A year ago Deborah Bolig was a total stranger to former morning television host Joan Lunden and her husband, Jeff Konigsberg. Last month Bolig made it possible for Lunden and Konigsberg to become parents to twins.
Watch Barbara Walters' full report on 20/20 this Friday at 10 p.m.
Lunden, now 52, and Konigsberg, 10 years her junior, married three years ago and tried everything they could to have biological children on their own. But it just didn't happen.
Enter Bolig, a 41-year-old Cincinnati woman with three children of her own. She agreed to be a surrogate mother for Lunden and Konigsberg. Bolig says this is her "calling." Lunden and Konigsberg say it is a godsend.
"I wasn't ready to put my feet up and retire. I still wanted that life where you're running around chasing kids on bikes and riding bikes with them," Lunden said.
Lunden has three daughters from a previous marriage, but Konigsberg had never had children of his own.
"I fell in love, and married a woman, who had had children, and was older. And I didn't want that to prevent me from, from having the life that, that was important to me. And fortunately, Joan shares that, that dream. And together, together we made a family," he said.
Last month Bolig delivered twins, Kate and Max, in the culmination of one of the more unusual celebrity pregnancies in years.
Kate and Max are now living the easy life in their Connecticut home, filled with all the trimmings and signs of their arrival.
"They both have blond hair. They have little blond peach fuzz there, little blond eyelashes," Lunden said, doting on her new children.
"It is a miracle that we live in a world today that allows us to be able to have babies this way. You know, thanks to modern science," she said.
For 17 years, Lunden was a fixture on ABC's Good Morning America and one of the first anchors to appear pregnant on television. With her first husband, Michael Krauss, Lunden raised three girls — now grown-up — and successfully marketed her wholesome image, lending her name to a series of books on parenting, cooking and fitness.
But it hasn't always been smooth sailing. In 1992, her squeaky-clean image took a hit when her first marriage ended in a messy divorce. Then in 1997, ABC decided to replace her on Good Morning America.
Three years later, at age 46, she married Konigsberg, who runs a summer camp for children. Except for her cable series, Behind Closed Doors, Lunden was mostly out of the spotlight. That is, until last March, when Lunden put herself back in the news, announcing that she would be a mother again.
Trying to Keep a Biological Connection
Early in her relationship with Konigsberg — before they were even engaged — Lunden took a fertility test. Lunden said she was told that she'd have no problem at all getting pregnant.
But the experts were wrong. The couple tried the traditional way for five years and failed. Then, after marrying in 2000, they turned to in-vitro fertilization, but five attempts also failed.
"You find out that sometimes your uterus doesn't go along with the program," Lunden said.
She and her husband did not want to adopt. The couple — hoping to maintain a biological connection — turned instead to surrogacy.
"I was completely convinced that I could, wanted to, and felt like Jeff should have that experience of his wife being pregnant. … So I was the one who was reluctant to move on to surrogacy; he's the one who finally said, I think that time is of the essence and that we should try another way," Lunden said.
‘The Ultimate Blind Date’
Lunden and Konigsberg are by no means alone. They quickly discovered that since 1980, surrogacy in the United States has delivered 18,000 children. It is no longer the controversial option it once was when bitter and emotional custody battles ensued between parents and surrogates.
Lunden chose to work with an agency in California where, unlike some other states, the laws favor the intended parents should a custody dispute arise.
The agency put them in touch with Bolig, a married 41-year-old mother of three from Cincinnati. Lunden and Bolig exchanged letters, each expressing what they hoped from the other, and then, before a decision was made, they and their husbands met.
"Jeff says it's like the ultimate blind date!" said Lunden. "You're talking to these people — a couple! — and remember it is a couple. I mean, Deborah obviously had to go through the entire pregnancy, but Pete's married to her and they have three young adolescent girls together. It is a family project any way you slice it! And we knew immediately … I just knew their hearts were in the right place."
But even with all the good feelings, surrogacy is an expensive business transaction involving lawyers and detailed contracts about everything from how many embryos are implanted to what happens if the couple should divorce or even die before birth.
Bolig was paid $22,000 for carrying the twins. Lunden said, "We actually paid the center a lot more than that, because it's a very, very long, drawn out legal thing, but she gets about $22,000."
