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Saturday, Apr 20 2013 06:00 PM

"Baked in Bakersfield:" Local family forms life-long connection through surrogacy

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Holly Chambers with her children. Chambers said she liked to see a more positive image of surrogacy in the media. “It’s all around just that surrogates are weird and intended parents are fanatics. You never just see a story where they come in and they have the baby, they give the baby over and they’re friends for life,” she said.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The Chambers family making deals in a friendly game of Monopoly. From left, Kelly, 11, Nick, 16, Katie, 15, Jack, 12 and mom Holly. Holly said she isn't embarrassed to talk about being a surrogate, but she doesn't volunteer the information because it happened so long ago and the conversation can turn into an ordeal when it does come up.

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    By Holly Chambers

    Linda Bortell, left, pictured with her son Adam Tardy and Holly Chambers, the Bakersfield surrogate who gave birth to Adam. Bortell and her family remain close to Chambers more than seven years after Adam was born. “I so wanted her to feel involved in his life,” Bortell said.

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    By Holly Chambers

    Adam Tardy enjoys a laugh with Holly Chambers, the surrogate who carried and gave birth to him, at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Valencia. “He’s like my nephew is how I really perceive him and that’s what it always was, you know that he’s just this special little boy that I get the honor of carrying,” Chambers said of her connection to Adam.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

Holly Chambers had all the children she wanted when she started to ponder having a baby for someone else.

"(My husband and I) had four kids (ages) 5 and a half and younger and it was crazy," she said. "We definitely didn't want any more kids but I kind of missed being pregnant."

The Bakersfield native broached the idea of surrogacy with her husband, Rob, in 2003 after she chatted with a surrogate.

"I think I said, 'No way,'" Rob Chambers recalled.

But Chambers' interest in surrogacy persisted. She waited, did her research and found a surrogacy agency she liked. In 2004, she brought up the idea again and this time, Rob agreed.

"It was something that was important to her and something she wanted to do, so eventually I came around to the idea," he said.

Chambers, now 41, applied to be a surrogate with the Center for Surrogate Parenting, an agency in Los Angeles, but she didn't tell many people what she was doing until she was well into the application process.

"I figured most people wouldn't understand why I would want to do that. I already would get all kinds of cracks about how many kids we had," Chambers said. "I just wanted to limit the hassle until it was a pretty real possibility."

 

'INFERTILITY HELL'

While Chambers was completing the steps to become a surrogate, Linda Bortell was struggling through "infertility hell."

Bortell, 50, a psychologist who lives in the Pasadena area, met and married her husband, Jock Tardy, in 2001. They knew they wanted to have children so they started trying to have a baby when they became engaged. Bortell took Chinese herbs and visited an acupuncturist hoping to boost her fertility.

But Bortell's initial fertility tests were excruciatingly painful and she endured four years of infertility treatment, trying everything from artificial insemination to a New Zealand healer.

Bortell became pregnant once naturally but miscarried. Eventually, in early 2004, she learned she could not carry a child. Bortell said her infertility was caused by medication her own mother took while pregnant with her to prevent a miscarriage.

The couple decided against adoption. Tardy worried he'd have difficulty attaching to a non-biological child. Bortell saw "the dark side of adoption" growing up with an adopted sibling with problems.

Bortell's mother took out a second mortgage on her home to pay for part of the surrogacy costs. The couple visited just one agency, the Center for Surrogate Parenting. Bortell described their initial interview as a bizarre speed dating-like experience where they met various agency employees involved in the surrogacy process.

"They were very comprehensive and they wanted you to understand everything," Bortell said.

When it came time to make a profile for potential surrogates, Bortell worried how her lack of craftiness would factor into creating an eye-catching profile. Tardy, who is black, thought surrogates wouldn't want to carry a black baby.

But Tardy and Bortell's profile appealed to Chambers when it arrived in the mail along with other couples' bios. They looked like "the kind of people you'd wanna hang out with at a barbecue. And that's what I wanted," Chambers said.

The Chambers drove to Los Angeles to meet Bortell and Tardy. Chambers had never been so nervous in her life. She couldn't breathe as she walked in to meet the couple.

But Chambers and Bortell quickly hit it off. They are both talkative, while their spouses are initially more reserved, Chambers said.

"We started right away getting the ball moving. It went as fast as it could," she said.

 

MY BABY, YOUR BODY

In February 2005, four of Bortell and Tardy's embryos were transfered into Chambers. One took.

Chambers and Bortell met for lunch one afternoon when Chambers was in town for a surrogate support group meeting. In a parking garage, she handed Bortell a positive pregnancy test.

Bortell took the test home to her husband and they cried, wondering if after four years of trying this was finally it.

Bortell dived into the surrogacy process, hosting a meet-the-surrogate party so her friend could get to know Chambers. Once Chambers started to see a local doctor, Bortell travelled to Bakersfield for Chambers' doctor appointments.

