When Jessica Allen signed up to become a surrogate, she thought it would be an easy way to help out someone in need. Allen, who was already a mother of two sons, knew the ins and outs of pregnancy. She followed the rules and the surrogacy seemed to go off without a hitch...until the delivery room when things got messy.
The months that followed led Allen to share her story with the world. She told People, "I'd never do it again. I'm not the only one with a nightmare story, but I am the only one with a story like this." Read on to see what happened in the delivery room that changed everything.
Jessica Allen Thought The Couple She Was Helping Meant Well
Jessica Allen, a California mom of two, thought she was doing a nice thing by signing on to be the surrogate of a lovely Chinese couple. Since surrogacy is illegal in China, the couple came all the way to the U.S. in order to find a surrogate that would have their baby.
Anyone who has struggled to conceive is likely familiar with the emotional and physical trauma the Chinese couple must have gone through to resort to surrogacy. There's no doubt that what Allen was doing for them was a wonderful thing.
She Followed All The Rules
Allen worked with San Diego-based Omega Family Global, who paired her with the hopeful couple. In April 2016, Allen had the couple's single male embryo implanted in her uterus through in-vitro fertilization.
Surrogates are required to take estrogen and progestogen in order to prepare their wombs for a successful implantation. Allen was careful to follow the IVF doctor's instructions both before and after implantation so that the pregnancy would be a success. Six weeks into the pregnancy, however, the doctor found something that would make Allen pretty concerned.
The Doctors Couldn't Believe What They Saw
At her six-week scan, the doctors told Allen that she was carrying two babies in her womb. The doctor explained that the chances of a splitting embryo were rare, but that it does happen. Everyone assumed that that was the case and Allen was relieved to know that the couple was excited to be getting twins.
Allen was paid $30,000 plus expenses for volunteering herself as a surrogate. When it was discovered she would be having two babies, her monthly paychecks increased by $5,000. Things were going along just fine until it was time to deliver.
Allen Noticed Something Odd About The Babies
On December 12, 2016 at 38 weeks' gestation, Allen delivered the two babies via C-section. Because the operation was performed behind an opaque screen, Allen didn't get the chance to see the babies as they were immediately taken from the operating room.
Later that night while she was recovering, Allen received a visit from the intended mother, who showed her a picture of the babies on her phone. "One looked full Chinese, the other didn't look full Chinese. It was clear that they were not identical... but I didn't ask questions," Allen told People magazine.
The Message That Changed Everything
After the delivery, everyone went their separate ways and Allen returned home to recover. She and her husband used the money they were paid to purchase a brand new home. Almost a month later, they were getting ready for move-in day when Allen received a text from the intended mother.
The mother sent Allen a picture of the babies and expressed doubt that one of them belonged to her. Allen told New York Post that the intended mother asked, "They are not the same, right?" and "Have you thought about why they are different?"
It's A Rare Medical Phenomenon, But It Happens
The following week, the babies were subject to a DNA test with unexpected results. As it turned out, one of the babies wasn't the twin of the implanted embryo. Instead, it was actually the biological son of Allen and her husband! Both embryos even had differing gestational ages.
A medical phenomenon like this is called superfetation, in which a woman continues to ovulate during pregnancy. This means that Allen conceived another child in her womb while she had the implanted embryo of the couple growing inside her. For their part, Allen and her husband were shocked that this happened.
They Thought They Were In The Clear
Allen and her husband were dumbfounded to discover that one of the babies she delivered was theirs. Per the IVF doctor's instructions, they waited to get intimate again until Allen herself was confirmed pregnant with the implanted embryo for several weeks.
"As per my contract, Wardell [Allen's husband] and I did not have intercourse until we were given permission by the IVF doctor, who recommended the use of condoms," Allen told New York Post. In this case, it is also believed that his phenomenon happened as a result of contraceptive failure.
Allen And Her Husband Didn't Know What To Do
Nonetheless, Allen and her husband were hit with the news that they had a third baby. They were shocked, to say the least. "I was panicking. My husband and I were panicking. We had no idea how this came about and we had no idea how we were going to prepare for a child over night. We just moved into a new house, we didn't have any more money," Allen told People magazine.
