Some stories are so crazy you’d think they originated from a television script instead of from reality. That’s the case with Crystal Kelley, the Connecticut surrogate mom who fled the state to save the child growing inside her.
Crystal is a mother of two who fell on hard times financially and needed a way to generate income for her family. Her need for cash coupled with a desire to help someone with fertility problems led her to become a surrogate mother.
As CNN reports, Kelley met with a Connecticut couple who had three children and desperately wanted a fourth. The couple seemed attentive and loving, so Kelley agreed to carry their child. On October 8, 2011, frozen embryos were deposited into Kelley’s uterus. Less than two weeks later, tests showed that one of the embryos had taken. Kelley was pregnant, and the couple was overjoyed.
Over the next few weeks, the parents continually checked in with Kelley to make sure she was feeling well. Kelley’s own two children were given presents by the parents, who told Kelley, “[We] want you to come to us with anything because you’re going to be part of our lives forever.”
When Kelley was five months pregnant, a routine ultrasound test revealed some alarming news. The baby Kelley was carrying had a complex heart abnormality, a cleft palate, and a cyst in the brain. The doctors told Kelley that the baby would need multiple heart surgeries and have only a 25% chance at a “normal” life.
Soon Kelley’s midwife received a letter from doctors working with the parents. In it, the parents expressed their thoughts on the child’s condition and the action that should be taken. “Given the ultrasound findings, [the parents] feel that the interventions required to manage [the baby’s medical problems] are overwhelming for an infant, and that it is a more humane option to consider pregnancy termination.”
The previously wanted and anticipated child was now sentenced to death. Kelley declared that she was opposed to termination and wanted to give the child a chance. The parents revealed that their three children were born prematurely and had to spend time in the hospital. They said they wanted something “better” for this child.
The war of two worldviews had begun. The parents believed that it was wrong to bring a child into the world only for him or her to suffer. They pleaded with Kelley to be God-like and merciful by letting the child die. Kelley told them that it wasn’t their role to play God. They had chosen her to carry and protect the child, and she said that was exactly what she was going to do.
Then the story gets even crazier: the parents made Kelley an offer of $10,000 to abort the child. This temptation was challenging for Kelley, a mother who, before getting pregnant, had lost her job as a nanny. Kelley’s only source of income came from child support from her daughter’s father and a monthly surrogate fee from the parents. Although Kelley was religiously and morally opposed to abortion, she was conflicted in her hour of testing. In a move she later regretted, Kelley told the parents she would consider going forward with the termination for $15,000.
The parents refused the counter-offer – but even had they accepted, by now Kelley had re-examined the situation and firmly made up her mind to keep the child. Now the legal battles began. On Feb. 22, 2012, Kelley received a letter from the parents’ lawyer. The letter stated that Kelley was to terminate the pregnancy immediately. It said that Kelley had “wasted precious time” and that “time was off the essence[,]” because in a few weeks Kelley would be too far along to abort the pregnancy.
Kelley found a Connecticut lawyer who took her case for free. He assured Kelley that no matter what contract she signed, she could not be forced to have an abortion. In a strange twist, Kelley’s lawyer soon received a letter sharing the parents’ new decision to take custody of the child and then surrender it to the state of Connecticut after birth. Under a CT state law, parents can give up a child under a month old without being charged with abandonment.
Kelley was confused and conflicted about what to do next. Her lawyer told her she could go to court and fight for custody or flee to a city where she would have rights as the child’s mother. And so, in an act to protect the child, Kelley and her daughters fled to Michigan. Kelley applied for Medicaid, which enabled her to get care for the growing child. Even though Kelley fought for the child to live she knew she wouldn’t be the best person to raise the baby. So she found a couple who had children with disabilities and asked them to adopt the baby.
Away from Connecticut, with a couple wanting to adopt, Kelley thought things were finally on the right track. Then, a month before the baby’s due date, the parents went to Connecticut Superior Court to file for parental rights. Through that process, news was revealed that the parents had used an anonymous egg donor and that the mother was never the genetic parent – yet another twist in this complicated story.
After the baby was born, the parents and Kelley finally reached an agreement. The father decided to give up his parental rights as long as he could visit the child. How completely strange – that a father who offered thousands of dollars to abort his own child would later fight for visitation rights. The adoptive parents agreed with the request, and the biological father got to hold his baby.
The baby’s health conditions were as expected. CNN lists the extent of the baby’s deformities. “She has a birth defect called holoprosencephaly, where the brain fails to completely divide into distinct hemispheres. She hasheterotaxy, which means many of her internal organs, such as her liver and stomach, are in the wrong places. She has at least two spleens, neither of which works properly. Her head is very small, her right ear is misshapen, she has a cleft lip and a cleft palate, and a long list of complex heart defects, among other problems.”
Regardless of her many physical ailments, the baby known as Baby S is loved and cared for by her adoptive parents. They know she may not live for long, but as they told CNN, “Baby S. wakes up every single morning with an infectious smile. She greets her world with a constant sense of enthusiasm. Ultimately, we hold onto a faith that in providing S. with love, opportunity, encouragement, she will be the one to show us what is possible for her life and what she is capable of achieving.”
Kelley endured emotional, spiritual, legal, and financial battles. Even now she is hated by many and considered selfish for her actions. Yet Kelley believes that she did the right thing. She told CNN news:
No one else was feeling this pregnancy the way that I was. No one else could feel her kicking and moving around inside. I knew from the beginning that this little girl had an amazing fighting spirit, and whatever challenges were thrown at her, she would go at them with every ounce of spirit that she could possibly have. No matter what anybody told me, I became her mother.
If a mother is defined as someone who cares for and protects her child regardless of the circumstances, then I believe that Kelley filled that role with great courage and love. Human beings are fickle, and our love can shift like the sands. Negative reports from doctors lead many a parent to let their “wanted” children face their demise. Sadly, these decisions are all made in the name of “mercy.”
Baby S.’s adoptive parents are the ones who display what true mercy looks like. Let’s learn from their example and take their actions to heart.