SSN is heartbroken to learn of the death of another surrogate mother, Michelle Reaves, in San Diego, California. Mrs. Reaves, a wife and mother of two children, was pregnant as a second time surrogate for the same family when she tragically died from pregnancy-related complications on Wednesday, January 15th. Thankfully, the baby she was carrying is safe and well.  

At first, news outlets were not disclosing the cause of death, but we later learned through Facebook, that Mrs. Reaves died of a rare complication, amniotic fluid embolism. 

Immediately after we announced the news of Mrs. Reaves’ death, Jennifer Lahl was contacted by another surrogate on Twitter wanting to tell us about yet another surrogate death in 2017 in California.   

Her statement, given anonymously, out of fear of legal action said:

Crystal Wilhite was a surrogate in my group at Center for Surrogate Parenting (CPS) She passed away February 2017 from complications after going into preterm labor for a surrogate pregnancy. We were told that the hospital discharged her too soon when she was still not feeling 100%.  I believed she died at home and cause of death was eventually found to be a blood clot. I have to speak about this anonymously because the information was learned at group meetings and emails that are confidential. We were told not to publicly speak about Crystal’s death out of respect for her family.  I fear CSP, one of the biggest surrogate agencies in California, would sue me if I were to speak publicly about this.

Our own Jennifer Lahl has long called California “the reproductive tourist capital of the world”. Surrogacy is sadly another way for #BigFertility to make money off of wonderful, selfless women who are told they are doing an amazing thing by “giving the gift of life.”    

Online, some were quick to rush in and say that Mrs. Reaves died from “risks of pregnancy, not surrogacy.” While we agree and acknowledge that amniotic embolisms are rare and can affect any pregnancy, we have to also acknowledge that Mrs. Reaves was a healthy young mom who would still be alive if she hadn’t agreed to become pregnant through surrogacy.  

The bottom line is that surrogacy carries health risks that often go untold. Michelle isn’t the first surrogate to die during pregnancy and childbirth.

An article online incorrectly states “the risks of being a surrogate mother are the same as for every pregnancy.” This is not true. Recent studies have shown that surrogate pregnancies are different and are high-risk. Studies show that women pregnant with donor eggs (as in gestational surrogacy) have a more than three-fold risk of developing pregnancy induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia.  

Also, we are under the assumption that Michelle was being paid for this surrogacy. Surrogacy often depends on the exploitation of lower income and poor women by those with means to pay for an expensive surrogacy arrangement. These unequal transactions result in women often not being adequately informed of the risks to their health. The European parliament stated in a 2011 resolution that surrogacy is “an exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs.” In fact, other European documents frame surrogacy as “violence against women”.  

We at SSN ask #howmany? #Howmany women have to die.  #Howmany children have to lose their mothers. #Howmany men have to lose their wives?  We think just one is too many. 

Jaime Herwehe writes on the GoFundMe page she created for Michelle’s family, “No one deserves to lose their mama so young or the mother of their children.”

We agree.