|BY JULIET FLETCHER AND MARY JO LAYTON
Kim Christian knew when she was 32 that she could not bear children. For the next decade, she and her husband, Dan Rominski, saved and planned for fertility treatments.
“We’re positive people, with a positive outlook,” Rominski said recently.
So the Montvale couple gambled — legally and medically. They crossed state lines to make a deal with a 30-year-old Illinois woman who agreed to bear a child for them.
They found Kristie Taylor through a broker, choosing her from others through interviews and questionnaires “like personality profiles,” Rominski said. They trusted Taylor with their own fertilized embryos, which she carried to term — twins, they all discovered.
Taylor gave birth last November to Maxine and Hawkins, but she said she never felt like she was their mother. She was a “gestational carrier” — the eggs were Kim Christian’s, not hers.
The practice of using gestational carriers sidesteps the ethical dilemmas raised by surrogacy, proponents say, which played out in the New Jersey legal battle over Baby M, in which the birth mother was the biological mother. But “carrier” deals in which money changes hands are not legal in New Jersey.
Supporters hope they soon will be because they say they are informally happening already. State lawmakers are advancing legislation to allow formal agreements between prospective parents and New Jersey women who receive paid expenses if they carry fertilized embryos to term.
“These are entirely their babies — they’re not mine in any way,” Taylor said. “So it would be selfish, really selfish, of me to see them that way at all.”
“This was what worked for us,” said Christian, now 44, who lost her womb to a hysterectomy but found that fertility technology had advanced by the time she and Rominski wanted to try a carrier. “We saved for this for years.”
“After so long, to stand in the hospital operating room, being allowed to wash the babies and dress them, we were treated immediately as the parents,” Christian said recently. “We were overwhelmed.”
With costs including broker fees and medical expenses, a carrier pregnancy is estimated to cost most couples as much as $100,000. “The whole process costs as much as a mortgage,” said Rominski, who runs his own business, a martial-arts dojo.
The number of babies born to gestational carriers nearly doubled to 1,448 nationally from 2004 to 2010, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, which represents 85 percent of fertility clinics nationally.
In New Jersey, 12 babies were born to gestational carriers, according to 2010 data proided by fertility clinics in the state, the society reported. The number could be higher, however, because it doesn’t include births in which donor eggs from a third party were used, said Eleanor Nicoll, a spokes¬woman for the society.
The growing acceptance and advances in in-vitro fertilization and other treatments are allowing countless couples and singles to become parents. Even celebrities are going public to thank the women who bore their children — Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick and Mitt Romney’s son and his wife, who announced earlier this month that a gestational carrier gave birth to the couple’s biological twin boys.
But opponents and even some supporters say the contracts are not legally enforceable in New Jersey.
The attorney William S. Singer, who has counseled about 100 couples in surrogacy contracts, warns his clients that their legal protections are limited.
“Although we have a contract, I can’t tell you a court will enforce it,” he said. “It could go bad for either side.”
A coalition of social conservatives and feminists, led by Harold Cassidy, who fought for the birth mother’s rights to her baby in the Baby M case, have attacked the legislation which permits the deals. New Jersey never banned surrogacy in the wake of the 1988 ruling that decided the case. Cassidy says the bill fills that void, allowing for-profit surrogacy without safeguards.
“This is radical,” Cassidy said last week. “No state comes close to doing what this would do.”
Rominski and Christian say their story is proof that New Jersey couples are already making those arrangements and crossing state lines to take those legal chances.
“We had to know her that well, that we knew her outlook on life, her moral compass — all of that was important,” Rominski said of Taylor.
The three each signed papers — Rominski and Christian agreeing to cover all medical expenses that could spiral, while Taylor signed a court order declaring her rights to the child would be voided at birth.
Those formal contracts are a departure from the current channels for surrogacy — which is arranged through advertisements on the Internet, through word of mouth, even within families as relatives long to help siblings or gay family members and their partners who can’t conceive in arrangements known as compassionate-carrier agreements.
“It’s happening every which way you can imagine,” said Debra E. Guston, a lawyer in Glen Rock who represents couples that need such contracts to help start a family. “It’s happening here in New Jersey if not daily, weekly,” Guston said. “The problem is everyone is working in a setting that is unregulated.”
A costly route
Many New Jersey couples seek carriers outside the state, especially in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, believing the laws ensure more parental rights, attorneys say. That increases cost and anxiety, Guston said, because many carriers bond with the prospective parents through prenatal visits and frequent contact throughout the pregnancy.
The costs can be staggering — $75,000 to $95,000 if the woman seeking to become a parent uses her own eggs, experts say. If donor eggs are needed, singles or couples can expect to spend $120,000 to $150,000, said Diane Hinson, founder and senior attorney at Creative Family Connections, a Maryland-based company that matches surrogates and parents.
The so-called match fee alone can cost $15,000 to $20,000 and includes finding a suitable carrier, who must undergo extensive medical and psychological testing.
For Rominski and Christian an added cost was the many round-trip flights to visit Taylor in Illinois throughout the pregnancy. Because hormone treatments rely on synchronizing the two women’s fertility cycles, the tickets were often booked at only two days’ notice.
“Last-minute bookings could cost $1,000 or $2,000 each,” Rominski said. “You get to $20,000 in travel alone pretty quickly.”
The process includes a significant amount of hormonal treatment. The carrier and egg donor, usually the mother, must match their menstrual cycles perfectly because the embryo is implanted in the carrier within days of the mother’s intended ovulation. There’s also risk in multiple pregnancies, which is common in assisted reproduction.
In cases in which a family member agrees to be a carrier, costs drop significantly. Parents can expect to pay $30,000 to $60,000, Hinson said.
Some proponents of carriers and surrogates questioned attacks on the New Jersey bill, especially from feminists who say it is exploitative of women.
“People should be interested in a system that allows families to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives,” said Sean Tipton, director of public affairs for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “For some families, this is the best way to build their families. You want to have a regulatory structure that ensures it’s safe and fair and everyone understands what they’re getting into.”
Rominski and Christian built their own structure — from the fertility treatments to the contract with Taylor, even preparing for the journey home from the hospital. They chose to drive Maxine and Hawkins home from Illinois, covering more than 1,000 miles in the snow to bring their family back to New Jersey.
“Every little thing that maybe you might take for granted — driving to the hospital, giving birth, bringing the babies home two days later — every little decision has to be thought out ahead of time,” Christian said. “But at a certain point, you have planned all you can.”