A few years back, Crystal Kelley was looking to enter into a surrogacy agreement. But when she finally found a family and promised to have the couple’s baby, she had no idea that legal drama and an epic battle over the morality of abortion would ensue.
In entering into the initial pregnancy agreement, Kelley’s motives were pure. Considering that she was an unemployed, single mother, she needed the $22,000 she would earn from being a surrogate. But Kelley was also hoping to help a family struggling with fertility issues. At the time, she was 29 and had suffered two miscarriages of her own. So — she could relate.
When Kelley finally found and then met with a couple in need from Vernon, Conn., she was impressed with the way they treated their three children. So, she agreed to have their fourth child. And as CNN notes, the story started out quite favorably:
The couple had conceived their children through in-vitro fertilization and had two frozen embryos left over. Doctors thawed them out and on October 8, 2011, put them in Kelley’s uterus.
About 10 days later, a blood test showed she was pregnant — one of the embryos had taken.
Kelley and the parents were thrilled, and over the next few weeks, the mother was attentive and caring. When Kelley had morning sickness the mother called every day to see how she was feeling. She gave Kelley and Kelley’s daughters Christmas presents. When Kelley couldn’t make rent, the mother made sure she got her monthly surrogate fee a few days early.
But the situation changed after Kelley had a routine ultrasound around the five-month point and medical professionals struggled to see the baby’s heartbeat. After having a more robust examination, the surrogate received a frantic phone call from the mother who was paying her to have the child.
“There’s something wrong with the baby. What are we going to do?’ ” Kelley recalled the woman telling her in an interview with CNN. “She was frantic. She was panicking.”
Later, Kelley heard more details from the midwife — that the child’s ultrasound showed a cyst on her brain, a serious heart defect and a cleft lip and palate. Doctors were also not able to see a stomach or spleen. Follow-up appointments exposed severe health issues that would require surgeries and a plethora of medical attention once the child was born.
Kelley remembers doctors saying that the child would only have about a 25 percent chance of having a normal life.
Here’s where the situation became contentious. The family decided that termination would be best, but Kelley fervently disagreed. As the two parties discussed the horrific situation, the family begged her to reconsider her view that the pregnancy should continue.
“They were both visibly upset. The mother was crying,” Kelley recalled in her CNN interview. “They said they didn’t want to bring a baby into the world only for that child to suffer…They said I should try to be God-like and have mercy on the child and let her go.”
She remembers delivering a pointed response to the family.
“I told them that they had chosen me to carry and protect this child, and that was exactly what I was going to do,” Kelley continued. “I told them it wasn’t their decision to play God.”
What happened next can only be described in one word: Chaos.
Rita Kron, a representative at Surrogacy International, told Kelley that the parents were refusing to be the legal guardians if the surrogate decided to continue on with the pregnancy. The family then offered up $10,000 if Kelley was willing to abort the baby. She was faced with a tough decision, as she didn’t want another child of her own.
The surrogate, in a weak moment, almost considered the parents’ offer. She was desperate for money and countered at $15,000, almost immediately regretting doing so. Kelley had always been against abortion and, despite the family’s later refusal to pay that increased sum, she decided she couldn’t have gone through with it anyway.
CNN recaps what happened next, as the family resorted to legal avenues to try and prevent the pregnancy from concluding:
On February 22, 2012, six days after the fateful ultrasound, Kelley received a letter. The parents had hired a lawyer.
“You are obligated to terminate this pregnancy immediately,” wrote Douglas Fishman, an attorney in West Hartford, Connecticut. “You have squandered precious time.”
On March 5, Kelley would be 24 weeks pregnant, and after that, she couldn’t legally abort the pregnancy, he said.
“TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE,” he wrote.
Fishman reminded Kelley that she’d signed a contract, agreeing to “abortion in case of severe fetus abnormality.” The contract did not define what constituted such an abnormality.
Kelley decided she needed a lawyer and after getting advice, she was told that she wasn’t legally bound to have an abortion. But the problems didn’t end there; they intensified. When it was evident that she wasn’t willing to abort, the family said that it would assert its right to take the baby after birth and immediately put her into Connecticut’s foster care system.
Unable to imagine such a scenario for the child, Kelley worked with her lawyer and found a loophole. If she moved to Michigan, she would escape Connecticut law that viewed the birth parents as the rightful guardians; in Michigan, she would be considered the baby’s mother. So, in April, at seven months, she left with her daughters to live in Ann Arbor.
“Once I realized that I was going to be the only person really fighting for her, that Mama bear instinct kicked in, and there was no way I was giving up without a fight,” Kelley told CNN.
In addition to the laws that protected her and designated her the parent, Kelly also chose the state because of its stellar medical care. After researching the baby’s condition, she found that the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan had an excellent pediatric heart program.
The single mother inevitably decided, though she had an urge to keep the child, that the baby would be better off in someone else’s care. She found a couple to adopt, but, alas, the legal drama continued. Despite not hearing from the biological parents in quite some time, Kelley found out that they had filed in the Connecticut Superior Court asking that they have their names printed on the baby’s birth certificate.
They also dropped a bombshell — that the mother’s eggs weren’t used and that an anonymous egg donor offered up the real maternal DNA (this further complicated the case). When the child was born on June 25, the battle over who would be considered the parent continued, CNN reports.
In the end, a deal was struck and the family allowed the child to be adopted so long as they were permitted to visit her. The request was granted and they have since seen the child.
While her health problems were more severe that previously expected, the baby (known as Baby S.) is seen as a blessing to the family that adopted her. She has a long road ahead of her and she may not survive required surgeries. And even if she does, there’s a 50 percent chance she won’t walk or talk or use her hands normally. But the adoptive family showers her with love.
“S. wakes up every single morning with an infectious smile. She greets her world with a constant sense of enthusiasm,” the adoptive mother told CNN via email. “Ultimately, we hold onto a faith that in providing S. with love, opportunity, encouragement, she will be the one to show us what is possible for her life and what she is capable of achieving.”
As for Kelley, she has her supporters and detractors. While some hail her as a hero, others see her as a villain who carried on with a pregnancy that they believe should have been terminated. What do you think? Read the entire story here and let us know in the comments section.
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