A light drizzle falls as Carolyn Zinn dodges puddles to get to a strip mall restaurant in Tampa. The gray-white sky matches her mood.
She feels anxious, unsettled. She wants nothing more than to produce a baby for Diane, the blond woman sipping coffee at a vinyl booth inside the restaurant.
But doctors have placed a total of 15 embryos in Carolyn's uterus during four procedures in the past year and none has survived. This has been crushing for Carolyn. Already the surrogate mother of five, she considers having babies for other people to be her calling in life. If she can't do this anymore, what will she do?
She opens the glass door of the Brunchery and peers in. The decor is country and lace, the smell coffee and eggs.
Carolyn finds Diane's booth and greets her cheerfully — "You look so cute!" Seconds later, a woman with kinky brown hair and a round face appears at the table, smiling. She's a few years younger than Carolyn, fresh-faced, eager.
The other surrogate has arrived.
Kimberly Lambertson-Tormey, of Hudson, is 37. Diane found her through the same agency that matched her with Carolyn.
Like Carolyn, Kimberly fits the profile of the typical surrogate: white, married, a mother already. She stays at home with her two children while her husband works as a receiving manager at a department store.
If you ask her how she became a surrogate, she says she "kinda just had an epiphany."
"I woke up with surrogacy in the head," she says. "The only conclusion I can come to is that the Lord wanted me to look into it."
She contacted an agency and was matched with a couple. She tried twice to have a baby for them, but both transfers failed. After that, a family member of the couple came forward to carry their child.
Now Diane has chosen Kimberly to back up Carolyn. Carolyn's fee, which is meant to cover her living expenses while she's pregnant, will be $40,000 if she becomes pregnant. Kimberly has no track record, so she'll get much less.
"She's like the Honda," Diane explains outside the women's presence. "Carolyn's like the Cadillac in terms of experience. But Kim's younger and had a baby more recently."
Diane likes this new arrangement because it doubles the chances she'll get a baby. But the addition of Kimberly creates an odd dynamic, bringing together three frail human psyches — all vulnerable for different reasons.
Carolyn and Kimberly both yearn to get pregnant for Diane. Both have struggled in the past year: Carolyn has failed in her last four tries; Kimberly has never succeeded as a surrogate.
"It's a present," Kimberly says of becoming pregnant for someone else. "It's all about seeing their faces when the child is born. It brings tears to my eyes every time I say it. The Lord wants us to be caring and giving. I can't think of anything more giving than helping a couple have a child."
Each woman is worried that she won't get pregnant and the other will. Nobody wants to admit this has become a competition, but it has. The winner will get a boost of self-esteem and the comfort of knowing she is still fertile. The loser will wallow in self-doubt.
• • •
Carolyn is already torturing herself. It's written all over her face as she eats breakfast with Kimberly and Diane on this rainy March morning in 2007.
Her eyes are red-rimmed, fatigued, strained. She clenches her hands together. All she can think to say, as she picks at her waffles and strawberries, is that she doesn't like her new haircut. The ends curl under rather than out.
Diane and Kimberly, sitting across the table from each other, chat amiably. Diane talks about her father-in-law's struggle with cancer; she has been traveling a lot to see him. Kimberly says she has lost seven pounds on the Suzanne Somers diet and reveals she recently walked out of her church of 10 years and is looking for a new one.
Carolyn seems left out. Finally, between mouthfuls of egg, Kimberly turns to her.
"Will you take a home pregnancy test?" Kimberly asks.
These tests are Carolyn's weakness. Every time she undergoes an embryo transfer, she ends up taking them too soon — sometimes two and three in a day. This time, she has vowed to wait for the test at the doctor's office 10 days after the transfer.
"If you're tempted to take the test, call me and I'll talk you out of it," Kimberly tells her.
"So you won't do it?" Carolyn asks.
"No, I won't if you won't."
"Really?" Carolyn says, sounding surprised.
She smiles at Kimberly. And just like that she feels a little better, more relaxed.
• • •
Diane suggests they all pray, and the women bow their heads. Kimberly closes her eyes, revealing a dusting of mauve eye shadow on her lids.
"Bless us with positive pregnancies," Diane says. "Let your will be done, but please, we really want it to be right."
Diane has been trying to expand her family for almost two years. She has looked into adoption but that hasn't worked out, either. What if God is trying to tell her she's not meant to have a baby? She makes one last request of him.
If you can't give me a baby, Diane prays aloud, "then please take the desire away."
Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8640.
Coming Friday: On the same day, Carolyn and Kimberly undergo embryo transfers at Dr. Welden's office.