While they scrambled to figure out how they were going to handle their unexpected blessing, they were in for a far worse surprise.
Things Took A Turn For The Worse
With the new knowledge that one of the babies was theirs, Allen and her husband did what they could to bring him home. At this point, however, things started to get a little messy and bringing home their son wasn't going to happen without a catch.
Shortly after they found out one of the babies wasn't theirs, the Chinese couple allegedly wanted nothing to do with him. Allen was told someone from the surrogate agency was looking after her son and that the Chinese couple demanded up to $22,000 in compensation!
The Outrageous Demands That Came Their Way
"We'd already spent most of the money we earned from the surrogacy contract, but now we were apparently on the hook for thousands of dollars," Allen told New York Post. In addition to the $22,000 compensation the intended parents demanded, the agency also demanded several thousand dollars for the caseworker who was looking after their son.
Having just moved into a brand new home, Allen and her husband were in no position to pay the money they supposedly owed to the couple and to the agency. Allen was then told her baby was going to be put up for adoption.
The Agency Was Looking For Parents To Adopt Allen's Son
Allen tells New York Post, "To my disgust, a caseworker from the agency lined up parents to adopt him and 'absorb' the money we owed to the [couple]. Or, if that didn't work out, the [couple] were thinking of putting [my son] up for adoption, as they were still his legal parents."
Allen and her husband were truly in a messed up situation. It should have been as simple as handing her son over to her, but the agency and the couple apparently wouldn't let that happen without getting what they believed was owed to them.
"They Wanted Me To Buy Or Adopt My Own Child"
After hearing the news that the intended mom wanted to put the other baby up for adoption, Allen and her husband started to lose hope.
"I thought I wasn't going to get him back because they were pressuring me to pay this money back first. Then they were saying that the intending mom was thinking about giving him up for adoption... I thought I had a child out there that I was gonna be forced to let go of all because I couldn't buy him or because I couldn't adopt him," Allen told People magazine.
Who Was In The Wrong Here?
It was then that the real battle began. Allen and her husband put themselves in debt trying to get their son back, but after hiring an attorney they were left to negotiate with the surrogate agency.
There was question over whether anyone was in the wrong in this situation. Some believe that Allen and her husband should have abstained completely, while others believe the IVF doctor is to blame for giving the go-ahead. Others believe the intended parents were in the wrong, but at the same time, they were forced to pay more on the notion that they were expecting twins.
Allen Thinks The Agency Was Manipulating The Couple
Allen and her husband hired an attorney to get their son back from the surrogacy agency. She doesn't blame the Chinese couple for the drama and believes that the agency was manipulating them.
Allen told People of the intended mother, "It's not her fault... The agency put it in her head that I was going to try to sue her. I never said those words. Since she was scared that I was going to sue her, she starts sending me all kinds of text messages."
The Agency Kept Making Excuses
After a lengthy legal battle with the Omega Family Global, Allen says they finally owed nothing. Still, physically gaining custody of her son was like a game of cat and mouse.
"We tried to get him on numerous occasions, but one excuse they gave us was the intended parents didn't want to sign over the power of attorney, so we didn't get him... We got another call and we were supposed to get him, then we didn't because they were thinking about giving him up for adoption," Allen told People magazine.
The Surrogacy Agency Was Tightlipped
It's a wonder why Omega Family Global put Allen through a painstaking process to get her son back, when all parties knew that he was biologically hers. Not only did Omega Family Global refute some of the claims Allen made, they issued their own statement.
"By it's very nature surrogacy is a complicated journey which necessitates the support and care of agencies, parents, surrogates, psychologist, lawyers, and a host of other professionals. As with any pregnancy, issues do arise which require great care, attention to detail and respect for the process and the emotions of all involved," they told New York Post.
It Took Almost Two Months To Meet Her Son
Allen delivered the babies on December 12, 2016, and after three failed attempts to get her son back, she finally held him in her arms for the first time almost two months later.
