And Baby Makes Five

updated 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

WRAPPED IN HIS WHITE BAPTISMAL blanket, James Alan Mack Jr. looks like a typical, healthy baby boy. At 7 lbs., 12 oz., he is, in fact, glowingly healthy. But there is nothing typical about the way he was conceived and brought into the world. Baby James, you see, has three moms—two of whom are his aunts. "Every time I look at him," says Linda Mack, 35, of Bandon, Oreg., the mom who gets to raise him, "I can't believe it was all possible—that he's really here."

James is here thanks to high-tech fertility techniques. More important, he owes his existence to the deep love shared by his adoptive mother, Linda; her older sister, Ann Scacco, 38, who provided the egg; and Linda's husband Jim's sister, Kathy Huemann, 32, who carried James and gave birth to him by cesarean section on Jan. 14 at Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill.

This extraordinary trinity could only have formed in a tightly knit extended family with a reverence for children. But the full story of the collaboration began 15 years ago: In 1978 Linda, then a 20-year-old business major at Loyola University, suffered a severe case of endometriosis and had a complete hysterectomy that left her unable to have a child.

Linda's mother, Patricia Griffin, advised her not to share this fact with the men she dated "unless they got serious." But Linda informed Jim Mack the second time they went out. Says Jim, 35, who today runs a well-digging business in Bandon: "I told Linda I wasn't interested in babies. I was interested in her. When the time came, we'd just adopt."

If only it were that easy. "We didn't know then that there's no such thing as just adopt," says Linda. "Being a would-be adoptive parent is like waiting for an organ donation. You're waiting for someone to have a tragedy." The Macks, who married in 1981, hired a lawyer, applied to adoption agencies and wrote essays about themselves to pregnant women considering giving up their babies—all to no avail. Meanwhile, they went to baptism after baptism, as their more fortunate relatives brought new children into the world.

"It was always difficult telling Jim and Linda when one of us was expecting a baby," says Joe Huemann, Kathy's husband. "We knew they were glad for us. But we also knew they hurt."

The couple's latest heartbreak came in August 1991, when an unwed mother of twins who had promised her baby boys to the Macks—and accepted their emotional and financial support—reneged at the last minute. It was at this point that Kathy stepped in. She had been visiting the Macks to cushion their disappointment and was about to board the plane home when she said to Linda and Jim, "Listen, Joe and I have talked about this. If you want me to act as a surrogate and carry a baby for you, I will."

The egg, to be fertilized by Jim's sperm, could not, obviously, come from his own sister. So Linda turned to her sister, Ann, to whom she was so close they'd had a double wedding 11 years earlier. Ann, who has two sons and lives in a northwestern Chicago suburb, had volunteered to help years earlier—but not to carry the baby. "You know how I am," she had said at the time. "If I give birth, it will be my child."

With the elements in place, all the Macks had to do was line up the necessary technical assistance. They nearly didn't. Kathy's role as gestational carrier presented one problem: Because she has a very narrow pelvis, making vaginal births impossible, she had had all four of her own children by cesarean. Kathy had heard that another such operation posed a risk, but she was adamant: "This was something I really wanted to do," she says. "I talked with my doctor, and he said OK." For her part, Ann was considered too old to be an ideal egg donor.

Several fertility clinics turned down the three women. Eventually, Dr. Geoffrey Sher at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco agreed to do the procedure. Last May seven embryos were implanted in Kathy's womb. One of them took.

Linda made several trips to Illinois during Kathy's pregnancy. "So," she says, "I got to see her grow and feel the baby moving." And, of course, they shared every stage of James Jr.'s development over the phone. Says Joe: "When Kathy started feeling heartburn, I called Jim in Oregon and told him, 'OK, I know there's a two-hour time difference. But at 11:30 tonight I want you to start rummaging around for Turns.' "

Throughout the pregnancy, Kathy, who had just one 20-minute counseling session, had no problem remembering whose baby she was carrying. "We considered what we were doing as intense baby-sitting," she says. "Now all I have to do is look at Linda and Jim to see I did the right thing."

Despite all they've been through, Linda and Jim are still anxious to adopt. "We want to have a big family," says Linda. "After all, look what having brothers and sisters did for us."

LYNN EMMERMAN in Barrington, Ill.

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