I was seventeen when I got married. My husband, Jay finished high school, but I dropped out in order to help care for my mother who was dying of cancer. Jay and I had our first child, Brody, when I was eighteen years old. When my mother died, it was really hard for me. She didn’t get to see my son turn one, she didn’t see my eighteenth birthday. My dad had also already passed away. I didn’t want to stay on in the house across the street from where my mother died, so Jay and I moved back to Iowa to be closer to my brother and sisters. But anytime you move—especially 700 miles—it set you back. We thought we were gonna get jobs right away, but we weren’t so lucky. We weren’t financially stable--the move still had us playing catch-up. I was waitressing, and Jay was doing construction and odds and ends jobs, in and out of work.
And then my brother killed himself. My only brother.
I saw an ad in my local paper. The ad was from an agency out of Indianapolis. “Surrogate mothers needed,” it read. I had written a report in high school on surrogacy and was against it. So many babies already exist that need homes. But now that I was older, and now that I had two kids of my own, and now that I was seeing people with fertility issues and the hoops they had to jump through to adopt, I thought what a gift I could be part of if I was a surrogate.
Surrogacy seemed like a way of making some happy chapters in my life—bringing life into the world to kind of make up for the loss of life that I’d experienced with my mother, dad, and brother. Because whenever anybody met me, I felt like they pitied me, “Oh your dad died, your mother died, your brother died. You’re so young and you’ve been through so much.” And it was always sad, and so when you see a surrogacy advertisement, you’re made to feel that you’re giving this gift of life, and that you’re an amazing person, and it’s all positive, like there’s no negative, you know what I mean? By being a surrogate, I could tell people, “Yes, I had that kind of past, but look what I’m doing now. Like, I’m amazing, and I’m needed, and I’m going to make a huge difference for these people who want to be parents.” I felt that I could be important, that I would have power to turn the focus away from a pity person and instead be somebody that everybody was like, envious of, because I was doing such an amazing thing, you know?
And then the money, of course, the money was important. Surrogacy is advertised as kinda like easy money, you know—you get to keep your job, you can still work your other job and this would be just kind of like supplemental income. And you get a fat check every month, and you get paid to take care of yourself and to eat healthy and, you know, you’re pregnant and it’s only nine months, and you know, it’s kind of like not a huge inconvenience. And look at the money you’re going to make! And it was really beneficial to Jay and me, because we were really struggling financially with paying our rent, and I was just waitressing and I worked at a gas station for a little bit. We were struggling and fought a lot because of not having enough money. We almost got divorced because of the money issue. You know, it’s hard, being young, being young parents, not having finished high school, and that kind of stuff added up. It was stressful.
I was nineteen when I called the surrogacy agency. I spoke to who I then thought was a wonderful woman there, named Linda. She worked for an attorney who owned the agency. I was sent this huge application form to fill out, and then I waited to hear back from them.
The agency called me back with a match almost immediately--a gay couple from Paris. The agency told me the couple was married. They gave me this story of how amazing this couple was, but how nobody would work with them and people would not help them because they were gay. I felt bad for them. I was on such a rush about all this, I talked my husband Jay into it. The agency sent me a video of the ‘glorious journey’ I was about to embark on. The attorney was featured in it. My base fee was going to be $18,000, but I was also going to get lots of extras—a maternity allowance, travel and other expenses paid— and I was informed that I could claim all the costs on taxes and that I could use my maternity allowance either on clothes or a new couch – it didn’t matter what. So it was going to end up being just about $25,000, is kind of how they broke it down for me. And that was going to be twice as much as I was making as a waitress.
And for only what they made sound like would be a nine-month commitment. (Of course, it turns out to be much more than a nine-month commitment, because you have to start the hormones sooner, the screenings, the travel, etc.) I wouldn’t have to be on my feet all day, and could enjoy time with my kids, while still getting paid. My first two pregnancies with my own kids had both been so easy. I didn’t even have an epidural with either of them.
And I figured that with all of these benefits, I could and would work hard not to get emotionally attached to any child I brought into the world. I kind of mentally prepared myself as if it was a job. I said to myself that it was like babysitting—24/7 babysitting. I right away started distancing myself emotionally, before we even started. And I was promised that my name would not go on the baby’s birth certificate.