"And so, on [February] 5, I finally met a caseworker from Omega in a Starbucks parking lot in Menifee, [California], where she handed over our son, whom we've renamed Malachi. The moment was incredibly emotional, and I started hugging and kissing my boy," Allen told New York Post. For her part, Allen wants her story to be a cautionary tale.
She Wants Others To Learn From Her Story
Allen has expressed that she will never become a surrogate again after what has happened to her but doesn't regret this particular moment.
"[My husband and I] weren't planning to expand our family so soon, but we treasure Malachi with all our hearts. I don't regret becoming a surrogate mom because that would mean regretting my son. I just hope other women considering surrogacy can learn from my story. And that a greater good will come out of this nightmare," Allen told New York Post. Though they got their son back, Allen and her husband are still fighting.
They Now Have To Deal With The Financial Aftermath
Though the custody battle over their son is over, Allen and her husband are still engulfed in legal battles and are in enormous debt.
"It's very stressful financially, it's put us in debt. We're barely getting by right now and it stressed me out emotionally because this agency turned their backs on me... Knowing that for the first two months of [Malachi's] brand new life that he was in the arms of strangers, that breaks my heart. It's really heartbreaking," Allen said to People magazine.
Malachi Is Living His Happily Ever After
On a more positive note, Allen and her family are just happy to have their baby with them. Allen's story came to light almost a year after the ordeal happened. By the time Allen was talking to media outlets, Malachi was thankfully well-adjusted into his rightful home.
"He's a little man. He's like 10 months going on 10. He's walking around already. He's trying to talk. He has an attitude and he's funny and his personality is just goofy and bossy all at once. He walks around like he runs the world," Allen told People.
Woman Carries Baby For Her Friend, Then Unexpected News Changes Everything
After getting married, Kevin and Nicole Barattini had their sight set on starting a family. They dreamed of having children together and were excited at the idea of getting pregnant. But like many couples, it didn't happen right away. They kept trying and hoping to get good news, but it never came for them. Still, the Barattini’s didn’t want to give up their dream of having a family. When considering other options, a friend offered to do something amazing. Everything seemed like it was meant to be until things took a turn that no one expected.
Kevin and Nicole had been married for a few years, during which they had tried to get pregnant to start a family. They kept trying, but with no success. They never gave up and were willing to try anything. They couldn't have known how things would turn out, and the road to starting a family ended up being rougher than they could have ever imagined. Still, they knew in their hearts that this is what they wanted to do.
Lianna and Shaun Have Five Kids
The couple were friends with Lianna and Shaun, who lived in East Moriches, New York. Just as Kevin and Nicole were trying to get pregnant after their wedding day, Lianna and Shaun wanted to start their family right away. Together they have five children and love having a big family.
After five pregnancies, Lianna considered having more children with her husband. Little did she know that she would end up being pregnant sooner than originally planned. And this time the child wouldn't biologically be hers.
Lianna Wanted To Help Her Friend
Having no luck getting pregnant, Nicole and Kevin considered finding a surrogate to carry their child. Although they were unsure of what that relationship would be like, they knew that if they wanted to start a family, they would have to trust the woman to keep them in the loop.
Lianna shocked everyone when she announced that she would be willing to help the couple have a child by becoming their surrogate. For Nicole and Kevin, this was the best case scenario, since they were already close-knit friends with her.
Lots Of Love & Support
Surrogacy is a unique experience. Dr. Richard Klein was the obstetrician who planted the embryos in the procedure and said that it was "so much fun" having both couples appear at the doctor's appointments, contributing so much love in hoping for a baby.
It was July 2016 at this point, and the embryos had been planted. Both couples arrived at the doctor to hear whether the embryo had taken, and whether Lianna was pregnant with their child.
Waiting For Good News
In the days leading up to the appointment, both couples were nervous, but especially Nicole and Kevin. They had prayed for a baby for so long, they wondered how much longer they could hold on to hope. Lianna had done everything correctly, going through the procedure of having the embryo planted. Now all they had to do was wait.
Finally, the big day arrived when they would find out, and everyone's emotions were running high.
Hoping To Start A Family
The Barattini's were hoping for a baby ever since their wedding day in 2010. The happy couple looked forward to their future together, and wanted to raise their children in Smithton, New York, where they lived.
