By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Would you like to be a donor?" Stern suddenly asks in the course of her interview. "I know a couple that would like you." She stops, as if regretting what she has just said. "Your tape recorder isn't on, is it?"
Stern isn't the only one who's worried about what she should or shouldn't say.
"Gladys" opens the door to her home in her upper-middle-class neighborhood. "Pardon the mess," she says of the cracks evident along the dining-room wall. The gumbo foundation of her home, she explains, has been shifting these past few years.
It has been four months since she brought her infant boy and girl home from the hospital. That first week she had them, she never could distinguish their cries. When one woke at night, she would jump out of bed, uncertain which twin was calling out for food, for the comfort of a parent.
A parent. For 16 years, she longed to fill her home with the sound of her own child. Now, on this morning as she takes a seat in her living room, she hears the cries coming from the upstairs bedroom. And she doesn't wonder. She knows, just by the depth of the noise, which one wants her.
"That's the boy," says Gladys, a slim woman of 40 with large blue-green eyes and chin-length red, wavy hair. Soon, her daughter adds to the sound.
"Well, she's fussing more than him," says her husband, coming down the stairs with his 4-month-old girl whimpering in his arms. He hands her to his smiling wife, whose fair skin matches the child's.
"I'll show you pictures of me when I was this age," she tells a reporter with whom she has agreed to discuss how medical science--and an anonymous woman's eggs--helped her start a family. There are some conditions, though: She doesn't want her real name, or her family's, printed. About where she lives, she will only divulge that it's in the Dallas area.
As for how her twins came to be, the only other people who know are the couple's respective mothers. "It was basically my husband's decision," says Gladys, whose small, pinched nose with slightly flared nostrils gives her an intense look at times, especially when she's talking about her experience with infertility.
"Maybe they'll treat them differently," she says of the rest of her family, whom she has told a half-truth, that the children were born through in vitro fertilization, the "test-tube baby" technique of extracting eggs and fertilizing them outside the body. She just hasn't mentioned that it wasn't her eggs.
Sitting on a sofa, she feeds her baby with a bottle filled with formula that has sustained her children because her own breasts couldn't supply milk.
"We tried herbs and everything," she says of her failed attempt to produce the needed liquid. "Yeah, good stuff," she coos, holding the bottle and looking into her baby's eyes.
"You forget that they're egg donor [babies]," she says. "For so long I had prayed that I would hold my own child." She looks up. "Well, I am holding my own child."
She reaches for an envelope on the table near her. In it, there's a black-and-white photo that her aunt recently sent her, showing Gladys when she was a baby. The resemblance to her egg-donor daughter is uncanny: the same fair skin, the same high forehead, the same wide-set eyes.
Still, when she gave birth to twins through Cesarean section two months early, she wasn't prepared for the family and friends who soon gushed about how her new babies looked just like her.
"A part of you wants it really to be yours. It's a hard thing to give up your genetics," she says, lowering her voice and looking to the side. "Once in a while you wince and go, 'Oh, they won't have my grandmother's eyes, my dad's brother's sense of humor, my aunt's musical talent.'
"Who knows?" she adds. "They may have musical talent."
As far back as she can remember, she wanted to be a mother and, when she married at 24, she was certain that parenthood was imminent. There were those yearly visits to the doctors who always told her that she had plenty of time to have a baby, that if she just relaxed from her stressful work as an executive assistant at a law firm, nature would take its course. At first, she believed that time was on her side. She had only to look to her family background for assurance; one grandmother gave birth to her last child at 39, another to hers at 46. Hoping that the same fate awaited her, she quit a couple of high-pressured jobs. She charted her body temperature for so many years, she could wallpaper a room with the sheets. When, on vacation in Cozumel, a local told her she had come to the isle of fertility, she and her husband returned there nearly a dozen times. No luck.
The couple had accomplished all they had hoped for in their careers, and three years ago, they moved into a new home. But something was missing: parenthood. She knew her life had to change.