Summer Baby

Surrogacy opens the door to parenthood for determined couple


After an eight-year saga of infertility, miscarriages and cancer, Stacey and Chad Baker are the proud parents of Gavin, born via a gestational carrier last August.

They entered the restaurant not yet having made up their minds.

Stacey and Chad Baker '97 joked that an article they read earlier that day might be right: The universe will reveal your destiny, if only you pay attention. The couple wanted children, but perhaps there was a lesson to be learned after eight years of disappointment.

And now, in a Des Moines eatery known for wooden doors suspended playfully overhead, the Bakers were sure all doors had closed to them. They talked and decided to give up their dream of having a family.

Moments later, a waiter appeared with an opened bottle of wine; a nearby couple had to head out early and wanted to share, thinking the Bakers needed a little something to celebrate.

They had no idea.


Chad is chief accounting officer of a biofuels producer in Ames, Iowa; Stacey manages a floor of nurses at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. Midwest natives, Chad and Stacey were raised with the idea that dedication to a goal brings success, and up until their first miscarriage, in 2007, they believed that to be true.

"Those were the days when we thought we could plan these things and they'd happen," says Stacey.

Stacey found she was pregnant again in early 2008, the morning they signed the contract on a new house. Plans to chart her belly growth next to the house's progress were halted after another miscarriage, at 10 weeks. Early the next year, mindful that Stacey was already 36, the couple began fertility treatments—with little success.

Then came 2010. The year began with another miscarriage, followed by the death of Chad's uncle from brain cancer. After the funeral, Chad and Stacey flew to Florida to unwind. Within hours of landing, Chad noticed during a shower that his left testicle was hard as a rock; back home, he would be diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Surgery was successful, but a few months later, pain would level Chad to the ground, revealing the cancer had spread to the right testicle and, more dangerously, to his lymph nodes. In between these diagnoses, Stacey's father died.

"Believe me, we prayed a lot. And then we stopped praying," says Chad. "We stopped going to church for a while. I got angry at God. But we didn't stop talking to each other. And we didn't stop believing."

Fertility treatments would finally yield some success in 2012. Chad had recovered from the short, intense chemotherapy, and Stacey became pregnant with twins, only to miscarry again.

In March of 2013, eight years into their journey to create a family, Chad and Stacey shared the gift of wine from strangers and decided enough was enough. And then a text arrived from their friend Summer: "How old is too old to be a surrogate?"

Summer Marnin had taken care of the Bakers' dog, Daisy, and their house while they were away throughout the years; they had come to know her and her teenage daughters well, but had shared only the bare bones of their efforts to have a baby. After some initial reluctance to draw Marnin and her two daughters into their struggles, they checked her insurance. And every door they thought would close stayed open.

Enduring a myriad of lab tests, lawyers and psychological evaluations together, the families bonded. On Dec. 6, 2013, two embryos created from Chad's sperm and a donor's eggs were implanted; the Bakers—and the Marnins—were expecting twins. Twenty weeks in, however, an ultrasound revealed one of the twins had died.

But on Aug. 22, 2014, Gavin Caymus Baker entered the world. The doctor delivered him straight into Stacey's arms, and when Chad spoke, Baby Baker lifted his head in recognition.

"I was afraid until the second I saw his face," says Stacey. "I thought, 'He's beautiful and he's OK.'"

"Getting to experience this was unbelievable," Chad says.

"There was a lot of love invested in getting Gavin here and getting Chad through his cancer."

Until Gavin's birth, it was difficult for the Bakers not to believe they were being punished, or that there was a lesson somewhere to be learned.

"I think Summer was supposed to have Gavin," says Stacey, "but we'll never know the reason or the ripple effect. We heard from hundreds of people [following the Des Moines Register's five-part chronicling of their story]. Summer heard from a woman who wasn't going to have her child and now will."

Gavin is a happy, social baby; his big grin wins over the most unsuspecting of strangers. And those strangers in the restaurant, with the wine? They might have sensed not only his parents' need for a little something to celebrate, but also their joy—a hopeful determination in the face of many struggles.

"It's a point that gets lost in our story," says Stacey. "Yes, it's sad, but we have a lot of joy in our lives. There was a lot of love invested in getting Gavin here and getting Chad through his cancer."

"I think that couple thought we already had something to celebrate. They saw us smiling."

Just like the boy the Bakers would one day meet.

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