We waited outside the courtroom to be called before the judge to finalize an unusual adoption in which a sister acted as a surrogate. After years of in vitro fertilization cycles and three miscarriages, June and Victor had still longed for a genetically related child. They created embryos combining Victor’s sperm with ova from a donor and were searching for a special woman to be their gestational surrogate, also known as a gestational carrier. Having children was a deep part of the culture of China, their country of birth, and of the United States, where they had become citizens as young adults.

“When we told my sister, a mother of three, that our only hope for a genetic link to a baby was surrogacy, she instantly volunteered and my sister acted as a surrogate for us,” confided Victor.

A year later, their sister, a gestational surrogate, gave birth to their long dreamed-of son. While Victor declared paternity at birth and placed his name on the birth certificate, under New Jersey law, June needed to adopt their son because she was not his genetic mother. Parentage is a matter of state law and there are only a handful of states with gestational surrogacy laws. In California and Illinois, two of those states, both intended parents, one genetically related to the child and one not, can be declared the legal parents and be placed on the child’s birth certificate. However, a recent New Jersey court decision ruled that only the genetic parent in a gestational surrogacy can receive an order of parentage and be placed on the birth certificate. In 2012 , the New Jersey Legislature passed a gestational carrier law, which would have enabled intended parents like June to receive an order of parentage without adopting her son, but Governor Christie vetoed this vital legislation. http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2012/08/the_con_while_nj_erred_in_veto.html

I asked how their families reacted when Victor’s sister acted as a surrogate for them.

“At first, our traditional Chinese parents were mystified. A sister being pregnant with a brother’s baby? This is not right,” our parents protested. “But as they wrapped their heads around our explanation that the baby would not be created with our sister’s eggs, the older generation came to accept the gestational surrogacy,” said June.

“How would the adults explain their son’s origins to him and to their nephews?” I asked.

“Our nephews, ages 5, 8, and 10, call him cousin-brother,” answered June, kissing the giggling, cherubic infant.

How fitting that the family created a compound word, traditional in the Chinese language since ancient times, to describe this very modern relationship.