Pregnant Pause

Governor Tim Pawlenty may have vetoed the legislation, but that hasn't stopped women from being surrogates

Still, state Rep. Kathy Tinglestead (R-Andover) says there are very strong arguments in favor of having the Legislature weigh in on the issue.

"We just keep reminding people that it's already happening," she says. "This will just put some parameters around it."

• • • • •

AT 36, SARAH BARISH FOUND herself strapped for cash. She was a single mother with two children. Her eldest, a teenager, needed more parental supervision, but Barish was spending nearly 60 hours at work a week to pay for her kids' private schooling. She didn't know what to do; she could quit her job and watch her family's livelihood dwindle, or she could find a way to make money from home.

Barish had known women who had become surrogates, and had enjoyed being pregnant before, so why not help someone else out? She posted a profile on a surrogacy website. After talking with several interested parties, Barish decided to help a gay couple have a child.

"The first day I met them we signed the contract," says Barish, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. "I really trusted them. They seemed so wonderful."

Barish didn't pay that much attention to the particulars of the agreement. She didn't even ask the men for a copy. All she knew was that she was broke. The men promised her $20,000 in addition to paying any medical costs not covered by insurance. They promised her that after the birth she would still play a role in the child's life.

"I would have never agreed to be involved in a surrogacy if I was expected to walk away completely," Barish says. "I picked them specifically because we were going to have ongoing contact."

Using artificial insemination, Barish got pregnant. Throughout the pregnancy, the men visited her several times. They got to know her family, even attending her children's school functions. They told the kids that they were going to make great stepsiblings to the baby. They painted it like they would all be one big, happy family.

When the big day came, Barish drove herself to the hospital. The medical staff was unaware of the surrogacy agreement. One of the gay men posed as her boyfriend, the other as a friend. They all watched the doctor put the crying newborn in its mother's arms. "I was bawling," Barish says. "She was beautiful. She still is beautiful. I nursed her in the hospital."

Three days later the men drove Barish home. She sobbed in the backseat as she told them she was having second thoughts. "They said I could come see her. They said I could come stay the night later that week," Barish says. "I called them later that night and they never answered their phone. I called the next day and they never answered their phone. I called them the next day and the next and when they answered, they were very cold to me."

Barish saw the child twice before the couple told her they would be leaving the state for an extended vacation. "They could tell I was getting attached," she says.

The baby was just weeks old—not nearly old enough to travel or to leave its mother, Barish thought.

Afraid they weren't going to return, Barish had the father's name removed from the birth certificate and filed kidnapping charges. Much to her dismay, the charges were dismissed. "If there was no piece of paper here, no contract, the police would have filed an Amber Alert," Barish complains. "What's the difference? I'm still her biological mother and I never terminated my rights."

Weeks later the couple called. They were back in town and wanted to meet. Barish could see the baby as long as she agreed to sign a form relinquishing her parental rights, per the stipulations set forth in the contract.

Barish told them she was coming over. What she didn't tell them was that she wouldn't be signing any forms, that she had already started decorating a nursery at her home.

For an hour, Barish and her family visited with the couple, fawning over the baby. When it was time to go, she announced she was taking the baby with her.

"They started screaming and stood in front of the car so we couldn't leave," Barish remembers.

Once police arrived, neither side could produce the birth certificate. Barish was given a choice: Either the infant could go to a foster home or the baby would remain with the gay couple until the courts sorted everything out. "I didn't want her to go to a foster home. So, I left," Barish says.

For the last 12 months, the child's fate has been in question. Both sides are fighting for full custody and a hearing is scheduled for this summer in Hennepin County.

"I would have agreed to joint custody," says Barish angrily. "I didn't ever want to shut them out from her life. It was [because of] their desire to have her that she's here. But now, after all this, I don't think they're responsible enough to encourage her emotional health.... They are thinking only of themselves and the possession of this child. No one is thinking about how she's going to feel in 15 years when she finds out that her mom really wanted to have a part of her life, but they wouldn't allow it."

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