When soap star Deidre Hall couldn’t conceive, after half a lifetime of desperately trying, a loving surrogate provided the happy ending
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 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. 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 bears a striking resemblance to Hall. Hall and Sohmer had met Robin through the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Beverly Hills. 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.”
Hall had never expected motherhood to be this complicated. She herself was the third of five children born (two minutes after her twin, Andrea). 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, she focused increasingly on her career. She switched from modeling to acting, and was 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, she married TV executive Michael Dubelko (21 Jump Street) in 1987. After their wedding, the couple tried six rounds of artificial insemination. 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. 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. Unfortunately, none of the IVF treatments took, and one actually put her in a brief coma.
Hall and Dubelko made one last attempt in 1989, trying IVF-gestational. The result, again, was failure. Says Hall: “I learned that not only was my uterus a problem, but also the age of my eggs.” They considered adoption, but their marriage was already taxed beyond endurance, and they divorced later that year.
Sohmer, a twice-divorced father, 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 felt 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 had overseen over 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. 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.'”
Hall, Sohmer and Robin, along with Robin’s children, 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, “Mom is going to have a baby and give it to a lady with a broken tummy.”
At eight months, after ultrasound revealed the baby was a boy, Hall told herself, “This all seems unreal.” Two days before the baby’s birth, reality finally set in with a kick as Hall and Sohmer sat on either side of Robin B. on their living room couch and, both hands pressed against her abdomen, grinned each time they felt little David flutter. “If I had been in love with the father, 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, a scant 15 minutes later, an overcome Hall shouted, “He has ears!” The, the umbilical cord still attached, Hall reached for her baby. “Hey, quit pulling,” Robin jokingly admonished. “He’s still attached to me.” Sohmer, cutting the cord, severed that connection. “It was,” says Hall, “really like three people having a baby.”
Hall and Sohmer took their son home, but not before Robin spent a half hour alone with him. “I had thought up some great good-byes to say,” she recalls, “but this wasn’t a good-bye, it was more of a hello.” In fact, Robin, along with her daughter, paid the new family a visit. “I had no fear that she would see that baby and want to keep him,” Hall says. There’s a notion that women can’t do this for each other, that some mechanism keeps them from being so close. “It’s not true,” Robin disagrees. “The relationships I developed with Dee was real female bonding,” she says.
After a 20-year wait, Hall says her first weeks of motherhood have been “beyond my wildest dreams of joy.” In the Days studio, the staff has hung a cue card that reads MOTHERS AND CHILD ARE DOING FINE. Soon, Hall and son will be 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.”
Deidre and Steve are the proud parents of two sons, David (born in 1992) and Tully (born in 1995).
Question: Are your children going to know from the start about their biological mom?
Deidre Hall: Yes. In fact, the other night, David wanted to discuss his birth and I asked him what he wanted to know. He wondered what he was wearing. I told him “Nothing, you were naked.” He asked who was there and I told him “Your Mommy and your Daddy. We loved you so much, we couldn’t wait to meet you.” He asked “Was Tully there?” I said, “No, he wasn’t born yet. He was in heaven.” David said, “Really? He wasn’t in Robin’s tummy yet?” I think he gets the idea.
Question: Why not adoption??
Deidre Hall: Adoption was on my list. So was going door to door and begging strangers. Surrogacy just worked first.
Question: Are you maintaining a relationship with the surrogate mother? What is her relationship with your child?
Deidre Hall: Robin sees the children here at the house occasionally. We want them to grow up knowing that she is always a part of their lives.
Question: What is your favorite part of the day with the boys?
Deidre: I love that you asked me that, because I say it every day! Every night, my boys and I, after I give them their baths and brush their teeth and give them their night-night kisses, get into bed, and they both choose three or four books. And as we snuggle down under the covers and lean against the pillows, they both lean up against me, and we open the first book. And I always say, “This is my favorite time of the day.” And my boys say it with me now. We all know it.
The movie “Never Say Never: the Deidre Hall Story” – chronicles their two year decade of struggling with infertility, the love Deidre and Steve have for one another, and the miracle they found in surrogacy.
LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles
Article published in People Magazine, September 28, 1992 Vol. 38 No. 13