Jay and I went to Oregon to meet the couple and the doctors that would be involved. The couple paid for everything. I started my medications and the cycle. I was 20 years old at the time. My second child, Madison, was born in February 2004, and I was doing the transfer by the next February—February 2005. So I missed Madison’s first birthday because we were in Oregon for the embryo transfer. We went for the embryo transfer in Oregon at a clinic the Paris couple selected because of the clinic’s success rates.
The night before we were due to leave for Oregon, however, Linda called me and said something had come up and that my name needed to go on the birth certificate after all. If I did not agree to this, I would not be able to continue the surrogate journey, and I would need to pay back everything the couple had already paid for – the trip to Oregon, the trip to Indianapolis where we had visited the agency, all of it. We did not have this kind of money, to pay back anything. I talked to Jay. We didn’t feel like we had a choice to back out, and so we were like, “I guess.”
Two embryos were implanted in my utuerus. Both took the very first time. The couple seemed nice. Closer to delivery, Linda called again and said that immediately after the twins were born I would need to accompany the couple to Des Moines, Iowa to get the birth certificates.
I delivered the babies on December 8th. One by C-section, the other by vaginal birth. This made my recovery a little harder. And I ended up getting a real bad infection in my stomach after that. I ended up getting like a softball size infection and they had to cut my belly button open, drain whatever it was out, and it was very painful. And so then my recovery time was even longer. But, we did what Linda said and we went to Des Moines.
But then Linda called again. Something else ‘unexpected’ had come up and I would need to go to Chicago now with the couple to obtain the passports for the babies, or they couldn’t leave the United States. My husband Jay was pissed. We loaded up our own two children, aged three and one, into the car, with me battling an infection from the C-section, and headed to Chicago—over 300 miles away, which took us more than five hours. The couple called us when we arrived at the hotel to say they wanted to meet for dinner and ‘debrief’ me.
We met at Denny’s. This was the very first time Jay and I were informed of the ‘story’ I would be required to tell. Since surrogacy is illegal in France, I was told by the couple that I would have to go to the French Consulate and say that I cheated on my husband, had a fling with Philippe (one of the French couple) and became pregnant with twins by him. I had to say that I could not keep the twins if I wanted to save my marriage, and so I had agreed to send the twins to live in Paris with their father. You should have seen Jay’s face when he heard this! I was totally mortified. But we were told that if I didn’t agree to tell this story to the French Consulate, the couple could not go to Paris with the twins.
We did not finish dinner. Jay and I immediately headed back to the hotel. I tried and tried to get hold of my attorney but it was late at night. The next day we met the couple outside the French Consulate. They told Jay that he could not go in with me – that only Philippe would go in with me. The couple handed me car seats. Philippe and I went up the elevator to the 37th floor and stepped out. Here I was with the babies, the car seats, and a diaper bag, and once we stepped into the French Consulate’s office, everything was in French. The entire meeting was in French. I don’t speak French, so I had no idea what was said. As the Consulate staff and Philippe talked, they would sometimes look at me and laugh. I was scared to death. I never said a word. I signed some papers, all in French, and shook hands, and then headed back with Philippe to the elevator. When we got down to the main floor, Jay was very upset. The couple thanked us and went to shake Jay’s hand, but he looked right at them and said, “We are done!”
When I finally got hold of my attorney and told him what happened, he said, “What the hell did you just do?” I terminated my parental rights in Iowa immediately. The couple said that as soon as they got back to Paris they would have my name removed from the birth certificate. But they never did. And I found out later that they were not even legally married. They called me a couple years ago and wanted to pay for me to go to Chicago and go through an adoption proceeding saying I could not be the mother anymore. I declined. To this day I don’t know if these children still have my name on their birth certificates in France.
After this, I decided to get some counseling to help me deal with all the issues of losing my mother, my father, and my brother. I went to see a counselor who knew that I had been a surrogate. During the course of my therapy with her, she told me about another couple who she was also counseling who wanted to have a family but needed a surrogate to make that possible. She then suggested that I help them have a baby. In retrospect, I think it was unethical of her to propose that, when I had come to her for help with my grief. But I was tempted, as money was again very tight. Over time, with her nudging, I came to view my first surrogacy experience as just a one-off bad experience, and that this next time everything would be fine. I had succeeded in not getting attached to the babies the first time. I got excited again, remembering how I liked the attention I got for being an angel woman helping another couple have a family. It was awesome, feeling the babies kick, and responding to Jay’s voice. Jay talked to my belly every pregnancy. Every pregnancy Jay is talking to them constantly, and getting them to move, and that was always exciting. But my heart never skipped a beat--I never got those butterflies of regret that I wouldn’t be keeping those babies.
