having to pick up her cranky 2-year-old and carry him. She says she couldn't help but wonder what she would have done if she were the one who was pregnant.

"I would have hung myself up by my ankles," de Gruchy says, "and I would have never moved, you know? And that's not realistic."

At the next ultrasound, there was bad news: Watts' cervix was opening and closing.

"I was trying not to cry," Watts says. "I had to stay strong for Susan and Bob because they were just both ready to lose it. And this was at 23 weeks, just the cusp of viability."

From Loss To Surrogacy

There are few things more intimate than carrying a baby for nine months. Modern technology has made it possible for women who are unable to do that to hire someone to do it for them, creating an unprecedented relationship — one that's fraught with emotion.

Surrogacy was not Susan and Bob de Gruchy's first choice to create a family, but they were desperate for it to succeed. They'd been through five failed rounds of in vitro fertilization, including an agonizing miscarriage. Then they tried adoption. They bonded with a newborn boy for three heady days, until the mother changed her mind.

"I literally had to carry her out of the hospital," Bob says. Susan tears up at the memory.

"We had already had loss, loss, loss," she says, "and then this. It was awful."

That's when a friend suggested surrogacy. She placed an online ad for the couple, and Whitney Watts answered it.

Helping 'Another Woman Be A Mom'

Watts is a Navy wife living in Maryland. Her husband, Ray Watts, was on a ship in the Middle East when their toddler son, J.P., was born. She's mentally tough, physically healthy and passionate about being a surrogate.

"My parents had a very long and hard road getting pregnant with me and my brother," Whitney says, "and this was back in the early '80s. I always thought if I was fertile and I didn't have any issues that I would want to help another woman be a mom."

Ray was initially hesitant. "I think probably a lot of husbands, a lot of dads, are hesitant," he says, though he eventually came around.

In Massachusetts, de Gruchy was having her own doubts, like what if the surrogate also saw herself as the mother? The relationship seemed risky and exhausting.

"I think emotionally I was so spent," she says. "These people want to become very close to you ... your new best friend."

De Gruchy also worried that a surrogate would want to play a big role in a child's life. "So the further away [the surrogate] could be, geographically and emotionally, was going to be the best thing," she says.

Diane Hinson, the lawyer who negotiated their surrogacy contract, convinced de Gruchy she'd need to at least communicate with her surrogate by email. So the two couples met for dinner at a Cheesecake Factory — like a blind date, Bob says — and they hit it off. A few months later, Whitney took a home pregnancy test and called up Susan with the results.

"I'm like, 'I'm superpregnant!' " Whitney remembers. "And she's like, 'Woo hoo!' "

It was twins, just what Susan and Bob had hoped for.

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

Ray Watts had heard of surrogates getting too attached to their babies. He found the prospect scary, and worried it could happen to Whitney. So without telling her, he reached out to Bob and Susan and they all agreed to use very deliberate language.

"I never once said, 'Hey, how are the kids doing?' " Ray says. "It was always, 'Hey, how are Bob and Susan's kids doing?' It was this constant reiteration that [these are] somebody else's kids."

And everything was going well, until that checkup at 23 weeks. Whitney was put on bed rest and, a week later — when her cervix started dilating — she moved into Johns Hopkins hospital for close monitoring.

Even in best-case surrogacies, so-called intended parents — especially women — often feel a frightening loss of control. After all, another person is in charge of the most precious thing in your life. And with Watts in the hospital, her body threatening to go into labor, de Gruchy admits she was freaking out over the smallest things, like when Watts told her she'd gone to a hospital support group meeting.

"I'm like, 'Oh really? Who wheeled you in the wheelchair? Did you go in a wheelchair? Did you walk? How long were you up? Were you sitting up?' " de Gruchy recalls. She jokes that Watts must have seen her and thought, "Here comes crazy!"

"Sometimes she would be really upset on the phone," Watts says. But Watts took it all in stride. She says she understood that de Gruchy was anxious because until that point, something had always gone wrong.

"She believed that these babies were never going to come," Watts says. "Like this dream was there and she could almost touch it and then it was going to get taken away again."

'I'm Taking These Babies To The End'

As agreed to in their surrogacy contract, the de Gruchys paid for someone to clean the Wattses' house while Whitney was on bed rest. They also paid her next-door neighbor to care for little J.P. Combined with travel, legal and medical fees plus the private health insurance they bought for Whitney, the surrogacy cost them close to $200,000. Of that, about $25,000 went to Whitney, who also received an allowance for things like maternity clothes and prenatal vitamins. Susan worked extra to help cover it all.

Ray Watts, meanwhile, was getting no slack in his work schedule, since these weren't his babies. He says he started having second thoughts about the whole thing.

"There [were] numerous times where I remember thinking ... 'Was this a good idea? There's no way I could go through this again,' " he says. "Things like that."

