If she were doing it for the money, it would be a pretty poor part-time job, says Karen Hill, a surrogate mother who gave birth to a girl for another couple on March 30.
But it wasn't the money--a $10,000 fee for agreeing to bear a child for an infertile couple. It was, Hill said, because she enjoyed being pregnant and wanted to help a couple who couldn't have a child experience the joy of parenting.
She liked it so much, she added, she's doing it again--for the same couple, Vicki Van Valer and Happer Campbell of San Jose.
"Yup, " Hill said over the phone from her home near Riverside. "We had been approached by an attorney representing another couple to become a surrogate. I was talking to Vicki one night and told her all about it."
The next day, Hill said, Van Valer's husband, Hap, "called and said they didn't want to take advantage of us, but if I was willing to be a surrogate again, they wanted to know if I would do it for them?" They wanted their daughter to have a sibling.
Hill and her husband, Jon, a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, said definitely.
The two couples had become close during the entire surrogate process--Hill being artificially inseminated with the biological father's sperm, visits to the obstetrician with the adopted mother, the birth--and the 10 months since. The two women talk on the phone frequently, said Hill. And when the biological father--Hap--is in town, "We play golf," says her husband, Jon.
Both couples credit the Surrogate Parent Center in West Los Angeles, run by Dr. Nina Kellogg, a psychological counselor, for helping make such a perfect match. The couples were carefully screened before they even met.
"That some couples who do this don't even meet" until the baby is born is criminal, said Van Valer.
She points to the Baby M surrogate custody dispute as an avoidable tragedy. "It takes a very special person to be a surrogate, and Mary Beth Whitehead was definitely not meant to be one," she said. If she had undergone the proper psychological screening, that would have been obvious, Van Valer believes.
Van Valer, 41, tried for eight years to become pregnant before deciding to seek a surrogate.
The adoptive mother, who quit her job as vice president of her husband's construction company to go back to school last year, said she identifies with the women's movement. Feminists, however, are among the groups that have denounced surrogate parenting as a rent-a-womb operation for the rich that exploits the poor.
It would be "unconscionable" to engage as a surrogate a woman who was doing it just for the money, said Van Valer. But Hill, a real estate agent, is not that type of woman, she says.
She adds: "I would have to ask feminists, and other people in general, if any of them are infertile and want to have children? There is no greater grief."
Van Valer says the women's movement was, in great part, about women wanting to have control of their own bodies, their own lives. "It really boils down to Karen and me. It's a woman-to-woman thing." And if it works for them, and no one is being exploited. "That's what matters."