We didn’t go through an agency with this second surrogacy pregnancy, and instead used the couple’s attorney to draw up the contract. But things didn’t go smoothly. The beginning of the experience was very scary. The intended mother had to be hospitalized for a very severe case of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome following her egg retrieval, and I was very worried about going through with the embryo transfer after that. She couldn’t be there, because she was in an intensive care unit getting fluid drained out of her lungs, and it wasn’t clear that she was even going to make it. And I was like, “Do you still want me to go through with this? I don’t want to carry your child if you pass away! You know what I mean??” It was very overwhelming. But she insisted. She said she would be fine, and to go ahead. And I did get pregnant, and I ended up delivering a single baby girl to the couple.
And then, you know, it was a few years later that I learned that the husband and wife split up and it was traumatic for the daughter. There were drugs involved, and a horrible divorce. And the mother gave full custody of the little girl to the father, and she now has nothing to do with the daughter. If I would have known that this was going to happen, I would never have done it. I felt bad, and have some guilt about the fact that this baby that had been so wanted was now abandoned by her mother and was being raised only by her father.
Money plays a big role in surrogacy. If there were no money in surrogacy I would never have done it. But money was again very tight for us, so I decided to be a surrogate again, a third time. This third surrogacy, I sold it to my husband solely for the money we would make, because he didn’t want me to do it anymore. It takes time. It takes us away from our kids. It takes him away from work. It’s mentally exhausting. By then, we now had three kids of our own, ranging in age from maybe two or three to thirteen. I kinda sold the older kids on the money as well. It was going to help us financially. We wouldn’t have to struggle so much anymore. Jay had been self-employed our entire time together, pretty much. And there are really good times and there are really low times, you know, in construction. And there’s just never enough, with the cost of living so high, and then you add kids to the mix.
This time I worked with a surrogacy agency because I thought there would be protections for me in case something went wrong. The agency matched me with a couple in Spain. We chatted on Skype. It wasn’t a warm connection, It was more like, “Let’s work together.” In the beginning, everything was great. The intended mother would text me every morning and wanted to be involved. In fact, Facebook just popped up a ‘memory’, showing that three years ago at this time, the intended mother was talking to me about car seats, and I had posted then that I was also so excited to be helping to make them parents.
I got pregnant with twins for this couple from Spain. It hadn’t been as comfortable this time around. I was a little older, and the hormone injections hurt. You start the injections about four weeks before the embryo transfer. Well, actually, it depends, because if you’re using an egg donor, the donor and you have to cycle at the same time. So the meds could start sooner so that you’re linked with her cycle. To synchronize cycles. And it also depends on whether you’re using a frozen embryo. Then the meds are different. With the first two surrogate pregnancies, I cycled with the egg donor. But this third surrogate pregnancy, we didn’t get there in time—the weather was bad and there were other issues—so the embryos, they had not been frozen but were kinda stored for a little bit of time before we did the transfer. So it wasn’t the 3-to-5 day window they highly recommend.
And I ended up having to take an oral estrogen pill, and had to wear patches. I couldn’t give the injections to myself, so that was time-consuming for Jay and painful for me. You start out with injections in your abdomen, daily, for six or eight weeks. That’s the Lupron. And then the injections go into your hips. And the hormones that go in your hips, they are thicker than oil, so you have to go real slow, and the injections knot you up and you bruise a lot easier, and those too are daily. And you’re also on some form of injection daily until after the first trimester. So, it’s almost 12 weeks of daily injections of one kind or another. But it also depends on the fertility clinic, and the fertility doctor. The doctor we used in Missouri was more laid back, relaxed, and we didn’t go strong with all of the medicine. But the clinic in Chicago, they used a lot of medicines right from the get-go.
When it came time in this third surrogacy pregnancy to learn the babies’ sex—and I learned that I was carrying twin boys— I right away sent the intended mother a text, asking her if she would like me to tell her the results. She answered back to me, “We already know it’s a boy and a girl. No one told you?”