But time after time, Nicole still wasn’t pregnant. She went to the doctor’s to find some answers that would help her conceive. But the news that she received was not what she was hoping to hear. It seems that the Barattini’s plans were not going to happen.
Health Issues From a Young Age
Back when she was 16-years-old, Nicole began noticing small bumps appearing on her skin. A few small bumps turned into bumps covering her entire body. When she went to the doctor, suffering from a fever and fatigue, they discovered that her eyes had also turned jaundice.
The doctor took blood samples and found that her level of platelets was dangerously low. While the average adult has between 140,000 and 150,000 platelets in their blood, Nicole only had 8,000.
Diagnosed With An Autoimmune Disease
After seeing the doctor, Nicole was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP. Still just a teenager, Nicole was shocked at the diagnosis, which could be fatal. TTP causes blood clots to form around the body and Nicole was in immediate danger.
After her diagnosis, she stayed in the hospital recovering. She was lucky to have made it tot he doctor in time to be treated, as things could have ended up being a lot worse.
TTP Is A Rare Blood Disorder
So just how much at risk was Nicole? Blood clots caused by TTP have a 95% mortality rate if they aren't treated immediately. The rare blood disorder increases blood glycoprotein in hemostasis, which causes different parts of the body to experience blood clots.
Nicole’s symptoms of fatigue, fever, and bruises all match up with TTP, which affects 1 out of every 100,000 people. Most of whom are adult women. Nicole was part of the 10% of this population whose case begins before adulthood.
It Affected Her Later On
Thankfully, the doctors were able to find suitable medication to manage Nicole's TTP. Because of it, she was able to live a normal life and not worry about waking up with a fatal blood clot. Because of this, her condition wasn’t on her mind often.
But when she went to the doctor to find out why she wasn’t getting pregnant, Nicole learned that if she were to get pregnant, her TTP medication would most likely harm the baby. Due to Nicole’s condition, it would be unsafe to go off the medication as well.
Nicole Shares The Bad News With Her Husband
After learning that pregnancy would be too risky for her, Nicole went home, devastated by the news. A while later, her husband Kevin came home, and instantly knew something was off.
He recalls, "I got home from work and Nicole had that look on her face like something was wrong and I'm never going to forget it. I said, 'What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘The doctor doesn’t think we can have children.’ And you know, nobody wants to hear that." She explained the risks and he knew it was true.
Pregnancy Would Be A Huge Risk
The difficult part for Nicole was knowing that she could in fact conceive, but the pregnancy would be very high risk, both for her and the baby. She explained, "I was able to conceive, but I wouldn't be able to have a healthy pregnancy. And it would result in death of myself or the baby."
It was clear that it would be too dangerous for Nicole to fall pregnant, and she would need to find another way to achieve her dream of having a family with her husband.
Nicole Thought About Taking The Risk
Nicole was absolutely heartbroken that she wouldn't be able to carry her own baby, and it took her a while for the news to sink in. She was incredibly frustrated that she was able to get pregnant, but that the doctors told her not to.
She even told Kevin that she was willing to risk everything, but he said no. Nicole was grieving a loss and the couple took time to cope with it all.
Searching For A Safer Option
Through it all, they were still trying, emotions running high. Eventually they decided to stop trying to conceive, and face the facts they were presented. They needed to calm their hearts and listen to their heads, because this was a very serious decision.
Then, Nicole decided to freeze her eggs and think about searching for a surrogate, since it would be a safe method of starting their family. They also considered adoption.
Adoption Is Expensive
One of the first options the couple was considering was adoption. For Nicole and Kevin, the most important thing to them was that they had a family, and whether or not the children were biologically theirs, wasn't the most important aspect.
They quickly found out that adoption is incredibly expensive, and that they didn’t have the funds to make adoption a viable option for them, especially since they would need to save money to raise the children, too.
Legal Fees Through The Roof
There's no question that there are lots of children out there who need a loving home. But the way the system works, makes adoption an extremely expensive option for couples. Part of what makes adoption so pricey is the legal fees involved, going through the process.
