The Erickson Baby-Selling Scandal: We All Fall Down

As you may have seen and heard already, Theresa Erickson and Hilary Neiman – two esteemed surrogacy/adoption attorneys – plead guilty to being part of a baby-selling ring, one which they created under the guise of “surrogacy.” A former surrogate who worked with the attorneys as a “surrogate coordinator” was also charged in conjunction with the ring. In case you aren’t up to speed with the facts of the case, here is the prerequisite reading for today’s discussion. Rather than link to one of the many news reports hitting the presses, I’ve provided the link to the FBI’s San Diego Division’s official press release concerning the case.

There are numerous articles and news reports on the case popping up all over the Web and television, so I will not use this time and space to rehash the objective facts that you can easily find elsewhere. I do want to speak from my subjective point of view as the rare oddity that I am – one who can speak as both an infertile and a gestational surrogate.

As many of you know, I am the Senior Moderator of Surrogate Mothers Online (SMO) and am also its Public Relations Representative (and yes, the media requests for information are flowing). Now that the case has been publicized, I am at liberty to say that for months, I have known that Theresa Erickson was being investigated for shady “surrogacy” practices. I only knew information to the extent that it related to the SMO community. For the sake of the investigation, we complied with authority’s requests to try to keep discussions about the situation off of the message boards should they arise, and of course we complied. It was no easy feat, as the online surrogacy community is a relatively small one. News of this nature tends to travel fast and far, even if it is only comprised more of speculative rumbles than substantiated fact. Though we (we being SMO’s owner and moderators) knew the something of the substance of the investigation, we were not kept abreast of the finer details of the case developments as they occurred. I hope that the community of SMO and the infertility blogosphere understands that I kept quiet about the situation because if confirmation of criminal activity was found, I did not want to contribute to something which may have hampered justice being served.

I learned of those finer details late last night like the rest of the world. News reports about the situation began to go viral soon after the FBI posted the press release. I am sickened to know how deeply this baby-selling ring ran. In my many years as part of the surrogacy community, I have seen the worst of intended parents, surrogates, and so-called agencies whose actions contribute to surrogacy’s and third-party reproduction’s somewhat tainted public image. I have never before been so disgusted by a misuse of surrogacy/adoption/Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). This time, the offenders are not some fly-by-night, backdoor “instant-agency” that sucked in thousands of dollars from unsuspecting intended parents. This isn’t a faceless woman who faked a pregnancy, received a couple of months of compensation, and then faked a miscarriage. This isn’t a set of intended parents who sing sunshine and roses and then breach contract and leave a surrogate’s medical bills and compensation unpaid during or after pregnancy. No – these women were two upstanding attorneys who were highly-visible in the ART/surrogacy communities. They were strong advocates for infertility awareness. Erickson is (was) the force behind The Surrogacy Lawyer Radio Show and also authored two books, one of which was about navigating surrogacy and egg, sperm, and embryo donations. Erickson and Neiman were leaders, people in whom huge amounts of trust were placed. They were big, public figures for surrogacy and ART. You know what is said about those who are big; the fall will be hard.

Unfortunately, the pain from the impact of this fall will be felt by more than just Erickson and Neiman; it will be felt by us as the infertility and adoption communities and by us as the surrogacy community. We, too, will have to endure further scrutiny from much of the general public’s already sharp eye (and sharper claws). To an extent, we will all have to suffer from the consequences of their actions. How can I, a former surrogate who believes strongly in surrogacy as a positive family-building option, encourage and reassure prospective IPs and surrogates to trust in the process when highly-respected professionals have convoluted it to serve their own selfish needs? How can we as a community get the respect our issues and concerns deserve when Erickson and Neiman have treated it sodisrespectfully? They hid behind the shiny surface of their established solid reputations to perform disreputable acts. To say they have done us a gross disservice is an understatement; they have underlined and exemplified almost everything that opponents of surrogacy and ART use as weapons against us. Thank you for arming the naysayers with nuclear warheads, Theresa.

I have the feeling that what has been revealed thus far only scratches the surface a few inches deep. The legal prosecution and criminal investigation may not stretch much further than the October 28th sentencing of Erickson, but the whos, hows, and whys are being picked apart by the public. The surrogacy community is afire with the speculation and accusations that members are now able to freely voice on SMO. Whispered, understated discussions of suspicion also seemed to have been prevalent among Erickson’s colleagues. Everyone is reeling.

