As couples go, Debbie and Phil Vibber and Stacey and Dave Beehler are very close. The men have worked together as long as they can remember, and the women have been best friends since they met through their husbands 11 years ago. Their children -- six collectively -- are so comfortable with one another that they all seem like one big family. And with good reason: The couples are connected in a way that goes to the heart of true friendship.
The story of their amazing bond began in the Phoenix suburbs in the mid-1990s, when the Vibbers and the Beehlers were each trying to start a family. Debbie got pregnant right away. First came Justin, now 6, then Jordan, 4. "I loved being pregnant," Debbie, 31, recalls. "I was never sick and had easy deliveries. I even loved maternity clothes!"
Her best friend wasn't quite so lucky. Though she'd been trying for years, Stacey wasn't able to conceive. When she finally managed to get pregnant with the aid of fertility drugs, she miscarried at six weeks. "I was very disappointed, but at least I knew I was able to get pregnant," says Stacey, who's 36.
She soon realized, however, that staying pregnant was the problem. She got pregnant ten times, mostly with the help of fertility drugs, but for undetermined reasons, she miscarried every time.
Debbie's easy pregnancies just underscored Stacey's troubles. "I was happy for her because I knew how much her family meant to her," Stacey recalls. "But there were times I'd wake up in the middle of the night wondering, 'Why not me?'"
Debbie sympathized with her friend's difficulties, and in 1998, after a series of heart-to-heart talks with Phil, made an extraordinary offer: She volunteered to be a surrogate mom for the Beehlers. "Phil and I loved having children, and both of us wanted the same thing for Stacey and Dave," Debbie says.
But it wasn't until almost two years later that the Beehlers seriously considered the proposition. Stacey and Debbie talked at length about every possible thing that could go wrong. Stacey was concerned that Debbie might become attached to the baby or get depressed when she went home with empty arms. For Debbie, that wasn't an issue. "I knew this wouldn't be my child," she says. "And that was fine: I already had my own kids."
She did have other concerns, though: Debbie worried how the surrogacy would affect her own family. And she was concerned that she might miscarry after the Beehlers spent thousands of dollars on the in vitro fertilization of Stacey's eggs. Still, the reality was that surrogacy was the only shot the Beehlers would ever have for a biological child -- and Debbie was the best person for the job.
In July 2000, Debbie and Stacey both began complicated fertility treatments to prepare for the surrogacy. First, they synchronized their menstrual cycles with hormone injections. Next, they each had to get daily shots to shut down their normal hormone production and to prepare Debbie's uterus for the embryos. Then Stacey needed more hormones to stimulate her egg production. Finally, Stacey's eggs were retrieved, fertilized with Dave's sperm, and incubated for 36 hours before being implanted in Debbie's uterus. "When I was going through the treatment, I kept thinking, 'Boy, I'll be glad when this part is over' because I hate shots!" jokes Debbie. Little did she know at the time the problems that lay ahead.
For one thing, getting pregnant wasn't as easy as the women expected it would be. It took two costly attempts at in vitro before an embryo was implanted. "I'll never forget when Debbie called the doctor for the results of her blood test," Stacey says. "I was nervously waiting until I heard her scream, 'We are?' I knew right away that she was pregnant."
After a rough six weeks of morning sickness and complete exhaustion, Debbie went in for her first sonogram. As with every visit, Stacey and Dave were there with her. The three huddled in the examining room, eyes fixed on the ultrasound screen. They waited silently as the doctor rolled the transducer over Debbie's belly and watched for a heartbeat.
"I hear one," he said softly. "Wait, now I hear two. No. Make that three. Four. There are four babies!"
The Beehlers were speechless. "We had talked about the possibility of having multiples," Stacey said. "But the thought of quads never occurred to us." Only a few months earlier it looked as if they might never have a baby, and now they had four. Debbie, meanwhile, panicked. "I burst into tears," she recalls. "I was excited for Stacey and Dave, but terrified about how I would manage to carry four babies."
After the initial shock, Debbie relaxed and concentrated on taking good care of herself and the babies. Except for some nausea and heartburn, carrying quads was the same as carrying one child, she thought. However, at 20 weeks, she realized there was a big difference. During a routine exam, the doctor discovered she was starting to dilate and have contractions. If the babies were born this early, they might not survive. She had to be hospitalized immediately.
As it turned out, Debbie was severely anemic and the contractions stopped as soon as her iron levels were stabilized. Nonetheless, the doctors insisted she remain in the hospital for the next 12 days for observation. "It was trying," Phil admits. "But we kept reminding ourselves that this was something we wanted to do for our friends."
Stacey was sensitive to their concerns. "Knowing that I caused Debbie to be away from her children was the hardest part of the pregnancy for me," she says.
When Debbie was finally allowed to leave the the hospital, she was confined to bed for the rest of the pregnancy. Finally, Stacey got the chance to repay a little of her friend's generosity. Every morning when Phil left for work, Stacey arrived for her job. She spent the day at the Vibbers' home: cooking, cleaning, and playing with the children.
Debbie had one main task: to take good care of herself until the babies could be delivered by cesarean section at 34 weeks.
Stacey had been awake for hours with a stomachache when the telephone rang at just past midnight on June 6, 2001. Debbie's water had broken a few minutes earlier; she was 32 weeks pregnant and in labor. Within minutes, Stacey, Dave, and Debbie were in a hospital room surrounded by more than 20 doctors and nurses.
At 6 a.m., Debbie was wheeled into the delivery room, and three hours later, it was all over. Kylee (2 lbs. 15 oz.), David Austin (4 lbs.), Michele (4 lbs. 3 oz.), and Shiann (4 lbs. 2 oz.) had made their debut. "We couldn't believe how big and healthy they were," Stacey recalls. "I cried as I saw each one of my babies and kept saying to Debbie, 'Thank you, thank you! Thank you, for making me a mom.'"
Because they were premature, the quads were immediately sent to the neonatal intensive care unit, where they got IV feedings for their first few days. Michele was on a ventilator for three days, and she and David Austin needed medicine to help their lungs develop. But after just three weeks in the hospital, four perfectly healthy babies went home to the cheery nursery Stacey and Dave had waited so long to prepare.
The couple can count on one hand the nights they've gotten more than four hours of sleep since the birth. Their days are pretty hectic too. "Taking care of four babies is exhausting," Stacey says. "But the good outweighs the bad. I think I was destined to be the mother of quads because I truly love it."
Carrying four babies and then handing them over to someone else might strain even the best of friendships. Yet the experience has only strengthened the unusually close bond between the couples.
"If someone does something for you because she expects something in return, it has no meaning," Stacey says. "What Debbie did for me was completely selfless. She made me a mother -- and I'll forever be grateful. She's an exceptional person, and I feel incredibly lucky to have her as my friend."
If you're considering surrogacy, here are some things you should know. A surrogate can become pregnant in one of two ways: She can have her own eggs artificially inseminated by the father's sperm, or she can have another woman's artificially inseminated eggs implanted in her uterus. The latter, which is called gestational surrogacy and involves in vitro fertilization, costs around $10,000 per attempt. Artificial insemination of the surrogate's eggs costs about $5,000. Most insurance policies do not cover either.
When surrogacy is arranged through an agency, the surrogate is generally paid for her services. She might undergo psychological screening to determine her motivation and whether she can cope with being pregnant and giving up the baby.
Laws regarding surrogacy vary from state to state. Some require parents to legally adopt the child, even if it's biologically theirs. Others ban for-a-fee surrogate arrangements completely. Consult an attorney for the laws in your state.
Copyright © Melba Newsome 2003. Reprinted with permission from the March 2003 issue of Parents magazine.