According to Adoptive Families, international adoptions finalized in 2015 and 2016 cost an average of $42,000. Domestic adoptions for newborns averages at $37,000. While their hearts said 'yes,’ the couple’s bank account wasn’t ready for this cost.
Thinking About Surrogacy
Adoption appeared to be too expensive for the couple, so they turned to their next option: surrogacy. They switched gears and started researching the process. Right away, they were devastated by the price tag – more than $75,000. As it turns out, surrogacy is even more expensive than adoption.
Still hoping to make it work, Nicole contemplated who would be willing to carry the couple's child for free. She said, "We had heard stories that sisters carried and mothers carried, but I don’t have a sister, and my mother is over the age."
NYC Was An Expensive Place For Surrogacy
New York state's laws on surrogacy came as a surprise for Nicole and Kevin. They had no idea that it was illegal to pay someone to act as a surrogate in the state. To work around the law, they would need to pay someone who lived out of state to carry the baby.
But this was also a problematic option, as it would be expensive to travel to and from doctor’s appointments, and they really wanted a surrogate who they could be close with.
Surrogacy Is The Best Option For Nicole
Still, the couple decided that they wanted to go with a surrogate. The medical process includes creating an embryo by IVF, and implanting it into the surrogate. The embryo includes the mother's egg and the father’s sperm, so although another woman is carrying the child, biologically, it would be related to the couple.
Like many other couples, this is what Nicole and Kevin saw as their best option. They still needed to find a way to do it, however.
Her Friends Show Interest In Helping
No longer a secret that it wasn't safe for Nicole to get pregnant, the couple shared their dream of finding a surrogate to carry their firstborn. They were amazed at the supportive response from their friends and family. Many of them even offered to become their surrogate!
It seemed that things were looking up for the couple, once they put it out in the universe that this was what they wanted. However, they were just as quickly disappointed when they found out through initial testing that the women who offered weren’t fit to carry.
Lianna Had Just Given Birth Herself
Lianna was a friend of Nicole and Kevin's. She and her husband Shaun have five children together and the couples had known each other for 20 years. Lianna loved being a mother and couldn’t imagine life without her children.
When she heard of their situation, she was empathetic. She contemplated offering to carry their children, but she had just given birth, and wasn’t sure if her body was ready to carry another child yet.
The Medical Bills Add Up Quickly
In order to qualify to become a surrogate, a woman must be entirely healthy. Because the process is costly, and the chances of becoming pregnant decrease as women age, a lot of factors are considered before the procedure takes place. And as Nicole and Kevin found out, not all women are a good fit to become a surrogate.
Once the woman gets the green light to become a surrogate, however, there's a good chance within three tries of planting the embryo that they will fall pregnant.
Their Plans Are Brought Up At Dinner
In December of 2015, the two couples met up for dinner one night. It was clear that Kevin and Nicole were going through a stressful time in their lives. Lianna and Shawn wanted to lift up their spirits, without prying too much into their situation.
Of course, the topic couldn't be avoided, and they soon started discussing having children. Nicole was visibly upset about not being able to have a child, and Lianna, a mother of five, wanted to help.
Are Five Kids Enough?
After listening to Nicole speak about their child bearing woes, Lianna said something completely unexpected. Kevin recalls what she said at the dinner table that night as, "Lianna goes, 'You know I have five children, Shawn and I want to have maybe one or two more.'"
“And [Nicole and I] looked at each other with a puzzled look, like, ‘You have five kids, why would you want any more?'” What she said next caused everyone to tear up.
The Greatest Offer Of All Time
It would almost seem like throwing it in her face that Lianna was talking about having a sixth child when Kevin and Nicole couldn't even have one. They didn’t know what to think. But Lianna kept talking. Kevin said, "And she goes, 'No, not for me, for you guys- I’d like to carry a child.'"
Nicole and Kevin were completely in shock. Kevin said, “The two of us, just forget about it. We just, we all started crying.” Finally, the couple felt that they had found the answer to their problems. This was meant to be.
