NEW YORK — Mary Beth Whitehead-Gould, four months pregnant with her fifth child, throws up in the bathroom as the sun goes down.
"Morning sickness, day and night, with all my babies," she says when she's finished. "It's a cross I have to bear."
Her fourth child, 9-month-old Austin, crawls on the kitchen floor with the Shetland sheep dogs. Her first child, 14-year-old Ryan, skateboards in the street outside. Her second child, honey-blond Tuesday, 12, flops in the front room with Jube Jel Cherry Candy Hearts, watching TV. And out in the kitchen, the world's most notorious surrogate mother, munching now on a bag of Fritos, remembers the beginning of Baby M, her third child, a feisty green-eyed girl who calls herself Sassy.
'Help the World'
"Bill Stern would go into a little room and come out in a few minutes holding his semen in a cup," she says. "I really wanted to have that baby. I thought it was a way for me to help the world, you know. Boy, was I stupid. They'd inseminate me and I'd lie there with my feet in the air for 45 minutes. I'd stand on my head almost, because they told me it would make it easier for me to conceive. I had the baby, getting sick, all the pain, nursing her. What did Bill Stern do? He put some sperm in a cup."
Melissa Stern, the product of that cold conception in a Manhattan high-rise, will be 3 this month, and she will celebrate her birthday twice. She will have a party at her home in Tenafly, N.J., with her father, William Stern, a biochemist, and his wife, Elizabeth, a pediatrician. Melissa will have a second celebration later with her mother, in this house on a half-acre in Bayport, Long Island.
Life's little pleasures are multiplying behind blue shutters in Bayport. Mary Beth Whitehead isn't a New Jersey girl anymore. She lives in the storybook house she always wanted. She is divorced from Richard Whitehead, the former garbage man who married her when she was 16, fathered her first two children and then had a vasectomy because their doctor told him to.
She has a new husband: Dean Gould, 27, who's four years younger than she. He is the comptroller for Management Consultants International, a Long Island real-estate management firm. She has a new baby and another one due in the summer. She has written a book telling her side of the Baby M case, and she was to start a 22-city tour to promote the book today. Next month she turns 32, happier and a little smarter.
"A lot of people see me as a heroine. A lot of people see me as a whore. OK, I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes. I'd do a lot of things different if I could. I'd never, ever, get involved with surrogacy again. It's so weird. It's like going for your yearly."
She is standing in bright-yellow socks, under a mushroom of L'Oreal medium brown that hides the gray in her hair. She's laughing toward a couple of ceramic rabbits that seem to be sniffing the Wonder Bread; the rabbits are two of 93 that romp in paper, plastic, glass, cloth and wood in the kitchen decor. "Most people have a child in a natural way, get the bottle of champagne, maybe put on a sexy nightgown. Me, I don't have to do that. You know what I'm saying? I'm not as green as I used to be."
Sin on Seaman Avenue is a pint of rum raisin Haagen-Dazs in the freezer.
"People wanted me to be like the Madonna, the white nun, you know, and that's not me. But I'm no villain. People come out of prison and aren't treated like I've been treated. I didn't kill anybody. I didn't violate anybody's rights. My rights were violated. Nobody likes to be hated, but the whole world hated Mary Beth Whitehead."
The woman they attacked in the highly publicized court case as impulsive, egocentric, histrionic, narcissistic, manipulative and exploitive is religious in the sense that the church she doesn't attend much anymore is Catholic. Heaven is a cedar-shake house with a baby on her breast.
"After what they did to me, I felt like there was nothing left for me. When I met Dean, I was just waiting to die. He made me alive again. . . . A lot of people said Dean was sent from heaven, and he was. And you know what? He never wanted kids. Now he has a tribe."
Mary Beth Messer, the sixth of eight children, stopped going to school when she was 15, was married and pregnant at 16 and a mother at 17. "All my life I had wanted to be a mother," she writes in her book, "A Mother's Story: The Truth About the Baby M Case" (St. Martin's Press). "I had grown up believing that the purpose of my life was to have children."
First came Ryan, then came Tuesday two years later. Before dawn on the day her first son was born, the teen-aged mother waited for her pains to come three minutes apart. "I lay awake all that night, alone, beside my drunk husband and beside an empty cradle," she writes. "I was beginning to understand that my life as a wife and mother was not going to be what I had always thought it would be."