An infant named Virginia, born to a Fairfax surrogate mother, was conceived through an unusual bond of friendship.
Unlike the celebrated "Baby M" case, in which surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead signed a contract to receive $10,000 for delivering a baby, the Fairfax woman who delivered Virginia last month at Alexandria Hospital received no money. She said she carried the baby for a friend who was born without a uterus.
"It made me feel a little guilty that such a good friend could not have children," said the Fairfax woman, who asked not to be identified by name. "I have a child and pregnancy was easy for me . . . . I didn't have any problem with doing it."
Her Massachusetts friend, who also asked that her name not be published, said blue-eyed, brown-haired Virginia, who came home from the hospital on Christmas Eve, is alert and "looks just like my husband."
"I'm great, the baby's wonderful," she said yesterday. "I've known since I was 15 that I could not carry a baby . . . . The baby is beyond my wildest dreams."
Unlike most babies born to surrogate mothers, who are conceived when the sperm of an adoptive father is joined with the egg of the woman delivering the child, Virginia was carried by a Fairfax woman with no genetic link to the 8-pound, 13-ounce baby. Born Dec. 21, the infant is referred to only as "Virginia" in court papers and now lives with her biological parents in Massachusetts.
Ovum implantation, or embryo implantation, as this procedure is known, has been successful two or three times in the country, according to Wulf H. Utian, the doctor who pioneered the procedure and worked with the four parents (including the Fairfax woman's husband) involved in this case. Because this type of birth so rarely occurs -- one in which the biological mother did not deliver the baby -- a hearing in Fairfax County Circuit Court will be scheduled in the next few weeks to determine the legal parents. Until then, the baby's birth certificate remains blank.
Utian, in a phone interview from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Cleveland where the embryo was fertilized and implanted, said that while regular surrogate parenting -- when the delivering mothers' own eggs are used -- is relatively simple, ovum implantation is much more complicated.
"What we are doing here is obtaining the egg from the mother, getting the sperm from the husband, and then fertilizing them in an incubator outside the body," Utian said. "Then we transfer the embryo into another woman."
Both women must be placed on precisely the same menstrual cycle for the procedure to work.
The two mothers said the idea first came up during a May 1986 dinner celebrating the Massachusetts' woman's completion of her master's degree in engineering. The Fairfax woman, with the consent of her husband, offered to be the surrogate mother.
"We thought they were crazy," said the biological mother. But after consulting medical doctors and psychiatrists, she decided to pursue the pregnancy.
"I had concerns because I was dealing with a friend," she said. "I thought she might be depressed after the birth or that the delivery would be horrible."
But at 9:48 p.m. on Dec. 21, Virginia was born, with both couples in the delivery room. The mother from Massachusetts was the first to hold the child.
Dr. Stefani Filak, the Fairfax physician who delivered the baby, said protein blood tests have determined, with 99 percent accuracy, that the Massachusetts couple are the biological parents. These tests will be submitted to Fairfax County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Middleton along with depositions from all four parents.
Susan M. Hicks, a Fairfax attorney for the surrogate mother, said the court is asked to rule "that the biological parents are the legal parents," not a simple ruling because Virginia law has no provisions for surrogate parenting.