Having a family is the dream of many couples, but for some it remains just that – a dream. At first that͛s what Penny and Walt Dobritt of East Orlando thought. ͞”We already knew it was not going to be something that happened easily for us”, says Penny. ͞”We were up against a lot, but we were determined.”
In 1999, Penny had her first child, Michael. During her pregnancy, she found out she had Von Willebrand’s, a rare disorder that caused her to almost bleed out while giving birth to her son. Against the advice of her doctor, Penny, an optimist with a never-give-up attitude, had another baby 14 months later. After the birth of her daughter, Kaylie, she had a uterine ablation and a tubal ligation so she would not be able to carry another baby. While she wasn’t necessarily happy with her choice, it seemed like the only one she had given her health issues. Then life threw a monkey wrench in Penny’s plans: Her marriage to her first husband ended.
Down the road, she met Walt, fell in love, and they got married. They wanted to have a baby of their own, but with Penny’s previous surgeries, the reality of having their own child didn’t looking promising. That is until Penny’s friend, Elizabeth*, offered to carry their baby for them. ͞”It was the single most loving thing I think anyone has ever offered to do for me,” says Penny.
When Your Options Run Out
Dr. Sejal Patel, who specializes in fertility and reproductive medicine at the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Orlando and Celebration, was the couple’s fertility doctor. Without commenting on the Dobritt’s specific case, Dr. Patel says surrogacy and egg donation is a viable option for couples that have particular infertility issues. ͞”Women who want to have a baby with a low egg reserve, advanced reproductive age, uterine disease, or other fertility issues may use egg donation or a gestational carrier as an option to become a parent”, says Dr. Patel. ͞”It is not the option for everyone. It all depends on what are the fertility issues.”
When dealing with infertility, the first step is to check for a male factor. This test is normally less invasive and can be ruled out quickly. There are a number of tests mothers-to-be must go through. If it is a matter of eggs or uterus or both, a woman may require one or more medical interventions. In dealing with a case like Penny’s, the issue was very clear. Penny’s eggs were healthy, young and fertile. So, too, was Walt’s sperm. Making healthy embryos (fertilized eggs) did not seem to be a problem. Where those embryos would grow and eventually become their baby was the big question.
A Friend in Need
After seeing her own sister go through the heartbreak of infertility, Elizabeth already knew that if her sister needed someone to carry her child, she was ready and prepared to do it. So when her sister learned of her pregnancy, it was easy for Elizabeth to be there for her good friend Penny.
“I wasn’t using it (my uterus) and I knew Penny needed it, so of course I was going to do it”, she says. ͞”People would say, ‘Wow, how could you do that?’ I just kept thinking, ‘How could I not?’ I mean here’s my friend who just needs someone to carry her baby. It’s not like this is my baby. I’m not giving away my baby. Although I will say it was a little hard to let go, but not really hard. I mean I’d been with her for eight months, but I never once thought of her as mine. I was just her aunt. Her loving aunt that wanted to make sure she got here, safe and sound, so she could meet her parents, who loved her very much.”
Even Walt and Penny, while extremely grateful to Elizabeth, don’t seem to think of their situation as that far-fetched. ͞”We looked at adoption and even IVF in general and the finances were about the same. And here we had someone who was willing to help us,” says Walt. ͞”We were extremely lucky. We know that. But I think something like this [surrogacy] will stop being such an out-there idea. It’s just a solution for a medical issue.”
Making the Best Decision
Penny says she would have had a harder time trusting, or even knowing how to pick, a complete stranger to carry her daughter, who is a healthy, happy 10-month-old named Paige Lily. ͞”I have seen the sites where you can find a surrogate. They scared me. But I know other women don’t have any other option. All I have to say to those moms is: Be careful. Get a really good lawyer and get to know your surrogate.”
Each state has different laws in place to protect families when using donated eggs, donated sperm or a gestational carrier. Jennifer Englert, a lawyer with The Orlando Law Group, PL, in East Orlando says the most important thing to consider when choosing a surrogate is to make sure that the surrogate is thoroughly vetted. ͞”If you are diligent on the front end, it saves a lot of problems…
Reputable surrogacy services have criteria the surrogates must meet. I would never recommend using a surrogate without a screening service.”
Dr. Patel highly recommends that when the intended parents are not able to use their own eggs, sperm or embryos that they use anonymously donated material rather than from someone known, even if they are a family member. In those cases, a legal document is a must. Of course, whatever a family chooses for its solution is something that must be thoroughly thought out, Dr. Patel adds. ͞”We, as doctors, have a responsibility that everyone involved is given all the information available to make an informed decision on what is right for their family.”
She says even though surrogacy can be intimidating, there are miracles every day. Families who never thought it possible are now having children and reaping the benefits of modern science and a woman͛s deep love and selfless gift: The gift of life.
*Name changed to protect her anonymity.