When I had to text back and tell her that she was mistaken, and that she was having two boys and not a boy and a girl, everything immediately changed. In that instant, our relationship changed dramatically. Apparently, it turned out that she and her husband had paid extra to be sure that they were getting a boy and a girl. But the girl embryo that had been transferred to me was lost early on in the pregnancy, and the boy embryo that remained with me split and twinned. The couple was very very disappointed and angry about this situation. They kept asking everyone what happened to cause this, and who messed up. They were outraged. From this time on, our relationship went very bad. As soon as the intended mother found out she was having two boys, instead of a girl and a boy, she just like, shunned me, and wanted nothing to do with me. She didn’t care if I was okay, she didn’t care about my health, and didn’t care about hearing the boys’ heartbeats or anyhting else about them. I remember sending her a text after a doctor’s appointment, saying, “The babies’ heartbeats are good!” But she didn’t care. How do you not care? Like, you’re having twins, and they’re coming into this world very soon, and you’re supposed to be there and take care of them. And she just didn’t care.
It was hard, because on my side, I had all this screening and counseling before I was approved to be a surrogate. They could see I was doing it for the right reasons, and that I had a heart, and my intentions were good. And now I’m like, “Why wasn’t this couple screened? Like, what was their reason for even wanting to be parents?”
After the couple found out that they were having two boys, I kept asking them, “Do you have names picked out?” But they just kept responding with, “Baby A, Baby B.” Well—-how heartbreaking is that? I hated feeling the boys moving inside me and to be like, “Nobody’s here for you. You’re just Baby A and Baby B.” It was a very inhumane thing, not a motherly thing, for her to speak this way about these boys and for her to be super disappointed in them.
So, with these babies, I did get emotionally attached. I couldn’t bear that no one else seemed to want them or care about them. When they would kick, it was emotional for me. Even my friends got attached to them because of their abandonment by the intended parents, and there was so much outpouring of, “Well, we’ll take them…” They could see what I was going through and that I didn’t have any support from the couple.
My stress level escalated because of how the intended parents were treating me and their soon–to-be children. When I would message them, trying to keep them updated on the pregnancy, they would tell me they were really busy and didn’t have time.
Right after Christmas, I was about 28–29 weeks and I just didn’t feel well. I had gained about 20 pounds in a week and I felt like something was wrong. I went to the hospital and had my blood pressure checked. It was very high and they monitored it for a few hours. The surrogacy agency didn’t want to contact the couple about the situation, because they didn’t want to worry them. The doctors finally let me go home.
At my next ob-gyn appointment, I found that I had gained 30 pounds in one week. The lab tests and my blood work that were performed were so bad that I was admitted into the hospital straight away. I felt bad being in the hospital, because I felt like I was a burden, you know, I wasn’t really in labor, but the nurses had to take care of me. It was an awkward feeling, so when the pain started, I didn’t want to bother them. And to be whiny. I kept thinking it was just really bad heartburn—the worst heartburn in my life.
But it turned out that I had severe preeclampsia and my kidneys and liver were shutting down.
I didn’t contact the couple then as I had received a horrible text the night before I was admitted to the hospital from the intended father saying that I was stressing his wife out--that I wasn’t being considerate of their feelings. I didn’t understand that they had busy lives. I was stressing his wife out. It was the first time I had ever heard from him, instead of her. And I’m just sitting there, reading this message, and bawling, because I just got off the phone with my doctors, who said that I had to be at the hospital by 6:00 am and stay until these boys were born, and we still had ten weeks to go. And for anyone who knows me, they know that I don’t sit still. I like to be working, I like to know that I’m taking care of my family. And then I get this message that I’m an inconvenience to them.
You know, the intended parents never went to a single doctor’s appointment. They never had to miss even a day of work to go to a doctor because they were sick. They didn’t have to do anything. And then to tell me, you know, what a horrible person I am because I made two boys instead of a boy and a girl, which was not in my control. It was super heartbreaking and frustrating. And the whole time, I’m thinking, “You don’t deserve to be a mother and a father.” Like, I have really close friends that deserve to have babies and they can’t. And they can’t go through surrogacy because they can’t afford it, because they’re like me and they make horrible incomes to make ends meet.
So I didn’t even tell them that I had to check in to the hospital the next morning, at 30 weeks. I let the surrogacy agency do that. And then the agency is like, “Well, we called them and told them. But we haven’t heard back from them.” Two days went by and nobody had heard from them.
