GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids couple that FOX 17 has featured several time over the past few years, is hoping to change Michigan’s fertility laws after two different judges in Kent County denied their parental rights to their biological babies born via gestational carrier.
Tammy and Jordan Myers have been spending every possible moment visiting their twin boy and girl in the NICU at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids.
At a time when they should be free to focus on getting their babies healthy enough to come home, they’re being forced through the long and invasive legal process of adopting them.
Jordan Myers said, “I don’t want other families to have to go though what we are going through right now. It’s horrible.”
Unfortunately, the Myers are no strangers to heartbreak.
A breast cancer diagnosis five years ago, robbing Tammy Myers of the chance to carry any more children herself; due to the nature of her particular cancer, doctors advised her to have her uterus removed to help lower the chances of her cancer coming back.
Fast forward to early 2020 though, the Myers connected with Lauren Vermilye on Facebook while looking for a gestational carrier in the hopes of having more of their own children.
Vermilye told FOX 17 during an interview in October 2020, that she and her husband, who have two children of their own, had always talked about being a carrier for a family in need. When she connected with the Myers, she agreed to become a carrier for them without hesitation.
Tammy Myers said, “For once we were finally given this amazing beautiful gift and Lauren came into our lives and carried our sweet babies.”
Monday, January 11th, Vermilye delivered the Myers twins; Eames and Ellsion born at just 32 weeks.
“It was amazing on all accounts and really special to be there with Lauren to take part in the delivery,” Tammy Myers said.
The twins are the combination of Tammy’s frozen eggs that were extracted prior to her cancer treatments, and Jordan’s sperm. Those embryos were then implanted into Vermilye via In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) at the Grand Rapids Fertility Center
Biologically, the twins are 100% the Myers, but legally the state of Michigan doesn’t see it that way.
“The law is very outdated and was created during a time when women could not give birth to a baby that wasn’t their own, so it made it kind of somewhat impossible for me to be recognized as the mother,” explained Tammy Myers.
Melissa Neckers, a family attorney at Miller Johnson and the Myers’ attorney explains that Michigan’s Surrogacy Parenting Act makes compensated surrogacy completely illegal for carriers and intended parents. Even if a carrier isn’t compensated, any agreement the parties come to isn’t acknowledged in court.
Neckers said, “Michigan just says ‘You can’t do it, and if you do do it, it’s void.’ Then there’s no additional process for cutting off the parental rights of the person who gave birth to the babies, and establishing the rights of the people who are the biological parents.”
After Vermilye became pregnant, the Myers and Neckers started the process to gain pre-birth rights to the twins for both Tammy and Jordan. However, that request was denied.
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Tamy Myers said, “Deep down in my heart, I thought any judge that heard our story, there’s no way that they could look us in the eye and say we know that these are your biological babies, but you cannot have rights to them. there’s no way.”
The aftermath of the ruling was difficult to process.
“I literally cried for weeks. Every time I walked around, I was hiding it from my daughter, hiding it from Jordan and just accepting that I would not being recognized as the mother, was beyond anything that I can explain,” Tammy Myers said.
The back up plan was then getting legal rights for only Jordan under the Paternity Act of 1956.
But, just last Friday, that too was denied by a different judge.
Jordan Myers said, “It’s really, really hard to sit there and hold your kid and look in their face - and I did it multiple times on Friday - with tears streaming down my face, just not even being acknowledged as a parent when these kids in the back of your head are biologically yours.”
Vermilye is equally devastated for the family.
She said, “I think technically, I have two more children according to the laws in Michigan, which is not the truth because they are not my children. Science says it, doctors that put them in my body say it, and now for some reason the courts have decided to make this a harder process on Tammy and Jordan than it really needs to be and that just breaks my heart.”
Adding insult to injury, Neckers said judges in other Michigan counties are granting these requests, but Kent County won’t seem to budge.
She said, “I think all of the judges would agree that the law needs to change, and they want a lot to change, because they don’t like making these decisions that put people through extra hardship either."
Now begins the long, expensive, and invasive process for the Myers to adopt their twins, which will involve home studies, background checks, and fingerprinting for starters.
Jordan Myers called the process degrading and said it doesn’t take into account that they’ve already raised a caring and good-hearted 8-year-old daughter.
He said, “Nobody else ever has to go through something like this when they want to expand their family.”
While the Myers have exhausted most of their options, they hope the Michigan legislature will consider updating the states fertility laws to prevent other couples who’ve already lost so much, from losing their rights as parents too.
Jordan Myers said, “We just want our names on the birth certificate and to give them insurance. It’s nothing pretty by any stretch, but it means so much in our case.”
“I just really, really hope and pray that if anything, this just brings more awareness and at least allows some change, because no family should ever be subjected to this,” Tammy Myers said.
Neckers said that they are hoping to get a more updated fertility bill sponsored in the state legislature this year and hopefully passed.
By mid-February, Michigan will be the only state in the country that has not updated their fertility laws to create a streamlined process for intended parents to gain legal rights to their children.