Family planning, for those who want children, can be an absolute joy. There are tons of people out there who want to raise children so badly but are unable to get pregnant for whatever reason, thus leading them to believe that they'll never have a shot at parenthood.
Luckily for them, the progression of modern science and social programs means there are a number of ways they can still have children. A popular option is surrogacy, in which another woman gets pregnant with your genetics and carries the baby for you. These services aren't perfect, though, and come with many pitfalls...a lesson one a woman in California learned the hard way.
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Starting a family is, on its own, a daunting, frightening task. It's also full of joy and splendor, but any parent knows the stress that comes with it.
Now, imagine that same journey, but for the first almost year of their lives, another family whisked away your baby despite your protests. That's what happened to one woman whose extremely rare medical phenomenon turned her whole life upside down, forcing her to fight fiercely to bring her family back together.
Helping Others Enjoy Motherhood
After having two children of her own, California resident Jessica Allen decided that her journey with pregnancy wasn't over just yet, but she also wasn't gunning for another child of her own. Instead, she chose to become a surrogate.
"It was basically a way to give back, you know, and it would just be a great way to bless someone with a child, and in return, get my family blessed financially," she told CBC.
In a video segment for Good Morning America, she elaborated on her reasoning, saying, "No woman in the world should have to live their life without experiencing the love and the bond [of] a mother and a child."
A Second Surprise
After partnering with Omega Family Global, Allen got matched with a Chinese couple as a gestational surrogate, meaning she'd be carrying a baby made from the egg and sperm of the couple she was matched with.
She agreed to one embryo being implanted, with initial scans showing that the treatment had worked and she was pregnant. However, follow-up scans showed that there were now two embryos. It's not unheard of for a single embryo to split during this type of treatment; it's just exceptionally rare. Regardless, it now meant that Allen was pregnant with twins.
"I was completely shocked."
The Special Day
After 38 weeks, the two babies were delivered via cesarean section, with the biological mother in the room as it happened alongside Allen.
"I felt so bad for her, poor heart, she was a nervous wreck," Allen recalls. "I just grabbed her hand and I just told her it's going to be okay."
After the babies were delivered, they were brought out of the room almost immediately, Allen not getting the chance to see them at all. She later asked the mother to see a photo.
"They had beanies on with their head turned to the side so it was just a little side shot and I said, 'Wow, they look different.'"
However, the caseworker from Omega, who was also present, assured her that even identical twins can come out looking different.
"I just thought of it as, 'Wow, you learn something new every day' because I didn't know that identical twins can come out not looking identical. So I didn't think anything of it at that time."
And so Allen thought her role in this journey had ended. She accomplished what she set out to do and helped a family have children of their own.
Or So She Thought
A month later, the mother began texting Allen photos of the babies asking if she thought they looked the same to her. Apparently, she'd begun having doubts that both babies came from her embryo.
See, Allen's husband, Wardell Jasper, is black. Their two previous sons were half white and half black, their skin tone notably darker than their mom's. When looking at the two babies in the photo, it was clear that one was darker than the other, matching the skin tone of Allen's other children.
They decided to run a DNA test to be sure. Lo and behold, one of the babies was not related to the Chinese couple at all.
One In A Million
"I immediately started freaking out. Like, What do you mean? I called my caseworker and said, 'How is the baby not theirs? Not genetically related to the father? What does that mean?'"
A second DNA test proved that the baby was, in fact, her own son.
So, what happened? Either Allen was already in the earliest stages of pregnancy before receiving the treatment to carry the other couple's embryo and had no idea, or it's possible she conceived naturally after she began carrying the other child. It's a very rare phenomenon called superfetation, in which the mother continues to ovulate after already being pregnant.
If It's Allen's Baby...
Then shouldn't she get to keep it if she wants?
By this point, the child was in the custody of the surrogacy agency, and they didn't seem too keen on simply letting Allen and Jasper have their baby. Allen had been paid extra for carrying twins, and their case worker was insisting that some of that money should be returned seeing as only one baby belonged to the intended parents. She was also asking for money to take care of the baby while he was still under the agency's care.
