CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Paul and Chantele Montover of Cedar Rapids, both natives of Marshalltown, used a gestational carrier to birth their daughter, Baby K, and her deceased twin, Baby E. The couple claims their relationship with the carrier dramatically broke down and they were extorted by her. The carrier is now appealing the custody decision to the Iowa Supreme Court, making this case the first of its kind.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Paul Montover and his wife Chantele Lennon-Montover, both natives of Marshalltown, now residing in Cedar Rapids, have found themselves embroiled in a case about to be the first of its kind headed to the Iowa Supreme Court.
In an exclusive interview with the Times-Republican, the couple shared their story.
Paul, 50, and Chantele, 49, first began their romance as teenagers, attending Marshalltown High School. But in adulthood, the two went their separate ways, married other people, and had their own families. Decades later, fate would reunite the two lovebirds. After the couple wed in November 2013, they knew they wanted to have a baby of their own. But with Chantele having had a partial hysterectomy, the pair needed to obtain a gestational carrier who would undergo In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and carry the child on their behalf.
The couple said they interviewed several candidates for the task, advertising on surrogacy websites. They were then contacted by the woman whom they would ultimately use as their carrier.
“We met the surrogate and her husband, and they seemed like very nice, caring people,” Chantele said. “She asked what would our thoughts be if she carried for us, and we would in turn pay for her to have an IVF cycle (costing $13,000) because she could carry, but not get pregnant naturally.”
Because you cannot directly pay a woman to serve as a carrier, the Montovers felt this would be a fair arrangement. They had a lawyer draw up a surrogacy agreement for the woman to sign. Chantele said the contract had “strict guidelines she [the carrier] agreed to.”
The woman the Montovers hired to carry their now 11-month-old daughter, and her deceased twin, is now appealing the Feb. 21, 2017 ruling made in the Iowa District Court in and for Linn County, to the Iowa Supreme Court. The district court had ruled in favor of the Montovers keeping custody of the baby.
“This is the first time a non-biological surrogate has tried to get custody of a baby,” Chantele said. “Actually, she’s really considered a gestational carrier, not a surrogate, because a surrogate is genetically related to the baby (through egg donation or a blood relative), and she is not.”
The Feb. 21 ruling examined Iowa law as it defines the term “biological party.” It determined that the woman who carried the baby, and her husband, do not have parental rights, since neither his sperm nor her eggs were used to create what turned out to be the twin babies. As this is an ongoing case, the carrier will not be named in this article. In court records, the carrier is referred to as “T.B.” and her spouse as “D.B.”
During Easter Week 2016, the carrier became pregnant with the Montovers’ two embryos. Two weeks later, the dynamic shifted.
“She had an ultrasound and her husband was videotaping everything, and she was sending these videos to someone and chatting with them. We didn’t feel comfortable with that,” Chantele said. “Where is this information going? It just seemed very odd, so we asked her kindly, we don’t approve videotaping this, and that’s when things went south. She told us, ‘well then you’re not allowed to come back in for anymore ultrasounds’ … She started making excuses for why she wouldn’t talk to us anymore. She would say ‘I don’t trust you, you aren’t holding up to your end of the deal.’ We were doing everything we were supposed to do, and then she cut off all communication. We started contacting her family, and she considered that harassment.”
Paul recalled the couple’s feelings of dread and worry.
“She [the carrier] would call me up and say she was having a miscarriage, so what I would do is, I called the clinic up, and the clinic would say, ‘she’s not having a miscarriage, because I talked to her today.’ She [the carrier] said the clinic’s not supposed to tell you that kind of stuff, but the clinic could talk to us about the child, not about other medical histories about herself. She would call my wife and say ‘what’s it going to be like to never see your kid again?’ She played the miscarriage thing for about a month,” Paul said.
The Montovers hired a private investigator to find out more information about the carrier.
“We found out a lot from that private investigator that made us real nervous then,” Paul said.
