The woman known as "the Cervix of Steel" got the idea to become a surrogate mother by watching a TV talk show.
This was in the mid 1980s. The couple on Carolyn Zinn's television were describing their 10-year struggle with infertility. They had turned to a surrogate mother to give them a child.
"Oh my gosh, I have to do that for someone," Carolyn remembers telling herself.
She was a 27-year-old married mother of two in Dayton, Ohio. She and her husband, Larry, had decided not to have any more children of their own. Helping a family this way sounded . . . special.
But when she approached Larry, he said no. He worried about losing her in childbirth and doubted she would really be able to part with the babies.
From time to time, she raised the subject again, but Larry wouldn't budge. He didn't understand her infatuation with surrogacy, and he worried about the implications for the rest of the family. Wouldn't the kids be ridiculed when their friends found out?
A few years later, the Zinns saw another show about surrogacy.
"How can you deny me this?" Carolyn remembers asking Larry. "It's something I want so desperately."
Larry thought it over. A lot had happened since she first mentioned the idea. He had left the police department in Dayton and moved the family to a new development between cow pastures in Bradenton, where nobody really knew them.
She was happier now, he thought. And determined. Carolyn had always done what she had been told — by her mother, by Larry, by everyone. Now, Larry could tell, she was going to do what she wanted to do.
"What the heck," he remembers telling her. "As long as we don't have to keep 'em."
• • •
In 1999, Carolyn made contact with a lawyer familiar with surrogacy and asked to be matched with a couple.
Angela and her husband were from Tampa. They had one child, but Angela had medical issues and couldn't have another. They offered Carolyn $10,000 to have their baby.
Before long, Carolyn and Angela were talking on the phone every day.
That September, three embryos were transferred into Carolyn's womb. Soon after, Carolyn made a diary entry:
"I took home a pregnancy test on Sept. 27 and it was +++++++! I was so excited. I took it at 5:30 a.m. and waited until 6 a.m. to call Angela. That had to be one of the best days of my life. Just to hear her voice and her words. On the phone, she broke out in tears and thanked me over and over."
A sonogram revealed triplets. Carolyn was scared, but she felt adored and cherished by the mother-to-be. When people saw she was pregnant and asked her about it, she always talked excitedly about the babies. Sometimes she told them they weren't hers and sometimes she didn't.
Almost five months into the pregnancy, a nurse called Carolyn with news that she might have a blood complication that could harm the babies, maybe eventually kill them.
Carolyn was a wreck. One night she got up, sobbing, and went out to her front yard, barefoot.
"God, you can't take these babies from me," she said out loud, looking at the moon through the tall pine trees. "If they're going to be fine, just give me a sign. A lightning strike. Anything."
As she finished her prayer, Carolyn says, she felt a flush from head to toe. She felt calm. She stopped crying and went back to her bed.
Before this, Carolyn's faith had never really been strong. She went to church and prayed, but she felt awkward. Now, for the first time in her life, she felt a connection with God.
A few days later, the tests showed the babies were fine. And in April 2000, Carolyn gave birth to three healthy babies by C-section.
But then everything changed.
Carolyn could not stop crying. She missed the babies, yes. But even more, she missed their parents. Their lives had been intertwined for most of two years, with calls up to four times a day and weekly doctor visits. Now, just like that, they were gone. Tending to the triplets meant Angela and her husband had little time for Carolyn.
When Carolyn decided to become a surrogate again, she resolved never to get so emotionally connected to a family.
• • •
If you ask Larry why Carolyn is so consumed with being a surrogate, he'll mention her childhood.
Carolyn was raised by adoptive parents. With their blessing, she set out as a young woman to find her birth parents. She hired private investigators and lawyers. She joined registries of parents and children searching for one another. She wrote to Unsolved Mysteries and Maury Povich.
Almost 10 years later, an adoption court liaison located her birth mother.
In a letter to the woman, Carolyn talked about her husband, her son and daughter, her mostly happy life.
"Now I guess the only thing that I'm missing . . . is the chance to know my biological family," she wrote. "I truly need to fill this void in my life and I hope you will give me the opportunity to do so. Love Carolyn."
She never heard back.
She traced her father to California. He was in prison, doing time for sex offenses. She didn't bother contacting him.
Larry believes Carolyn's yearning to be a surrogate is somehow connected to these old feelings, though he's not sure how.
Carolyn thinks Larry may have a point. But she does not spend a lot of time on this kind of analysis.
All she knows is that she wasn't completely satisfied working as a bank teller and a teacher's aide at her kids' school. She was a devoted parent but wondered what was next.
Becoming a mom again — however temporarily — was something she knew she could do well. It would help others, and she loved being pregnant anyway. She felt it was what God wanted her to do. You could almost say her longing to carry another child matched the intended mothers' desire to have another child.
"I thought, 'If I die tomorrow, I will not have accomplished anything,' " Carolyn says. "And then to turn around and bring babies into this world, to create babies for families. . . . I'm so into this."
• • •
After the triplets were born, Carolyn met a couple from Palm Beach. They had four children and wanted another, but the mother had struggled during her last pregnancy.
Carolyn became pregnant with their child. Then the intended mother got pregnant again. The two babies were born four months apart in 2002. Now the family had six children.
Two years later, the couple asked Carolyn to carry their seventh child.
With each birth, the separations got easier for Carolyn.
"I love every one of those five babies," she says of her surrogate children, "but it's a niece and nephew kind of love. . . . It's a bond, but not that deep love."
• • •
Carolyn has loved being a mom to her kids, but they are growing up. Kyle, now 17, is close to graduating from high school; Carolyn recently heard him say "I love you" to a girlfriend on the phone.
Lauren, 15, is on the verge of giving up her childhood passion, horseback riding. When she goes to the barn, she texts boys while brushing the coat of her quarterhorse, Cassie. She tells her mother it's time to sell the horse.
Now it's 2006 and Carolyn wants to have another baby, to have that feeling again — this time for Diane, the woman in Orlando.
And she's ready to do whatever it takes.
Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8640.
Coming Tuesday: Carolyn receives an embryo transfer. Afterward, the doctor leads a prayer. Will it be answered?