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On a rainy day in November 2001, with the owners of the surrogacy agency at her side, Ring delivered two healthy babies at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She named the dark-haired girl Megan; the light-haired boy she called Matthew. Ring kept hoping that Matt and Jackie would show up to take the babies, but they didn't. Whether they were notified of the twins' birth has become a matter of dispute. "They neglected to tell me they'd been born," says Matt. According to David W.T. Brown, a Manhattan Beach attorney for the surrogacy agency, cell phone records show that the couple was called.

With a load of diapers from the hospital nurses and two bassinets bought on her credit card, Ring settled into her modest two-bedroom rental house with the twins. She didn't breastfeed them—"I'd get too attached," she says. Her sons also kept their distance, taking long breaks between playing with Megan and Matthew.

"It was hard for my mom," says Steven, "because when she holds a baby, she falls in love."

By January 2002, in courtroom 421 on the fifth floor of the Edmund D. Edelman Children's Court in Monterey Park, part of the Los Angeles Superior Court system, a hearing was under way to consider Ring's petition for parental rights. Ring was nervous. Jackie had told Judge John L. Henning that she didn't want the kids, but Matt was talking about possibly taking them after a temporary foster care placement.

The idea worried Ring. Matt's personal problems were continuing to spiral downward: He was sued again for nonpayment of rent, and this time Matt had been evicted. He showed up in court unshaven and looking like he hadn't slept, says Ring. Initially, he represented himself.

Mike Kretzmer, an attorney appointed for the twins, interviewed Matt three times and had serious concerns. "It came down to one question," says Kretzmer. "How do you handle a guy who, in theory, has an actual right to the children but who you believe isn't emotionally stable enough to care for them?" Most damaging, according to Walmsley, was that Matt never made a clear statement that he wanted the kids. "The intended father was, at best, waffling," Walmsley says. "Here's a man who never inquired as to how the twins were doing, who at one point agreed that they should be adopted."

Kretzmer advised the court against placing the babies with Matt. But there was no guarantee that the judge would follow his counsel. And when a county social worker showed up in court, Ring freaked. "I was afraid they'd come to the house and take Megan and Matthew," she says. "The law has proved over and over again that surrogates don't have any rights."

Searching for leverage against Matt and Jackie, Ring made the decision to go after their finances—against the advice of Walmsley, who cautioned that this might hurt the court's perception of her. Working with another lawyer, she filed a civil suit against the couple for breach of contract and fraud and asked for an unnamed amount in damages.

It didn't take long for the parties to strike a deal. "It would have cost me a quarter of a million to half a million to fight the civil suit," says Matt. "I'd go bankrupt." Even if he could gain custody of the twins, he wouldn't be able to support them—and Jackie had already said she wanted out. The couple agreed to tell Henning that they would allow Ring to be named the twins' legal parent, giving up their own parental rights. In exchange Ring promised to drop the lawsuit.

Jackie, during the brief comment she made for this story, characterized Ring as "a very disturbed and opportunistic young woman." (She said this in the same heated breath in which she called her a kidnapper.) As for Matt, he was definitely unhappy with the way things turned out. He still had visitation rights to his son, who is now 3—Jackie has full custody—and he told himself that he could always have more children. "But it was pretty devastating," he says, "because I lost two kids that were mine."

Susan's luck turns, and a new couple steps in to help

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