A baby at the center of a legal battle and national debate will receive life-saving surgery after a lengthy showdown between his biological parents and the surrogate who carried him.
The baby was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or HLHS, 16 weeks into pregnancy. His biological parents demanded an abortion. The surrogate, refused, saying doctors told her the condition was treatable and never recommended an abortion.
Monica Hernandez sent questions to the surrogate, who doesn't want to be identified. Here are her answers:
Why did you choose to become a surrogate?
"Becoming a surrogate weighed heavily on my heart shortly after I had twins of my own. I found so much joy in being a mom that I truly ached thinking about people who struggled with infertility. I got pregnant accidentally and with twins. I struggled with the enormity of the responsibility I had not initially intended or expected. I didn't understand why so many deserving people who long to be parents can't even have one. It seemed so unfair and arbitrary. It was then, during my own receipt of my unexpected gift (twins) that it my deep desire to help others in this way arose. I just knew that if I could only help with just one couple, then that would be one couple whose lives would be forever changed for the better because I was willing and able to help. Here I am delivering this profound gift to another family from my third surrogacy!"
How did you find out the child had a heart defect?
"I have seen the same specialist for all four of my pregnancies, and when I saw him this time, he could tell instantly something wasn't right. He told me that it looked like the baby had a rare heart condition and he wanted me to see a cardiologist. He arranged an appointment for me that same day, and sent me to a brilliant and compassionate cardiologist, who explained to me that the baby has HLHS. He spent so much time explaining this condition to me and has spent every second of my appointments providing guidance and comfort. His support and encouragement, along with all his entire staff, had a huge impact on me!"
What was your initial reaction when the baby's parents told you they did not want you to have the baby, and asked for an abortion?
"I was completely in shock. I truly didn't have the slightest idea that would be asked of me. At the doctor's appointment, during the diagnosis, I was asked, how I expected the parents might respond to this news. Frankly, based on what they had told me previously, about their opposition to abortions, I expected they would want to me to carry to term and treat the child. I expected we were all on the same page. I had no idea how much my life would change just a short 36 hours later."
Why did you decide not to abort the baby? Was it a challenging decision to make?
"This was, of course, a difficult decision, especially because he's not my baby. I understood how scared the biological parents must have been. I remembered how scared and confused I was when I got pregnant with my own twins. I was twenty years old, had not planned for the prospect of having one, yet alone two children and was frightened. I remember thinking, how much easier it would all be if there were easy answers. I did not consider an abortion even if, at that moment, it would have made things a-lot [sic] easier. Instead, at twenty years old and with no idea how I could afford or care for twins, I chose to provide them life. That decision was the best decision I've ever made. My children have been my biggest blessings and my greatest treasures."
Did the biological parents or their attorney tell you they would not allow treatment for their child if he was born? Did that make the birth more difficult?
"When I asked whether the parents would choose surgery or comfort care (which I had no idea existed and was a possible legal option), I was effectively told to butt out, that treatment for the baby not was my concern. Those answers troubled me deeply. I made it clear how much I care for this baby boy. The mere thought of handing him over to simply let him pass completely tore me up. I searched for more answers, and was never made comfortable that the child would receive the care to which he was entitled. Nothing about the responses I was provided was settling, but I also didn't know how I could do anything. I felt powerless since I had no rights to this baby once he took his first breath.
This made the weeks and days leading up to delivery overwhelmingly emotional for me. I tried so hard to be strong, but I was a mess. My co-workers picked up a lot of slack at the office for me and my family supported me both emotionally and spiritually. My friends and life-group hugged me as I cried on their shoulders as I searched for answers. Tuesday night, a day and a half before delivering, I got a call from an Angel, my friend's boss. Knowing I'm a single mom with limited funds I was told, “Take care of yourself and that baby, and don't worry about anything else.” I was immediately put in contact with the two best attorneys around! They hit the ground running as fast as they could, and I finally had hope. These three were the answers to my prayers!"
What is your reaction to the biological parents' decision to provide necessary treatment for the baby boy?
"I am elated!!! Every time I think about it, I break down in joy. There are so many people rooting and praying for this baby boy, the doctors, their staff, the hospital and now the parents. Everyone wants to see success, happiness, and hear what a fighter this precious baby is."
Is there anything else you think people should know?
It's a natural response to be bitter, angry, or hateful when you feel like you've been wronged, but I don't want these negative feelings being the center or focus of my story. I hope we can take this emotional experience and apply it in ways where we can learn and grow. Surrogates are brave and giving people and in most instances the arrangement works very well. My circumstance should allow us to consider what protections and clarity should be provided to the surrogates and how the issue of birth defects or illness in the unborn might require new ways of balancing the relationship(s) between surrogates and parents.
This is a great opportunity to change surrogacy laws, the legalities regarding comfort care and the public awareness and support for surrogacy. This is, also, the most perfect time to choose love instead of hate. The parents are real people who are faced with their son having to undergo a major surgery. I want them to feel loved, supported, and commended for their decision to choose life! I want them to know they are in our prayers.
Above all I do not want the public to view surrogacy negatively. Rather, it is a fabulous gift that I am so proud to have been a part of. I want people to know that it is a viable and fantastic option for willing families that would otherwise not have the chance to bring their own child into the world."