Overheard: Surrogacy is not the same as incest
The ultrasound at 8 weeks shows the Luciches' twins, which Tiffany Burke is carrying.
September 11th, 2012
11:14 AM ET

Overheard: Surrogacy is not the same as incest

We received an enormous response to the story “Carrying these babies for my brother.” The article detailed how Tiffany Burke decided to become a surrogate mother for her brother James Lucich and his wife Natalie.

Tiffany is pregnant with twin boys, who are the children of her brother and his wife. The Luciches have one child already, Hunter. Burke and her husband have two of their own children, as well. The families plan to film a documentary about their journey.

Some readers were confused by the situation, calling it “incest.” That is not an accurate assessment. Firstly, James did not directly impregnate his sister. Secondly, although the twins are growing inside Burke, Natalie Lucich is the biological mother. The fetuses developed from embryos implanted in Burke, made from the combination of Natalie’s egg and James’s sperm.

Furthermore, Tiffany and James were both adopted at birth, and are not related by blood to each other. Tiffany wrote on her website that she would have served as a surrogate for a biological brother too.

“This is no different than a sister carrying for a sister," she wrote.

Some readers expressed admiration for Tiffany:


The sister deserves admiration for being willing to sacrifice her body to help her brother and his wife welcome much-loved children into their family. She will be one very special aunt to these boys for giving them life.

Others wondered why the family didn’t opt to adopt:


When we are facing problems with over population, food shortages, and clean water shortages WHY do people want to have THREE or more biological children.  It would be such a kind gift to humanity and the earth to have less biological children and adopt more non-biological children.

To this, Tiffany and Natalie’s website responds that it was a personal choice made by James and Natalie:

Our family is very pro-adoption since James, Tiffany and another one of their siblings, Jonathan, are all adopted.   The process for adoption is similar to surrogacy, long and hard and expensive.  Natalie and James wanted to try to have their own biological child (not knowing it would be twins) to complete their family.  Some people desire this over adoption and that is okay.

Adoption is not easy, it can take a long time, the child can have major issues from abuse while the mother was pregnant.  Adoption is not for everyone and I commend James and Natalie for saying they were not ready to adopt at this point in their life.  For knowing their boundaries.  All the people that mention adoption over and over, I highly doubt any of them have gone through the process themselves.  Family building is such a personal choice and everyone chooses differently.  They had the opportunity with Natalie's eggs left and Tiffany willing to carry.  We felt it all really lined up perfectly and are happy with this choice. Adoption may still be an option in the future for them.

Reader iowaborne has gone through a similar situation: Her triplets were born to a gestational surrogate, too. iowaborne is a cancer survivor who lost her uterus as a result of her disease. She writes:

Yes, we considered adoption but knowing I could produce eggs meant we could have a biological child and hope returned to help ease my own suffering. In my mind it felt selfish to adopt a baby who could become part of the thousands of families who are faced with no reproductive abilities.

Finally, some readers wondered why the family would choose to share the story and create a film about it. Tiffany responds:

It was my idea to share it because I knew nothing about surrogacy going into this.  I thought it could be a great way to share an actual story, and get the medical side to it filmed accurately so we could educate anyone else wanting to dive into this world of surrogacy.   I also found as we blogged, so many women came forward to share their stories of infertility issues and it felt good for all of us to no longer feel alone.  It seems like with fertility issues, women have been suffering silently.  My husband is in film and I asked him if he wanted to do this project, I am glad he accepted.

Sharing such a personal matter has not been easy.  There are times we have thought it's not worth it.  But we really want to help others no longer feel alone in their journey, and bring awareness to fertility issues.  ALL issues.  Including women who can't get pregnant, men who's sperm count is too low, gay couples and surrogacy, straight couples and surrogacy etc.   So many ways to build families these days and this seemed like a good chance to get the word out of one of those ways.   We hope for more understanding and tolerance on the subject.

See more of the family's answers to CNN questions here.

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Lily

    A wonderful story. God Bless you all !

    September 11, 2012 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Meh

    yeah, you could adopt but whatever...

    September 11, 2012 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Auto-Tuner

    “This is no different than a sister carrying for a sister," she wrote.
    yeah, that doesnt make it sound wrong at all.

    September 11, 2012 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sara

      It's not "wrong". A gestational surrogate mother is not the biological mother of the child or children she carries. The reason they use the comparison to a sister is that, though the phrase might sound odd, most people wouldn't assume incest because they'd figure a sister can't impregnate her sister.

