' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Surrogate Mother Wins Right to Sue for Custody; Police Chief Sentenced for Stealing Surrogate Items

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Surrogate Mother Wins Right to Sue for Custody; Police Chief Sentenced for Stealing Surrogate Items

In the world of convoluted conception, complications are setting in like labor pains--they are not going away anytime soon. On the heels of yesterday's post about a biological mother going underground with her daughter rather than sharing the girl as court ordered with her former gay partner and legal parent, today there's another surrogacy custody fight heading for the courts in the spring. 

A New Jersey judge has ruled that a surrogate mother who bore twin girls not conceived with her ova is the legal mother of the children and has the right to seek primary custody of them at trial in the spring. The woman, Angelia G. Robinson of Jersey City, agreed to bear the children for her brother, Donald Robinson Hollingsworth, and his male spouse, Sean Hollingsworth, using Sean's--not her brother's--sperm. After the girls were born in October, 2006 they went to live with the men, but within six months, in March 2007, Robinson sought custody, alleging that she had been coerced into the arrangement. Since then she has been taking care of the girls three days a week.

Judge Francis B. Schultz of Superior Court relied heavily on precedent established by the New Jersey Superior Court in the infamous 1987-88 case of  Baby M, in which a surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead, carried her own genetic child for another couple, Elizabeth and William Stern, after being artificially inseminated with Stern's sperm. After she gave birth Whitehead breast-fed the baby and decided she could not give her up. In the end, in a legally complicated and convoluted decision, the Sterns were granted custody, but the court ruled that Whitehead's maternal rights could not be terminated against her will, that surrogacy contracts were against public policy. Whitehead was eventually able to win visitation rights, and though I can't find them on the net today, I remember reading at least one story several years later when the girl was visiting Whitehead and her two half-siblings at her home.

At the time, both the adoption and adoption-reform community were deeply involved in the ongoing saga that generated nearly as many stories in the media as a certain famous golfer with a predilection for promiscuity did recently. Though adoption-reform community came down heavily in favor of giving Whitehead custody of her daughter, most of the rest of the media titled toward the Sterns. Working-class Whitehead was portrayed as a somewhat pathetic creature--she was unstable because she changed her mind about giving up her daughter--and the expert testimony at trial was heavily weighted in favor of the upstanding middle class couple, the Sterns. For having agreed to be a surrogate in the first place, for not being of the solid middle class background of the Sterns (Elizabeth (Betsy) Stern was a doctor), for having the temerity to change her mind about giving up her baby, Whitehead was pilloried in the press. However, there were exceptions.

We note that one of our friends, Michelle Harrison, now an adoptive mother to many in India--not from, but IN India--wrote in Perspectives that the testimony of experts was heavily "imbued with prevailing middle-class beliefs about good mothers and good parenting." Which of course would exclude many first/birth mothers--then, and today--from being considered suitable mothers. The New York Times ran an editorial, "There Is Nothing Surrogate about the Pain," that condemned the trial as biased against both women and the working class and called for joint custody. Feminists, who have largely looked away from the plight of first/birth mothers, spoke out for Whitehead. Adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher did also.

Yet the prevailing wind was with the Sterns. Even most women, without the perspective of having lost a child to adoption, or in a custody fight, sided with the couple. They simply did not like lower-class Mary Beth. Feminist thinker and author Phyllis Chesler took up Whitehead's cause and wrote in Sacred Bond, The Legacy of Baby M.: "Women who have never been allowed to talk back eventually identify with the aggressor and have no pity for a victim who reminds them of themselves." To which we add: Amen.

It is worth noting here that Mrs. Stern was not infertile but had multiple sclerosis, and was concerned about the possible physical implications of pregnancy. A colleague testified that his wife, with the same condition, had temporary paralysis during pregnancy. Incidentally, the contract between Whitehead and the Sterns is available on line. She was to be paid $10,000 for a live infant. It's really kinda awful to read, and certainly considers the baby as property.

