HACKENSACK, N.J. — A distraught surrogate mother, facing loss of the baby she agreed to bear for $10,000, threatened to kill herself and the child rather than give her up, according to a tape recording played in court Wednesday.
The cries of the infant, known in court as Baby M, were in the background as Mary Beth Whitehead pleaded for forgiveness for changing her mind about the contract, under which she agreed to be artificially inseminated with William Stern's sperm and bear his child.
The conversation demonstrated the bitter tug-of-war between Whitehead and Stern that has developed into the first court test of the legality of surrogate parenthood contracts.
"Bill, it's my flesh and blood, just like yours," Whitehead said on the tape, made while she was a fugitive in Florida.
She mentioned harming herself or the child at least three times. In one exchange, she said: "I gave her life, I can take her life away." She also told Stern: "I'll tell you right now, I'd rather see me and her dead before you get her."
Phoned From Florida
Stern secretly taped the 40-minute conversation on July 15, when Whitehead called from a hide-out in Florida, where she fled with the child, disobeying a court order obtained by Stern and his wife, Elizabeth. She was on the run for nearly three months before authorities found her and returned the baby to the Sterns.
Whitehead told reporters Wednesday that she never really considered killing the baby or suicide. She said she made the threats only to scare Stern away.
"I guess there were threats, but I didn't mean them like threats," she said. "That's the only leverage I had. Every avenue I had at that point I had to try."
Judge Harvey R. Sorkow is considering the validity of the surrogate contract and whether custody of the 10-month-old girl should go to Stern and his wife or to Whitehead and her husband.
Both Lawyers Agreed
The tape was introduced as evidence by the Sterns' attorneys, who have been trying to convince the court that the Whiteheads lack the emotional and financial stability to raise the child.
The Whiteheads' lawyer, Randolph Wolf, also advocated playing the tape. He said the court could hear that Whitehead was not serious about the threats.