Tough Duff

updated 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Anticipating the arrival of her first baby, ex-MTV veejay Karen Duffy bought an antique baby carriage on eBay and took it to the hot-rod customizers at the Lime Rock Racetrack, not far from her weekend home in Litchfield County, Conn. Her vision was to bring it up to speed for the fast-paced sidewalks of Manhattan: rechromed and repainted with flames on its side. "It's bouncy," says Duffy, "and rarin' to go."

Just like Mom. Duffy, 42, and her husband of six years, tech-company consultant John Lambros, 38, are now the proud pram pushers of John Augustine Lambros, who came into the world July 21 via a surrogate mother implanted with a fertilized egg from the couple. "I see how much he looks like my husband, and he has my dimples...and Kirk Douglas's chin, for some reason. You just think, 'This is the ultimate,'" says the Revlon model, currently a correspondent for Court TV's Hollywood at Large. She couldn't risk exposing a fetus to the strong drug prescriptions required for her ongoing eight-year battle with sarcoidosis, a rare, chronic autoimmune disorder. "You become a parent when you have a baby," says Duffy, "no matter how you get there."

In the two months since John Augustine came home to the couple's four-bedroom Manhattan apartment, "it's been great to see Karen transformed from a wife to a mother," says Lambros. "There's always a lot of laughter." And baby clothes contributed by George Clooney, a friend from back in the '90s, when "Duff" was a high-profile MTV personality and dating material for stars such as singer Dwight Yoakam. "George gave us tons of beautiful clothes," says Duffy, who visited the actor at his villa on Italy's Lake Como this summer. "Sort of cute tough-guy stuff."

That style isn't too far from Duffy's life philosophy: trying to smile while you roll with the punches. She's not completely in remission from the sarcoidosis, which first struck her in 1995 at age 34—"prime time," as she notes, "for women to be reproducing." In her case, the disease produced lesions at the base of the brain stem and triggered a debilitating inflammation of the central nervous system. Eight years later she still suffers from severe neurological pain in the neck—"like a nest of stinging wasps"—plus numbness in her shoulders, hands and feet. She has also lost her sense of smell. Yet even at her sickest, she and Lambros, who wed in 1997, dreamed of a day she'd be well enough to get pregnant. "I would have crawled through broken glass to make it happen," she says. Yet "I wanted there to be a reasonably good chance I wouldn't leave my child without a mom."

Two years ago, finished with a therapy of chemo and steroids, she was ready to conceive. Unfortunately, given the amount of prescription drugs her system needs—including morphine to manage pain—"my doctor had real concerns with me carrying our little guy," says Duffy.

So Duffy chose a surrogate (whose name and location she refuses to reveal). Duffy and Lambros visited the surrogate, who already has her own family, monthly throughout the pregnancy, both at home and at their doctors' offices. "It wasn't at all uncomfortable," Duffy says of her relationship with the woman who carried John. "She's my teammate—my wombmate. We did everything together." She and Lambros were present for the 9-lb. baby's delivery, which was quick (12 minutes) and trouble-free. Now she and the surrogate "talk all the time," says Duffy. "I was like, 'Listen, sister, if you ever need a kidney or a lung, you're totally taken care of.'"

And Duffy will bounce along with the ups and downs of motherhood and her own health issues. "This morning when my husband changed the diapers, he said, 'Can't you smell this? It could knock you over.' But I didn't smell a thing. Diapers, New York City subways...losing your sense of smell is a benefit you don't always notice."

Tom Gliatto
Elizabeth McNeil in New York City

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