While the Baby M case did uphold the surrogacy contract, the judgment was not laudatory about the arrangement, and the judge in the current case in New Jersey (what is it about New Jersey, is it something in the water?) quoted this in the current decision:
"The surrogacy contract," the Baby M court found, "is based on principles that are directly contrary to the objectives of our laws. It guarantees the separation of a child from its mother; it looks to adoption regardless of suitability; it totally ignores the child; it takes the child from the mother regardless of her wishes and maternal fitness."
Citing that passage, Judge Schultz wrote, "Would it really make any difference if the word 'gestational' was substituted for the word 'surrogacy' in the above quotation? I think not."

All this reminds us once again why we do not like surrogacy pregnancies--with the woman's own eggs, or with another woman's eggs. No matter how you deconstruct the feelings involved, surrogacy contracts create babies on demand, often babies for profit. We ask, how different is the situation of a surrogate mother different from a first/birth mother who agrees to sign--or does sign--papers relinquishing her child but changes her mind hours, days, weeks later? Does the fact that the birth began with a surrogacy contract make the experience different?

We think not. Having given up a child of our own egg, we do think there may be an emotional difference between a purely gestational surrogate mother and a genetic mother, but we do not have the answers today, and nor are we even sure of our feelings.
Now for a change of pace as surrogacy madness continues: In the "how-did-I-miss-this?" category comes the sentencing of an Ohio police chief, Barry D. Carpenter, for breaking into the home of the surrogate mother for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Carpenter, former chief of police of Martin's Ferry, and two other men, including another police chief from a neighboring town, Chad M. Dojack of Bridgeport, broke into the home of the woman and stole items they intended to sell to tabloid newspapers. :) Yes, that is me being amused.

Carpenter, who did the crime while on duty (you gotta admit, that took some chutzpah) was sentenced to 32 months, but the promise of early release is held out, Judge John Solovan of Blemont County Court, said to Carpenter if  "you accept responsibility and account for your actions and your crimes." Dojack's case is set for January. Charges against Dojack's father-in-law, who is the son of Bridgeport's mayor, who had appointed Dojack chief (ah, the beauty of small towns) were dropped. Parker and Broderick have twins. And Parker kept her Size Zero figure.

Happy New Year everyone!  I am trying to take a break from the blog and get to some other writing work, but the news just keeps on rolling along. --lorraine


  1. The stupidity continues. I don't know what possesion or whateve it is allows a woman to actually believe that any child - from her own egg or anothers - will be easy to give up. It is not just genetic material folks! It is being pregnant, that pause of nine months in which you are one with the universe.

    Then I think it over and think you know, we all have to just admit, it is money.

    "Parker and Broderick have twins. And Parker kept her Size Zero figure."

    And then of course, you woul not want to lose your beautiful money maker!


  2. "Having given up a child of our own egg, we do think there may be an emotional difference between a purely gestational surrogate mother and a genetic mother, but we do not have the answers today, and nor are we even sure of our feelings."

    Im general, I agree with you. Before adopting Simone, I met a gay couple who were planning to use a surrogate. I later learned that both the mother and baby died due to complications in the pregnancy. The story has never been far from my mind and I believe kids and parents would be better off if surrogacy were banned. Needless to say, the men involved were also devastated and eventually split up as well. I never got the impression that anyone was coerced.

    But as to the legal issues involved, there has to be some consideration of intent. Was it the intention of the woman who carried the non-genetically related (to her) twins for the gay couple to be a womb for hire so that the two men could parent? If that is the case, then I don't see why she is the child's mother unless nobody can ever bargain away maternal rights. If she was coerced, that is another story.

    The article noted that gay men and lesbians are dependent on reproductive technology to have kids . . . but nobody needs a surrogate or anon donation. It's a little messier and complicated to explain that your child came from other people, but better in the long run.

  3. What some folks won't go through just to have a "mini-me". Disgusting..

  4. "Does the fact that the birth began with a surrogacy contract make the experience different?
    We think not."
    I can't help but think the experience would be significantly different -- especially in cases where the mother wants her baby from the get-go. And if the pregnancy was the result of an important and meaningful relationship between the parents, I think that would make some difference too. Nothing is experienced in isolation.

    I agree with Osolomama that, from a legal POV, intent has to be taken into consideration.
    Apparently Robinson claims that she was coerced into the surrogacy arrangement. I don't discount it, but am seriously curious to know how this was supposed to have been done.

