NY surrogacy laws - parents’ heartache
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
But according to the State of New York, Karen and
Chris are not the twins’ parents – not
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
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
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
“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
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,”