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Breaking the ”Surrogate Code”

How Crystal Kelley became the ultimate example of “surrogacy gone wrong,” and how the baby she refused to abort is doing today.

Dubbed “ the runaway surrogate,” Crystal Kelley was loved by some and loathed by others when she made headlines in 2013 for refusing to terminate her surrogate pregnancy. After the baby girl’s biological parents discovered she would have debilitating health problems and some birth defects, they made the request that Kelley end the pregnancy. She fled her home state of Connecticut for Michigan (since its surrogacy laws would allow her to be the child’s guardian). Some thought Kelley was a hero — the baby deserved a chance at life, they said. Others felt she’d betrayed the code of surrogates — this was not her child, they argued.

How did this happen?

Doctors said Baby S could die before reaching her first birthday. She had been diagnosed with a brain defect and several heart defects, as well as cerebral palsy and a pituitary gland disorder. The little girl would have a rough road ahead.

So, she had the baby anyway?

Yep. Through her contacts, Kelley found a family with experience raising disabled children to adopt Baby S. Now, at over a year old, she is doing more than doctors ever expected. After several surgeries, her heart problems have been resolved and most of her major medical issues have been corrected. But she’s had a few strokes, which could impact her future health, and her gross motor skills are delayed—she’s unable to  crawl or  walk yet. She also has a compromised immune system, so a simple flu inevitably results in a hospital stay for Baby S.

Still, her social skills are on track for a child her age, at least so far. “She acts like a normal  toddler in many ways. She’s a lively little girl who likes to get at things and reaches for what she wants. She makes noises to get your attention,” says Kelley. “She’s not the vegetable that the doctors thought she might be.”

Kelley gives full credit to Baby S’s adoptive family. “She’s growing up in such a great environment, with brothers and sisters who absolutely love her. Family comes first at their house.” They’re also incredibly private, and plan to shield Baby S from the chatter that has arisen from her newsworthy entrance into the world.

Now what?

While no one really knows what the future holds for Baby S, Kelley’s biggest hope is that she continues to be loving and curious. “Whether she ends up with the cognition to do all the things that are considered socially acceptable, I don’t care, as long as she’s happy,” she says. “We all just hope that she’s given every opportunity to do whatever she may be capable of. And her family has the ability and know-how to give her that chance.” The former surrogate says that she keeps in constant touch with the adoptive family via Facebook and tries to see Baby S every few months. When asked the question on all our minds — whether the baby’s biological parents (who wanted to end the pregnancy) ever see the baby — Kelley says she doesn’t know. But we do know that they’ve been in touch with Baby S’s adoptive family since her birth.

What about the surrogate?

Kelley says getting back to life as usual with her own young daughters was tough after all the media attention, and with the financial burden that came with the move. “When we moved back to Connecticut, we were starting from scratch and I had to figure out how to make it work financially. We were bouncing around for awhile and struggling,” she recalls. In the last few months, she’s returned to work as a  doula and a nanny, and she and her family have moved into a house. She also published a book about her experience called Fire Within: A Surrogate’s Journey.

As for being a surrogate again, Kelley would love the opportunity, but knows it’s probably not likely. “I would absolutely do it again if someone asked, but I don’t know anyone who would want to,” she says. “There aren’t people banging down my door.” She’s well aware of the backlash, and that her story is now a cautionary tale of “surrogacy gone wrong.” Still, she doesn’t regret giving birth to Baby S.

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Photo: Thinkstock