    Little Snowdrop

  5. On what basis could surrogacy be outlawed? That is an interesting question if three people can choose surrogacy, understanding the rights and risks involved and signing an agreement to that effect. It is not *inevitable* that a surrogate will want to claim the child as her own. Many have not. The murderess Diane Downs was a surrogate before offing her own kids (anyone wishing to draw a connection, there be my guest).

    But how distasteful something is cannot be a barometer of its permissibility in a liberal society. Some conundrum applies to polygamous arrangements NOT involving the coercion of minors. Very interesting debate shaping up, probably.

  6. I remember reading something somewhere ages ago (and I have since looked for the info/source and have been unable to find it...it may have been in a college textbook or something that a professor quoted in a lecture)...

    At any rate, it was that something like 75% of all women who enter surrogacy do so saying that they consider their own families to be complete. In other words, they do not want any more children of their own.

    Of that 75%, right around 50% *do* go on to bear another child of their own after the surrogate child has been relinquished.

    To me, that speaks volumes of what a hole must be created by having to surrender any child, biological or otherwise.

  7. Link to discussion at Feministing:

  8. Great Post.....

    I found your site on stumbleupon and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

    Thanks for sharing....

  9. I am a mother through embryo adoption (open contract). I can tell you that had my child been ripped from me after I gave birth to him, it would have hurt me just as much as it would if he carried my DNA. He is of my flesh and blood too, even if a DNA test wouldn't show it. I personally don't support surrogacy, myself. To me, it seems like too much to ask of any human being.

  10. The case about illegal trafficking of babies from the Surrogacy Center is breaking up in the court?
    Company lawyer Sergey Yemelianov has spent nearly half a year in the pretrial detention center. The lawyer who completed documents for newborns is released from the pretrial detention center.

    Irina Zozulia. May 13, 2013

    An unexpected turn of events in a much publicized case of allegedly illegal trafficking of babies born by Ukrainian women for foreigners. The lawyer of the Surrogacy Center Sergey Emelyanov is released from the pretrial detention center where he has spent the last half a year.
    Let us recall, the Kharkov firm supporting the foreigners for eight years in such a sensitive issue as providing a surrogate mother, birth of a baby and its trafficking abroad has come into a view of security officials last year.

    The Head of the Centre Victoria Chuprinova and the lawyer Yemelianov were accused of entering into a birth certificate a name of a woman who carried a child but not the one of a genetic mother.

    Public prosecution office has consideration it violated the procedure of document execution. Eleven episodes of trafficking newborns abroad were reviewed in court, some of them were adjudged in course of several court sessions.

    Ms. Chuprinova who founded a Surrogacy Center “La Vita Felice” stands assured of establishing her case in court.
    Victoria Chuprinova, who, by the way, is still on travel restrictions, is guided by new facts.

    “I rely upon the objectivity of justice and will continue to prove my innocence, because I committed nothing illegal,- says the ex-director of the Surrogacy Center, who is also charged with tax evasion in the amount of 2.5 million UAH”

    After auditing, however, the experts from the institute n.a. Bokarius failed to make clear conclusion which sums have not been paid by the company to the state and if there were any underpayment at all. Forensic experts made reference to the fact that the crime investigator has not provided the documents of the company.

    Chuprinova is sure of the fact that the attack on her project is nothing but a forcible takeover, in which her former deputy Ludmila Pchelnikova played a key role.

    “I was arrested only on the basis of false testimony of Lyudmila Pchelnikova, and when she began to be questioned in court, she had completely denied her words. Luda is a cook by profession, once came to us to be a surrogate mother.

    Later, she became a manager, and, with time passing, my assistant. I trusted her finally been paid for it - lamenting Victoria.”

    Company’s name was changed on La Vita Nova LLC and continues functioning. The ex-deputy took the reins in her hands, and Sergei Krasnikov, the former officer of security agency has become the founder of the Center.

    On the topic

    New Company’s owner: there will be new accusations

    - Company is not accused, but people. And as long as there is no verdict, we are not in position to say they are founded guilty, - Sergei Krasnikov commented the situation to “Komsomolka”.

    By the way, as it became known to "КP", in Kiev Regional Department of Internal Affairs the criminal case against the company officer of La Vita Nova LLC Lyudmila Pchelnikova is opened. She is charged with violation of two articles of the Criminal CODE of Ukraine.




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