In the hospital, I didn’t feel right. It was horrible. I didn’t feel real good at all. I just kept pacing in my room, lying on the floor. This was the worst pregnancy ever. The weight gain, the fear, the pain. I knew something was wrong because I was having trouble seeing anything. I was rocking back and forth in bed and just trying to take care of myself. And then finally, around 7:00 pm, I was like, I can’t do this anymore. So I called the nurse and I was like, “Can I have Tums or something? Anything?” And she says, “Let’s check your vitals.” And she checked my blood pressure and it was through the roof. Like it was borderline-stroke-type-of-blood-pressure. And as soon as she came back in, I couldn’t see anymore. I couldn’t feel my face. The nurse said to call my husband, but I couldn’t even see the numbers on my phone to call him, so the nurse made the phone call. But she couldn’t get hold of Jay. I had just gotten off the phone with him within the hour, and I’m like, “Don’t come see me, stay with the kids, I’ll be fine.”
Then the doctor came in and he was like, “You are in a really bad place right now. We have to get these babies out.” The babies’ heart rates were escalating because my body was shutting down, my liver was completely giving up. And that’s what that pain was, was my liver, it couldn’t take it anymore. So, I was rushed off, they were trying to get an IV in, they blew my veins like four times, because my body was giving up. And I’m not religious by any means, but I was praying, because I hurt so bad and I was so scared that I wasn’t gonna see my kids again, all in order to make this Spanish couple parents, you know. It was overwhelming. And I didn’t have any control. I couldn’t feel my face and I couldn’t see anything. But it was because the pressure was so much and my blood pressure was so high.
The doctor said we had to deliver the babies right away or we all might die. For over an hour, the doctor wasn’t sure that I was going to make it. It was very scary. The doctor came in and he’s like, “Your labs, your urine, it’s awful. So we don’t know. We would love to make it to ten weeks, but the way your liver and your labs and your urine is, because your liver and your kidneys aren’t working, and the fluid was building up…” That’s why I gained 30 pounds in that short amount of time. So it put pressure on my chest, I was having trouble breathing. And they had to give me, like, magnesium, for the babies, it wasn’t even for me, but it made me feel worse. I had such pain!
During the whole time of the c-section, the doctor and nurses were scared that I was gonna stroke out, because that’s common during preeclampsia, when you hit that severe part of prececlampsia.
And then?? It was unbelievable! Out of the blue, the couple from Spain just walk into my hospital room! And they’re like, “Two boys? Really?!” Not like, “Oh my goodness, how are you?!” If I visited a woman who was carrying my children and I walk in and she’s hooked up to machines and looks miserable, I’m gonna have some sort of empathy, you know? A tear, a concern, or something. But the intended mother was just pissed. Like, “Two boys?!” And my doctor was there when they walked in and he was like, “You know what? We’re going to do an ultrasound right here so you can see for yourself that there are two boys and no girl. Since you haven’t been to any of them, let’s just do it right now.” And he had to bring the ultrasound machine into my room to show them that there were two boys in my womb.
My husband didn’t get to the hospital in time to be with me for the C-section, so only the intended mother was with me. She just stood there, and it was so awkward! She never said, “Oh my, you might die” or “What can I do for you?” I delivered exactly at 30 weeks, and this is significant because my contract said that I would receive full compensation if I carried to 30 weeks. The intended parents later accused me of delivering exactly 10 weeks early just so I would get all my money without having to go full term!
After the delivery, the nurses came to me and asked when the intended parents would be coming back because they had some new baby care questions for them. I didn’t know, and it broke my heart to learn that these babies spent most of their first day of life alone.
I had already been preparing to put the boys up for adoption since this couple was so mad about having two boys. Even my doctor said he and I needed a game plan, since we weren’t sure what this couple would do.
Even after the delivery, the next day, the doctor was super worried about my blood pressure, because it was still so high, that I could have had a stroke at any time. And then I’m panicking, because I don’t want to have a stroke, I don’t want to be droopy, I don’t want to lose my left side. The next two days were both rough also, because I was so sick, and so not out of the woods yet. And then Monday, I was starting to feel better, and then all I could think about was that my daughter had her very first Christmas program coming up on Tuesday. And I wanted to be there soo bad, because it was her first--you don’t ever get that back. It was her first Christmas program and I just kept on the doctor. Like, “Can I please go home, can I please, can you please let me out, can I go and I will come back!” Because like, I was still so bad, like my liver and kidneys were still not working. So it took a lot of negotiation.
The doctor had to teach Jay how to check for signs of stroke. If he was gonna take me home, he had to know what to watch for. So that was scary for him and scary for me. And then late Monday afternoon, I had an episode where I couldn’t feel the left side of my face, my blood pressure went way up. It freaked me out, because I had thought I was out of the woods a bit. So it was super scary, to go through that again. And then Jay takes me home to watch for that. And the kids had to be told what to look for, what to know. Because that’s not something I can control. And for two weeks afterward, they were worried because I put so much on my body, and at any time my body could give up on me.