Pretty soon, Bob says, Susan was flying down to Maryland nearly every week for doctor's appointments. She'd take Whitney a Kindle reader, flowers — she even painted her toenails.

"All of a sudden," Bob says, "this person who was kind of distant was starting to thaw. And now it was a team, too. I think that helped having someone with you in this."

They were a team even as Whitney begged doctors to send her home, and Susan begged them to keep Whitney in the hospital. Finally, after 55 days at Johns Hopkins, Whitney was allowed to leave. It was Bob who drove her home. Whitney remembers tearing up as they turned onto her street.

"I knew when I came home, 'I can do this,' " she says, her voice catching. "I'm taking these babies to the end."

She made it an additional 3 1/2 weeks, and then had the delivery they'd all dreamed of. As the first twin, Owen, came out — a healthy 4 pounds 9 ounces — Whitney gazed up at Susan, who was standing right by her side.

"Seeing her face see his face, my soul felt complete," she says. "I had done everything in my power, and it was the most amazing feeling. I will never forget her face seeing his face, for the rest of my life."

'She Was The Perfect Surrogate'

"Did you have a nice nappy?" de Gruchy coos as she picks up Owen's sister, Elle, and smothers her with kisses. On the walls of their cozy nursery are framed, cross-stitched birth announcements, a gift from Watts, who made them while on bed rest.

The twins are 8 months old now and de Gruchy is still full of awe and gratitude for the way Watts handled such a difficult pregnancy.

"In retrospect, she did absolutely everything perfectly," de Gruchy says. "So the fear factor of her staying involved — it's nothing that I really do fear because she has been so appropriate. She was the perfect surrogate."

De Gruchy is happy now to stay in touch, texting Watts and sending baby photos. The Wattses are even thinking of a paying them a visit for the twins' first birthday.

This story was produced for broadcast by Marisa Peñaloza.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

There are few things more intimate than pregnancy. But modern technology allows a woman who's unable to carry a baby to hire another woman in her place. It's called surrogacy. And it creates a unique and strange relationship fraught with fear, jealousy, and also joy.

As part of her series Making Babies, NPR's Jennifer Ludden has this story of the relationship between one mother and the woman who carried her twins.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: The babies are nearly six months along, and already there's a problem. Whitney Watts' cervix has shortened, common with twins. She's a surrogate carrying the babies for Susan de Gruchy, who is nearly 400 miles away obsessed with worry.

SUSAN DE GRUCHY: Here I am in Boston and I'm having to trust that she's not going up and down the stairs. And you can't. You know, you just can't. So I became a little consumed with that.

LUDDEN: The doctor allows Whitney to go on a short vacation. Whitney remembers floating in the pool in her bikini. Susan remembers Whitney saying she had to pick up her cranky two-year-old and carry him. She can't help but wonder - what if I were the one pregnant?

GRUCHY: I would have hung myself up by my ankles and I would have never moved, you know. And that's not realistic.

LUDDEN: At the next ultrasound, bad news: Whitney's cervix is opening and closing.

WHITNEY WATTS: I was trying not to cry. I had to stay strong for Susan and Bob, because they were just both ready to lose it. And this was like at 23-weeks, just the cusp of viability.

LUDDEN: Susan and Bob de Gruchy needed a miracle. They'd been through five failed rounds of in-vitro fertilization, including an agonizing miscarriage. Then they tried adoption. They bonded with a newborn boy for three heady days, until the mother changed her mind.

BOB DE GRUCHY: I literally had to carry her out of the hospital. I did, hon, you were...

GRUCHY: Hon, you didn't throw me over your shoulder.

GRUCHY: I did. You don't remember.

GRUCHY: We had - already had loss, loss, loss and then this. And it was like...

GRUCHY: Oh, it was brutal.

GRUCHY: Oh, it was awful.

LUDDEN: That's when a friend suggested surrogacy. She placed an online ad and Whitney Watts replied.

WATTS: Good throw. Ready?

LUDDEN: Whitney is a navy wife in Maryland. Her husband, Ray, was on a ship in the Middle East when their toddler son, JP, was born. Whitney was mentally tough, physically healthy, and passionate about being a surrogate.

WATTS: My parents had a very long and hard road getting pregnant with me and my brother, and this was back in the early '80s. And I always thought, you know, if I was fertile and I didn't have any issues that I would want to help another woman be a mom.

RAY WATTS: Initially I was hesitant. I think probably a lot of husbands, a lot of dads, are hesitant.

LUDDEN: Ray came around. But in Massachusetts, Susan had doubts. Would a surrogate consider herself the mother, too? This relationship seemed risky and exhausting.

