While Ring's case never went to trial and didn't set any precedents, it illustrates the kind of disturbing chaos that is emerging in the wake of reproductive technology's aggressive advance. To say that the legal system is struggling to keep up with the high-tech baby-making business is to understate the enormity of what the courts are being asked to address. Motherhood now can be divided into three aspects—genetic, gestational, and social—while fatherhood can be split into genetic and social components. And although hiring a surrogate was once an unusual step, the arrangement is gaining popularity, along with a snare of painful ethical dilemmas still to be worked out.
For Ring, being declared the twins' legal mother that day in court brought tremendous relief. "I made a promise to those babies when they were in my womb that I'd find them a good home," she says. Now that was possible.
Twenty-five miles away in the San Fernando Valley, Robyne and Harry, who want to keep their last names private, were having a difficult time. After ten in vitro fertilization attempts, two miscarriages, three failed donor attempts (two using a gestational surrogate), and 16 frozen embryos in storage—at a total cost of $150,000—they had called it quits on pregnancy. When a friend from Robyne's infertility support group said she'd heard a weird story about twins and a surrogate, Robyne figured it was just another disappointment lying in wait. Reluctantly, she applied to adopt the twins.
Three weeks later, her luck turned. The phone rang, and Ring was on the other end. "I'm holding the twins, and they're calling to say good morning to their new mommy and daddy," she announced. After meeting Robyne and Harry in person, Ring had come away impressed by their warmth and passion for a family. ("You could really tell that their arms were aching for a child—or two," she says.) At Robyne's house, pandemonium broke loose. "My whole family was crying and screaming," she says. "Everybody was out of their minds." Robyne and Harry even offered, after the adoption was in place, to reimburse Ring the $22,000 Matt and Jackie owed her for her surrogacy expenses—and Ring took them up on it.
One year later, the twins, who have been renamed, are walking all over the place. The dark-haired girl just happens to look a lot like Robyne, while the fair-haired boy bears an uncanny resemblance to Harry. Someday they'll want to hear the story of how they were born. "Susan, you'll always be part of our life," says Robyne, sitting with Ring in an ornately decorated suburban living room. "And when my kids are old enough, it will be easy to say Mommy's tummy was broken and Susan was our special angel who helped us."
And if the kids want to meet their biological father or brother, Robyne says she'll support them. After a moment, however, another thought comes to her, perhaps closer to her true feelings. "Because my family is so loving," she says, "I hope my children will feel that they've gotten as much love as they possibly can and will never need to go anywhere else."
Susan Ring couldn't be happier. She'll never enter another surrogacy arrangement without finding out as much as she can about the intended parents. Recently, through her agency, she found a couple she liked. She's trying to get pregnant again.
For more information on Susan Ring and surrogacy issues, check out the documentary Bloodlines (available at PBS.org/bloodlines).
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