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Mary Beth Whitehead
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    (April 1967- )
    Birth name was Mary Elizabeth Messer
    Resident of Brick Township, New Jersey
    Signed a contract agreeing to be inseminated by William Stern and to give up custody rights for the resulting child to Stern and his wife Elizabeth (February 5, 1985)
    Was to receive $10,000 as ‘compensation for services and expenses’
    Gave birth to a daughter she named Sarah Elizabeth Whitehead (March 27, 1986)
    Refused to accept the $10,000 or to hand over the child
    Sterns sued for custody
    Case formally known as ‘In Re Baby M’
    New Jersey Superior Court Judge Harvey Sorkov upheld the surrogacy contract and awarded custody to the Sterns (March 31, 1987)
    Case appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court
    State Supreme Court invalidated the surrogacy contract and ordered that custody be decided by a family court on a ‘best interests of the child’ basis (February 3, 1988)
    Lower court awarded custody to the Sterns while giving Whitehead visitation rights
    Child renamed Melissa Elizabeth Stern
    Wrote ‘A Mother’s Story: The Truth About the Baby M Case’ (1989)
    She dropped out of school at fifteen.
    At sixteen, she was married and pregnant.
    When police arrived with a court order for her to hand over the baby to the Sterns, she passed the infant through a window to her husband and told him to run.
    In a taped phone call, she told William Stern, ‘I’d rather see me and her dead before you get her. I gave her life and I can take her life away.’
    A psychiatrist who examined her, Marshall Schecter, said she had ‘a borderline personality disorder.’
    When Sarah/Melissa/Baby M turned 18, she went to court to formally terminate Mary Beth’s parental rights (2004).
    She got a job as a caretaker for mutual fund pioneer Jack Dreyfus, but was removed from the job by a court order shortly before the financier’s death amid allegations that valuable furnishings had disappeared and been replaced with cheap knockoffs and that Whitehead had been cutting off access to Dreyfus’ friends and family.
    She got interested in becoming a surrogate mother partly because her sister Beverly is infertile.
    One of the psychiatric tests she took before becoming a surrogate indicated that she would have trouble giving up the baby, so maybe the Sterns should have heeded the warning.
    Over 120 prominent women – including Meryl Streep, Susan Sontag and Margaret Atwood -- signed a letter titled ‘By These Standards, We’re All Unfit Mothers’ supporting Whitehead and attacking the testimony of the experts in the case.
    The letter asked that judges ‘recognize that a mother need not be perfect to ‘deserve’ her child.’
    Schecter, the guy who said Whitehead had ‘borderline personality disorder,’ also concluded she had a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ because she (horrors!) dyed her prematurely grey hair.
    New Jersey Chief Justice Robert Wilentz wrote, ‘We do not know of, and cannot conceive of, any other case where a fit mother was expected to surrender her newly born infant, perhaps forever, and was told she was a bad mother because she did not.’
    She commented about her notoriety, ‘I got the celebrity status without having a celebrity life.’

Credit: C. Fishel

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