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A mother's story: Giving birth to friend's child opens doors of emotion

The birth of most children requires a mother and father. The birth of Mylah required a friendship, deep trust and the commitment of two mothers and two fathers. Mary Ann Thompson and Alycia met as students at a theological seminary. Over the next...

The birth of most children requires a mother and father.

The birth of Mylah required a friendship, deep trust and the commitment of two mothers and two fathers.

Mary Ann Thompson and Alycia met as students at a theological seminary. Over the next few years they became close friends, as close as sisters.

Twenty years later, after Alycia and her husband, Mandel, had tried to conceive and then adopt a child, Mary Ann called with an offer.

"How about if we all make a baby for you?" she asked Alycia over the phone. "My egg, Mandel's sperm. My pregnancy, your child?"


Their journey is documented in Mary Ann's book, "The Gift of a Child."

A rare journey

Since she was a young child, Mary Ann had been fascinated by the process of pregnancy and birth. But she and her husband JD decided they wouldn't start a family of their own. He had grown children and a grandchild.

Mary Ann's desire to experience pregnancy and labor had a less desperate quality after marriage. But the idea of giving birth remained in the back of her mind.

Her offer to Alycia and Mandel, made on her 41st birthday, launched a flurry of soul-searching.

The couples decided not to draw up a legal contract. Instead, they relied on promise and trust as they tackled difficult questions: Who paid the medical bills if the child was born with a disability? How would Alycia feel raising a child that might look like her close friend?

What if Alycia and Mandel decided to back out before the birth? What if Mary Ann couldn't let go?

"When we started the pregnancy, we were so open," Mary Ann said recently in a telephone interview. "We thought we had a pretty good sense of what would happen. We were wrong."


Over Easter weekend of 1998, Mary Ann and JD drove from their home in South Dakota to Alycia and Mandel's home in Wisconsin. As with the legal contract, the couples decided medical professionals weren't necessary for the insemination.

Alycia used a small syringe filled with Mandel's sperm and inserted it into Mary Ann. That action was important to both women.

"Alycia had to take the absolute action for me to be impregnated with her husband's sperm," Mary Ann says. "If she hadn't done that, we wouldn't have achieved pregnancy. If she hadn't done that, there wouldn't be Mylah."

Difficult times ahead

Mary Ann prepared for a romantic pregnancy. But she soon realized the baby called the shots.

She learned the baby's cells formed the placenta; that the baby created the environment she needed to grow.

For Mary Ann, a former Protestant minister, that had spiritual meaning. "It reminded me that each of us, in the context of God or the Great Mystery, make our own lives. We really are the prime actors. What I learned is that in the midst of it all, we belong to ourselves."

Although Mary Ann wouldn't be the baby's mom in day-to-day life, she felt like her first mom. She wanted to handle that relationship well. As the baby became the center of her and JD's lives, the friendship with Alycia became tense.


While other friends supported Mary Ann and JD throughout the pregnancy, Alycia and Mandel canceled several visits to see the couple and their unborn child. Communication between the couples was strained.

In the end, Mary Ann decided the stress between them meant that Alycia and Mandel couldn't be in the room for the birth as planned. She also decided she needed time alone with the baby to say good-bye, to finish her time as a mother.

"It was a painful time for everyone," Mary Ann says.

Mylah's birth was uncomplicated, and less than seven hours after she was born, Mary Ann handed the child to her mom and dad.

It felt right, Mary Ann wrote in her book. It's what she dreamed would happen.

A day after Mylah's birth, her parents took her home. Before that, Mary Ann and JD took photos. When she left, they cried.

"There was nothing to feel; it was the nothingness that was there to experience," Mary Ann writes. "The absence. Her little body was with me a day, but her spirit had been with me a long time."

Learning good-bye


The first week after Mylah's birth was the worst. Months later, there were still few phone calls between the two homes, none that Mary Ann didn't initiate.

Mary Ann and JD visited the young child, but the friendship between Mary Ann and Alycia wasn't the same.

Before Mylah turned 3, her mothers decided to rebuild their friendship. During an extended visit, the two women found time for healing with the help of a little girl.

"Mylah is the reason we decided to go through it," Mary Ann says. "I wanted to connect with her and Alycia really wanted me in Mylah's life."

Together the women worked through the guilt and pain and jealousy that had built before Mylah's birth. During time spent with Mylah, the toddler turned to Alycia, "You're my mommy," and then turned to Mary Ann, "and you're my other mommy."

"Two mommies are OK with Mylah," Mary Ann says. "She loves me and it doesn't take any love away from Alycia. That perception is a lesson to all of us."

Mylah is now 3½.

The arrangement is still not what Mary Ann would call easy. It's hard to say good-bye to someone who is genetically her daughter. Mary Ann and JD's move to Hawaii also makes it more difficult.


But in the end, she says her life is richer for having gone through the experience.

The two couples repaired their friendship. Mylah has two couples who support and love her. Alycia is in the process of legally adopting Mylah, who is her husband Mandel's biological child.

And Mary Ann has learned about what love and being human is about.

"The pain and difficulty was really, really hard," she says. "But there's good in the midst of the pain and that's worth it. That's how we grow."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

If you go

Mary Ann Thompson will speak and sign copies of her book, "The Gift of a Child" (Inner Ocean Publishing, $17.95) at 2 p.m. Sunday at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway, Fargo; and at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Barnes and Noble, 1201 42nd St. S.W., Fargo.

Thompson is a native of Grand Forks, N.D., and graduated from the University


of North Dakota. A former United Methodist minister, she has served congregations in the North Dakota communities of Elgin, Minot and Ellendale.

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