IDEA FOR A SOAP OPERA STORY LINE: For 20 years the beautiful blond TV star tries desperately to have a child. Two marriages dissolve, partly because of her inability to conceive, and her emotional health is rocked by megadoses of hormones. She endures half a dozen operations, hoping through medical technology to achieve a pregnancy, and during one she slips into a near coma as her husband frantically calls her name.
This is the kind of cliff-hanger that daytime divas thrive on. Problem is, Deidre Hall, 44, didn't experience these torments as psychiatrist Marlena Evans on NBC's Days of Our Lives
—a part she has played on and off for 16 years—but in her own sometimes harrowing life. But the plot turned sweet last Dec. 16, when Hall and husband-to-be Steve Sohmer were celebrating Sohmer's 50th birthday at his 17th-century manor house in Oxfordshire, England, where they would wed New Year's Eve. The phone rang, Hall answered it, and the ebullient voice on the other end spoke two words that ended Hall's decades of disappointment: "Hi, Mom."
The voice belonged to Robin B., a 30-year-old divorced mother of three, who does not want her surname revealed. Hall, spokeswoman for the diet aid Dexatrim, and Sohmer, a TV producer and novelist (Favorite Son
), had met Robin through the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Beverly Hills (see box, page 71). Robin's news: The second try at artificially inseminating one of her eggs with Sohmer's sperm had worked. She was pregnant; Hall was having a baby. "I was gone," Hall recalls, "screaming and jumping up and down."
If this were a soap opera, Robin, who bears a striking resemblance to Hall, might have run off with Sohmer, leaving Queen Dee to emote her heart out. But here's where reality pays off. Eight months after that phone call, and just four days after David Atticus Sohmer weighed in at 8 lbs. 3 oz. on Aug. 23, Hall blissfully strokes her son as he snoozes in a while receiving blanket in the living room of the couple's stateside home in a Los Angeles suburb. "I have so much emotion, I can't get it out of my body," Hall says, sitting amid soft heaps of stuffed animals, toys and unopened gifts. "It's not just the baby, it's Robin's incredible generosity. I knew having a baby would teach me about deep feelings of love, but I didn't know it would leach me so much about sharing."
Robin, whom Sohmer calls "a gift from God." is also thrilled. "I'm just glad he's healthy and made it into his mom's arms," says the surrogate mother, resting at her parents' home outside L.A. "I feel so good inside."
Hall had never expected motherhood to be this complicated. She herself was the third of five children born (two minutes after her twin, Andrea) to John Hall, a postal worker, and his wife, Jean, an executive secretary. Raised in Lake Worth, Fla., Hall moved to L.A. after college and married singer-songwriter Keith Barbour at 21, believing, she says, snapping her fingers, "I'd get pregnant just like that." She didn't, and as Hall moved through her 20s, the former Junior Orange Bowl Queen focused increasingly on her career. She switched from modeling to acting with a stint on a local Saturday-morning kiddie show before being cast as Days'
elegant Marlena Evans, who would be kidnapped by a gangster, held captive by the Salem Strangler and unjustly confined to a psychiatric ward.
Hall's offscreen life was barely less stressful. Divorced from Barbour in '77 ("We did a lot of growing up and facing monsters together," she has said, "and we're still great friends"), she married TV executive Michael Dubelko (21 Jump Street
) in 1987. After their wedding, the couple tried six rounds of artificial insemination. (Using a syringe, Hall's physician would inject Dubelko's semen into her cervix.) None was successful. Hall then underwent exploratory surgery that revealed she suffered from endometriosis, a condition in which fragments of the uterine lining travel to other parts of the pelvic cavity. When this tissue was removed surgically, Hall thought she had found the cure for her inability to conceive. She decided to devote herself full-time to the pursuit of pregnancy when her prime-lime series Our Home
was canceled in 1988 after a two-year run. (Hall had continued doing Days
the first season but left the soap when House was renewed.) In November of that year, the actress underwent the first of six in vitro fertilizations (IVF) over a nine-month period.
The procedure that produced the first test-tube baby 14 years ago. IVF is no romp through the lab. For 10 days of each month. Deidre injected herself with a hypodermic of hormones that left her hips a mass of bruises and induced a moody mix of premenstrual angst and menopausal blues. "It was," she says, "like having 10 periods at once: hot flashes, depression, mood swings and weight gain."
Even worse was the actual in vitro procedure. While Hall was under general anesthesia, a surgeon would make three small incisions in her abdomen, retrieve her ripe eggs and then mix them with her husband's sperm in a petri dish. IVF requires an overnight hospital stay; Hall, nauseated by the anesthesia, spent most of that time vomiting. Two days later she'd return to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in L.A. for the injection of the fertilized eggs into her uterus. Though even her astrologer predicted success, the procedure never took.
What no one predicted was the frightening turn surgery would take on the sixth try. Typically, Hall awoke from anesthesia within two hours. This lime, after four hours, she was still unconscious, and as a nurse worked feverishly to revive her, Dubelko entered the operating room. "All I remember is Mike screaming my name," says Hall. "His voice was hysterical." Though there was no lasting damage, Hall says, "I really got sick after that one."
