JILL SMOLOWE, NATASHA STOYNOFF,
February 27, 2003
“This is the place where babies are made, families are formed, hopes and wishes and dreams are realized.”
- Mission statement of a California fertility clinic
Eight hands are on Deborah Bolig’s bulging stomach, searching for signs of two kicking 5-month-old fetuses. “Which one is on the left?” asks former Good Morning America host Joan Lunden. “The boy,” Bolig answers. “He’s been kicking a lot more than the girl.” Again, all eight hands probe. “The babies have been a little quiet this morning,” she adds. “As soon as things quiet down, they will wake up.” While Bolig’s husband, Pete, looks on proudly, Lunden wraps the pregnant woman in a hug as Lunden’s husband, Jeff Konigsberg, drapes a protective arm around Bolig’s shoulder. “Deborah tells me everything that’s going on,” says Lunden with giddy delight. “When you have a really nice relationship with the surrogate and her husband, it’s great.”
For many fans, who cheered the blonde dynamo on through three pregnancies during her 17 years cohosting GMA and sighed contentedly when, eight years after a bitter divorce, she wed Konigsberg, the big surprise is that Lunden has chosen at 52 to build on her brood of three grown daughters. “Even before I met Jeff, I really wanted to find somebody who wanted to have a family,” says Lunden, who has written two parenting books. For men and women battling fertility problems, the bigger headline is that Lunden and Konigsberg, 42, are enjoying such a happy, stress-free experience with surrogacy, a word that often conjures up images of heart-wrenching custody battles. “You usually only hear about surrogacy when there’s a horror story,” says Lunden. “Word needs to get out that it is a viable option if done safely and correctly with a good agency so everyone is protected.” As for Lunden, whose current gig as host and producer of A&E’s Behind Closed Doors has included rock climbing and skydiving, the prospect of twins seems a great adventure. “I’m not the typical fiftysomething. I don't even have a second thought about it,” she says. “I’m choosing a lifestyle where I will have a couple of little ankle biters chasing me around for the next 10 years. I want it!”
If all goes according to plan, on or around June 9, Bolig, 42, also a mother of three girls, will give birth in Cincinnati to twins with whom she has no genetic connection. Konigsberg provided the sperm; a different woman (perhaps Lunden -- she declines to say) provided the eggs. Embryos that resulted from in vitro fertilization (IVF) were then implanted in Bolig, the “gestational surrogate.” Lunden and Konigsberg, who at this point are called the intended parents, will be on hand for the delivery, at which point they will become the actual parents, with only their names listed on the birth certificates. Why are they so confident about a happy ending? “This,” says Lunden, “is a journey that started quite a while ago.”
In November '96, to be precise. By then Lunden, recovered from the 1992 collapse of her 13-year marriage to TV producer Michael Krauss and still months from her bruising ouster by GMA execs, was ready again for love. Seated in a suburban deli, she spotted Konigsberg. “He had this great smile,” Lunden recalls, “and I said, 'Why can't I meet a nice man like that?' ” A moment later Konigsberg, who owns and directs children’s summer camps in Maine, walked up to her table. “There was an unbelievable instant connection between us,” says Lunden. The relationship progressed quickly. A few months later, she says, “I did a fertility test, just to make sure. You want to know what your options are.” The tests indicated that pregnancy was still a possibility.
After they married in April 2000, they turned immediately to IVF to try to get Lunden pregnant. “I think we went through five attempts,” says Lunden. “They were disappointments, obviously, and big ones. I love being pregnant, and I wanted to do it so Jeff could have that experience.” About a year ago, Konigsberg told her, “I really think time is of the essence.” Hoping to maintain a biological connection, they decided to investigate surrogacy first. “Adoption wasn't the next step for us, which is funny because my brother Jeff is adopted,” says Lunden. After doing research on the Internet and speaking with friends who had enjoyed positive surrogate experiences, they made an appointment at the Center for Surrogate Parenting (CSP) in Encino, north of Los Angeles. The choice of venue was deliberate: unlike most states, California favors the intended parents should a custody dispute arise.
During six hours of interviews with the center’s staff, the couple voiced their concerns. “How can you be assured that (the surrogate) is clean-living and not smoking or drinking?” Konigsberg asked. Lunden wondered, “Do you have to worry about the person keeping the baby?” Their concerns eased when they learned that each month CSP screens hundreds of applicants, from which only six are selected. “The surrogates have had their own biological children, and they are financially solvent,” says Konigsberg. “The center makes sure everyone is on the same page.” After discussing how much contact the pair wanted with the surrogate before, during and after the birth, the staff decided Bolig was the best candidate for them.
