Live 5 Investigates: The Surrogate Struggle

Live 5 Investigates: The Surrogate Struggle

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - In South Carolina, surrogate pregnancies present plenty of predicaments as there are no laws to guide potential parents who want to have a baby through a surrogate.

Live 5's sports director and his wife are learning this firsthand.

Andrea Pruitt is a surrogate mom who learned the real parents of the baby she is carrying have to go to court over their own child.

"This isn't our child at all, she's the oven but none of the parts are ours," Andy said.

Yet Andrea will be listed on the birth certificate as the baby's mother. Stephanie and her husband, Chris, live in Connecticut. In December, they brought their embryos to Charleston to start their family.

"They take my sperm and her eggs into the Petri dish and blend the two to create the embryo," Chris said.

Implanted into Andrea on Dec. 4, Chris and Stephanie's baby girl is growing in Andrea. A baby has been the couple's dream, but Stephanie has had three miscarriages in the last five years, and with one of them, she says she almost died.

"It was a very scary experience," she said.

Andrea volunteered to be their surrogate with Andy's blessing.

"We believe if life, we believe in bringing in life into this world however possible," Andy said.

But the process wasn't as easy as Andrea's own two pregnancies. The first transfer failed.

"So it was kind of a scary time wondering if this was meant to be,  and if I was really supposed to do this or not," Andrea said.

The second transfer worked, which is exciting for everyone involved, including the doctor who will deliver the baby.

"It was great fun to be with all four people and get to know them and be a part of this, and we're taking care of her and will be there for the delivery," Dr.Steven McLees of Roper-St. Francis said.

The process is moving smoothly on the medical side, but surrogate pregnancies are trickier on the legal side. In South Carolina, because Andrea is considered the mother, her name is everywhere.

"When we get the ultrasounds and everything, it's always in Andrea's name," Stephanie said.

Andrea will be on the baby's birth certificate as the mother, even though Chris will be named the father.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control issued a statement on the subject:

South Carolina's statutes and regulations on registration of births focus primarily on collecting and recording the actual facts of birth, which includes the person who gives birth to the child.

That means  the birth mother and biological father are listed on the original birth record.

"You've got the right daddy on there but you don't have the right mamma on there, and the only way that's gonna be changed is have a court order that gets sent up to the Bureau of Vital Statistics and ask for a birth certificate change, that's what you have to do," attorney Thomas Lowndes said.

A SCDHEC spokesman confirmed that, explaining a birth certificate can be amended to include the genetic mother, which is usually done through an order by Family Court. Similar to an adoption, the original birth record would be sealed and the printed certificate would not indicate that it is an amendment.

It is Lowndes' job to have Stephanie listed as the mother on this baby's birth certificate.

"We need a good surrogacy law that lets everyone know where they stand," Lowndes said.

He's the third lawyer involved. Each couple had a lawyer to start the surrogacy process.

"Definitely not a handshake deal, I think we have a 25-page contract," Andrea said.

"Basically it is our child inside Andrea, and so we just had to as much as we could, outline different things that might happen, and the way that we go about it," Stephanie said.

Lowndes suggests letters from insurance companies covering mother and baby, how to handle an accident, a medical emergency, a birth defect, and surrogate conduct, including when she can and cannot have sex with her partner.

Without a good contract, legal complications can happen, as in the case of a local surrogate who agreed to donate her eggs and carry the baby, but had second thoughts.

"She wants to keep the baby and wants him to pay child support and legally that can happen, so you've got an issue there that's unresolved with no surrogacy laws in place," Lowndes said.

And there's the money issue.  Lowndes is comfortable with payments that South Carolina allows in adoption cases.

"Living expenses, justified living expenses, medical bills, legal fees, and identified, not just a sum of money," Lowndes said.

Then, there's the cost of travel. Stephanie and Chris will be coming to the next ultrasound appointment here in Charleston. Until then, Andy and their two children join Andrea for the baby checkups.

When it's time for Andrea's C-section on Aug. 19, that other legal step will be taken.

"Even though the doctors know, the hospital will know as soon as we walk through the doors, everybody's gonna know what's going on, and still we have to get this form completed and executed in front of a judge in order for them to get their own baby." Andrea said.

The cost of that adds to an already-pricey event.

"It can be upwards of  thousands and thousands, up to tens of thousands of dollars," Chris said.

But the result will be a long-awaited baby girl in August.

"It was honestly a gift from heaven, they are true angels," Stephanie said.

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