Barbara Sofer

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The Human Spirit: Bearing a baby for another


March 20, 2015

A neighbor, a woman in her 80s, was born to a surrogate. When her mother couldn’t get pregnant, a young woman was brought into their otherwise straight-laced household in the Old City of Jerusalem; she left after she gave birth.

“That’s the way it was done back then,” my neighbor told me.

Have you ever had a surrogate fantasy? I can remember thinking of my own. My now-adult children were toddlers, and a dear friend was running the gauntlet of fertility treatment with no success. How easy would it be to have a baby for her? Not easy, of course.

For Y, a young woman I met recently, doing this for another couple went beyond a good-hearted fantasy.

I met her recently in Hadassah University Medical Center’s Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower’s gynecology department. She’d just given birth, but Y wasn’t in the maternity department where mothers recover after birth. Another woman was there: The woman who will be the baby’s mother.

Y is cheerful and open about the experience.

She and her husband wanted to do this good deed, and they have succeeded.

He’s sitting near her bedside; they’re getting ready to go home without the baby who grew in her womb for nine months.

“We’re not conflicted,” she insists. “I knew from day one that this was Nurit’s baby.”

She doesn’t say “Nurit,” actually. She uses the real name of the woman, 45, who with her husband – let’s call him Tomer – had been trying to get pregnant for 12 years.

“I’d first read in a magazine about a woman who had been a surrogate and was impressed by the enormity of what she’d done,” explains Y, pretty and hazel- eyed. “By coincidence, one of my cousins had turned to a surrogate after many failed attempts at getting pregnant.”

Nurit and Tomer married in their early 30s, both with academic and hi-tech careers. When she didn’t get pregnant right away, she wasn’t surprised; sometimes it takes a little longer when you’re in your 30s. But then they began fertility treatment. They’ve lost count of the number of times she was pregnant. Not a single ultrasound showed a heartbeat.

Her own heart and Tomer’s were devastated.

By the time she turned 40, she’d accumulated a thick medical file, but they hadn’t given up. The couple realized they’d need a surrogate to carry their baby. In the fertility unit, one of the nurses wrote down the name of a local “shadchanit” for couples and surrogates.

Enter Y, a psychologist and therapeutic horseback riding instructor, married to G, an electrical engineer. “We were fortunate – it was easy to get pregnant when we wanted to, and the pregnancies were smooth, with short, natural childbirth. Obstetricians kept telling me I was in the special category of women who have perfect pregnancies and easy childbirth.”

They’d had two daughters very close together and were going to wait a few years until the girls were a older to have more children of their own.

In the meantime, she could have a baby for someone else.

She phoned a few of the numbers of agencies listed on the Internet, but preferred the same shadchanit that had been recommended to Nurit.

She discussed it with G, of course. At first, he was shocked and horrified. How could they give away a child? He loved being a dad. But the more he thought of it, the more he understood how painful it would be for others deprived of parenthood.

He wanted to go along with his wife’s heroic desire to do something special for someone else. And, yes, they both had relatives who had died in the Holocaust and maybe that was in the back of their minds, too.

The matchmaker suggested they meet Nurit and Tomer. Their heartbreaking saga of disappointment clinched their decision.

There were complications. Y would have to go to abroad because it would involve a foreign ovum.

Although the Knesset has passed a law legalizing egg donation, in practical terms the supply of donor eggs in Israel is so small most Israelis cannot find a donor.

“When I learned that I’d have to go to the Czech Republic for the procedure, I knew I couldn’t go alone,” says Y. “G and I decided to go for a trip, leave our children with the grandparents, and see beautiful Prague.”

Just before they were about to leave, they learned that there was an additional complication. Only a single embryo had thrived – there are usually a number from which to choose – and the procedure would be iffy.

“We decided to go for it,” recounts Y.

“We were already psyched.”

Off they flew. Except for the few hours in the clinic, the rest would be vacation.

They’d have to wait 10 days to see if the pregnancy took.

Back in Israel, Y couldn’t wait. On the ninth day, she bought a home pregnancy kit. The pink double stripe meant she was pregnant.

Should she tell Nurit? Of course.

The next day, with her husband, Nurit and Tomer in the office, the ultrasound at Hadassah confirmed the good news.

Y was pregnant with Nurit and Tomer’s baby. The little heart was beeping on the monitor.

As an act of faith, Nurit and Tomer went out and bought a crib.

Y was used to easy pregnancies, and did her prenatal check-ups in her neighborhood clinic. But now Nurit came with her, watching the baby grow.

How do you explain to the children that Mommy is pregnant but that she won’t be bringing a baby home? How do you tell your parents? A counselor was helpful with such questions. “My girls are little, but I told them that something was wrong with Nurit’s tummy, so Mommy was using hers to help her have a baby.”

And then the day came. Nurit and Tomer, who live outside Jerusalem, nearly missed it because of a snowstorm.

In the end, they were there for the first cry – as a beautiful 3.8-kilogram baby boy was born.

Y moved over to the Davidson Tower, and Nurit took her place in the nursery.

Rows of little bassinets filled with beatific newborns coo and sleep and yelp, giving off the sweet perfume of babyhood.

One mom is rocking a baby and singing softly. She’s tall and wearing slim jeans. She’ll stay here with the baby until all the paperwork comes through.

She’s not interested in going anywhere, and unlike the other mothers in the maternity ward, she’s not tired.


Y and G are on their way home. They stop in the nursery to say goodbye. Y holds the baby for a moment and then hands him back to his mother. “I can’t thank you enough,” says Nurit. “Our dream has come true.”

Y and G leave smiling. They’re holding hands.

New legislation and modern technology have made this possible, of course.

Still, there’s no replacement for the old-fashioned loving-kindness of a measure that’s hard to imagine.



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