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 family from 2013. I’ve been meaning to share it with you for some time, and Amy Klein’s post about donor eggs (“Would a Pregnancy Through a Donor Egg Feel Like ‘Mine’?”) and the resulting discussion of the medicine and ethics of egg donation, and in particular overseas egg donation, provided a perfect opportunity. If you’re at all curious about egg donation and surrogacy (in fact, if you’re just a curious reader at all), “The Baby Chase” makes a fascinating read.

The author takes a Tracy Kidder approach, using a strong voice and a personal narrative to frame the larger story of the history of surrogacy (which incorporates the history of donor eggs) and its place in fertility medicine today. It’s not her story she tells, but that of Rhonda and Gerry Wile, and of the Indian doctors and surrogate who ultimately (after an agonizing journey through every failure imaginable) help them to create their family of three children.

As a fan of memoirs, I appreciate the weaving of fact into a narrative, but “The Baby Chase” works better without the autobiographical burden. That the writer isn’t her own subject here gives her enough distance to offer the reader a picture of surrogacy as a whole, rather than as a solution. This is a book about parenthood, fertility and biology, but not necessarily in that order.

Every question is covered: the mechanics of surrogacy, the choice of a donor egg, the process and medical issues surrounding egg donation, the selection of a surrogate — and, of course, the ethics of it all. By telling the stories of both the surrogates who ultimately carry the children and the doctors who’ve created the clinic where the Wiles ultimately find success, as well as the story of the Wiles themselves, Ms. Steiner gives the reader a chance to hear the positive assertions of the benefits of surrogacy to the surrogates — and to draw her own conclusions based on the lived experiences of the women, which aren’t entirely positive or entirely negative. “The Baby Chase” delivers on the promise of the best journalistic nonfiction. It’s a captivating glimpse into a world and a journey most of us will never experience.