      November 25, 2014 at 09:54 | Report abuse |
  4. Love Rhino

    I would ask to at least be allowed to drop off the baby batter the old fashioned way

    September 11, 2012 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. shane

    Same thing has having intercourse with your sibling.

    September 11, 2012 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Love Rhino

      So its sancioned by west virginia at least then

      September 11, 2012 at 14:34 | Report abuse |
    • Love Rhino


      September 11, 2012 at 14:34 | Report abuse |
    • lisaleev

      Did you even READ the story or are YOU from West Virginia? The eggs are already fertilized by the sperm of the husband and the egg of the wife (in a dish) then implanted into the surrogate. It is THEIR child, not the brother and sister who are not biologically related anyway.

      September 11, 2012 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
    • Love Rhino

      blow me

      September 11, 2012 at 15:33 | Report abuse |
    • Love Rhino

      please – sorry, didnt want to be rude

      September 11, 2012 at 15:33 | Report abuse |
    • Emily

      Seriously? You obviously cannot read. Either that, or you're seriously ignorant.

      October 1, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
    • surrogatetwice

      No it is not. The biological mother is his WIFE, not his sister. Geez, read the article before you make dumb comments.

      October 3, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse |
  6. bob

    "Yes, we considered adoption but knowing I could produce eggs meant we could have a biological child and hope returned to help ease my own suffering. In my mind it felt selfish to adopt a baby who could become part of the thousands of families who are faced with no reproductive abilities."

    Let me translate that for you: "We aren't willing to adopt a baby that might be 'defective'."

    September 11, 2012 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Meh

      yeah, no kidding

      September 11, 2012 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
    • sally

      And Bob, may I ask how many children you have adopted, specifically those with special needs.

      Doesn't it make more sense for this family to admit they don't have the emotional resources available to deal with a adoption, than to go ahead and do something that isn't right for them?

      September 11, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
    • JohnC

      While adopting would be very generous I don't consider NOT adopting to be selfish. There are so many emotional and practical considerations here involving multiple people that can make adopting right or wrong for any couple. Others need to just respect and accept these sorts of decisions.

      September 11, 2012 at 16:44 | Report abuse |
    • bob

      Sally, the woman said it was selfish for her to adopt when she could still reproduce. Uh, no. Using some BS excuse such as "well, I still have eggs, that baby isn't worth adopting when I have eggs left" is SELFISH.

      And what does it matter if I have adopted or not? I'm not the one claiming that NOT using my reproductive bits is selfish.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:14 | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      Bob, we won't ever know the true intentions of that statement. I have undergone IVF and my husband and I are not interested in adoption – a child with special needs or not. It's not for us for many reasons. But I doubt your translation of this statement is truly accurate. Would you judge her if she agreed with your little translation anyhow? I don't.

      September 12, 2012 at 20:12 | Report abuse |
  7. Renee

    I'm surprised anyone would view that as incest.

    I applaud them for their honesty. I can't carry a child, but I may have viable eggs. I would love to have a child that is truly mine, my DNA, etc. and would consider surrogacy.

    I'm not anti-adoption by any stretch. But I certainly don't think it's wrong to want my own child. If that's wrong, then nobody should have children and everybody should adopt – see how that works out! Ridiculous.

    I know a lot of people who have adopted. It's ridiculously expensive, stressful, time consuming, and difficult. There's a risk of losing the money you put down up front if the country "closes". Surrogacy isn't easy either, it has its own risks.

    Basically, it's chosing between a rock and a hard place. Nobody has a right to judge. Do you blame couples who choose to conceive their own child the natural way instead of adopting? It's no different.

    September 11, 2012 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rebecca

    For all those who think this couple should "just" have adopted, here's why we didn't:

    We struggled for more than a year to get pregnant. We were thrilled when we finally did, then heartbroken when I miscarried in the first trimester. We knew our chances of getting pregnant again were slim and would likely take a long time, and we were very open to the idea of adoption, so we moved on to that.

    Adoption match #1 – birthmom lied about her intent to place (didn't just change her mind after the baby was born, which is always a risk a prospective adoptive parent faces in domestic adoption, but deliberately misled us because she wanted the financial support)
    Match #2 – birthmom truly wanted to place with us, and so lied about the situation with the birthfather (said he was an irresponsible partier who couldn't hold down a job, turns out he'd had the same job with a large company for 3 years, owned his own house, and owned 2 cars – he contested the adoption plan)
    Match #3 – this birthmom's 2 older sisters had placed babies for adoption through our attorney and those went smoothly, so the attorney was sure this one would be the one for us. Baby was born 3 days after we were matched. We thought she was 6 weeks early. Turned out she was full term, weighed less than 4 pounds, and had very high levels of cocaine in her system. She needed to be placed with a family certified in special needs, which we were not.

