Surrogate mom, mother hail Nobel winner

  • Tue Oct 5th, 2010 10:44pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

It was way back in 1978, but Colleen Maier clearly remembers when the first test-tube baby was born.

“I remember the headlines, reading the story in The Philadelphia Inquirer — and never realizing this would affect our family,” she said.

Maier, 47, and her husband, David, live in East Norriton, Pa., near Philadelphia. They have four children, 8-year-old triplets Bridget, Christopher and Dylan, and 13-year-old MaryKate.

They also have an extraordinary bond with a Lake Stevens area family, the Fetherstons.

In 2001, Marcy Fetherston served as a gestational surrogate for the Maiers.

When the Maier triplets came into the world on New Year’s Eve 2001 at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital, it was Fetherston giving birth.

“I cannot carry a baby,” Colleen Maier said by phone Tuesday from Pennsylvania. Her sister carried the Maier’s first child.

In 2003, I met and wrote about the Maiers and their babies when they visited the Fetherstons with their 18-month-old triplets. I thought of them Monday when this year’s Nobel prize winner in medicine was announced. The winner is Britain’s Robert Edwards, a pioneer of in vitro fertilization. The 85-year-old professor emeritus at University of Cambridge developed the technique with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988.

Louise Brown was the first baby born through in vitro fertilization — in which a woman’s eggs are removed, fertilized with sperm outside her body, and implanted into a womb. After Louise’s birth on July 25, 1978, her creation was explained to the world by Edwards. “The last time I saw her, she was a beautiful eight-celled embryo,” as Time magazine quoted him.

Since 1978, millions of people who have experienced fertility difficulties have become parents thanks to in vitro fertilization. Citing the Nobel medicine prize committee, the Associated Press reported Monday that about 4 million babies have been born using the process.

The Maiers’ story is more complicated than most. Marcy Fetherston and Colleen Maier met through a surrogate motherhood website. The triplets’ embryos were created from the Maiers’ eggs and sperm at the Cooper Center for In Vitro Fertilization in Marlton, N.J., and transferred into Fetherston’s womb.

Washington state law does not allow payment to a surrogate mother. Health care and travel expenses can be covered. Marcy Fetherston said she wanted to become a surrogate after watching a story about surrogacy on television when she was a teenager.

The Fetherstons worked with an adoption attorney. It was important that the babies be born in Pennsylvania, where state law puts biological parents’ names on a birth certificate.

However unusual their children’s beginnings, the Maier household is now a busy place where the normal needs of kids come first.

“They’re in third grade, all in separate classes,” Colleen Maier said Tuesday. “So it’s third-grade homework times three. And they’re all playing soccer, on the same team.”

Christopher and Dylan are identical twins. “My mom still can’t tell them apart,” Maier added.

The Maier children have always been told that their mom wasn’t pregnant with them. “They knew from the very beginning,” she said. “Sometimes it’s kind of confusing. Dylan was saying last year that kids in his class said he was adopted. But the kids do seem to get it.”

What they also get is a cross-country friendship with another family. Maier said the children’s relationships are much like close cousins.

Marcy Fetherston said Monday that she harbored hopes of helping another woman have children even before having her own family. She and her husband, a firefighter with the city of SeaTac, have a 21-year-old son, Casey, and daughters Hannah, 17, and Tatum, 15, who attend Lake Stevens High School.

The Fetherstons have been to Pennsylvania many times, and the Maiers have been several times to Lake Stevens. In August, they all vacationed together at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

“Christopher and Casey kept going on Star Tours,” Fetherston said. The triplets aren’t hers, but her bond to them is unbreakable. Everybody’s healthy, Fetherston said, “but Bridget has a peanut allergy.”

Both mothers are pleased that the man lauded as the father of in vitro fertilization won a Nobel prize.

“Many people have benefited through this advance,” said Maier, who was in a hurry to pick up kids from school.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,