By Gail Franklin – Centre Daily Times, February 24, 2008
Jennifer Oyler — Photo Credit: CDT/Nabil K. Mark.
|State College resident Jennifer Oyler realized she had a rare gift when her first two pregnancies came easily and instead of morning sickness she felt healthy and alive.
“We were so lucky, and you start to think what if we weren’t so lucky?” she said. Oyler, 37, realized this was a gift she could share.
In Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Tom and Laura Thibeault had just been told after years of trying to conceive that they were both fertile but would never be able to get pregnant.
They decided to see what it would take to find a woman willing to use their DNA to help them have a child. Last year, the married mother of two and the young couple in their late 20s found each other after they registered online at the same surrogate agency in Pennsylvania.
Laura Thibeault had interviewed, and rejected, other willing surrogates, but during her first phone conversation with Oyler, she said knew she had found the one.
“We had the same ideas on things we would and would not do in regard to pregnancy,” Thibeault said via e-mail. “It just felt right and so we moved ahead full steam.”
Some of the very personal details the couple and surrogate agreed on included not wanting to test any fetus for the genes that might cause any number of disorders. And if a pregnancy resulted in more than one baby, they agreed, they wanted them all.
Oyler underwent in-vitro fertilization, and three of the couple’s embryos were implanted in her womb. “I remember I joked with them that I was going to give them triplets,” Oyler said.
On Feb. 1, she did just that, giving birth to two boys, Aiden James and Christian Thomas, and a girl, Brenya Rose. The Thibeaults are listed on the birth certificates as the parents.
“When we found out it was triplets, we were shocked, to say the least,” Laura Thibeault said. “We were thrilled immediately after the shock wore off.”
Oyler, whose husband, Ted, is a financial planner, quit her job as a waitress in October but said the rest of the pregnancy was as easy as her others.
Premature births are common for multiples, and the Thibeault triplets were born a day shy of 32 weeks gestation at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.“Now they have their instant family,” Oyler said. “They definitely deserve it, and I feel blessed that I could do that for them.”
The newborns have been moved to a hospital near Saratoga Springs. Their proud father, speaking on a cell phone on his way to visit them, said they are healthy and could all be released from the hospital this week.
Tom Thibeault said the couple had considered adoption but learned it might cost as much as using a surrogate. And it was important to him, he said, to have a biological link with his children. He said he’d always wanted to be able to look at his child and see himself.
The Thibeaults looked for a “gestational carrier” in Pennsylvania for legal reasons. Alternative reproduction laws here are considered to be friendly toward intended parents, whereas in New York and New Jersey it is illegal to compensate a surrogate mother, aside from medical expenses, said Melissa Brisman, the Thibeault’s lawyer.
Brisman’s New Jersey law firm matches intended parents with surrogates, and she said she finds most of her gestational carriers in central Pennsylvania.
A gauge of the number of surrogate births in Pennsylvania is the number of court orders — more than 240 — issued over the past 10 years allowing intended parents to put their name on the birth certificates of babies born to surrogates.
That number is probably low compared with states with progressive laws such as Illinois, Texas or California, Brisman said, but higher than those with restrictive laws, such as New York and New Jersey.
Oyler, whose own children are ages 3 and 5, said there was never a question during the experience of whether she would change her mind about giving up the babies.
“I went into it knowing I was having a little exchange student for nine months and then I was giving them back,” she said.
When the Thibeaults traveled to witness her first ultrasound, she giggled while they cried with joy.
“I knew how they felt,” Oyler said. “But I never had the kind of attachment that I felt when it was my kids.”
Oyler said she got mixed reactions from people as they found out she was carrying triplets for someone else. Even her husband asked her if she was crazy when she first brought up the idea, she said.
“But he was on board with it, and he knew it was something I felt strongly about,” she said.
She said her 5-year-old son once explained the situation to a pregnant employee at his school as if it was a very normal occurrence.
“He went up to her and said, ‘My mom has babies in her belly, too,’ and then he paused and said, ‘But they’re not hers,’ ” Oyler said, laughing in her kitchen. “And that’s how he would explain it. He would say, ‘They’re Tom and Laura’s.’ ”
The Thibeaults kept in constant contact with Oyler during the pregnancy, she said, visiting often to help out and touch her growing belly. In fact, they became so close with Oyler and her husband that they asked them to become Aiden’s godparents.
“Every time we were with her she definitely included us in the process,” Tom Thibeault said. “I didn’t feel like we were on the outside of anything and for the last seven months we were like one big family.”
The Thibeaults were pleasantly surprised by their close relationship with the Oylers but said they weren’t prepared for the additional cost of having triplets.
They had budgeted $40,000, but in the end, it cost $70,000 for agency and legal fees, compensation for Oyler and medical expenses.
||“The hardest part was finding out that having multiples actually costs more, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run because our kids are priceless,” Tom Thibeault said. “You can’t put a price tag on having a family.”
The Thibeaults are now building an addition onto their home, with three bedrooms, of course, and said their community has stepped in with support.
As for Oyler, she said she enjoyed the experience but doesn’t plan to be a surrogate again.
“It was absolutely worth it,” she said. “I think Tom has not stopped smiling since Feb. 1.”