Sharing The Experience
Lianna knew in her heart that it was the right thing to do. She said, "I was blessed to have five kids, and they are all amazing, and I couldn't picture my life without them. And to see this family so deserving, it broke my heart."
It was the joy that Lianna got from being a mother that led her to wanting to give that experience to someone else, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have children.
It Was a Big Decision For Both Of Them
After giving birth to her fifth child in 2015, Lianna and Shawn felt that their family was complete. Lianna's heart was so full with all the love she had for her children that she felt she had more to give. She was considering becoming a surrogate to help another couple have a family.
Lianna brought the idea up to her husband, Shawn. She let him know that if she chose this path, it would require extra help from him in taking care of their children. He agreed with her idea.
Everything Was Looking Great
Through tears, Nicole and Kevin accepted Lianna's offer of carrying their child on the spot.They were over the moon about their friends’ selfless offer, which would help them get what they’ve always dreamed of.
Lianna passed the medical tests with flying colors, making it official. The timing was right and everyone was on board. Nicole and Kevin couldn’t have been happier with finding the perfect person to bring a baby into their lives.
Not This Time
After passing the medical exams, Lianna went to the doctor's to have the embryo planted. It would only take one week to find out if the embryo took, but it felt like an eternity for everyone involved. Although they felt like everything was falling into place, the couple had been disappointed before.
They knew that nothing was guaranteed, and all they could do is wait and pray. The two couples went back for the follow up appointment, only to learn that Lianna wasn’t pregnant.
Although it didn't happen the first time, neither couple was ready to call it quits. The doctor was optimistic and told them that this time around they would plant more embryo, increasing their chances of Lianna getting pregnant.
They had to wait yet another week to find out if Lianna was pregnant with the second round of embryo. Again, everyone was on the edge of their chairs, praying and hoping that this round would take.
Once again, both couples arrived at the doctor's office to find out if Lianna was pregnant with Kevin and Nicole’s child. This time, the doctor had good news to deliver. He told them that the embryo had taken, and that Lianna was pregnant!
He had even better news on top of that… they were pregnant with twins! Everyone was overjoyed and emotional as they heard the good news. Kevin and Nicole would be welcoming not one, but two babies into their family that year.
Sharing The News
Labor Day weekend rolled around and Kevin and Nicole thought it would be the perfect time to share the news. 60 of their closest friends and family were in attendance at a Labor Day celebration, and they were all about the hear the couple's big announcement.
They stood in front of everyone and asked the guests to be quiet for a moment, that they had something they wanted to share. No one could have expected to hear what they would say next!
Welcoming a Son and a Daughter
On February 10, 2017 the twins arrived. Kevin and Nicole welcomed a boy and a girl. They named them Dominic and Luciana. Both babies were born healthy, and everything with Lianna's pregnancy went just fine.
The couple was overjoyed holding their newborns in their arms, and couldn’t be more thankful to Lianna. "It’s probably the most amazing thing," Kevin said, “because you think it’s the end of the road, now here we are with two beautiful children.”
They're Now Family
Of course, Lianna and Shawn became the twins' godparents. They had already been there through every step on their children’s lives, and they would always be connected.
Nicole said of Lianna, "I don’t have a sister, but I’d consider her like that. We don’t hold back, we are open, honest, and I am constantly turning to her for guidance. Everything worked out. Nicole was able to stay on her medication to manage her TTP, and they were still able to welcome two kids.
Advocating for Surrogacy
They didn't stop there. Now having successfully started their family, Nicole and Kevin wanted to share their experience with the world, and advocate for surrogacy to become legal in New York State and beyond.
The couple began working with New York legislators and reproductive specialists to change the laws. Kevin said, "We are happy that our story went public to help others in the time of need." It’s honorable how open the couple made their experience so transparent and honest, to show others that it’s possible.
It Was All Worth It
Nicole and Kevin never take Lianna's kindness for granted. Without her, they couldn’t have made their happy family. Nicole wants other women in her position to know that they too, can find someone willing to take the journey of surrogacy. And it’s all worth it.
"There are people out there, like Lianna, that will do it out of kindness. It’s easier to find them than it seems. It’s never the end of the road." The couple continues to fight to legalize surrogacy.