Allen's family couldn't afford all these sudden payments the agency was asking for as they had just moved into a new house. Their son was ostensibly being held hostage.
A Hefty Price Tag
"I thought I wasn't going to get him back because they were pressuring me to pay this money back first," Allen explained to PEOPLE, saying the other couple was looking for $22,000. "Then they were saying that the intending mom was thinking about giving him up for adoption."
"I thought I had a child out there that I was gonna be forced to let go of all because I couldn't buy him or because I couldn't adopt him." She then added, "They wanted me to buy or adopt my own child."
The Agency Made An Offer
They said that if Allen gave up custody rights and allowed their baby to be adopted out, the bills would be paid by the adoptive family. They wanted a decision on this matter ASAP.
The baby's father and Allen's husband, Wardell Jasper, refused.
"Know our decision? I'm sorry, didn't you just say the DNA test came back positive that he's our son? Give us our son. Of course, we want him back," he said.
Both sides lawyered up and shared some further communication. The agency's lawyer says Allen's version of events distorted the truth, while Allen's own lawyer demanded that the family's baby be returned to them.
Still Not Finalized
The day after Allen's lawyer sent a letter to the agency regarding the situation, the case worker met up with the parents in a Starbucks parking lot and handed the baby (who they named Malachi) over to them. This was after three other failed attempts to pick up her son, each one being delayed by a new excuse from the agency.
Even a year after they finally managed to pick him up successfully, Allen and Jasper were not recognized as their son's legal parents. They're not in possession of his birth certificate or social security card. They'd been working with another lawyer to try and get all these details worked out.
This case was the only known one of its kind in the world.
Huge Financial Burden
Allen and Jasper's family was put through the wringer in their attempts to get their son back.
"It's very stressful financially, it's put us in debt. We're barely getting by right now and it stressed me out emotionally because this agency turned their backs on me," Allen explained. "We wouldn't be able to live with ourselves knowing that [Malachi] was out there in the care of someone else. Knowing that for the first two months of his brand new life that he was in the arms of strangers, that breaks my heart. It's really heartbreaking."
The pain Allen and Jasper felt during this entire ordeal was unmatched. Knowing that their baby was kept away from them for months still affects them deeply.
"He could have came home from the hospital with me, and on my chest and in my arms and in daddy's arms, not a bunch of strangers ... being handed around, like an item," Allen said.
"This is a type of pain that you're never going to get over because they stole something from me that I can never get back."
She'll Never Return
This whole experience ruined the thought of being a surrogate again in the future for Allen.
"I was considering being a surrogate again before I found out about my son, but after this whole entire nightmare … absolutely not," she says. "I'd never do it again. I'm not the only one with a nightmare story, but I am the only one with a story like this."
Despite it all, there's still one person Allen doesn't place any blame on, and that was the mother she was originally surrogating for.
A Side Of Brainwashing
"It's not her fault […] The agency put it in her head that I was going to try to sue her. I never said those words," Allen says, laying out the false claims made by the agency that stood between both families. "Since she was scared that I was going to sue her, she starts sending me all kinds of text messages."
Thankfully, there was a peaceful resolution to the situation, though obviously not ideal seeing as Allen and Jasper are still left in debt even after getting their son back.
Light In The Darkness
Thankfully, being able to actually raise their son has helped ease some of the pain this situation brought upon their family.
He was 10 months old when they were able to take him home, and Jessica talked to PEOPLE about his first few days being with them. "He's a little man. He's like 10 months going on 11. He's walking around already. He's trying to talk. He has an attitude and he's funny and his personality is just goofy and bossy all at once. He walks around like he runs the world."
The Bond Of Family
As mentioned, this dispute is practically unheard of, as it's extremely rare, but that doesn't make it any less heinous. Keeping a baby from its rightful family—especially for money of all things—is vile, and that agency ought to be ashamed for the trouble it caused.
This story serves as a reminder that family is always worth fighting for, and the love between parents and their children is an unmatched force capable of accomplishing anything. These two brave souls fought tooth and nail for their baby to come home, and that's the type of dedication we should strive to see in every family.
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