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Test-Tube Mother: It's Not Just a Job : An 'In Vitro' Surrogate Parts With a Baby Who Was Never Her Own

July 30, 1987|ITABARI NJERI | Times Staff Writer

Melia Josephson gave birth to a girl last week. She is partial to baby girls, she admits. But after carrying her for nine months and holding the child for less than a day, she gave the baby away. The reason: Josephson is neither genetically nor legally the child's mother.

Melia Josephson is the ultimate human vessel. Her baby was conceived by another woman's egg, fertilized in a laboratory, then transplanted to Josephson's womb.

The 7-pound, 3-ounce child, whose birth is to be publicly announced at a press conference today, was born at San Antonio Hospital in Upland on July 23. Josephson thus became only the third known surrogate mother in the world to deliver a "test-tube" baby.

The process by which the child was conceived--in vitro fertilization--blends cutting-edge reproductive technology with the already controversial practice of surrogate parenting.

Not surprisingly, it raises profound legal questions. Because California law states that the woman who actually gives birth to the child is its legal mother, motherhood had to be redefined in Josephson's case, explained attorney William Handel, whose Center for Surrogate Parenting Inc. in Beverly Hills brought the surrogate and donor couple together.

Birth Certificate

Last month, Handel asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to allow the genetic mother, the woman who donated the egg, to be designated as the mother on the birth certificate. Otherwise, he said, she would have been required to adopt her genetic child.

The judge agreed, only the second time any judge in the country has done so, Handel said. "No real legal precedent has been set here," he said, "since the case is not at the appeals level. But California courts do influence decisions in the rest of the country."

Melia Josephson is a slightly built redhead whose palpable spunk, ready giggle and all-American good looks trigger images of Gidget--even in her pregnant state.

A few days before the child was born last week, she and her husband, Mark, sat in the den of their new Moreno Valley home near Riverside. As they talked, their own three children dashed through the house to the backyard, where the installation of a swimming pool was nearly complete.

Josephson is being paid $10,000 in installments, for being a surrogate, and the money is being used as a down payment on the pool. "The pool costs a lot more," she said, calling it a "gift to my family" for supporting her through the surrogate process during the last four years. Some of those years were tense, the couple admitted.

Her desire to become a surrogate mother began after the birth of her last child, Josephson explained. She and her husband had agreed that their third child would be their last. He had a vasectomy.

But her pregnancies and deliveries had been so easy, and the joy of holding a helpless newborn "totally dependent on me" so profound, that she longed to have another child.

"I didn't actually do anything about those feelings for the first year" after her last child, Ashley, was born, Josephson said. "About 1983, I said, 'I've got to do something about this."'

Called Every Doctor

She got out the Yellow Pages and called every doctor she thought might know something about surrogate parenting. But none had any information. She told all her neighbors, "I'm thinking about becoming a surrogate, but I can't find anybody who knows about it."

Then one afternoon, a neighbor called and told her to turn on the "Donahue" television show. It was a program about the merits of surrogate parenting versus adoption. William Handel, the attorney with the Beverly Hills surrogate center, was one of the guests. Josephson called him after the show.

At the time, the center's surrogate program did not use in vitro fertilization. All their surrogate mothers were artificially inseminated, as in the widely publicized Baby M case in New Jersey. In other words, the surrogates' own eggs were fertilized in their bodies with sperm from prospective fathers.

Josephson's husband balked. "My initial response was negative," said Mark Josephson, a 30-year-old contractor who owns a wall-covering business. If she had gone ahead, "We would have been divorced."

"Even to this day, I do not agree with that method (artificial insemination)," he said. "When a woman is inseminated with another man's sperm and she's giving half that baby away, it's half her baby. I couldn't give my baby away to anybody."

The 10-year-old marriage already was under strain. In 1981, Josephson had reluctantly dropped out of Brea Police Academy at her husband's insistence. He didn't feel she could be a cop and a mother, she said. "When it came down to him or my job," her husband won hands down, she said. "But I did have to compromise."

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