By Ann Givens, Staff Writer
Newsday, NY, October 24, 2004
Many couples find they have to go through a taxing process to adopt their own biological children
Karen and Chris Skelley run to comfort their twins when they cry in the night, and wake up early to fill their bottles in the morning. It is Karen’s auburn hair that curls behind Jessica’s ears, and Chris’ blue eyes that sparkle beneath Paige’s lashes.
But according to the State of New York, Karen and Chris are not the twins’ parents – not yet.
Lauren Schlobohm, left and her sister-in-law Karen Skelley with fraternal twins Paige and Jessica. Karen and her husband, Chris, had their twins through Lauren.
Karen and Chris had their fraternal twin girls through a surrogate mother, Karen’s sister-in-law Lauren Schlobohm. Legally, Lauren is their mother until Karen and Chris adopt them, an arduous and expensive process that has already taken more than a year.
“We’ve been visited by a social worker, we had to get finger printed,” said Karen, 33. “It’s like we were adopting children that weren’t already ours.”
Karen and Chris, of St. James, are among many couples nationally who have had to go through the taxing process of adopting their own biological children. While a few states allow biological parents to put their names on the birth certificate from day one, many, including New York, have laws making that difficult.
Here, state law prohibits people from drawing up a contract with a surrogate mother, even if no money is exchanged. Most biological parents must instead go through a typical adoption, a month long process during which many complications can crop up. During that time, there is a danger the surrogate would decide to keep the child, that the biological parents will decide not to adopt the child or that there will be confusion about who should make decisions in case of an emergency.
“No two states handle surrogacy in the same way,” said Shirley Zager, who heads the Chicago-based Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy. Zager said about half the states have some sort of protections for people using surrogates. New York, she said, is not one of them.
“I think the hardest part is knowing that, God forbid those kids get sick, you have no legal rights to make a decision in their care,” said Vicki Loveland, clinical nurse coordinator for the Donor Egg Program at Long Island IVF at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, where the in vitro fertilization procedures were done.
Helping make a family
Lauren, who has two young children of her own with her husband (and Karen’s bother), Eric, says she had thought of offering to carry Karen’s children for years, ever since she learned that Karen was born without a uterus. Finally, a few years ago, she told them her idea.
“I couldn’t see her not being a mother,” Lauren said of her sister-in-law. “She was so wonderful with my children.”
Doctors implanted two fertilized eggs from Karen and Chris into Lauren’s uterus. Nine months later, Lauren gave birth to two 7-pound, 3-ounce girls.
Karen and Chris were in the delivery room for the births, and the doctors immediately handed a baby to each of them.
“I remember looking up and seeing them in their surgical masks holding the babies and saying,’ Look what I did! I helped make a family,’” Lauren said.
Amid the joy, though, the complications began. The girls’ birth certificates listed only Lauren as their mother, and Schlobohm as their last name. It was Lauren who had to carry them out of the hospital, but they were allowed to go home with the Skelleys.
The Skelleys had one lucky break: They were able to get their daughters’ Social Security cards right away with their own last name. That enabled them to get the girls covered under their medical insurance and to list them on their taxes. Many other families can’t do those things before the final adoption papers come through.
Then there’s the criminal background check, the social worker visit and the more than $3,000 they expect to spend in attorneys’ fees for the adoption.
But some experts said the laws may be changing soon for families such as the Skelleys. Melissa Brisman, a park Ridge, N.J.-based lawyer who specializes in reproductive law, said she won a state Supreme Court case this year ordering that two birth certificates be created for each of three triplets born to a surrogate mother: one with the biological mother’s name on it, and the other a sealed document with the surrogate mother’s name.
Brisman said it was an important first step in giving the biological parents of babies born to surrogates custody right away. “I think we’re getting closer,” she said.