    And those were just the situations we were officially matched with – don't even get me started on all the scammers we had to deal with but didn't actually become officially matched with. After losing $30k on those three situations, we turned to IVF. It took 5 more years, but we now have an amazing 6-month-old daughter. I know several other families who have had horrible adoption experiences, including 2 families whose experiences were so bad that even though they did wind up eventually successfully adopting, they wouldn't do it again.

    So, that's one reason why sometimes people don't "just adopt"...

    September 12, 2012 at 00:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AJ

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I get tired of hearing people say "just adopt" as if its as simple as going to the corner store and picking out a baby and taking it home. Its expensive and not always successful.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:32 | Report abuse |
    • Ms M

      I am so sorry you had to deal with that. Although I can't relate, I can sympathize. My husband and I are in our 40s and have been married almost 10 years. We discovered about five years ago that the chances of us conceiving naturally were slim to none. We don't have children and I have never been pregnant. Earlier this year, we met with a fertility specialist who told us that we would be ideal candidates for IVF. The only caveat is that due to my age and the high possibility of birth defects or miscarriage that he advised me to use an egg donor. I have been taking daily shots for a month now and will be taking several more until the projected date of the embryo transfer which is currently Monday, October 8. We had looked into adoption (foreign and domestic) and fostering but really wanted to find out if we could try IVF. Yes, I fully realize that the child(ren) will not have my genes/DNA but I don't care. I just want the child to be healthy. Congratulations on your daughter.

      September 12, 2012 at 15:12 | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      We have gone through three IVFs. One resulted in a miscarriage and we are currently trying to do a FET cycle from our last IVF after having done PGD testing. I have been so fortunate that very few people have had the courage to tell me the, "you can always adopt" when they have biological children of their own. It is not a infertility patients job to adopt all the children in the world and like you mentioned, I wished the fertile peole in the world understood just how emotional, financial is costs a couple to even attempt to have hopes of adopting successfully...not to mention the amount of time it takes for it to go through in addition to a couples invasion of privacy it takes to adopt. People who can have children without any intervention don't have to fill out financial information, have their homes judged and inspected as well as subjected to the insane amount of background checking. Just adopting is never 'just adopting'.

      September 12, 2012 at 20:07 | Report abuse |
    • Rebecca

      Miss M – I really hope your upcoming embryo transfer is a success. From what I understand, success rates are often very good with donor eggs. My husband and I were 37 when our daughter was born, married 16 years. (We started trying when we were 28 – it took us 9 years and 9 months total with everything we went through.) While I had not wanted to be an older mom (mostly for reasons related to my relationship with my mom, who was 39 when I was born), I think I'm probably much more laid back and mellow and have a better perspective about what is truly important now than I would have if we'd become parents 10 years ago.

      Again, best wishes for success on your upcoming transfer!

      September 13, 2012 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
    • Rebecca

      Marie – I'm so sorry to hear about your miscarriage. That is so tough, but please know it is still possible to have success after a loss (or losses). After our miscarriage and failed adoptions, we had one more suprise totally natural pregnancy that resulted in miscarriage, a fresh transfer that resulted in a negative, an FET that resulted in a negative, an FET that resulted in twins being miscarried 9 days apart during the 6th/7th weeks, an FET that resulted in a miscarriage at 10 weeks after seeing the heartbeat during the 6th, 7th, and 8th weeks (turns out the baby had a chromosomal abnormality – was completely missing the 2nd gender chromosome; it's the only loss we have an official explanation for), a Clomid cycle pregnancy (we were out of embryos and out of $$ to do another IVF at that point) that resulted in miscarriage during the 8th week (no heartbeat ever seen), and, after we were able to save up to afford another IVF (this time with chromosomal testing) an FET of a CGH-normal embryo that resulted in miscarriage (betas and symptoms behaved like an ectopic, but it could never be visualized to confirm). We decided to do one more transfer to me using 2 of our CGH-normal embryos, even though our RE's preference would have been to do gestational carrier. I have to use Lovenox due to Factor V Leiden and had also used intralipids during some of those other FETs. This time, in addition to the Lovenox, we did LIT and 3 rounds of IVIg. I don't know if the LIT, IVIg, combination of both, or just plain luck is what resulted in our daughter, but whatever it was, we're just very thankful we hung in there and kept trying.