I was overwhelmed after the delivery and tried to get back on my feet. I had no paid maternity leave and I had lost income because I couldn’t work for so many weeks. But I didn’t worry about my medical bills being paid, as there was an escrow account set up and I was instructed to send my bills there and they would be paid. But then the bills started coming and they weren’t being paid. And these are expensive medical bills that are piling up, and the debt collectors were coming after me to pay the bills. I didn’t have the money to pay these bills. It was then that I found out that the couple had taken the babies and left the hospital and me with thousands and thousands of dollars of debt. I tried to get the surrogacy agency to pay these bills for almost a year.
I remain incredibly unwell. I have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. With everything I’ve been through, if you Google it, you’ll see that I’m at higher risk to have a stroke at a young age, and to have blood pressure issues. Because of how much estrogen and other medications and hormones I took, it’s really messed up my body’s natural functions. How is my body going to handle things as I age? A lot of it is just what I researched, and I wish I wouldn’t have. But you just research it, and there are long-term effects. With the injections and all of the estrogen that I’ve had.
But the surrogacy agencies and the fertility doctors and the lawyers don’t tell you that, they don’t ever tell you that when you go into a surrogacy arrangement. Like, we’re gonna do this now, we’re going to manipulate your body, and we’re gonna put all of these drugs in you. But you might see something ten years down the road from this, and they don’t tell you any of the long-term health risks. Like: I can never have more kids, and I didn’t know this could happen. Because of how bad the preeclampsia was. The doctor said that if I was to try to attempt a pregnancy again, most likely there would be a loss and I would be harmed. So we ended up tying my tubes after delivery. That wasn’t optional. The doctor told me, he said there is no way, considering this was my sixth pregnancy. He said it wasn’t worth the risk, because he can’t guarantee that I can survive another pregnancy. So I’m just done.
Two international couples have exploited me, lied to me, and have caused my family and me so much suffering. And all because I wanted to help them have a child in their lives. Would I do surrogacy again or recommend this ‘journey’ to other women? No. The risk of harm is just too great. I almost died.
I worry too about what’s going to happen with the children I gave birth to.
Looking back, I put my own children through a lot. At the start of the third surrogacy, the older kids knew about it but really didn’t pay much attention. But my eleven year old was super excited because she went with me to the gender reveal ultrasound, and I involved her a lot. But I don’t think it really affected them until delivery. Because that was so scary. Like, my eleven year old didn’t think I was coming home, because nobody could guarantee that I was going to be able to come home. So it was really, really, really hard on her. It scared her really bad. She was traumatized. Now she’s fifteen and she understands, but at the time, it was really, really hard on them. It was right before Christmas break, and then I had to go to the hospital and they could come see me there and they could tell I wasn’t the same. I gained 30 pounds in three days. The fluids. The machines I was hooked up to. It was traumatizing for them. And it even affected Brody. I mean, he’s very reserved with his emotions, but you could tell. I mean, the school even called, and they’re like, you know, is everything okay? Because there’s a difference in your kids. And then trying to explain to them. And they understood that Jay and I had concerns, and they too thought about getting attached to the twin boys, because they could see that it wasn’t clear what the plan would be for them.
The deal had been—the agreement had been—that after the twin boys were born, my kids, and me and Jay, were supposed to be able to come visit them. And with the other surrogacies, we lucked out for a time, because we were able to meet the others a few times, but it is always up to the couple about contact after birth. You discuss all of that before you enter into the agreement. All three times, the couples said, “We’ll stay in contact; we want you to be part of their lives forever.” And so it was the same with the twin boys, and my kids knew that, but then they never got to see them. You know, so they went through the whole pregnancy with me, the very scary delivery, and then there was never, like, a closure. And then they got to watch me spiral, spiral out of control, because I took it hard, and the attachment was there.
And then we don’t know what ever happened to the twin boys. I didn’t bring them home after all, and so they watched everything that I went through mentally, afterwards. And that was really hard for them.
I can’t explain to them, and they can’t explain to me, the emotions that they have. But they just know that it’s ruined a lot of things, you know, because it’s changed me in so many ways, from that delivery and the not having closure. And now that I’m trying to raise awareness about the harms of commercial surrogacy, that too is tough on my kids, as I have to be away sometimes. They totally support me. But I’m pretty sure that there’s some resentment or some hate. They just don’t understand.