But the agency does its best to ensure that money isn't the chief incentive for surrogates. According to Lunden, the agency tries to determine that the woman and her family are not depending on the money they're going to make, and looks for women who are married and have had at least two of their own biological children.
Apparently, this is intended to safeguard against the possibility that the surrogate would change her mind and want to keep the children herself.
Last October Lunden held Bolig's hand as the embryos — which contained Konisberg's sperm and eggs from an undisclosed donor — were transferred into Bolig's uterus.
While Lunden confirmed that Bolig has no biological relationship to the twins, she would not reveal whose eggs were used. "I'm not going on record as saying anything," Lunden said. "We've really taken the position that we want to not be public about how we go about creating our children."
It's called gestational surrogacy. The surrogate has no biological link to the children. We asked Lunden if the eggs came from any of her grown daughters. But she insists that none of the eggs came from her family.
During Bolig's pregnancy, Lunden would call her and fly in for doctor's appointments. She even made an audiotape for Bolig to put next to her womb so the unborn babies would hear her voice.
Lunden and Konigsberg were allowed to join Bolig and her husband, Pete, in the delivery room, and Lunden was even permitted to cut the twins' umbilical cords.
"It was this coming together of two families who had been strangers all of a sudden for a common goal … just united in this most extraordinary experience," she said.
Lunden recalled that Kate was born first, smiling ear to ear with her eyes wide open, and, she said, "Max came out a little wailer and he's been wailing ever since."
It may seem astonishing that a woman would put herself through the marathon of pregnancy and labor for another couple, but Lunden said she and her husband saw something remarkable in the delivery room.
She said, "I'll tell you something, Pete said to Jeff right after the delivery that when he saw the joy on Deborah's face as she looked at our faces that he fell in love with her all over again. I mean it's an amazing experience."
By all accounts Deborah Bolig is the consummate wife and mother. Ten years ago their three daughters were at her side when she and Pete reaffirmed their wedding vows. With all the joys in her own life, what makes such a woman become a surrogate? Is it for money or is it something else?
Bolig tried to explain. "I loved being pregnant with my own three girls," she said. "I didn't want anymore of my own, and I knew that I could do this for someone. I wanted to make a difference in a couple's life. And this seemed the perfect way."
She loves being a surrogate so much that only seven months before she became pregnant for Lunden and Konigsberg, Bolig delivered twins for another couple, from England.
She says the money she earned had little effect on her decision to carry the babies. "It was a chance to contribute to the family finances. When you break it down over the nine months, 12 months, it's barely minimum wage, you know, hour-wise. It was a chance to send my girls to camp, you know, pay a couple of extra bills, you know, things like that. But finances can't be the No. 1 concern."
But finances are a major part of having children via surrogate gestation. The total cost for Lunden and Konigsberg was approximately $100,000.
Lunden acknowledged that surrogacy is an option that is likely prohibitively costly for most American couples. "I want to be really honest with you … it is still an expensive thing to do," she said. "And let's remember that it usually comes on the heels of four or five in-vitros, and that's pretty expensive in and of itself, and it's not something that's covered by insurance."
Unfair to the Children?
Lunden's new experience with motherhood hasn't come without controversy. Shortly after she appeared on the cover of People, the magazine received some critical letters about Lunden. One of them said it was unfair to the children that their mother will be 65 when they're in their teens.
Lunden had a quick response to the criticism: "Is it fair for a 16-year-old girl to have a baby and not really take great care of it because she's a little girl herself? "
Another magazine reader questioned why Lunden didn't adopt, and called her act "breathtakingly selfish."
Lunden said: "First of all, the idea of wanting a fourth and fifth child I don't think is a selfish thing. Second of all, adoption today is not so easy with birth control and with single mothers being able to raise children today without a certain stigma. There are not that many adoptive babies available."
If Lunden and Konigsberg decide to have more children, they may not have to consider adoption. Bolig has said she wants to be a surrogate again, and says she'd be happy to carry for Lunden and Konigsberg again.
"I know my friends are just rolling their eyes. You know, you just know immediately that I could do this again. Until my body just gives out," Bolig said.
Lunden may just turn to Bolig for help again. She says she and her husband still have more embryos to work with, and says they're considering having more children through surrogacy. "I'll tell you one thing — we're sure enjoying the experience this time around."