What Happened to Baby M

Title: What Happened to Baby M: Unraveling a Heartbreaking Custody Battle


In 1986, the highly controversial case of Baby M captured the nation’s attention, raising questions about surrogacy, parental rights, and the best interests of the child. The legal battle that unfolded between William and Elizabeth Stern, the intended parents, and Mary Beth Whitehead, the surrogate mother, left a lasting impact on the field of reproductive technology. Let’s delve into the details of this heart-wrenching case and understand its implications.

The Baby M Case:

Baby M, whose real name is Melissa Stern, was born on March 27, 1986, in New Jersey. Mary Beth Whitehead, a surrogate mother, had agreed to carry a child for William and Elizabeth Stern, who were unable to conceive. However, soon after the birth, Mary Beth refused to give up custody of the baby, leading to a protracted legal battle.

The Legal Battle:

1. Why did Mary Beth Whitehead refuse to give up custody?
Mary Beth developed a strong bond with the baby during the pregnancy and decided she could not part with her.

2. What were the key legal arguments?
The central question was whether surrogacy contracts were enforceable. Mary Beth’s legal team argued that surrogacy contracts violated public policy and that the best interests of the child should be considered.

3. How did the court rule?
The court initially awarded custody to William and Elizabeth Stern, but Mary Beth was granted visitation rights. However, on appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court invalidated the surrogacy contract but allowed William and Elizabeth to retain custody, with Mary Beth having visitation rights.

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4. How did this case impact the laws surrounding surrogacy?
The Baby M case led many states to establish legislation regarding surrogacy, with some banning it altogether, while others regulated it extensively to protect the rights of all parties involved.

The Aftermath:

5. What happened to Baby M after the case?
Melissa Stern, or Baby M, grew up with William and Elizabeth Stern, who divorced in 1992. Melissa’s name was changed to Sara Elizabeth Whitehead-Gould. She later reunited with Mary Beth Whitehead and maintained a relationship with both families.

6. How did the Baby M case influence public opinion?
The case sparked debates about the morality and ethics of surrogacy, leading to increased public awareness and discussion about reproductive rights, parental rights, and the well-being of children born through surrogacy.

Frequently Asked Questions:

7. What was the outcome for William and Elizabeth Stern?
After their divorce, William and Elizabeth maintained custody of Baby M, now Sara Elizabeth Whitehead-Gould.

8. Did Mary Beth Whitehead continue to be involved in surrogacy?
No, Mary Beth did not pursue further surrogacy arrangements after the Baby M case.

9. How did the Baby M case affect surrogacy laws globally?
The Baby M case prompted a global conversation around surrogacy, leading to the introduction of legislation in various countries to regulate and protect the rights of surrogate mothers, intended parents, and the children involved.

10. Were there any long-term legal changes resulting from the Baby M case?
While the case did not lead to a uniform nationwide legal framework, it did inspire states to adopt surrogacy laws to address the complex issues raised by the case.

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11. How did the Baby M case impact future surrogacy arrangements?
The Baby M case highlighted the need for comprehensive surrogacy agreements that consider the best interests of the child, parental rights, and the surrogate mother’s well-being.

12. Has the Baby M case influenced the development of reproductive technology?
The case shed light on the ethical and legal challenges associated with reproductive technology, leading to further research and regulations to ensure the protection of all parties involved.


The Baby M case remains a landmark legal battle that forever changed the landscape of surrogacy laws. It ignited discussions about the rights of surrogate mothers, intended parents, and the well-being of children born through surrogacy. While the case did not provide a definitive solution, it paved the way for ongoing debates and legislation to create a more equitable and transparent surrogacy environment.