In January we reported about the tragic death of Michelle Reaves. In light of both Mother’s Day and New York’s new surrogacy bill, we want to retell her story. Michelle, described as a “beautiful soul”, was a wife and mother of two small children who lived in San Diego, California. Michelle was pregnant, as a second time surrogate, for the same family when she tragically died, January 15, 2020, of a rare and highly fatal pregnancy complication, amniotic embolism.
Michelle was in a hospital delivery room on the morning of January 15th when her condition took a turn for the worse. “One complication led to the next and she fought for her life,” Michelle’s friend Jaime Herwehe wrote on the gofundme site. “Although the baby made it out safe, Michelle did not.” Family friend Andrea Axelson reported that Michelle “began hemorrhaging” while delivering a baby girl.
We know that pregnancy carries risks, but surrogate pregnancies, even if the woman is only carrying a singleton, adds additional risks compared to a live birth spontaneously conceived. Studies in the medical literature have shown higher rates of preterm birth and low birth weight babies, maternal gestational diabetes, maternal hypertension (pre-eclampsia), and placenta previa in gestational surrogate pregnancies. Surrogate pregnancies also have a higher rate of cesarean section deliveries, which add additional risks to mother and baby.
No one in the U.S. is required to track, report, or collect data on surrogate mothers, therefore we don’t know how many surrogate pregnancies end in the death of the mother and/ or the children she carried. Sharon LaMothe, who is a surrogacy consultant in Florida, and a two time surrogate herself states that there have been other deaths that were unreported.
Like the tobacco industry, which for decades denied any link to smoking and lung cancer and pulmonary diseases, the surrogacy industry purposefully does not want the unsuspecting public to think surrogacy may be harmful to the health of women and children. Their strong profit motives, like Big Tobacco, drive practice and not the health and well-being of women and children. For example, it is common to transfer more than one embryo into the surrogate’s uterus, in order to improve success rates, knowing that this is detrimental to maternal-child health, even though professional standards say single embryo transfer is safer.
The cause of Michelle’s death, amniotic embolism, confers a very high mortality rate to women as well as the child she is carrying. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are at risk for amniotic embolism if they have placental problems, like placenta previa, cesarean section, or they have preeclampsia, all known risks to surrogate pregnancies. Thankfully, in Michelle’s case, the baby she carried to term was delivered alive.
With the rise of the maternal mortality rate in the United States and with so many known and unknown risks to women and children, we feel there is ample evidence to give us pause to legalize commercial surrogacy. As Mother’s Day approaches, we take a moment to remember all of the women that have been used and exploited by surrogacy. Specifically, we would like to remember the women who lost their lives in an attempt to give the gift of life to someone else. As you remember these women, these mothers, please, join our movement to #StopSurrogacyNow by going to http://www.stopsurrogacynow.com and signing the petition.
We have produced a powerful documentary movie that displays the unexamined and disturbing reality of surrogacy. This film “takes a compassionate look at the emotional and physical impact on the surrogate, but also, importantly, on the child”. You can watch it free on Amazon Prime: Breeders: A Subclass of Women?.
Are you interested in learning more about surrogacy? Our website has many different resources including these two fact sheets:
Interested in learning more about how we fought to keep surrogacy out of New York? Click any of the links below:
- Gloria Steinem Calls Upon NY Gov. Cuomo to Not Legalize Surrogacy
- Legalize Surrogacy: Why Not?
- Memo to NY State Senators
- Performance Artists Warn Against Commercial Baby Surrogacy Market
Where does your state stand on surrogacy? Find out using our interactive map.
- Kallie Fell, MS, BSN, RN, started her professional career as a scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center utilizing a Master of Science degree in Animal Sciences with an emphasis on Reproductive Physiology and Molecular Biology from Purdue University. While assisting in the investigation of endometriosis and pre-term birth, Kallie simultaneously pursued a degree in nursing with hopes of working with women as a perinatal nurse. After meeting Jennifer at a conference, Kallie became interested in the work of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and started volunteering with the organization. It is obvious that Kallie is passionate about women’s health. She continues to work, as she has for the past 6 years, as a perinatal nurse and has worked with the CBC since 2018, first as a volunteer writer, then as our staff Research Associate, and now as the Executive Director. In 2021, Kallie co-directed the CBC’s newest documentary, Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender? Kallie also hosts the popular podcast Venus Rising and is the Program Director for the Paul Ramsey Institute.