Thursday, August 5, 2021

Flashback 1988: "A Tale of Two Twins"

Latona and Her Children, Apollo and Diana, by William Henry Rinehart (Metropolitan Museum)
      A reader from Harper Woods, Michigan wrote, and in my reply, I mentioned that the first place the paper ever sent me on a story was Detroit. Trying to connect, I suppose.
      Surrogacy was in the news, and a Michigan woman made headlines because she gave birth to twins and the family took the girl and left the boy. Our city editor, Alan Henry, told me to get to Detroit and write a story. I phoned the surrogate mother first—that seemed prudent. She had been on the round of morning TV shows, "Good Morning America" and such, and was burnt out by the publicity. She wasn't interested.  Okay, I said.
     A few minutes later Alan passed my desk.
    "I thought I told you to go to Detroit," he said.
     "The woman isn't interested," I said. "She feels she's had too much publicity."
     Alan gave me a long, pitying look such as only a newspaper city editor is capable of.
     "I don't care," he said. "Get to Detroit. Talk to her neighbors. Write a story."
     I grabbed the phone, called her again, and told her that I had given it thought, and while I completely understood her not wanting additional publicity, because the press made her seem like white trash who sold her baby—that was my exact phrase, "white trash who sold her baby"—that is why I feel it so important to tell the true story, to set the record straight, and the bottom line is I'll be at her door tomorrow morning with coffee and donuts, please let me in. 
    Then I bolted to the airport and caught a plane to Detroit, so quickly that I didn't bother to stop at my apartment and pack clothes or toiletries. I knew exactly nothing about the city except the Renaissance Center was a hotel, so I took a cab there.  I washed my shirt in the sink, hung it up to dry in the bathroom, then sat in front of the television, working my way through the contents of the mini-bar, waiting for dawn. When it came, I got dressed, bought a dozen donuts and two large cups of coffee, then headed over to her house. By 9 a.m. I was holding the baby while we talked.
     I remember flying back, filling a page of a yellow legal pad with versions of the opening sentence. It was my first front page headline: "TALE OF TWO TWINS."

     It was all going to be just a simple business transaction.
     Last summer, a wealthy Michigan couple agreed to pay Patty Nowakowski, of Ionia, Mich, $10,000 to be artificially inseminated with the husband's sperm, carry the child, then deliver the baby up to them.
     What happened next split apart a brother and sister, caused a father to reject a newborn son, and added a cruel twist to the tangled issue of surrogate parenthood that even its critics hadn't contemplated.
     "Nauseating, is what it is," said Noel Keane, the lawyer who represented the adopting couple, who have not been identified. "This is probably one of the most upsetting cases I have ever heard of."
     Nowakowski was artificially inseminated. "A horrible experience," she recalled with a shudder. Halfway through her pregnancy, she had an ultrasound scan that showed that she was carrying twins, and that at least one was a boy.
     The Michigan couple was informed of this and didn't seem disturbed, said Nowakowski.
     But then, two weeks before she gave birth, the couple informed Nowakowski that if the twins were male, they did not want them because the wife was too frail to raise boys.
     "It was a shock," said Nowakowski in an interview Friday at her home. "I never thought anyone would turn away their own children. They came over here, to our house, and told us. I thought they wanted to meet our kids, out of curiosity. I couldn't believe it when I found out why they came."
     Three weeks ago, Nowakowski, 27, gave birth to a twin boy and girl. Shortly afterward, the biological father took the girl away. Nowakowski was left with a baby boy she didn't know what to do with.
     Keeping him didn't seem to be an option. Their family was set. Her husband Aaron, 30, had even had a vasectomy two years earlier. On top of that, she had been telling her three children, ages 2, 4 and 5, that the babies she was carrying were for someone else.
     Nowakowski gave her baby to a foster family.
     "I had to think of my husband, who all along thought of this as another couple's child," she said.
     But not for long. "I just kept thinking: `that poor child,' " said Nowakowski. In the end, she and her husband decided the child "deserved to be raised in a stable family environment."
     So Nowakowski went back to the foster home, laid claim to the son they now call Artie, and brought him home, where he is today, about to celebrate his first hectic month of life.
     "He's beautiful," said Nowakowski, displaying the fat-faced, fair-haired boy, wrapped in a blue blanket. "He is going to be a part of our family. So, in the end, we come out ahead. We have him."
     Nowakowski says she will be honest with her new son and tell him the unique circumstances of his birth when the time comes. As for his relationship with his twin sister, Nowakowski says she will "take steps legally" to see that the two are allowed to know each other.
     Keane, who also negotiated the deal that led to the infamous Baby M trial in which the surrogate mother fought unsuccessfully to keep her child, said Nowakowski may have little legal recourse if the adopting family does not want the male twin to visit his sister.
     "The law allows exactly what happened," said Keane, who pointed out that, in circumstances such as divorce, brothers and sisters are periodically separated. "Perhaps not morally speaking, but legally, there is nothing wrong with it."
     The Nowakowskis' ordeal did not escape the notice of the government in Michigan, which is struggling to become the fourth state to regulate surrogate motherhood.
     State Sen. Connie Binsfeld, the sponsor of pending legislation to outlaw paid surrogate motherhood, said she was still surprised by the Nowakowski case.
     "I have thought through many different scenarios," she said. "But I never thought of this. That children should be separated like that. I was shocked."
     Reflecting on her decision to become a surrogate mother, Nowakowski said: "It wasn't the money. It wasn't being pregnant again. I wanted to help someone else. . . . Though now I do regret doing it for someone with children.
     "As for now, I'm putting all this past me. I have to protect my kids. As for Arthur J., he's a miracle and I can't imagine not having him."  
          —Originally published in the Sun-Times, April 24, 1988.

    Note: After a custody battle, the Nowakowski's ending up keeping both children. Such surrogacy agreements are void and unenforceable in Michigan, and participating in one is a misdemeanor, though they are legal, with restrictions, in Illinois. I began looking for Arthur Nowakowski, who would be 33 years old now, but noticed he's never, as far as I can tell, participated in any kind of media beyond his birth year, and the odds are slight he'd want me to be the first.


  1. Pretty amazing and heartwarming that they kept both children, already having three under the age of six.
    Curious about the other twins you mention in the headline? Sorry...

  2. A few minutes later Alan passed my desk.
    "I thought I told you to go to Detroit," he said.
    "The woman isn't interested," I said. "She feels she's had too much publicity."
    Alan gave me a long, pitying look such as only a newspaper city editor is capable of.
    "I don't care," he said. "Get to Detroit. Talk to her neighbors. Write a story."

    Why does this remind me of something decades ago, from the textbook used in my high school journalism class?

    A cub reporter was sent to cover a political event at a meeting hall, in which there would be speeches made, including one by a major candidate. The cub reporter returned to the newsroom, and dejectedly told his editor that there was "no story"--when asked why not, he informed his boss that the meeting hall had caught fire and burned down, and that the main speaker and several other people had been injured. Which, of course, made for a helluva better story than the meeting itself.

    When your editor tells you to jump, you can't even take time to ask how high. You just jump. Thanks for the flashback, Mr. S. You came back with quite a story. I was still living in Chicago then, but I don't recall reading it. My life was pretty hectic in 1988: A killer job, and a lot of Cub games. I, too, am somewhat curious about Arthur. Looks like his story is something he prefers to leave in the now-distant past.


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