Deciding to be a surrogate was kind of a spur of the moment decision for me. My husband and I had recently suffered a lot of loss. He had lost his brother from a heart attack, and two months later my cousin—who had been almost a mother to me—passed from cancer. It was hard. After we kind of got through grieving, we started thinking about having kids again--maybe selfishly to replace so much death with new life for our family. About four years earlier, I had gotten pregnant, but ended up losing the baby. And I was told that the only way I could have a child in the future was to use IVF, but we couldn’t afford to try with that.
It was when I thought hard about how to come up with the money to pay for a round of IVF, to give us another chance, that being paid to be a surrogate came to mind. I thought, okay, maybe I can be a surrogate for someone else to have a baby, and make enough money to be able to afford one round of IVF for my husband and me to try again to have our own child.
When I spoke to my husband about my idea, he was leery, but I jumped on that train pretty fast. I soon connected with what seemed like a lovely couple. They had this story about how they’d been high school sweethearts but had broken up and gone their separate ways—each got married to other people and had kids with other people-- but then they got back together again and wanted to have their own child together.
We started talking with the couple on a daily basis, and soon signed a surrogacy contract with them, as they wanted us to hurry because they had a schedule, their egg donor was all set, and ready for the egg transfer. Although I felt a little rushed, I thought: “What could go wrong? I’m not asking for much. I just want to have one IVF cycle paid for, for me and my husband, and they’ve agreed to have their IVF clinic arrange that.”
The fertility clinic used by the intended parents agreed to provide me with one IVF treatment for myself after I finished my surrogacy pregnancy for them, at a discounted price of $13,000. So that’s all I asked for and expected as compensation for being a surrogate—one shot at having our own baby via IVF. I had healthcare insurance through my husband’s job, so I didn’t ask for that. We signed a contract with the intended parents in 2016— a contract that the intended parents’ attorney drew up.
The offspring I agreed to carry would be genetically related to the intended father—he supplied the sperm. Because the intended mother had had a hysterectomy, the eggs used would come from an egg donor. The hormone shots I had to take daily—my husband helped administer them—were painful and left bumps or knots in my hip area, and I put on a lot of weight—probably fifty pounds—but the embryo transfer went fine, there were no difficulties with that.
But things started to go wrong with the intended parents early on. Even though the intended parents were getting a bargain--$13,000 for a surrogacy arrangement was a steal—money was tight for them, and the costs involved were more than they’d bargained for.
My husband and I had been promised by them that they would pay for everything as far as getting us back and forth to the fertility clinic, which was a three hour drive out of state—hotel stays, meals, gas--things like that. And they had also agreed that my husband could be completely involved, because he’s my support system. But on the day before the scheduled embryo transfer, they said, “Oh, your husband can’t come. Or, if he comes, you guys are going to have to provide your own room and board.” Money had become an issue right away. The medications required to help me get pregnant and stay pregnant were expensive for the intended parents and not covered by my insurance, and they knew that they also had to be saving up to pay for my own IVF cycle down the road. I wanted my husband there with me at the clinic, but I decided to let it be. Instead, I tried to take the view that it would be okay if the intended mother and I made a weekend out of it—spend ‘girl time’ together, get to know each other a little bit more.
The embryo transfer took place on Easter Sunday weekend and was done by a health care coordinator—not a doctor. The intended parents made it clear that they wanted—and could only afford--only one child, but they decided to have two embryos transferred to increase the odds that at least one might survive. I got pregnant on that first try.
But as soon as we got official word that I was pregnant, things started going still more wrong with the intended parents. I started bleeding--subchorionic hemorrhaging. This is not uncommon in pregnancies—especially IVF pregnancies—but needs to be monitored, because sometimes a subchorionic bleeding can cause the placenta to separate from the uterine wall, and elevate the risk of miscarriage and preterm labor. When I called the intended parents to let them know that I was bleeding, they told me this is normal, not to worry, just to lie down and rest. But my husband thought I should go to the hospital, just to make sure, and once there, the doctors thought I should have an ultrasound. And it was that ultrasound that revealed that I was carrying two babies, not just one. I called the intended parents right away to tell them.