She cooked a cooler full of food for the Chambers' family before she drove up and brought gifts for the children each time.

"I was always trying to send her stuff. Things that smelled good, things that she would like, things that would make her happy," Bortell said.

Anything Chambers desired, Bortell got for her. Her mission was to make life as easy as possible for Chambers while she was pregnant. They talked daily, sometimes even more frequently.

When people commented that maybe Bortell was a little too involved, Chambers said she told them this was the least she could do for the mother of the baby she was carrying.

"She has to watch me carry her baby. She doesn't ever get to feel her baby kick inside her. She doesn't ever get to just experience pregnancy in general, which is so important to most women,'" Chambers said she would tell them.

Chambers said she knew Bortell wrestled with feelings of inadequacy and sometimes would become emotional -- but that she did her best to keep those feelings at bay.

For Bortell, it was odd to be expecting a baby but not actually be pregnant. One day she was standing in line at a Brentwood bakery while two pregnant women in front and behind her chatted about their due dates. Bortell was also expecting a baby but, "felt like I couldn't join in that conversation and it was weird," she said.

The process wasn't without hiccups. During an early prenatal test, a doctor said there might be a sign of health problems for the baby. Chambers and Bortell were devastated. Chambers had agreed in her contract to terminate a pregnancy if there were abnormalities and she was distraught at the thought that she might actually have to do it.

"I could never have anticipated feeling like that until I was faced with it," she said.

But the doctor's office called the next day with good news: the baby was fine and it was a boy.

A few other issues crept up throughout the pregnancy, but the agency helped handle them. "(The agency) knows all of the things to look for and they're proactive about it," Chambers said.

As the pregnancy progressed, Bortell and Chambers remained in constant contact. Chambers was invited to Bortell's baby showers. One invitation featured Chambers sporting a shirt that declared "Not my baby" and Bortell wearing one that said, "My baby." They wore the shirts to the showers as well.

Chambers delivered Bortell's son, Adam Tardy, early in the morning of Nov. 5, 2005, at Mercy Southwest Hospital. She held him first before handing him to his mother, a gesture both she and Bortell wanted.

"This had all been building to this moment and all this fear and worry on both of our parts, on everybody's part. And finally here was this precious baby, their baby, and just the look on her face. There are just no words," Chambers said.

The new parents got their own room in the hospital and less than 12 hours after giving birth, Chambers left to go watch her daughter's football game.

She had feared she'd feel regret and sadness going home without a baby, but instead she felt elated. It was particularly nice to know she was going home to four children who were all potty-trained and could feed themselves, and that she wouldn't be waking up to care for a newborn that night, Chambers said.

"I was so exhilarated. Here I just did this awesome thing and now I get to go back to my regular life," Chambers said.

 

"BAKED IN BAKERSFIELD"

Every year on Adam's birthday and on Mother's Day, Chambers receives flowers from the little boy.

"I want her to know every year on his birthday I'm not just thinking of him, I'm thinking of her," Bortell said.

Chambers and Bortell don't see each other as often as they would like to because of their busy lives but their connection remains strong.

"That's been so nice that (Bortell) celebrates (surrogacy). It sucked that it had to be that way but she's so respectful of me and what I did by continuing to show appreciation and acknowledge me in his life and in their lives," Chambers said.

Chambers was Bortell's go-to person for mom questions and Bortell has family pictures in her home of her, Adam, Tardy and Chambers together. She explains to Adam, now 7, that her tummy was broken so he grew in Chambers' tummy.

"My tag line is he's biologically mine but he's baked in Bakersfield," she said.

Altogether, between acupuncture, visiting a Maori healer and the surrogacy process, Bortell estimated her family spent $115,000 getting to Adam. Chambers wasn't sure of her exact fee, but another woman who was a surrogate with the same agency in the same timeframe said the first-time surrogate fee $22,000.

The expense was well worth the end result, Bortell said.

"Adam is absolutely the light of my life. I can't imagine my life without him," Bortell said.

Chambers used the money she was paid for surrogacy to take her family on a week-long trip to Disneyland and bought her husband a motorcycle to thank him for his support throughout the process.

The payment made life a little easier during the surrogacy process, but Chambers said she has a hard time believing that many women become surrogates for the money.

"When you consider what I made for a year's worth of my time and what occurred to me later on was that I literally did put my life at risk, I mean women do have complications with childbirth, and the money is so insignificant," Chambers said.

Chambers decided not to be a surrogate again after giving birth to Adam. She got what she wanted out of the experience, to help a couple that didn't have any children and to have an ongoing relationship with them.

Being a surrogate isn't something she talks about much anymore. Chambers said she isn't secretive about the experience, but it was so long ago and when it does comes up in a new setting, it turns into an hour-long conversation.

"You rarely hear stories (good stories about surrogacy) like mine and I think that's why people are so curious, 'Why would someone do this when there's so many things that can go wrong?' There's way more things that can go right," Chambers said.

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