Then Lunden and Konigsberg needed to convince Bolig that they were the right couple for her. “We sat down and wrote Deborah a letter,” says Lunden. “I was nervous.” She needn't have been. “In the letter the overall feeling was that they loved children,” says Bolig. Last August Lunden and Konigsberg traveled to Cincinnati. “Talk about the ultimate blind date!” says Lunden. Both women remember feeling an immediate bond. “Once I got over 'Oh my God, it really is Joan Lunden,' I forgot they were a high-profile couple,” says Bolig. “I thought they were a really loving, wonderful couple.” Pete says he found them “extremely down-to-earth and easy to talk to.”
Over the course of that lunch, Lunden and Konigsberg realized that Deborah, a proofreader for a bookbinding company, was in this for more than the roughly $22,000 she will earn as a CSP surrogate. (For Lunden and Konigsberg, the tab will be closer to $65,000 when medical and legal costs are factored in.) She told them that at 25, she first read about surrogacy and “knew that I wanted to do it.” So much, in fact, that prior to marrying Pete in 1988, she expressed her interest. Last February Deborah delivered twin boys for a British couple. “At the birth, I felt such pride,” she recalls. “I just created a family for them!” Lunden says she and Konigsberg “liked that Deborah had gone through it before, understood it, knew what she was getting into.” Lunden left the lunch convinced that “Deborah would take care of these children like they were her own.”
Pete’s support was also critical. “You need to have the right kind of spouse who’s going to really embrace this,” says Konigsberg. “He has the responsibility of taking care of their three daughters and making sure his wife is comfortable.” Their early impressions of Pete, 49, a corporate health and safety project manager, have been borne out. “He’s very protective of Deborah, Joan and me,” says Konigsberg. Pete says, “I get the benefit, by marriage, of being around.”
On Oct. 10 at a hospital near L.A., Lunden held Deborah’s hand as the embryos were transferred to Deborah’s uterus. “Jeff left the room when we actually did the stirrup thing,” Lunden says, laughing. Relations grew intimate so quickly that both were in the room for the first ultrasound on Nov. 7. “Deborah was lying down,” Konigsberg recalls. “The doctor said, 'Would you like to hear the second heartbeat?' And I said, 'We're having twins?' I looked at Joan. ... I gave Deborah a kiss. ... Then, I kissed Joan.” Says Lunden, with a laugh: “He didn't know who to kiss first!”
Since then the couples have been in constant contact. The women speak daily; the husbands exchange e-mails. “Joan,“ says Bolig, “is easy to talk to because she remembers what it’s like to be pregnant.“ Lunden knows all about her surrogate’s first 12 weeks of morning sickness and her ongoing heartburn, as well as the twins' every kick and hiccup. “She really gives me a sense of the pregnancy,“ says Lunden, “so I can enjoy the experience.“
Lunden’s daughters -- Jamie, 22, Lindsay, 19, and Sarah, 15 -- are also getting a vicarious thrill. “Lindsay says, 'I want to go pick everything out with you,' “ says her mom. As for Sarah, the only one who still lives at home, “She’s really psyched she’s not going to be the youngest anymore.“ All three daughters, says Lunden, will make great babysitters. “This experience has made our family that much closer,“ says Konigsberg. “At a time when these girls are gaining independence, this has been an experience where they have been able to come back to the nest.“ While the Boligs' girls (Alexandra, 14, Victoria, 12, and Kate, 11) understand that the babies are not their siblings, they too are delighting in the pregnancy. “They’ve said they are proud of me,“ says Bolig. “They tell their friends, ’my mom’s a surrogate.' “
Back home in suburban Connecticut, Lunden and Konigsberg have already picked out cribs and changing tables, though not names. For the last month they’ve been practicing late-night feeding shifts in their six-bedroom modern house. “I'll say, 'Honey, you get a good night’s sleep -- tonight I'll take care of the twins,'“ says Konigsberg, smiling. “So when they actually arrive, it will be Joan’s turn.“ As they look ahead to the delivery, they talk about the day they'll tell the twins about their origins. “I’m going to say, 'Kids, your mommy needs to tell you something,' “ Konigsberg jokes. “Not only will we tell them,“ says Lunden, “but hopefully they'll meet the Boligs at some point. Our hope would be that Deborah and Pete remain part of our lives and connected to us forever.“
-- JILL SMOLOWE
-- NATASHA STOYNOFF in Cincinnati