Keiko of Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed also spoke of feeling betrayed by Erickson. In the honest, raw, and eloquent way that it Mel’s (of Stirrup Queens), she had this to say about Erickson:

“…there was nothing that I could tell from our emails or the radio show that she would play into the very underbelly that people fear from reproductive sciences, setting back public perception on surrogacy yet again.” 

Somewhat ironically, today Erickson had this to say for herself on Facebook:

“As an advocate, educator and representative of Intended Parents, Egg Donors, Sperm Donors, Surrogates, and all the children that have been born because of my hard work and dedication to this industry for over a decade, I respectfully request that those who know me for who I am (and even those who do not) please wait to judge until I am able to share the real story, my story.
Remember, any story can be spun and manipulated to make a story salacious, yet know from the bottom of my heart that I have done the right things to protect some children from otherwise disastrous outcomes. I have never taken advantage of parents, children, donors or surrogates who otherwise would remain vulnerable to the underbelly of this industry. I live my life by doing the right things for the right reasons and sometimes you just have to do what is right.”

I’m so dumbstruck by this bullshit that I can’t even bring this to a respectable conclusion.

I may have more to say on this issue in the coming days, or I may not. It was difficult just to write this much. If you have any questions or comments about the legalities (or illegalities) of this issue or about surrogacy in general, please ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer you. Alternatively, you can email me through the Contact page.

31 Comments

  1. Kathy on August 10, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Thank you for sharing your unique perspective on this Moxie. You are the first surrogate I ever knew/felt a personal connection to, so upon hearing “the news” today, I was anxious to hear/read your take on it. I so appreciate Mel, Keiko and your posts on this, as I feel unusually speechless and find comfort in knowing that you three are speaking so well about this on behalf of our ALI Community. Still in shock and disbelief I guess that anyone could do something like this… Thanks again for your thoughtful post.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 12:08 pm

      I’m still in shock, too, and I’ve known that something was coming down the pipelines for a while. 🙁



  2. jjiraffe on August 11, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Thank you for this post: your point of view is invaluable.

    I don’t really have much to say, other than I hate that the infertility community has to deal with this unfortunately very real situation. It effing sucks in every way.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm

      The really sad thing is that it seems like Erickson doesn’t realize the impact of the blow she’s dealt to the ALI community.



  3. luna on August 11, 2011 at 2:33 am

    really astounding. just imagining the unfortunate ripple effects in the infertility community.

    I agree your perspective is invaluable in this debacle. I imagine it has to be hard, but it’s so important to hear from you on this. thanks for speaking up.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      The effects that we see are bad enough. What scares me the most are what yet to be seen, future effects this might cause.



  4. Alissa on August 11, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Thank you Moxie for sharing. I just don’t understand why people prey upon those who depend on them!



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      I’ll never understand it, either. I really do want to hear “her side,” as she seems to feel justified in what she did.



  5. niobe on August 11, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I’ve been reading about this and, well, wow. Just wow.

    Plus, it seems kind of pointless. I mean, if I understand the facts correctly, it sounds that essentially the exact same thing could have been done legally (with full disclosure to all parties involved) by entering into the surrogacy contract prior to the IVF or complying with state adoption laws.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Good point, niobe, and one that I’ve been mulling over myself. Why go to all that trouble? I’ve come up with a couple of highly-plausible reasons:

      Firstly, she had to uphold her reputation as a well-established surrogacy/adoption attorney who is reliabale and does things by the books, in all the ways and methods that are acceptable in the eyes of the American surrogacy/infertility/third-party repro communities. She could have *legally* had the parentless embryos created in the Ukraine (where the laws regarding donor gametes are much less astringent than here in the US) and then culled together a group of surrogates and IPs who were willing enter into a surrogacy agreement together BEFORE the transfer of those foreign “donor” embryos took place. Then it would have been a vaild contract, the surrogate and IPs would have knowingly and willingly gone to the Ukraine in the hopes of achieving pregnancy with those embryos, legal pre-birth orders could be acquired, and it would be a technically be a legally “clean” arrangement.

      So why didn’t she do this? Because that’s NOT HOW IT’S DONE HERE! Even though she could have legally skirted the laws in the US regarding donor gametes by going to the Ukraine, having to skirt the law at all is shady and she would have immediately been suspect, thereby destroying any chances she had of maintaining her good reputation. Thoughly she would have been fully legal, the fact that it happened because she worked through a loophole would have put her under fire.

