By: Kelly Rummelhart
WOW! Just wow. That’s all the reaction I could muster upon hearing the big news surrounding surrogacy this week. Baby Selling and with names that rang a bell, Theresa Erickson and Hilary Neiman- WOW!
I’ll let The LA Times summarize:
According to court documents, Erickson hired women in San Diego to go to Ukraine to be implanted with embryos created from the sperm and eggs of donors.
Once a woman was in the second trimester of pregnancy, she would return to San Diego and Erickson would “shop” the babies by falsely telling couples that a couple who had intended to adopt the baby had backed out of the deal. The new couple would then be charged between $100,000 and $150,000, according to prosecutors.
As a two-time gestational surrogate for a legitimate agency, I do not want to blame the surrogates involved with the baby-selling ring, especially since I haven’t seen very many articles from their perspectives. I don’t know 100% of what actually happened and I am working off of various stories that have been released by the Associated Press.
In my mind, for the time being, the surrogates are victims too, but I have to be honest –I’m surprised there were no red flags for them. In reading the news coverage, I was already asking lots of questions from the surrogate’s perspective. In trying to keep with “not blaming the victim” language I will try to write my statements about what I would not do –but I am finding it very difficult to stand behind my “they are victims” the more I think about it all.
I would NEVER go into a surrogacy without ever meeting the Intended Parents.
Nothing that I have read so far has said that Erickson/Neiman had used fake couples to talk to or meet surrogates ahead of the embryo transfer. So did these women go get pregnant without ever reading IP profiles? Without having a match meeting? Were they told that their IP’s were famous or out of the country, so they couldn’t meet? OR did these women go into embryo transfers knowing that there were NO Intended Parents, and if that’s the case, how did they not see that as selling babies?
I would NEVER go into a surrogacy without a legal document or contract that showed the IPs’ names, contact information, information on who gets the baby if something happens to the IPs, etc.
Was there a legal contract that was signed by the IPs? Was it forged? OR (again) did they go in knowing that there were NO IPs, and if that’s the case, how did they not see that as selling babies?
I would REALLY QUESTION why the compensation was so high at $38,000 to $40,000 . . . almost double that of most first surrogacy compensation packages and thousands more than most 3rd surrogacy journeys, including my own.
I would assume that anyone trying to be a surrogate has seen what normal compensation looks like, usually around $20,000-27,000 for first journeys. Mine was $22,000, so I would really wonder why they were offering so much? Even now when I see some lawyers (and one or two agencies) state really high compensation, I wonder, what’s the catch? Why are they charging the Intended Parents so much for my services?
Maybe some of these surrogates did have some concerns but brushed them off because the women in charge were prominent lawyers and well know in the surrogacy online communities. Maybe they talked with other surrogates working with Erickson/Neiman and everything seemed to be copacetic. Maybe the promise of almost double standard compensation was enough to make them look the other way and not think twice? No one will ever know, I’m sure. By saying that they knew it was shady, they are guilty of taking part in baby selling, too. If they say that they were completely unaware until later (or never for those who already birthed babies) I may have a hard time believing that. Sure, I guess you can be naïve about some things but it just seems like a lot to overlook.
Some would argue that these surrogates were preyed upon because they were approached on an online forum, they didn’t go out looking to take part in a baby-selling ring. I have my own reservations about online surrogacy groups where anyone can join – I don’t have time for the drama that seems to encompass most of these groups. Not to mention I cannot believe some of these women actually get matched (through agencies or independently using these groups). But just because someone came to them doesn’t release them of culpability.
I am sure as the weeks go by we will hear more and more about all those involved and I am interested to hear more from the surrogates who were part of this in the past and the few that came forward to help end this baby-selling ring. I hope that many lessons can be learned from this, one being that a potential surrogate must do a great deal of research into surrogacy and the people she chooses to have represent her. Big names or not, there were a ton of red flags that arose . . . but then again, hindsight is 20/20.
Lastly, you will notice that I wrote, “big news surrounding surrogacy” above. This is because the Erickson/Neiman story is about baby selling, not surrogacy. Sure, the women hired to carry parentless embryos considered themselves surrogates, but a gestational surrogate is a woman who makes a legal agreement with Intended Parent(s) prior to an embryo transfer, that she will carry their embryo(s) to term and deliver set baby/babies to the Intended Parents.
Making the embryos can be done many ways: using the IPs’ own eggs, own sperm, using donor eggs or donor sperm, or a combination of any of those. But regardless of how the embryo is created, the fact remains that the IPs claim ownership of them. The embryos are theirs . . . their embryos are being transferred into their surrogate. Their surrogate carries their fetus and delivers them their baby. Voila! Surrogacy.
IPs and their embryos + surrogate = SURROGACY
Surrogate – IPs + random embryos + adoptive parents = baby selling
The math looks pretty easy to me!
Kelly Rummelhart writes about her experiences as a two-time gestational surrogate for gay couples. She calls herself a “Uterine Activist” and will be the first to tell you that her uterus is an ally. Kelly also writes at Just The Stork