Title: He Gets That From Me
Author: Jacqueline Friedland
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Length: 295 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
As a young mother with a toddler and a live-in boyfriend, Maggie Fisher’s job at a checkout counter in downtown Phoenix doesn’t afford her much financial flexibility. She dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher, options she squandered when she fled her family home as a teenager. When Maggie stumbles onto an ad offering thousands of dollars to women who are willing to gestate other people’s babies, she at first finds the concept laughable. Before long, however, she’s been seduced by all the ways the extra money could improve her life. Once she decides to go for it, it’s only a matter of months before she’s chosen as a gestational carrier by Chip and Donovan Rigsdale, a married couple from New York.
After delivering twin babies and proudly handing them off to the Rigsdales, Maggie finally gets her life on a positive trajectory: she earns her degree, lands a great job, and builds a family of her own. She can’t fathom why, ten years after the fact, the fertility clinic is calling to ask for a follow-up DNA test.
I bought this e-book on a whim (it was 99 cents!), interested to see where the story would go. And while it definitely held my attention, I would describe He Gets That From Me as only partially successful.
As the story opens, we meet Maggie, who loves her baby Wyatt and her boyfriend Nick, but struggles to make ends meet. She regrets walking away from the college education her well-off parents were providing, a decision made after a teen-age trauma that made her flee parental control and judgment. When she sees an ad for gestational carriers, i.e., women to act as surrogates for those who cannot have children on their own, she doesn’t take it particularly seriously… but she can’t stop thinking about it, especially how the money could get her life back on track and allow her to finally pursue the education she gave up on.
We also meet Donovan, a New York real estate broker in a happy marriage with his husband Chip. They’re well-off and well-established, but desperately want a family together. As they enter the surrogacy process, they’re oh-so-careful at every step, making sure they’ll be legally protected and being very cautious in choosing their potential gestational carriers.
In the early chapters of the book, we jump backward and forward in time, and so we learn that Donovan has had himself, Chip, and their twin 10-year-old boys tested through an at-home DNA testing kit to help the boys with a class genealogy project. Donovan and Chip each provided sperm to use with their egg donor’s eggs, and based on the boys’ physical traits, they’ve long assume that Teddy is biologically Chip’s and Kai is biologically Donovan’s. Until the test results come back — and show that Kai isn’t biologically related to either of his dads.
As Donovan essentially freaks out and looks for answers, the couple assume a screw-up at the fertility lab. Perhaps their embryos were switched with someone else’s? Donovan even investigates whether babies could have been switched at birth. But no — all options are a dead-end until Maggie’s DNA testing confirms the obvious answer. Kai is biologically her son. How is this even possible?
Superfetation. Per healthline.com, “Superfetation is when a second, new pregnancy occurs during an initial pregnancy. Another ovum (egg) is fertilized by sperm and implanted in the womb days or weeks later than the first one. ” Oh, dear. So while two embryos from the donor eggs and Chip and Donovan’s sperm were transferred to Maggie, only one took… and then she and Nick conceived another fetus naturally, ending up pregnant with two unrelated fetuses.
Maggie, of course, is horrified. She and Nick tried for years to have more children, but whether from carrying twins or from a subsequent car accident, she ended up with uterine scarring that affected her fertility. She’s wracked by guilt: She agreed to carry someone else’s children, not to give away her own child.
An inevitable showdown between the two families quickly comes into play. After meeting Kai briefly, Maggie is convinced that he belongs with his biological family, and she and Nick sue for custody. Meanwhile, Chip and Donovan are desperate to keep their family intact and to protect Kai from being uprooted from the only life he’s ever know.
While the set-up is really engaging, I had some issues with the execution. For starters, I don’t truly believe that Maggie could think for one moment that removing Kai from his home would be in his best interest. They got from zero to one hundred in the blink of an eye. What about visiting and getting to know one another? What about simply spending some time together, finding a way to be in each others’ lives? Nope, it’s full custody as the first and only option.
Some ugliness comes into play that seems out of character for Maggie. While Nick expressed some hesitation about becoming a surrogate for a gay couple when the option first was under discussion, Maggie was adamantly opposed to Nick’s homophobia and in fact broke up with him for a while over it. She cared deeply for Chip and Donovan and was committed to helping them create their family. Yet in the court filings, one of the arguments for claiming custody of Kai was that it would be in his best interest to be raised by a “traditional” family. Where did this come from? That was never Maggie’s belief.
I was left very unsatisfied by the end of the book. Certain twists are revealed in the epilogue that I found hard to believe, and the outcome of the custody case (trying to avoid spoilers here) was again a very black and white, all or nothing situation. I couldn’t help feeling that in real life, good lawyers and therapists would have encourage compromise and exploration of the true best interests of the child, rather than moving forward with a winner-takes-all lawsuit as the only possible answer.
At under 300 pages, He Gets That From Me is a quick read. While the premise is certainly interesting, I was too often frustrated by inconsistent or illogical actions and decisions to give this more than a 3-star rating. I could see this book generating good book club arguments for sure!