Each IVF cycle cost $8,000 to $10,000 (only partly covered by her insurance), and the psychic toll was even higher. "It gets very hard," says Hall, "when you say one more time, 'Honey, I got my period.' " Hall's good friend Loni Anderson says that when she had difficulty conceiving, the pressures Hall and Dubelko were experiencing led her and husband Burt Reynolds to reject infertility treatment. Recalls Anderson: "Burt said that if trying to get pregnant would put a strain on our marriage, he'd rather adopt." (Their adopted son, Quinton, is now 4.)
Hall and Dubelko made one last attempt in 1989, trying what is known as IVF-gestational. In this procedure, a woman's egg and her spouse's sperm are united in the lab and the embryo is then injected into the uterus of a surrogate. The result, again, was failure. Says Hall: "I learned that not only was my uterus a problem but also the age of my eggs." Realizing that her biological clock had run down, they considered adoption, but their marriage was already taxed beyond endurance, and they divorced later that year.
Sohmer, a twice-divorced father whose daughter, Ilisa, 29, is a New York City journalist, had dated Hall for two years between her marriages. Now the couple took up where they had left off, and with both eager to start a family, Hall resumed her quest for motherhood. Trying in vitro again was out. "Your body," her doctor told her, "can't take it."
Two options remained: adoption, and surrogacy using the surrogate's egg. Sohmer pushed for the latter. "I fell it was important to have a child that was biologically related to one of us," he says. Hall began dreaming of a child with "Steve's blue eyes, his skin," and, on her doctor's recommendation, the two turned to the Center for Surrogate Parenting, which has overseen 221 surrogate births in its 12-year existence.
Meanwhile, Robin B. was contacting the center after seeing a newspaper ad that read GIVE THE GIFT OF LIFE TO A CHILDLESS COUPLE. "I don't know if any woman loves being pregnant," she says, "but most women love creating a life." She had been considering surrogacy since the birth of her twins in 1987. "The day after they were born," she recalls, "I said, 'I could do this again tomorrow. It was easy.' " Facing opposition from her husband, she dropped the idea until their divorce last year.
Hall, Sohmer and Robin, along with Robin's children (a 3-year-old son and 5-year-old twins, a boy and a girl), met for the first time last summer. "After watching Robin with her own children," says Hall, "we felt safe giving her ours." And Robin's concerns about her children's response to her being a surrogate were put to rest after she heard her daughter tell Hall, "My mom is going to have a baby and give it to a lady with a broken tummy."
Before long, Robin and Deidre seemed more like sisters than surrogate and infertile mother-to-be. "Dee feels like another daughter," Robin's mother told her after one of Hall's visits. Robin and Deidre got together at least once a week to shop, have lunch or just talk. Comments Dr. Hilary Hanafin, the surrogacy center's psychologist: "Many infertile couples feel uncomfortable around the surrogate. But Dee was not threatened by [Robin's] pregnant glow. She and Steve were at peace with the truth."
Still, Hall admits to moments of envy. Accompanying Robin to an appointment with her obstetrician, she says, "I'd think, 'Gee, it sure would be nice if Robin would leave so I could be alone with my baby.' " Even at eight months, after ultrasound revealed the baby was a boy, Hall says she told herself, "This all seems unreal." Finally, two days before the baby's birth, reality set in with a kick as Hall and Sohmer sat on either side of Robin B. on their living-room couch and, hands pressed against her abdomen, grinned each time they fell little David flutter. The flutters didn't fluster Robin, who had moved into an upstairs bedroom at the Sohmers' for the final countdown. "If I had been in love with the lather, made love and created a child, no one could rip him out of my arms," she said at the time, squeezing Hall's hand. "This is their love child, so my thinking is more like that of a baby-sitter."
Early Sunday morning, Aug. 23, the "baby-sitter" started experiencing labor contractions. By 4 P.M. at Cedars Sinai, Robin asked for a painkiller and was given an epidural. Two hours later, she was wheeled into the delivery room, Sohmer and Hall at her side. When the baby's head appeared. scant 15 minutes later, an overcome Hall shouted, "He has ears!" Then, the umbilical cord still attached, Hall reached for her baby. "Hey, quit pulling," Robin jokingly admonished. "He's still attached lo me." Sohmer, cutting the cord, severed that connection. "It was," says Hall, "really like three people having a baby."
At 11 that night, Hall and Sohmer took their son home, but not before Robin spent a half hour alone with him. "I had thought up some great goodbyes to say," she recalls, "but this wasn't a goodbye, it was more of a hello." In fact, the very next day, Robin, along with her daughter. paid the new family a visit. "I had no fear that she would see the baby and want to keep him." Hall says. "There's a notion that women cant do this for each other, that some mechanism keeps them from being so close. It's not true." Robin agrees. "The relationship I developed with Dee was real female bonding." she says.
The Sohmers hope that Robin and her kids will be part of David's life, though details have yet to be worked out. "One day, we'll explain to our son," Hall says, "that we couldn't do it on our own and he has two mommies who love him. And if he wants to meet her, well, here's Aunt Robin."
After a 20-year wait, Hall says her first weeks of motherhood have been "beyond my wildest dreams of joy." In the Days
studio, which has been flooded with cards and gills from fans, the staff has hung a cue card that reads MOTHERS AND CHILD ARE DOING FINE. Soon, Hall and son will be studio regulars; she plans to bring David to work every day. "This is the most overdue baby ever born," she says, "and I don't plan to miss a frame of his life."
LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles
- Lorenzo Benet.