Although they seemed okay with it at the time, I got an email from the intended mother several days later that basically said, “Who do you think you are, going to the hospital without our permission?” She told me that I had to get permission from her and her husband if I wanted to go to the hospital if I was bleeding. That it wasn’t my place to decide things like that on my own. She told me they had hired me – so it was my duty to inform them of everything I wanted to do and I had to get permission from them first. She also told me that I should be saying “Yes, ma’am” when I spoke with her.
When it got to that point that she told me I had to start saying “yes, ma’am” to her, I was really totally floored. Everything between us had been okay up to that point. But then she just flipped, into this monster-mode. I tried—I kept trying to put myself in her shoes, to understand what made her flip. I’m carrying her husband’s child. It’s not her child. She doesn’t have any control, and that may be driving her crazy. But things kept getting worse.
I also began to wonder whether their abuse and harassment that followed was also motivated by a wish on their part for me to become so stressed that I miscarried, and the pregnancy expenses could then come to a stop. They didn’t want to pay for ultrasounds. They reneged on their promise to pay pregnancy-related expenses, like maternity clothes, pre-natal vitamins. They failed to pay for the ongoing hormone shots that were required to protect my pregnancy. When I tried to assert my rights and insist on them honoring the terms of our surrogacy contract, they turned viciously abusive. Even though I found them totally vile, I was determined to continue to carry the twins for them, and to hand them over to them after their birth. Until, that is, they became so hateful and abusive that I could no longer in good conscious allow the twins ever to be handed over to and raised by such parents. It was when the intended mother called me a "n**ger" on the phone, and the intended father went on Facebook and posted a message calling my husband “a dirty f**king Mexican”—that I decided I could never hand over to them the babies I was carrying.
Who does that? Who says those types of things to someone who has given you life, and you knew who they were when you met them. Even with all their harassment, and their refusal to pay what was promised for my care, I was still going to give the babies to them. Even after everything they had done, I still was going to give them those babies. But it was when they spoke that hate that I could no longer do it. I decided that there was no way I could let them be parents to the children I was carrying.
My decision almost cost me my marriage. My husband and I fought bitterly. I explained to him that I could not live with myself, giving these babies to those bigoted racists. We yelled and argued. But there was no way, if they can spew this hate, what type of people are they. I could not live with myself, giving these babies to them. But it was after that night that I decided I could never give the kids to these people. I didn’t call or tell them of my decision. Instead, I called the police. And I told the police the whole story, and told them that as far as I was concerned, the surrogacy contract was null and void, and because of all of the stress and everything the intended parents had been doing to us, I didn’t want them to contact us. It was the police that contacted the intended parents and told them. Their phone calls to me finally stopped.
I went into labor exactly one week after I was called the n-word by the intended mother, 25 weeks into my pregnancy. Knowing that the twins would be born severely premature, doctors had me immediately transferred to the NICU in Iowa City where the twins could be better cared for. I delivered my twin girls by emergency caesarean. They were tiny. Real tiny. I named them Haylee and Kaylee. Kaylee weighed in at 1 pound 10 ounces at birth, and Haylee weighed in at 1 pound 12 ounces. Iowa City Hospital had a wing for parents of kids in their NCU, and that’s where I stayed after giving birth—from August 31st when they were born, until November.
All I cared about was their survival. I stayed in the hospital around the clock. I lived in the hospital, to take care of them. I ended up back in the ER there a few times, because of high blood pressure, and ripping stitches out while I was busy trying to take care of them.