GRUCHY: 'Cause I think emotionally I was so spent. And with that, these people want to become very close to you and your new best friend. And then I had it in my head that, oh, they're going to want to have a big part in these kids' lives. And so, the further away she could be geographically and emotionally, was going to be the best thing.

LUDDEN: The lawyer negotiating the contract convinced Susan she'd need to at least communicate with a surrogate by email. So the two couples met for dinner at a Cheesecake Factory, like a blind date, says Bob. And, they hit it off. A few months later, Whitney took a home pregnancy test and called up Susan with the results.

WATTS: I'm like, I'm super pregnant. And she's like, whoo-hoo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: It was twins - just what Susan and Bob had hoped for.

At this point, Ray had heard of surrogates getting too attached to their babies. He found the prospect scary and worried it could happen to Whitney. Without telling her, he reached out to Bob and Susan. They all agreed to use very deliberate language.

WATTS: I never once said, you know, hey, how are the kids doing? It was always hey how are Bob and Susan's kids doing? It was this constant re-iteration that this is somebody else's kids.

LUDDEN: All went well until that check-up at 23-weeks. Whitney was put on bed rest. And a week later - when her cervix started dilating - she moved into Johns Hopkins Hospital for close monitoring.

Now, even in the best-case surrogacies, the so-called intended parents, especially women, often feel a frightening loss of control. Here's another person in charge of the most precious thing in your life. But with Whitney in the hospital, her body threatening to go into labor, Susan admits, she'd freak out at the smallest things. Like when Whitney told her she'd gone to a hospital support group meeting.

GRUCHY: I'm like oh really? Who wheeled you in the wheelchair? Did you go in a wheelchair? Did you walk? How long were you up? Were you sitting up? I mean like, crazy.

WATTS: Sometimes she would be really upset on the phone. Like I could tell she was nervous, or she had a lot of anxiety. So, you know, I would hear, you know, what she had to say. But I'd just let it go in one ear and out the other.

LUDDEN: Whitney says she understood Susan was waiting for the other shoe to drop because until now, it always had.

WATTS: She believed that these babies were never going to come. Like this dream was there, and she could almost touch it, and then it was going to get taken away again.

LUDDEN: As their surrogacy contract called for, while Whitney was on bed rest, Susan and Bob paid for someone to clean her house. They paid her next door neighbor to care for little JP. Combined with travel and all the legal and medical fees, the surrogacy cost them close to $200,000. Of that, 25,000 went to Whitney, who also received an allowance for things like maternity clothes and prenatal vitamins. Susan worked extra to help cover it all.

Whitney's husband Ray, meanwhile, was getting no slack in his work schedule, since these weren't his babies. Second thoughts?

GRUCHY: Absolutely. There was, you know, numerous times where I remember thinking either that, was this a good idea? There's no way I could go through this again - things like that.

LUDDEN: Pretty soon, Bob says Susan was flying down to Maryland nearly every week for doctor's appointments. She'd take Whitney a Kindle reader, flowers. She even painted her toenails.

GRUCHY: All of a sudden this person who was kind of distant was starting to thaw. And now it was a team, too. I think that helped having someone with you in this.

LUDDEN: They were a team even as Whitney begged doctors to send her home, and Susan begged them to keep Whitney in the hospital. Finally, after 55 days at Johns Hopkins, Whitney was allowed to leave. It was Bob who drove her home and Whitney teared-up as they turned onto her street.

WATTS: And I knew when came home, I can do this, I'm taking these babies to the end. I'm like, I made it through hell. I'm like, I can do this.

LUDDEN: She made it another three and a half weeks. Then, Susan stood right by Whitney's side for the delivery they'd all dreamed of. Whitney says Owen came out first, a healthy four pounds, nine ounces.

WATTS: Wahh-wahh. He comes out and it's just like seeing her face see his face, my soul felt complete. I had done everything in my power and it was the most amazing feeling. I will never forget seeing her face seeing his face for the rest of my life.

GRUCHY: Did you have a nice nappy?

LUDDEN: On the walls of Owen and sister Elle's nursery, there are framed, cross-stitched birth announcements; a gift from Whitney, who made them while on bed-rest.

GRUCHY: Coo-coo-coo-coo-coo.

LUDDEN: The twins are eight months now, and Susan's still full of awe and gratitude for the way Whitney handled such a difficult pregnancy.

GRUCHY: In retrospect, she did absolutely everything perfectly. So the fear factor of her staying involved, it's nothing that I really do fear because she has been so appropriate. She was the perfect surrogate.

LUDDEN: Susan stays in touch, texting and sending baby photos. Whitney and Ray are thinking of a visit for the twins' first birthday.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And while many parents and surrogates resolve the tensions in their relationships, laws that affect those relationships are still developing. Tomorrow, Jennifer Ludden reports on a legal debate over surrogacy. With multiple people involved in creating a child, who qualifies as a parent? You can hear that on WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.