By June and July 2016, the Montovers said the carrier got in touch with their lawyer, asking for more money for future IVF treatments.
“She had asked our attorney if she could start collecting, and she would call our attorney personally. She was threatening to abort if we didn’t pay. She had done that numerous times, and that attorney testified about this in court,” Chantele said.
“Our first attorney said we needed a new lawyer because she had become a witness to extortion,” Paul said.
The next few months proved a waiting game for the Montovers.
“When this was going on, we filed paperwork with the State of Iowa — it’s called a registry — saying that, if this gal gives birth, and asks for a birth certificate, they have to hold off [on issuing it] because I’m the father,” Paul said.
The carrier delivered the premature twin girls on Aug. 31, 2016 at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Both babies weighed less than two pounds each. Their original due date had been in December.
The Montovers claim they did not learn of the birth of their daughters until Oct. 30. They also claim they were not told the pregnancy was to result in twins, as their doctor had told them early on the second fetus may not be viable. In addition, they also say they were not informed until that day that one of the twins, Baby E, passed away eight days after birth. Baby K entered the world requiring heart surgery and blood transfusions.
“Before we knew our daughters had been born, the surrogate took the liberty of making medical decisions, and naming both of our daughters,” Chantele said. “She applied for Social Security cards and received Social Security benefits. They had Baby E cremated without our knowledge.”
“The state should never have issued a birth certificate, but they did anyway. So they [the carrier and her husband] got a birth certificate and a death certificate. Her husband’s name was listed as the father, and she was listed as the mother [since she was the one who gave birth],” Paul said.
In December 2016, the Montovers obtained a court ruling giving them temporary custody of Baby K, who at that point was still being kept at the hospital due to the premature birth. A final ruling was made on Feb. 21, 2017, awarding the Montovers full custody.
Now the carrier and her lawyer, New Jersey attorney Harold Cassidy, are appealing the ruling. Cassidy came to prominence in 1987 when he represented Mary Beth Whitehead, the surrogate in the landmark Baby M case. Whitehead was ultimately given visitation rights to the baby, whom she was the biological mother of. He has since represented other surrogates throughout the country.
The Montovers are represented by attorneys Casey Rigdon of Cedar Rapids and Philip De Koster of Hull.
“What this case will likely determine, is if these surrogacy agreements are enforceable or not,” Rigdon told the Times-Republican.
The Montovers said the carrier had accused them of making racist comments, as she is African-American and they are Caucasian.
“We did tell the court, that yes, we said things we shouldn’t have,” Chantele said.
These instances were described in the Feb. 21 ruling: “From TB’s perspective [the carrier], Plaintiffs were harassing her by constantly seeking information via calls, texts and/or other means of communication. She also believed that Plaintiffs were following DB [her husband] at work … DB’s sister received a racially derogatory communication from PM [Paul] about DB … in her mind, she did not need to comply with the surrogacy agreement if Plaintiffs were racists because she could not allow such hateful people to raise the babies.”
The court ruled that: “She [the carrier] is not entitled to custody of a child that is not her genetic offspring when a suitable natural parent has or seeks custody. This is illustrated through the case of Petition of Bruce. 522N.W.2d 67, 68 (Iowa 1994).”
The Montovers have started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover their legal fees. In addition, they said they have been billed by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for around $2.2 million for medical costs pertaining to the twins.
“We don’t want this to happen to someone else,” Chantele said. “This whole time, there was no enjoyment in this process, but we are so glad to have her [Baby K].”
The Montovers said they have yet to receive the cremains of Baby E, saying the carrier told them she had spread the ashes.
“They won’t tell us when they dumped the ashes or where,” Paul said.
The Montovers said they are grateful for the support they have received from friends and family.
“Our Marshalltown friends have been really helpful. I’m proud to be from Marshalltown and I want to thank them,” Paul said.
For more information, visit the Montovers’ page at: www.gofundme.com/help-with-surrogacy-nightmare
Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or email@example.com