We lost Kaylee eight days after she was born. We had her cremated. Although my husband had not agreed with my decision to keep the babies, and we had fought about it, he changed his mind when Kaylee died. That did it for him. He was there helping me care for both of them. He started to fight for Haylee then. And Haylee continued to survive. I breast fed her, and stayed by her side all day every day. Seeing her make progress every day was just something. I felt like I was her mother. I was protecting her. That was my goal, to protect her. That was it. I couldn’t allow her to be brought up in a house full of hate.
I never called the intended parents. I don’t know for certain how they found out. But late in October, out of the blue, a sheriff walked into my hospital room while I was breastfeeding Haylee, and served me with papers. The intended parents had apparently gone to court with our surrogacy contract, and told the judge that me and my husband were now in the hospital with their baby, and that they didn’t want us there. And the judge signed off, without giving us even a day in court. The sheriff tried to escort me out of the hospital, but I refused. I said, “No! I’m not going anywhere.”
The day before Kaylee died, my husband had spoken to our local lawyer who had told us that we should give the children up, because it could be seen as us kidnapping to keep them. After that, we didn’t speak to him again. I don’t know to this day how I found Harold Cassidy--the lawyer who represented the surrogate mother in the famous Baby M case--but I found out about him and I called him, and told him my story. And the day that the sheriff showed up, I called Harold Cassidy again, and he decided to take our case. He came and met us, and then talked to whoever he needed to talk to. A court date was set within a matter of days. Not being licensed to practice law in Iowa, Harold couldn’t represent us in the courtroom. We had to pay $5,000 to a local attorney to do that. We had to take a second loan out on the car to pay for that.
Haylee was still in the hospital when I was finally forced to leave. During the court hearings, a guardian ad litem asked the judge if she could set up visitation rights for all of the parties involved, as she believed this would be in Haylee’s best interests, and he agreed. We went to see Haylee in the hospital, and we got a room in our house ready for her. We went out and bought a crib, and clothes, and whatever else she needed. But after the judge upheld the surrogacy contract, he decided that co-parenting and visitation rights would not be in the Haylee’s best interest, and we were not allowed to see her ever again.
And we never received any money from the intended parents. Not one red cent.
We appealed our case to the Iowa Supreme Court, seeking non-enforcement of the contract that gave them parenting rights, but the court ruled that the surrogacy contract was fully enforceable. In October 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court denied our petition to review the case, and let the Iowa Supreme Court decision stand. My husband and I spent thousands of dollars on legal fees, and were called pretty derogatory names by the intended parents, as reported widely in the newspapers after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling and after a press briefing in Washington DC. The whole thing has been a nightmare for me and my husband. It has almost destroyed our family.
I think about Haylee, and worry about her, every single day.
I would say to anyone who wants to be a surrogate not to do it. I see a lot of comments in the media and on Facebook by people saying women who sign on to be surrogates know what they were doing when they sign the contract. But that’s not how it really is. Until it happens to you, until you go through something like me or other surrogates out there with their horrific stories, you can’t possibly imagine how awful it is.
In surrogacy, we are talking about children. If in years to come, if I were to see something bad happening to Haley by staying with those awful racist parents, I would never be able to forgive myself for not having tried keeping her.
I think there are plenty of kids out there who can be adopted. I understand that infertile couples want to have their own biological child, but does it really have to be that way? The Court said that Haylee was not my biological child, but I was still willing and able to fight for her – even if she was not biologically mine. I felt it was my moral duty to protect her. I grew her in my body. I am her birth mother.
What kind of regulations are there to protect Haylee from her intended parents who have behaved so badly? Perhaps such upsetting stories would not happen if intended parents were screened.
I think surrogacy should be stopped. That’s where I stand now. If you are thinking about being a surrogate, I understand your heart might be in a good place. But I tell you, it’s not worth the chance of going through what I and so many others that I have found out since, have gone through. It’s not worth it. And then you involve these innocent babies in your fights.
The intended parents have tried to drag my name through the mud. But I am strong. Now that I can speak out I will be attacked, but whatever criticism I cop won’t be as bad as what they have done to me already.
Recorded and transcribed interview conducted with Toni Bare