      Secondly, the Ukraine is cheap, easy, and affordable, which made the process far quicker than it would have been to pull that off stateside. She could have managed domestic embryo adoptions and made matches that way, but it would have been costly (thereby minimizing her profit), and it would have made an already-slow process even slower.



      • niobe on August 12, 2011 at 10:16 am

        You’re probably right.

        Though, it’s kind of ironic since her reputation is unlikely to be enhanced by the fact that she’s now a CONVICTED FELON.



  6. Mrs. Gamgee on August 11, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I am thoroughly disgusted, and beyond heartbroken for the victims of these women.

    I honestly have no idea what to even say in response, except ‘thank you Moxie’ for your unique perspective. While I haven’t been a part of the surrogacy community, as a part of the IF community I feel so angry that these people, who have set themselves up as advocates and leaders, have taken advantage of those who sought their help.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      Thank you, Mrs. Gamgee.



  7. leanne on August 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    The longer I read the FBI press release, the more my mouth gaped open in sheer disbelief. Then I read Theresa’s statement that you included here. And I’m at such a loss as to understand why. And I fear the repercussions that Theresa’s actions will have caused.

    Difficult as it may have been, thank you for sharing your thoughts, so eloquently written.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      I’m at a complete loss, too. I hope it won’t be long before we can hear “her side,” though I know that nothing she can ever say or do will justify her actions.



  8. Quiet Dreams on August 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Thank you for this, Moxie. I’m so sorry for the surrogacy community.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks for thinking of us. It’s a tough, tough blow to those of us who are true to the heart of surrogacy.



  9. Amelia on August 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    This is just awful awful awful. My heart breaks for those that seriously didn’t need yet another roadblock to be able to have children.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      I agree – it’s hard enough as it is for those who need surrogacy to become parents without Erickson – who should have been helping to facilitate parenthood – making it even more complicated.



  10. Amelia on August 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Damn, I totally deleted my website but it came up anyway. My title is a joke, please don’t be a offended.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      Amelia, I knew good sarcasm when I hear it, and my regular readers do, too. No offense taken. In fact, I got a chuckle out of it. 🙂



      • Amelia on August 12, 2011 at 4:35 pm

        *whew*



  11. HereWeGoAJen on August 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Very interesting post, Moxie. I’m horrified that someone could do something like that.



    • Moxie on August 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      Thanks, Jen.



  12. Lori Lavender Luz on August 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    I immediately thought of you when I heard of this, knowing that your voice would help neutralize the venom that could be aimed at this community, and also to counter the deceit with your straight-on, smart perspective. Thanks for this post.



  13. a on August 11, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Before I even read that quote, I suspected that somewhere there would be “I did it for the parents who couldn’t have children” defense. Sorry, just not buying it. And even if it were true, the larger damage done to the surrogacy community could never justify getting children to those few parents.

    However, I am glad that SMO has such an eloquent spokesperson…



  14. Keiko on August 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you so much for this post and also for linking up to mine as well. I’m close to a few people who have been directly impacted by this whole mess, but it’s helpful to hear the perspectives of other people who have some more inside knowledge as well.

    “I’m so dumbstruck by this bullshit that I can’t even bring this to a respectable conclusion.”

    I couldn’t agree more – the sad thing is I think she really believes what she wrote, which makes her delusional, at best. Just unreal.



  15. tash on August 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Oh my fuck, I hadn’t even heard of this until I saw your blog and Mel’s. Like some commenters, I feel like I live in a very sheltered universe where only super upstanding smart and sympathetic women like KYMBERLI are surrogates. And things go great and families are built, or things go poorly and there are many tears. I’m just dumbfounded. But you know, maybe not. Clearly they saw $$$ in desperation, and that’s just sad.

    I love how in her FB comments, Erickson says to please wait until we can hear her side of the story when here she pleaded fucking GUILTY to all that shit. Oh my stars. I can’t wait until she comes out with “how many people I *helped*” and how many dreams she made come true and blahblahblah. All from the comfort of her new Benz, I’m sure. Bleh.

    Moxie, I’m so so glad you’re the spokesperson. There could not be a better one for this cause.



  16. […] and others went on to explain that there had been whispers that Erickson was being investigated, and that she […]



  17. […] and others went on to explain that there had been whispers that Erickson was being investigated, and that she […]



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