At their first meeting, Ring, Matt, and Jackie talked for almost two hours and liked one another enough to move forward. Ring agreed to a psychological evaluation, a standard procedure designed to ensure that the surrogate will, indeed, hand over the child. Matt and Jackie agreed to Ring's $20,000 fee, a fairly standard surrogate rate. On their first try, using an embryo created from a donor egg and Matt's sperm, Ring got pregnant with a boy and delivered him in late 2000. (Ring is what's called a gestational surrogate, meaning that she carries a baby who is not genetically related to her; a traditional surrogate provides both an egg and a womb.) She found the experience thrilling. "When you give birth and make a family for someone who doesn't have one, it's pretty awesome," she says. "There's nothing I can think of that's more important than family."
Two months after the boy was born, Ring agreed to be a surrogate for the couple's second child—or children—using the same egg donor and Matt's sperm.
Late in the winter of 2001, Ring became pregnant with triplets. The contract she'd signed required her, at Matt and Jackie's request, to undergo a "selective reduction"—an abortion—to reduce the number of fetuses from three to two. The reduction was for the safety of the remaining fetuses, Matt says. "We weren't looking for four kids, anyway."
So on a foggy Saturday morning, Ring lay on an examination table at a hospital in Los Angeles while Jackie and Matt hung out in the waiting area. It is part of the odd intimacy of surrogacy that the players know one another's biology but often not much else. Before the procedure, according to Matt, Jackie had asked the doctor if it was possible to tell whether there was a girl fetus—if so, she wanted to keep it. Jackie was obsessed with twin girls, says Ring. "She was always saying how neat it would be to have twins like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. She watched all of their specials."
Refusing to identify genders, the doctor stated that he would abort the fetus with the lowest amount of amniotic fluid in its sac. As it turned out, the remaining twins were a boy and a girl.
Soon after the reduction, Ring opened a collection-agency letter and found that Matt and Jackie hadn't paid a pregnancy-related medical bill, as they were obligated to do. Ring left messages on the couple's answering machine. She says Matt and Jackie never called back. More unpaid bills arrived. The owners of the surrogacy agency checked into the situation and came to Ring's house. That's when Ring learned the news: Matt and Jackie were divorcing, and there was no money in an account that had been set up for the surrogacy.
Although the agency owners agreed to pay her medical insurance premiums and some other costs, that left about $22,000 in outstanding fees and expenses. (The agency owners say they were planning to pay Ring out of their own pockets if they couldn't get the money elsewhere, but she didn't know this.) At the time, Ring was more worried about what would happen to the twins. Searching the Internet for court decisions involving surrogates and intended parents, the name of one lawyer kept popping up: Robert R. Walmsley. On a notepad next to her computer, she wrote down his phone number.
By the time she was 6 months along, Ring was already big. On an evening when her boys—now 11 and 13—were out with their father, she eased behind the wheel of her Volvo and drove to the gated condominium community where Matt and Jackie lived. Since they wouldn't return her calls, she was determined to speak with them in person. When the security guard stopped her, she pleaded, "I'm pregnant with their child!" Whether swayed by her bulk or her evident distress, he let her in. Using her cell phone, she called Matt and Jackie and left a message saying, "If you guys don't open this door, I'm going to create a scene and tell every person in this complex what's going on."
A few minutes later, according to Ring, Jackie came down to the parking lot wearing a white T-shirt and jeans and holding her baby boy in her arms. She made it clear that she no longer wanted the twins. Matt, who was having serious financial problems, had come up with a plan to place the babies in foster care until he was in a position to take them. Ring drove away appalled.
Later in an interview, Matt explained that he was desperate and foster care was only a three-to-six-month solution. His life was in shambles. "I really loved my wife when I married her. I felt let down when, just because I was having financial problems...," he pauses. "The reason my wife wanted to divorce me was that I wasn't doing well financially."
"The fear was that the twins would go to foster care and stay there forever. It was against everything I believed in."
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