The Baby Chase

From the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love comes a riveting narrative about surrogate pregnancy from both sides of the equation—the parents and the gestational carrier.

Once considered a desperate, even morally suspect option, surrogacy is now sweeping headlines, transforming the lives of celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman and Elton John, and changing the face of the American family. But how much do we really know about it? And is it really as easy and accessible – emotionally, financially, legally and physically – as magazines make it out to be? We often hear about successful outcomes, but little about the journey – about the precious hope that starts it all, the ups and downs of finding a surrogate, the heartache and obstacles, the risks and expenses at every step, or the unbelievable joy when years of determination pay off. In The Baby Chase, acclaimed writer Leslie Morgan Steiner weaves three stories together — of a nurse, a firefighter, and the Indian gestational carriers and doctors who helped them — to provide one intensely personal look at what makes surrogacy so controversial, fascinating, and in some cases, the only ray of hope for today’s infertile parents-to-be.

Rhonda Wile and her husband Gerry struggled for years with infertility. With perseverance that shocked everyone around them, they tried every procedure and option available – unsuccessfully – until they finally decided to hire a surrogate. While surrogacy was being touted as a miracle for hopeful parents, for Rhonda and Gerry, it seemed an impossible and unaffordable dream. Until they came across the beaming smile of a beautiful Indian woman on the internet… and, within a few short months, embarked on a journey that would take them deep into the emerging world of Indian carriers, international medical tourism, and the global surrogacy community.

Moving, page-turning, and meticulously researched, this complex human story is paired with an examination of the issues—religious, legal, medical and emotional—that shapes surrogacy as a solution both imperfect and life-changing.

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“Surrogacy is as old as the Bible,” one American surrogate mother tells her critical mother-in-law. “We’re just helping other people have babies. It’s a beautiful thing.”Leslie Morgan Steiner seems mostly to agree. In her new book, “The Baby Chase,” Steiner tackles some of the legal, ethical, religious, and social thickets that arise when people use advanced reproductive technology, including the uterus of a stranger, to make a baby for themselves.But while offering some acknowledgment to the controversies surrounding surrogacy, the author comes down firmly on the side of prospective parents who’ve found themselves out of medical options and stymied by adoption red tape. For them, “infertility can become an insurmountable, intensely personal, crushing” burden, one intensified by religious condemnation, social ignorance, and financial strain.Steiner’s book tells the story of one such couple, Rhonda and Gerry Wile, whose quest for parenthood led them to one of India’s hundreds of surrogacy clinics, where women serve as surrogate mothers in exchange for life-changing money. Although Indian surrogates receive only a fraction of what their American counterparts do, their paycheck of around $5,000 is more than many Indian workers make in four years.For the Mumbai slum-dweller who decides to serve as a “Special Woman” in the parlance of Surrogacy India, the arrangement is embarrassing, isolating, if potentially lucrative. Because one of the prerequisites for the job is to already have given birth, they are leaving behind their own young children when they move into the company’s building for the entire third trimester.A thorough, sensitive reporter who gracefully narrates the stories of the Wiles, their doctors, and their surrogates, Steiner seems less adept at managing the scientific details — for example, frequently using “implant” in place of the more standard “transfer” when discussing the passage of embryos into a surrogate mother’s body. When she argues that gestational surrogacy is increasingly popular with prospective parents because the surrogate is “not biologically related” to their future baby — well, that can either seem like a fumbled attempt at the more accurate “genetically related” or it can remind you of the marketing materials for a burgeoning industry.The occasional slide from journalism into a kind of advocacy is even more jarring; worse is Steiner’s apparent empathy gap. The Canadian-turned-American Wiles, a nurse and a firefighter, truly do sound lovely but their extremely sympathetic portrayal only makes Steiner’s treatment of surrogates — especially the Indian surrogates, women who come, we are repeatedly reminded, from a country with “too many babies” — more unsettling. What’s most attractive about gestational surrogacy, Steiner argues, is the way “the surrogate can vanish like chalk erased from a blackboard.”By the time the Wiles decide to pursue parenthood via surrogacy in India, Steiner’s authorial vision has narrowed to such a degree that she describes the deadly 2008 attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai (which left 166 people dead) mostly in terms of “the pain of having their baby cradle invaded by terrorists.”In the end, one wishes this book offered more of what its subtitle promises: how surrogacy may be transforming the American family (and the non-American families touched by it, for that matter). Why are so many American surrogate mothers (like the one quoted above) military wives, for instance? How and when do mothers and fathers raising their own genetic offspring talk to their children about having been part of a surrogate birth? “Infertility remains a cruel and unfair affliction,” Steiner writes; sadly, her focus on the pain felt by infertile couples edges out some of the bigger picture.

The Boston Globe

"Steiner (Crazy Love, 2009) overlays the story of Rhonda and Gerry Wile—an Arizona nurse and firefighter whose search for children led them to surrogate pregnancy—on an emotionally heightened, journalistic overview of infertility and the options available to prospective parents.With the help of Surrogacy India, a commercial surrogacy agency, and a mother from a Mumbai slum, the Wiles became parents after discovering they could not have children on their own. Steiner alternates between the basics of their meeting, marriage and journey toward parenthood overseas with reproductive facts, explanations of traditional surrogacy (in which another woman’s egg and uterus are employed), in vitro fertilization and its early history, and gestational surrogacy (in which one woman’s egg is implanted in another’s womb). Noting barren women of the Bible as examples, as well as celebrities who have used IVF and surrogacy, Steiner appeals to a popular demographic to craft a personable account of the hope surrogacy can offer.This well-intended effort is hindered by dramatic comparisons, such as the turmoil of infertility being likened to the pain felt by parents whose children have been kidnapped. In descriptions of Rhonda, purple prose intrudes, as when Steiner addresses her contemplation of her desire for children, scanning the horizon 'like a crime victim trying to recall an assailant’s features for the precinct sketch artist,' or when she learns of a neighbor's pregnancy and responds 'like a rabid coyote baring its teeth.'Still, the author effectively touches on the complications of surrogacy—including its economic, legal, ethical, psychological, and societal ramifications—in clear, informative ways. She also offers insights on some of the controversies, from religious perspectives to the lack of coverage for surrogacy by many insurance companies.A brisk account of one family's determination and of a burgeoning, international solution."

Kirkus Reviews

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Motherlode Must-Read: ‘The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy Is Transforming the American Family’

“The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy Is Transforming the American Family,” by Leslie Morgan Steiner, was among the best books on…

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Who Becomes a Surrogate?

There are often “have” and “have not” differentials at play in the surrogate-intended parent relationship. The surrogates already have the…

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Infertile Americans Go to India for Gestational Surrogates

Rhonda and Gerry Wile of Mesa, Ariz., struggled with infertility for years. At first, Rhonda failed to get pregnant because…

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‘The Baby Chase’ by Leslie Morgan Steiner

“Surrogacy is as old as the Bible,” one American surrogate mother tells her critical mother-in-law. “We’re just helping other people…

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