My Lawyer Went to Prison: My Experience With the Legal Side of Surrogacy
I met the woman who would give birth to my daughter at a restaurant in Sacramento.
It wasn’t a blind date, but it had the elements. We created profiles and an agency screened us. There was an initial phone call and then some pondering whether — and then when — to meet face-to-face.
And then there we were, talking over coffee and crepes at a cafe on L Street.
Is this the way it is? I wondered. Do you decide whether to ask a person to care for a tiny life on your behalf over coffee?
Yes. Yes, you do.
As crazy as that sounds, I went by gut with this woman who made me laugh, asked questions I had not yet asked myself, and spoke captivatingly of her own son’s love of sushi and airplanes. And I’ll tell you: this kind, generous soul went from coffee on the sidewalk to a forever place in my heart in the span of a year.
There is a lot of letting go that needs to happen on both sides when you enter into this type of relationship. I had to trust our surrogate would care for herself and what would become our daughter. She, on the other hand, had to trust that we would take care of her and her medical needs. We both needed to trust that the agency we had selected would guide us through the process, and that our lawyers would protect us all.
Ah, yes. The legal part: that’s the meat of this story.
There is legal precedent for surrogacy in California, where I live. This meant we could count on parental rights being transferred to my husband and I by the time of the birth, provided an agreement signed by all parties prior to the pregnancy occurring was submitted to the court. Until the legal transfer occurred, however, our surrogate, whom I’ll call L, would retain parental rights.
I tried not to build worst case scenarios out of nothing, even though it’s in my nature to worry globally. I leaned on my husband, the rock to my moving tides.
We hired a woman known as THE surrogacy lawyer to help us set up our initial agreement. I’ll call her A. We had watched A’s television commercials and YouTube videos, listened to recordings of her being interviewed about her work, and read whatever we could find about her. She had worked with the surrogacy agency we selected many times prior. Others who had worked with her commented that the legal process went through without a hitch.
She seemed perfect.
The creation of our initial agreement did indeed go smoothly. While we would need to retain her again a few months prior to our daughter’s birth to create the parental rights transfer paperwork, we were free to set out on our surrogacy journey, agreement in hand.
The journey, too, went smoothly. We achieved a viable pregnancy on our first attempt. We found out we were having a girl. L felt well.
But then it got rocky.
Several months before our daughter’s due date, I called A to get the parental rights paperwork started. There was no answer the first time I called. Nor the second. Nor the third. I wondered if she had moved.
I googled her and found this.
There isn’t really a way to express the panic that stabbed me in the chest. Nor is there really a way to express the otherworldly absurdity of the situation except to put it straight: “Our lawyer has been convicted of a baby-selling scheme and is going to prison,” I told my husband and L.
I couldn’t quell the horror that someone would sell a child. I worried her hopskotching around the law may have somehow bled into our initial agreement, making it invalid. I needed another lawyer, stat.
Invalid. That was my worst case scenario at the time. I didn’t think for a second that the agreement would go missing.
But it did.
Under the assumption our previous lawyer had transferred us all of the legal documents previously prepared, our new lawyer (whom I’ll call B) asked us for the final signed copy of our initial agreement. It sounded simple enough, right? But the only full copy of the initial agreement signed by all parties — me, my husband, L, and all the physicians we had worked with — was in A’s office. Part of an official investigation. No longer accessible.
Undaunted, B asked all of us to send our copies of the documents we had signed for the initial agreement. She would rebuild it, she said.
But somewhere, somehow, someone had misplaced a document, and the initial agreement couldn’t be rebuilt.
We were in legal limbo without it.
Now admittedly somewhat daunted, B suggested we try a new angle. She asked each party to prepare a document stating each step that had been taken thus far, including that we had signed an initial agreement. The final document submitted to the court accounted for the existence of an initial agreement, though it could not be physically submitted, and assurance that actions had been taken to carry its stipulations through.
And then we waited.
The day our new lawyer called to tell us she had received the approval from the court in Sacramento, I cried.
And then I got pissed.
I found the prison A had been sent to. I found her inmate number. I wrote her a searing letter. I scraped my anger into the page with black ink. And then I mailed it.
She sent me a typed reply, stating she had completed her legal obligations toward us when the initial agreement closed. This was true; I had always been welcome to find another lawyer to help with the parental rights transfer. She was official. She was terse. She made no mention of the missing initial agreement or the turmoil its absence caused.
I met the best (L) and the worst (A) in this process. I am still in touch with L and her son. We share notes and photos, and we meet when we can. When my daughter is old enough, I will tell her about how we met L. She already knows that L and her son are a part of our family as surely as any aunt, uncle, or cousin.
I did say there is a lot of letting go involved in surrogacy. Maybe someday I will let go of A enough that she is no longer on a spark-ready fuse.
But not yet.
Still, would I try surrogacy again?