      September 13, 2012 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
  9. Rita

    Please, CNN, get it right. Embryos are TRANSFERRED, not implanted. In fact, the procedure is called an "embryo transfer." Whether or not the embryos implant once transferred into the woman's uterus is beyond anyone's control.

    September 12, 2012 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ms M

    All people hear or read is "brother and sister". They don't read the details where it states that the egg is the Tiffany's sister-in-law's and the sperm is Tiffany's brother's. She is just the incubator and I personally think this is an awesome story.

    September 12, 2012 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. t3chsupport

    I was confused by this – " In my mind it felt selfish to adopt a baby who could become part of the thousands of families who are faced with no reproductive abilities."

    ... what the hell does that even mean? How would that be selfish? Seems a lot more selfish to push your faulty genes on an unsuspecting, unwitting, non-existing person, and then HOPING they don't have your same defects that YOU ARE GIVING THEM. And I'm pretty sure an adopted child wouldn't feel slighted because their parents can't have biological children.

    September 12, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marie

      The biological mother of this child does not have 'faulty genes'. Not sure if you read the story but her uterus was taken from her after the birth of their child. This has nothing to do with faulty genes. No where does the article also state that either the biological mother or father have genetic defects. And just to enlighten you, thousands of people go through IVF, which is what this couple did, not because they have genetic defects. I have undergone IVF and there is no genetic disease I have. People can have their tubes removed for many reason, eptopic pregnancy for example, and they must undergo IVF in order to get pregnant. Some may even require surrogacy for uterine issues. You speak as someone who has never had to go through this process or really understand the patients who do need to use IVF and perhaps surrogacy.

      September 12, 2012 at 20:01 | Report abuse |
  12. melli12

    I think it's amazingly generous. What's the difference whether it's his sister or mother? The eggs came from his wife. By the way, does anyone remember those old episodes of Friends where Phoebe becomes a surrogate for her half-brother? Totally the couple's eggs in Phoebe's basket. 🙂

    September 12, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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  15. Lawrence E. Segers

    At the bottom, this is an issue of morals and ethics – not biology. The process is biological, of course, however, as moral and ethical beings we can not separate our bodies from our human dignity. Nor, is something moral and ethical simply because it is possible.

    First and foremost, the notion of a surrogate mother is fundamentally flawed. It reduces a woman and her gift to assist in the process to create and sustain a human life to a commodity for sale to the highest bidder or a utility – a means to an end. This is clearly a violation of her human dignity. This is a serious reduction of this priceless gift to the level of a utility.

    This is not to state this it can not happen in a "loving way" but let's be forthright. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of cases the surrogate is "selling" her gift to the highest bidder. Yes, it is all very legal, all parties are good people hoping to bring life into the world in many cases, however, it is a contractual purchase plain and simple. Just because something is possible it does not mean we should. It's also a reality that the vast majority of surrogates are economically disadvantaged. So, the question/issue of exploitation is very real and once more – let's be transparent – this is what is happening "out there". One will be hard pressed to find an upper middle class woman offering to be a "surrogate".

    Now, this case in particular. No one who is loving would question the natural desire of another to have children as a married couple. It is a noble and honorable pursuit. The question is what are the moral a ethical consequences of the choices made to make this happen. And, is the dignity of all involved being acknowledged. This means the parents, the child, the family and society.

    This notion of involving siblings in the process of creating human life at such an intimate and emotionally involved way as a surrogate mother is a very slippery plane emotionally, psychological and socially; not to mention the points made above about surrogates. No woman can become pregnant [regardless of the methods employed], carry a child to term then take on the risks to give birth to a child without becoming very connected to that child at a very profound level as its – mother. It is simply impossible. We're "hard wired" to respond this way. Regardless of what some may rationalize – this is a fact of life.

    The consequences of this fundamental reality of healthy human relationships are unavoidable. Who then is responsible if and when this wholly natural and healthy response becomes manifest in such a way that the surrogate can not help but make that
    wholly rational and understandable claim, "This is my child." Who is going to clean up that "mess"? And when this does happen who is to blame? This is point out but one possible consequence of countless others.

    This is, was and always will be a bad idea. Just because we can does not mean we should.


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