Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guest Post: Stacy's Story, Can You Help?

I read a post today on one of my SMC Yahoo groups that made me want to reach out and try to help somehow. So I offered Stacy my space in the hope that someone will read it and help her in a concrete way. I have received so much from the ALI community, and once you start reading her story, you'll know that Stacy is one of us.

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My name is Stacy. I am almost 41 years old. I’ve been trying to have a child for over five years now. I have lost five babies of my own body and then had to have an emergency hysterectomy.

In 2009, I decided to pursue alternative methods to motherhood and hired a traditional surrogate (this means she is egg donor and carrier).

I used my Ex as the known (sperm) donor, with the intention that I would be a Single Mother by Choice.

Heather (the ‘surrogate’) and I drafted and signed notarized contracts outlining every detail of the arrangement. Ironically, in that contract, it states that if she defaults, she will pay for legal fees… (HA!). She also signed and notarized a Last Will and Testament, leaving me custody of her son Jason, in the event that anything happen to her during her pregnancy or delivery. I can see in retrospect that this was probably just a ruse to gain my trust.

When I first matched with Heather, she lived in another state. After we met and signed contracts, and had the occasion to talk almost every day, it became more and more clear to me how dire and volatile her living situation was. No heat for her son. Exposure to alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes for her and her son. Etcetera. Purely out of the goodness of my heart and concern for her, I opened my home to Heather and invited her to come stay with me for free until she got on her feet and got her own place. The plan all along was that I was going to give her a monthly payment during the pregnancy and pay the rest in a lump sum at the time of delivery. She was going to use the year that she was pregnant getting on her feet and getting job training and experience so that she could put herself through college and make a better life for her and her son. I took this agenda very much to heart and gave her every kind of support I could to improve her future.

After a month of living in my home, she expressed the desire to continue living with me through the entire surrogacy. We agreed that I would charge her a (well) below market rate for rent against her compensation. I also went out of my way in MANY ways to make her life as comfortable as possible during that year. All in all, Heather and Jason lived in my home for one year. I drove Heather and Jason to school and day care every day. I mentored Heather, counseled her, encouraged her, and gave in every way I could. I went with Heather to every doctor’s appointment she had for her or her son (not pregnancy related), to support her and advocate for her. I also loaned her other chunks of money throughout the year and counted only a small amount of them against her compensation. I also made it very clear to her that she was free to move out at any point and receive monthly cash payments against her compensation. I never coerced her into any part of our agreements. Everyone who witnessed us during this year could see very clearly that Heather was in charge and when she said “Jump” I answered “How High?” I was at her beck and call; after all, she was the angel who was making my baby dreams come true. Nothing was too much if it made her happy!
  
We attended child birth classes. I attended newborn care classes. I traded my sporty little car in for a wagon. I hired a live-in nanny. I shopped for baby gear and created the most beautiful baby’s room I could have ever imagined. I bought a Doppler and listened to my intended daughter’s heartbeat every few days. I took a picture of Heather every week as her belly expanded and gleefully posted them on Facebook, where all my many friends rejoiced with me that my dream was so close to coming true. I researched child rearing web sites every night, deciding on formulas, diaper choices, etc… I researched names endlessly and finally declared at my baby shower that my daughter would be called Selah Ruth; then all my sweet friends decorated onesies with that beautiful name on them.

On December 9, 2009, just three days after my baby shower, my world caved in on me when Heather instant messaged me to tell me she was keeping the baby. At my baby shower, she had stood in front all my family and friends and read a poem to me about the gift of motherhood. I had told attendees in the shower invitation to give her college money instead of gifts to me because I was already receiving the biggest gift I could ask for.

She never gave me an explanation for her sudden about-face. I still do not know whether she planned it all along or changed her mind at some point.

Heather never came home that night. I never saw Jason again; a child I had lived with for a year and had grown to love. She never even moved out of my house or disposed of her room full of belongings. She left all of that mess to me. Of course, she didn’t forget to take the cash gifts my friends and family had given her at the baby shower. She just disappeared and ignored all my attempts at mediation or discussion.

I crumbled that night. It might as well have been my daughter’s death. I was utterly heartbroken and it took every ounce of my strength to survive that loss. My friend came over that night to sit with me until my sister arrived from out of town. I just sat there, unable to speak, occasionally crying, trying to make sense of what had just blind-sided me. A few days later, my sweet 22 year old niece came to town to pack up the baby’s room while I was at work.

