Ada Greenberg, a trim, attractive Jewish social worker with a practice in Queens, New York, does not fit the profile of the typical “surrogate mother”. She is 35 years old, single and did not receive payment for bearing another woman’s baby four years ago.
She did it because “There was just something inside of me that told me I should carry life … [but] for many, many years, I have felt that I do not want to have the responsibility of being a mother and of parenting.”
So in June 1984, after 37 hours of grueling labor with adoptive mother Lynne Schwartz-Barker in attendance, Greenberg gave birth to a son, Eamon Samuel Schwartz-Barker. Then she gave the baby away to his new mother saying, “Lynne, take your baby.”
Greenberg’s surrogacy began and ended long before the Mary Beth Whitehead case exploded in the media, but the issues that plagued that well-known case were absent in Greenberg’s. In fact, Greenberg’s surrogacy was different from most others in several important respects: she had never borne a child before; she was not married; she had no written contract with the couple for whom she bore the child; and she took no payment for her services. “My word is my bond,” she emphatically states.
That bond began when a colleague of Greenberg’s confided that her daughter-in-law, Schwartz-Barker, had had three miscarriages, the last of which almost killed her. The Schwartz- Barkers, who live in West Virginia, had given up all hope of bearing a child and had begun exploring other options. After hearing this story, Greenberg wrote to Lynne Schwartz-Barker suggesting that she act as the biological mother.
Schwartz-Barker’s first reaction was: “Are you crazy?” Later, after in-depth correspondence, she became convinced that surrogacy with Greenberg was a viable alternative to the couple’s infertility. In fact, it was Schwartz- Barker, and not her husband, who was the first to be attracted to the idea of surrogacy. “Jerry’s ego was not involved in this at all. It was Lynne who felt very strongly that she wanted to parent Jerry’s genetic child,” says Greenberg.
Once Greenberg met the Schwartz- Barkers, she knew the situation was perfect. “Lynne came to the same ‘knowing’ that I knew, that this was right for us, and that we were being presented with nothing more than a perfect opportunity,” Greenberg explains. Greenberg was artificially inseminated in the comfort of her own home using a glass tube, with the Schwartz-Barkers present. Her pregnancy was uneventful, though she says she suffered from terrible morning sickness for the first three months. Though at first her parents were shocked at Greenberg’s decision, they were very supportive throughout the pregnancy; she claims to have lost only one disapproving friend over her pregnancy.
Greenberg has visited the Schwartz- Barkers on several occasions in West Virginia, and like a typical mother, she boasts about what a “terrific kid” Eamon is. In fact, she states: “The truth is, we are a family…. There are very deep-seated relationships: mine with Lynne — I could not imagine being closer; mine with Jerry; my irrevocable connection with Eamon. Genetically I have a responsibility to him, on all levels.”
Greenberg has no regrets. She wasn’t — and still isn’t — ready for parenting, she says, but she was ready and grateful for the pregnancy and birth experience. “[When I was pregnant] there was a calmness and a singular sense of satisfaction with life and such a sense of being special. So special, special in a way that I’ll never know again.”
Now a counselor for infertile couples and an active proponent of surrogacy, Greenberg sees her choice as a big step forward for feminism. “I am pro-surrogacy, absolutely, unequivocally, whether it be for money or not for money, whether it be a matter of becoming involved in impending legislation. I am [also] pro-adoption, pro-abortion. I am pro-the-right-to-choose.”
An articulate, sometimes outspoken woman, Greenberg has had to address many issues surrounding her surrogacy, not the least of which is how she, as a feminist, feels about the well-documented rebukes of other noted feminists, particularly Phyllis Chesler, who has said that surrogacy is just the latest manifestation of a “very ancient patriarchy that gives men rights over the bodies and lives of women.”
Greenberg, citing that it was the mother, Lynne, who was at first the most enthusiastic about the prospect of surrogacy, disagrees; furthermore, since she took no money from the Schwartz-Barkers, by choice, the notion of slavery seems ludicrous to her Instead, she sees a connection between her desire to be a surrogate and her Jewish identity.
“The Jewish people have a zest for living, for life, for survival. I mean, the State of Israel wasn’t born just out of a needing for a land, it’s a kind of survival, it’s a special, emotional, deep-seated psychological wanting to survive, to be a part of this world, to have a place. My surrogate relationship isn’t any less than that. It is a wanting, a need, a sense of survival. It is making a contribution, having a sense of knowing that there is something more I have done than just walk the earth, earn a living and counsel people…. It’s something much more — the gift of life.”
The fact that Lynne and Jerry Schwartz-Barker are an intermarried couple — Jerry is not Jewish — was not a problem for Greenberg because, she says, they both have a religious regard and respect for the dignity of life and want Eamon to have the same. “That is the pure sense of Judaism anyway,” she adds.
Valid as these thoughts may be, the question must still be asked: how can a woman part with an infant she has carried in her womb for nine months? Greenberg admits that she suffered some postpartum depression, and that she wept in the weeks following the birth, but, she claims, “these were not feelings of ‘I miss my baby’. I never viewed this child as mine. I viewed him as the most serious responsibility I’d ever had in my life up till then [but it was] time-limited.”
“Hopefully,” she said, “Eamon will consider me a good friend. He will be told” about the surrogacy when the Schwartz-Barkers feel he is old enough to understand.
In this, as in all other areas, Greenberg defers to the people she calls Eamon’s “real parents.” They alone will decide how to raise him, how or whether to educate him religiously; they will make all decisions about his education and his life. And while she concedes that she would offer advice if asked, Eamon is to her the adored child of other people, not her own son.
Luckily, Eamon was born healthy, but, Greenberg says, she and the Schwartz-Barkers had agreed that as long as she took good care of herself during the pregnancy — did not smoke or drink and tried to live as stress-free a life as possible — they would assume all responsibility for the child, even in the event of some kind of genetic defect.
“The truth of it is that Eamon was conceived out of love of three people, rather than two, as other children are usually conceived. We can only hope that Eamon will come to a place where he can understand the kind of love and the nature of the relationship of the adults and the importance of him in our lives and the significance that he holds for us. As Jews, when we toast, we say, ‘to life.’ And Eamon is a toast to life!’
Sara Nelson is a New York-based freelance writer whose work appears frequently in many national women’s magazines.