My older daughter had a class last year, and the teacher--she was kind of promoting ‘designer’ babies, as if they were a good thing. Because you can do that now. But my daughter has been there and she has experienced first-hand what happens if your designer baby doesn’t work out. And so she was very passionate and argumentative about it. Like, I even had to call the school because my daughter and this teacher just really didn’t work it out. The teacher was saying, “You scare me. You’re very passionate, you’re very vocal, calm down.” But I mean, I was really upset when the teacher was really pushing, promoting, designer babies on this young teenage population that has no idea, anything about it. But the teacher doesn’t have any kids and the teacher’s never been through it. And my daughter has watched it—what happens when you don’t get what you paid for and the effects it has on everybody. So it’s good to know that she’s still passionate about it. Now that the designer babies are older and there’s more research on it, you’re seeing the damage and the effects, you know. So they really need to look at that before they keep promoting it.
After not seeing the twin boys, my heart has changed. I don’t even know how to explain it. But, I don’t get excited about life anymore. Being around babies now is hard. Being around pregnant women is hard. Like, I didn’t die that day, but a part of me did, and I can’t get that back. It’s just a weird pit in my stomach. There’s a sadness, and there’s anger, and there is regret.
And then there is-- I hate the way my stomach looks. Because like, I’ve had two c-sections—not for my kids, but everybody else’s kids—and it’s hard to firm my stomach up over the c-section scar and there are stretch marks and all of that. And, yea, some of those are from my kids—and those are awesome!—but a majority of them are from babies, you know, that I carried for other people. And they’re gonna be there forever, and it’s not my proudest moment. It’s not something I can pretend I never did. So I just hate my stomach.
And, I worry. Are all those kids going to be okay?
The women that are going to put themselves at risk need to be educated. Because there are so many that go into it uneducated. Because the money is there. The glamorizing of it is real.
I think commercial surrogacy should be banned completely. They’re putting women at risk without even telling them the risks. There is no such thing as informed consent in this situation. There is no way to tell any young woman, so that she could actually understand the risks. The research isn’t even being done to determine the risks. You know, people who give organs, or receive organs, have to register them. And they follow up with the donor and the receiver, over time, to see what’s happening with them. That never happens here. There’s funding for fertility, but no funding to do research on the risks. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry to make designer babies. There is all that funding. But no research on women like me who were surrogates.
And we have no voice, those of us who have gone through this horrible thing. There is no lawyer who will take people like me pro bono. They want money. Everything is about money. Nobody would help me. Even the attorney in South Dakota that the Spanish couple skipped out on, and didn’t finish paying, told me that we were just gonna have to eat our losses. He said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get paid. Neither did I. There’s nothing we can do.” The contract was no longer enforceable once they left the United States.
I don’t have thousands of dollars to hire some fancy attorney. If there’s a breach of contract, what surrogate has the wherewithal to take anybody to court? How are they going to afford that? And that lawyer we’re supposedly given? Mine was paid for by the intended parents. I never met the lawyer in person, only by phone. I’m not an attorney, and mine was like a 30 page contract that I didn’t understand. And it was super frustrating. The contract is so intense.
I was stiffed. I was on the hook for over $6,000 in medical bills. I don’t know if the Spanish couple ever paid the hospital for the NICU bills. They had insurance, but you still gonna be a co-pay. They left me without paying me.
And the surrogacy agency strung me along for a year, telling me they didn’t know who was gonna pay or how I was gonna get paid. Only after the agency found out I was working with an organization to raise awareness about the harms of surrogacy, and that we were going to go to Spain to speak, did the agency deposit the money that very day in my account. Because they didn’t want a bad reputation, and they didn’t want their name bought into it.
I received an email a few years later from the agency. They were upset because I told my story to a public audience. You know, “We’re sorry this happened to you, but….” The agency insisted they weren’t liable, because they weren’t parties to the contract. “We’re just the middle person.” But I learned that the agency was paid in full, and all these doctors had gotten paid, and everybody else that really didn’t have anything to do with bringing these kids into the world, they got their money, you know. And so it was super frustrating.