At first, I scrambled, for two months, thinking I could fight her. I called and emailed any attorney or district attorney or case worker I could. No one would help me for any amount of money that I could actually muster up. Social services had been told she was a refuge from a domestic violence situation (I never even threatened to hurt her, let alone actually hurt her… I do not have a violent bone in my body). Social services were also told that I was a potential adoptive mother, not an intended mother, who was trying to coerce her into giving up her baby. People closed ranks around ‘the poor sweet young thing’ and I could not make any headway.

In further vain attempts to turn this nightmare back into my dream, I married my Ex in a quick city hall ceremony in hopes of gaining more legal standing. We filed a petition to establish parentage without the guidance of a lawyer since we couldn’t afford one. Then, my Ex found out that filing such a petition might leave him vulnerable to child support demands and refused to show up for our court date. I have since finalized a divorce.

All I could afford to do was pay a lawyer to send her a demand letter but it went unacknowledged, like every other attempt I made to contact her, talk sense into her, mediate, discuss, or understand what the hell had happened.

For my own personal sanity, I made the decision to accept defeat, grieve the devastating loss, and move on. It was a long and painful year.

A year later, a summons was delivered to my house, for my Ex. It turns out Heather, Jason, and Baby Girl (that she named Lily) have been living off of public assistance and the county had decided to pursue my Ex for child support. Since my Ex has not lived in my house since long before Heather moved out, all I could do is call and inform him. But since he is unemployed, he decided to lay low and blow it off. There was nothing I could do to compel him to deal with the issue. There is a reason he is my Ex!

This past Friday evening, I came home to a summons with MY name on it. They have added me to the child support petition as a “Joinder” with the explanation, “DCSS was informed that Heather XX and Stacy XX entered into a surrogacy agreement regarding the minor child in this case. DCSS is requesting Stacy XX be joined so the issue of parentage can be resolved.” I called DCSS and they confirmed that it is possible that I could be ruled financially responsible for the child since it is in the best interest of the child to have financially responsible parties.

My court date is May 23. I need a Pro Bono or sliding scale lawyer who is knowledgeable in family law or child support or custody issues or surrogacy/third party reproduction issues, who can advise me how to proceed.

My finances are very limited, as I am still paying off the IVF I completed in a few months ago in the hopes of starting a new gestational surrogacy. Obviously, my dream of being a mother is now going to be further delayed. This nightmare just keeps coming back to life.

FAQs:
  • Yes, I do have contracts! I have an abundance of evidence establishing me as intended mother. Without tens of thousands of dollars to give up front, I could not find someone willing to litigate this case. The landmark case in California Buzzanca v. Buzzanca would have been my best shot at winning custody but it might also be the thing that forces me to pay child support. See more about it at: Buzzanca v. Buzzanca: The Ruling and Ramifications (http://www.surrogacy.com/legals/jaycee/jayceesum.html)
  • We tried to get Heather pregnant for four months; three of those months were doctor-assisted IUIs. The month we got pregnant was a home insemination.
  • Her profile on SurrogateMother.com was advertising for new intended parents just four months after Baby Girl was born. It is possible she is already engaging in a new surrogacy agreement! 
  • She has garnered a lot of support from strangers, case workers, etc, by being extremely dishonest about the facts of the case.
  • She was living in a homeless shelter when she delivered the baby.
  • I had already paid her 80% of her compensation by the time she defaulted. I have never seen any money back.
  • Heather was using Legal Aid and Pro Bono Project services at some point (probably still is); they have confirmed that they cannot help me as it would be a conflict of interest and she was their client first.
 Thank you for listening. If you can help me in any way, I would very much appreciate it.

20 comments:

Stacie said...

I am not knowledgeable in what you need, but I did want to say that my heart just breaks for you. It saddens me so to know that there are people out there so bent on taking advantage of others.

I am praying for you and hoping that this is cleared in your favor.

lachaim said...

Thank you so much for posting my story, Dora!

Meg said...

I can't offer any legal help but I wanted to say that I followed your blog from the beginning and was so heartbroken for you when she changed her mind and disappeared. I've wondered about you often since then and hoped that you were well. I'm so sorry that this nightmare is still ongoing and I'm horrified at the thought that she might be inflicting herself on other intended parents.

Are you hoping to get custody out of this?

lachaim said...

Meg, as much as I would love custody, I don't see that as remotely possible at this point. And, I question the damage it would do to Baby Girl to be taken from the only parent she has ever known, even though I do believe it's a very toxic situation. At this point, I'm adjusting my hopes/expectations to AVOIDING having to continue to pay for this nightmare. And never laying my eyes on Heather again. Ever.

lachaim said...

