DALLAS — Stephanie Levesque is an ardent supporter of surrogacy because the process brought her and so many other families immense joy.
She is finally ready to talk about the pain she endured over the last year. “There’s been a lot of mourning. There’s been a lot of heartache,” she said.
On December 21, 2017, Stephanie gave birth at Medical City Dallas.
Sixteen weeks into an otherwise normal pregnancy, doctors had discovered a serious heart defect in the baby.
Hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or HLHS, is rare. It is a congenital defect that prevents normal blood flow in the heart and requires multiple surgeries beginning soon after birth to correct. “I’d been listening to his strong little heartbeat time after time after time, and so I was like, no - he’s fine! He’s going to make it – he’s strong!”
Stephanie was a surrogate. When the biological parents learned of the diagnosis, they ordered her to abort their child.
“Before you proceed in carrying for a couple, you discuss your beliefs on abortion, you have to have really hard conversations,” Stephanie said. “I thought we were completely on the same page. I had no idea that if something did happen, we’d be so divided.”
She carried the baby to full term, after weeks of legal and emotional turmoil. The birth made national headlines.
When the baby was born, Stephanie said hospital staff allowed her one quick peek at him then whisked him away.
“I don’t know his name. I don’t know how much he weighed. I don’t know if they chose to do surgery,” Stephanie said. “I assume they immediately took him to the NICU, but I do not know, I do not know.”
“I do not know any more today than I knew a year ago when I was discharged from the hospital.”
The day after the birth, attorneys for the biological parents said publicly that the couple had agreed to give the boy the immediate medical care he needed. It’s not clear whether that care continued.
The experience was a stark contrast to her two previous surrogacies. “I had always done it with the excitement of making people parents,” she said. “I mean - I could not wait to hand those babies over and see them become parents after thinking they never would. But I had to kind of change my mindset and say, OK – this is for him now.”
She remains close friends with the two other couples whose babies she carried. She believes the joy and love that surrounded those experiences are what surrogacy is about, so she’s launching a crusade to protect it.
“It’s the most beautiful gift you can ever give,” Stephanie said.
She said she wants more regulation on the written contracts signed by surrogate mothers and the biological parents, which she says are often contradictory.
“On one page it can say if x, y, or z happens then the surrogate will abort. But the very next page says it is the surrogate’s constitutional right to choose whether she wants to abort,” Stephanie explained.
She’d like to ensure that surrogacy agencies are not also the escrow agent.
She’s also beginning to contact legislators, hoping they’ll consider rewriting abortion laws so they apply not only to the woman carrying the child, but also to the biological parents, too.
“Before anyone can abort, you have to go to a sonogram and see the baby, hear the heartbeat. It is assumed that the person at the sonogram is the biological parent – there’s no language at all pertaining to surrogacy,” she said.
“I one hundred and ten percent believe in surrogacy. It is my passion,” she said. “I definitely do not want my story to discourage people from being surrogates.”
“I absolutely think if we can get some laws changed, everyone wins. Everyone will benefit from that.”
She’s becoming a passionate advocate.
“I was given a voice for a reason, I was given a platform for a reason and because of all the heartache that I have experienced, I know my story’s not over, because I cannot end on heartache,” she said.
So she’s writing a book, about joy - the joy of giving families a baby they never thought they’d have and giving a voice to a baby she’ll never know.