The worst part of it was, like, the agency sent me a necklace after the boys were born. That stupid necklace. My daughter actually just took it to school. She had to put a bunch of stuff in a shoe box that represents her, and she asked if she could take the necklace. I don’t know what she plans to say, but she took it. It’s a necklace that the agency sent me after the boys were born, with their birthstones on it. They sent it to me. Like what am I supposed to do with that necklace, when they already know how it all ended. So I have this necklace that I’ll never wear, because I don’t want to remember. It was such a slap in the face! And salt in the wound. And disgusting. “Let’s pretend nothing happened!” So I have this necklace with their birthstones engraved on it that the agency sent to me. Not the couple. And so this necklace is just a tortuous thing that hangs in my bathroom. Because, like, those were beautiful boys, and I did that and I created them, and I couldn’t take care of them, and I don’t know what happened to them. You know what I mean?
I thought by going to Spain, telling my story and being all over the newspapers and the radio, that the intended parents would come out fighting, like, “That’s not what happened,” and “She’s lying,” you know, because that’s their town, that’s where they’re from, they’re from Madrid. But no. Nothing. No response from them, or their lawyer. I’ve emailed them a couple of times to see if I can poke them to respond, to be pissed and fight me back. But nothing. They literally disappeared. I’ve spied on them on Facebook but there have never been any pictures of those twin boys. I mean, I went so far as to creep on their family members on Facebook, to see if there is any picture anywhere, from some event, showing the twin boys. But no. Nothing. It’s like they don’t even exist. Really scary. Did they sell those twin boys that they didn’t want?
Even a mutt from a shelter gets to have owners screened before he’s given to them. Home studies. But with surrogate children—you could be a pedophile, but as long as you can pay for it, you can have all the children you want and can pay for. There’s no screening. And that frustrates me. I had to go through a screening. I had to take this huge booklet—that asked me all of these questions. And then Jay had to have it done. I mean, he’s a big part of this, but he’s not the sperm donor, he’s not the intended parent by any means. He’s just, my husband…
They kept asking me the same questions-- they just reworded them to see if you’re actually paying attention. I wanna say it’s like a thousand questions. And you have to go to a psychologist to have this done, and they pay for you to go. It’s like a mental screening to make sure I’m not crazy. But I don’t think the intended parents ever had to have it done, because I’ve never seen anything on parents. I got a short bio on the parents, and that’s it. So it’s really really one-sided. Like, I have to be completely sane but I’m literally carrying this child for nine months—I’m not committing for the rest of their life. So, I mean, I think it should be required if we’re gonna allow surrogacy, to have intended parents have to have home studies done, like adoption. Because there’s a lot of people that can’t adopt because they don’t have enough square footage in their house, or their income isn’t enough, or they’re a single parent, but…when it comes to surrogacy, anything goes. You can be 90 years old. You can be a pedophile. It’s too loose, it’s very loose, and there’s no protection for that child after it’s born.
My husband and I almost made it. But we’re actually going through a divorce now. It all got to be too much, everything that happened. I kinda just stopped caring, after the twins were born and disappeared. I have a different attitude. Zero tolerance. It’s very overwhelming. We plan on staying friends and helping each other but we’re different people now, and that was a lot to go through and a lot to put on a marriage. I’ve put him through a lot. It has to get better, it can’t get any worse, hopefully.
When I speak at events to tell my story—like in Paris when I was in front of some senators (and boy, they are the most opinionated ones)—I am usually speaking to men who have never carried a child. And they often give me that judgmental look, “Well, you’ve been a surrogate three times, that’s your fault, we’re sorry you had a bad run, but… ” And I want to say to them, “First of all, you are male, and you don’t understand. Like you will never understand. You can read about it and you can think you know what you’re talking about, but until you carry that child or do the injections or get sick from the medications or almost die on a table for somebody else who is not grateful, you can’t just tell me, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but…,” and think it’s going to be okay. You’ve never been through labor, you never went through anything where you put your body at risk and could die from it, as intensely as I did.
A lot of people have their opinions and they are very strongly in favor of surrogacy, but they are often clueless. They just see it glamorized by all of these celebrities. And on surrogacy websites. With dollar signs! There was just an ad that popped up on Facebook the other day: “You want to make $80,000? All you have to do is blah, blah, blah.” And then you read the women’s responses: “I would love to do this. This would help me pay off my car! I have really good pregnancies!” I was that same woman three years ago, convincing myself, “Oh, it’s easy. Nothing too bad is gonna happen. And, you know, these intended parents are deserving.” And then to find out, they were awful people.
Recorded and transcribed interview conducted with Kelly Martinez