Not a day goes by when Melissa Cook doesn’t catch herself thinking about the triplets she gave birth to in February 2016 as a surrogate mom—and the “horror story” that has played out ever since.
“It happens every single day,” says Cook, a Los Angeles-based 49-year-old divorced mother of four kids. “I’m always wondering what’s going on with them. I feel so bad for them.”
Cook made headlines in 2015 after the birth father who demanded that she abort—first all three of the fetuses, she says, then one—because he’d run out of cash.
Cook last saw the babies when they were taken from her by nurses after she gave birth in a Los Angels hospital. She’s now fighting to get California’s surrogacy statute declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to conference the matter next week.
On Sept. 21, her New Jersey-based attorney Harold Cassidy filed a 12-page legal brief filled with allegations made by the birth father’s sister that calls into question his ability to care for the children.
In that document, the birth father, identified only as C.M., is accused by his sister Melinda Burnett of keeping the 18-month-old boys in “deplorable” living conditions in the basement of his invalid parents’ home in Georgia. However, he’s not currently facing criminal charges.
One of the most disturbing allegations in the document describes how C.M. has allegedly “been forcing the three young children (now 18 months old) to eat some of their food off of the dirty floor in the house. The floors are rarely vacuumed.”
Burnett also alleges that her brother suffers from “serious personality and mental problems.”
“It’s a horror story,” says Cook, who was hired for $33,000 to have a child by in-vitro fertilization, using C.M.’s sperm and the eggs from a 20-year-old donor. “It’s just a really sad situation. Those babies don’t deserve this.”
Reproductive medicine experts insist that Cook’s case is an anomaly and the majority surrogacy arrangements proceed without any problems.
Nevertheless, Cook and her attorney Cassidy have another case in federal court, arguing that California’s surrogate law [one of at least 22 states with similar contractual surrogacy arrangements] violates due-process and equal-protection rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Burnett paints a disturbing portrait of her 51-year-old single brother., who is single, deaf and has spent most of his life living with his parents.
She describes C.M. as “paranoid,” prone to “frequent anger fits” and having a history of “being cruel to animals.” He allegedly also shares the house with a 28-year-old nephew, described as a heroin addict who has sold drugs out of the residence.
“It just goes from bad to worse,” says Cook, who is particularly troubled by Burnett’s allegation that her brother has been known to disappear from the house, leaving the infants unattended for hours at a time.
On a visit to the house two weeks ago, Burnett observed the infants and, in court documents, noted that they appeared “unnaturally quiet and did not speak and did not interact with the adults.”
Says Cook, “They’re not learning how to speak or interact with other children. They’re helpless. It’s all very troubling.”
C.M.’s attorney Robert Walmsley—who is also a co-owner of the California surrogacy firm that matched Cook with C.M.—insists that the triplets “are doing phenomenal and are developing on schedule.”
He says the recent court filing about his client is “filled with a bunch of lies and false claims.”
Cooks says she’s impressed by Burnett’s courage to come forward with her information about her brother. “She’s risking being alienated from her family for talking,” Cook says. “But she fears for their safety, just like I do.”