And, WOW, you followed my blog? Very cool.

giggleblue said...

god, this entire situation is just horrible! i don't have any recommendations for legal aid, but i am entirely sorry for you and this situation.

i wish you the best in handling this matter swiftly and without much more financial distress.

stay encouraged.

Niki said...

I am so, so sorry for all that you've gone through. Your story is horribly tragic and beyond unfair. I'm utterly disgusted by this woman and wonder how she sleeps at night. I'm so very sorry that this horrible person took advantage of you and worried that she is attempting to do the same to someone else. :(

What state are you in? We had a local attorney do our surrogacy legalwork pro bono. We met her through a friend of a friend. She offered her services because she saw me speak about our late son, Myles, at March of Dimes meeting. It wouldn't hurt to call several local family lawyers to ask if they do any pro-bono work. If they don't, they may know someone who does. Have you thought about sharing your story in the media? This might garner some legal help. Your story is so tragic that it seems as though someone in the legal field with a good heart would want to help you. I wish you all the best with your case and am hoping that your nightmare ends soon.

Anonymous said...

Google ABA journal. There was an article on legal issues re surrogacy in this month's issue. Click on the current issue tab. I can't figure out how to copy the URL w/ my iPhone.

Jay said...

I would a 100% second the idea of going public with this. You have been so unbelievably exploited by that excuse for a human being, that you can definitely garner both financial and legal help to help with this.

I cannot believe your story, I am so,so sorry.

Kristin said...

What a nightmare. My heart goes out to you. I would seriously consider going public with this also.

ks said...

Holy! That is terrible! I am so terribly sorry! This is not fair at all! I wish I could give you some sound advice but I don't know what to tell you! Please know you are in my thoughts, and I pray the legal system will see through this woman!

Anonymous said...

If you are in CA, try the consumer fraud section of you local DA office--most of the larger counties have them & they are separate from the criminal side. If you mention that she is trying to pull this again they will be more likely to help you. You can also try the consumer fraud section of the AG (attorney general)--look online for contact info.

Mama Time Bomb said...

What a horrible, sad tale. I am so sorry for the heartbreak you've experienced.

This next statement may sound odd/mercenary, but... beyond going public, this story would surely make a moving documentary or for-TV movie that could offer some much-needed education on surrogacy.

Prayers for you to find peace and happiness.

UCL said...

I would go public too. I agree that this is something people need to hear about.

Kaitake said...

I just clicked over from LFCA, and I am absolutely stunned by your story. That woman is too horrid for words, first building you up, taking your money and hospitality, then breaking your heart and telling cruel hurtful lies. I am sad for her children. It's not fair and I'm so sorry that she's put you in this situation. There is no excuse for what she's done to you and your family. Big hugs. I wish I could do more to help than tell you I'm sorry, but I don't know much about US law, I'm in New Zealand. Best wishes and stay strong: Kia kaha

St Elsewhere said...

You did the right thing by sharing the story here, Dora. I hope Stacy will get some valuable inputs on wresting out of this awful situation.

There is a private blogger (she is in Australia tho) for whom surrogacy ended badly. I do not think they are exercising their legal rights on it yet.

All the best, Stacy!

S said...

Hi there
I'm so sorry at the way things have turned out for you. I'm not very knowledgeable with US law, my "horrible situation" was in Australia, but I truly hope that you can somehow lay rest this nightmare and try and move on.
I was also told to 'go public' but I couldn't. The closest I could do was here, in the hope that this disgusting monster would not approach recipients again. But I am sure she will find a way. She was as devious as I was trusting. http://www.bubhub.com.au/community/forums/showthread.php?t=383753
I've got the flu at the moment but St Elsewhere sent me a message about this post. You're not alone.
Really hope that you can find someone who can help. I cannot afford legal action right now, but the moment I can, I'll be pursuing what little rights I have here in Australia (i.e. not many at all, the law here does not allow enforceable altruistic surrogacy contracts). I have sometime at least thanks to the limitations act.
Thinking of you and wishing you luck.
S

Meg said...

S, I've been wondering about you since you stopped blogging. I'm so sorry to hear that the surrogacy ended so badly. You and M just don't deserve to be treated so horribly. Sending much love to you.

calliope said...

I just forwarded this post to someone that I hope has some leads for you. I am just gutted to hear about all that you have been through.

Dudge OH said...

No practical help or advice, I'm sorry. Just a little sympathy (and a tweet with a link to this entry) from a stranger...