I was away over the Memorial Day weekend, when I saw a GoFundMe notice posted on Instagram that tipped me off that another gestational surrogate mother had died in the United States.
The GoFundMe was set up by Ashlee Hammonds, the head of Family Makers Surrogacy, an agency in Atlanta, Georgia. Ms. Hammonds is trying to raise money for the children left behind since their mother is no longer alive to provide for them. She asks for privacy for the family and does not wish to divulge any identifying information.
Due to the scarce information, the details of this woman’s death are limited. We know that she was a 3-time gestational surrogate who was set to deliver the baby the day of her death. We are told in the GoFundMe notice that she died of an amniotic embolism, a complication in pregnancy.
We do not know if she was carrying one baby or more, or the outcome of the baby/babies born. It is reported that her daughter is about to turn 16, and that she had sons, though we are not told how many.
But, because no one else is reporting this death, I write this to chronicle her death along with other surrogate deaths I have reported on. Brooke Brown and the twins she carried. Crystal Wilhite. Michelle Reaves. These three women were wives and mothers. I wonder how many others have died that have gone unnoticed?
We now can no longer deny that a gestational surrogate pregnancy is a much riskier pregnancy than a spontaneous pregnancy where the woman carries her own baby.
One important study pointed out that when comparing a woman’s pregnancy with her own children with her surrogate pregnancies these women have higher rates of hypertension, gestational diabetes, and placenta previa. These put both the mother and baby into a high-risk category.
I am often asked, “how many surrogates have died?” and my response, always the same, is a so very sad, “we just don’t know, and we have no way of knowing, because there is no tracking or monitoring.”
When this woman died, the cause of death recorded on her death certificate will likely be something tied to the pregnancy complication that took her life. It will not record anywhere that she was a surrogate.
The baby’s, (or babies’, as we do not know if she was carrying one or twins or more) birth certificate will not record the fact that the birth mother died. Most likely, because of pre-birth orders, the birth mother’s name will never even appear on the birth certificate.
The cover up of #BigFertility was fast and efficient. All my efforts to find out who the woman was and where this death took place came up empty. I sent a private message to Family Matters on Facebook that I was trying to reach Ms. Hammonds.
I received a message that said, “Hello Jennifer, out of respect for the family we are honoring their wishes by not sharing any further details outside of what has already been shared on the Go Fund Me surrounding the tragedy. Thank you for understanding.”
Funny, my query did not mention anything about the death, only that I wanted to speak with Ms. Hammond. As I was immediately blocked from sending more messages, that door was shut. I called their offices and was not able to speak with a live person.
Their Twitter Account “doesn’t exist” as there was a flurry of tweets to them upon this breaking news, which I imagine prompted them to shut down their twitter account.
Here are the questions I pose to Ms. Hammonds. If you are reading this, I would welcome speaking with you.
- Why when you set up the GoFundMe account were you trying to raise $45,000 and within a few hours, you dropped that amount to $25,000?
- How do you set the price for your GoFundMe account, what exactly is the value of her life and how did you determine that?
- What is your agency’s policy around informing surrogates of the serious health risks, especially in the case of a woman who has had at least three of her own children and is embarking upon her third surrogacy pregnancy, compounding these risks to her poor body?
- Does your agency or did the intended parents carry a life insurance policy, and if not, why not? And if so, for how much?
- What is your obligation to the orphans left behind?
GoFundMe allows you to sort the donors by “highest donors” and I did find it chilling that nearly all the highest donations ($2000 was the highest at the time of this writing) were given by those who make their livelihood and profit from #BigFertility: surrogacy Lawyers, agency owners, and fertility clinics. A quick google search of the names of these top donors proved that in a few clicks.
Family Makers Surrogacy’s tagline is, “Changing Lives for Those we Serve.” The family of the woman who died had their lives changed tragically in service of #BigFertility. I wonder and hope that this death will cause Ms. Hammonds to rethink her business of being Family Makers, when sometimes surrogacy results in making orphans.
An orphan maker, who at the time of this writing, has raised a little over $21,000. Is that what this woman’s life is worth?
- Jennifer Lahl is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.