"She's alive, she's capable, she's growing and learning and doing things that normal toddlers do," Crystal Kelley tells PEOPLE
When Crystal Kelley met the couple she ended up being a surrogate for in 2011, she says she felt an immediate connection.
“They offered to come and meet me near my home,” Kelley, 33, of Vernon, Connecticut, tells PEOPLE. “It was very nice when we met. I really liked them.”
After spending time with the couple and their three kids at a nearby playground, Kelley says it was obvious that the couple loved their children.
“They were interactive with their kids,” says Kelley. “Their father was playing with them and they were all having a great time. Their mom and I were just standing to the side watching them and she couldn’t stop smiling.”
Afterwards, they sat down and talked about why the couple wanted to find a surrogate mother.
“She teared up,” says Kelley. “She was very emotional as she talked about how they only had two embryos left and they were reaching the end of their five-year storage time and they had to make the decision very soon whether they were going to keep them or get rid of them.” (The couple had used an anonymous egg donor.)
Kelley says she immediately saw “the emotions in her eyes.”
Later that night, Kelley sent the agent for her surrogacy an email saying that she loved the couple and would be more than happy to carry for them.
An Absolute Nightmare
That blissful vision was short-lived.
While going over the contract, something about the abortion clause didn’t sit well with Kelley.
“Originally, it said [the parents] could ask for an abortion at any time and for any reason,” she says.
Kelley wanted the clause taken out altogether, but settled with abortion only being an option if the baby had a severe fetal abnormality determined by 3D ultrasound.
“I thought there was such a small chance that anything was going to happen,” she says. “I absolutely regret that. It’s tough to think back on.”
Kelley learned she was pregnant eight days after she had the embryo transfer. The mother would call her almost every day and send her texts and emails.
“They would say, ‘We’re so excited. Do you think it’s a boy or girl?’ ”
At 18 weeks pregnant, Kelley learned the baby was a girl after an ultrasound. The mother, who already had two boys and one girl, was over the moon.
They were also told that they couldn’t see the baby’s heart well enough, and to come back for another ultrasound two weeks later.
It was then that “everything started to fall apart,” she says.
When the follow-up ultrasound revealed troubling results, Kelley received a call from the mother, who had already learned that the baby had a possible heart defect.
“She called and said, ‘My husband and I have really thought about this and discussed it. We have had preemies and we know what challenges preemies face and we really don’t want to bring another disabled baby into the world.’
“That was when I started to get really worried. I’m standing outside in the sun and then all of a sudden I got cold and clammy,” she recalls. “It was all of a sudden, like everything switched. I told her, ‘Let’s remember we talked about this. I’m not willing to terminate a pregnancy for a child with a disability. I’m not terminating the pregnancy unless the baby is going to die.’ ”
On Her Own
Four days later, Kelley had another ultrasound, which confirmed what had been detected the week before.
The baby not only had a heart defect, but ultrasound technicians couldn’t locate the fetus’ stomach and also learned she had a cleft lip.
While Kelley was ready to get further tests, she says the parents made it clear they didn’t want to move forward with the pregnancy.
“They said they didn’t think it was the direction they wanted to go and that they didn’t want to continue this knowing this child is going to be born and is going to suffer,” she remembers.
Kelley says she told them, “You don’t know that she is going to suffer. You don’t know yet what’s really going on. All we have is this ultrasound and the one before, which doesn’t really give us any answers.”
Kelley already had a daughter of her own who had fully recovered from heart surgery and wanted to give this baby the same chance.
“My daughter is happy, healthy and absolutely full of energy. You look at her and you can’t tell that there was anything was ever wrong with her,” she says. “So I wasn’t just going to give up on this baby.”
After that conversation, Kelley never saw or spoke to the parents again.
All correspondence was through the agent or a lawyer, who told her she was “obligated to terminate this pregnancy immediately.”
At that point, Kelley was just a few weeks away from being 24 weeks pregnant. After that, she couldn’t legally abort the pregnancy.
When she sat down with a lawyer who asked her if she would consider having an abortion, she confidently told him, “no.”
“I told him that I’m not going to terminate just because they want me to. If there was something wrong and they could prove it and they could prove that she was going to die before she was born or right after she was born, then I might have a different answer. If she’s going to live, I need to give her that chance.”
Although Kelley decided to go through with the pregnancy, she didn’t anticipate what was to come next.
Because she didn’t have parental rights for the baby in the state of Connecticut after the baby girl was born, the baby would most likely become a ward of the state.
“I wasn’t going to have a baby knowing that she would immediately go into foster care,” says Kelley. “This baby was created on purpose. She should not end up in the foster system, especially being a child of special needs.”
So she decided to make a drastic move and pack her kids up and head to Michigan, where under state law she had legal rights as the child’s mother.
Living in an on-campus apartment at the University Michigan in Ann Arbor with her two young daughters, Kelley spent the final two months of her pregnancy thinking about the baby girl’s future.
With little money and no job at the time, Kelley knew that she wasn’t in the best situation to raise the baby, so she was determined to find her a loving and happy home.
“My friend had a good friend who was a mom to three kids with special needs and she had adopted two of them. She told me she’d be a great resource for me,” Kelley says. “We became close and when I asked her if she would adopt her, she said yes.”
The babies father eventually gave up his parental rights under the condition that he and his wife could keep in touch with the adoptive family about the baby. They also demanded information about the birth and wanted their name on the birth certificate.
When Baby S – her adoptive parents are comfortable using her first initial – was born on June 25, 2012, “she did amazing,” Kelley shares.
“It’s pretty vindicating, I guess, because everyone else wanted to give up on her,” says Kelley. “She’s always been a fighter. She was feisty even when I was pregnant with her.”
Today, the baby is 3 years old and is an “an outspoken kid in her own little way.”
“She doesn’t let things hold her back. It makes me feel great, but I knew she was going to be like this,” says Kelley, who sees the little girl twice a year in Michigan and wrote a book about her experience.
“You have to listen to your gut and by listening to my gut, I was proven right,” she continues. “Everything that I believed she would be, she is. She’s alive, she’s capable, she’s growing and learning and doing things that normal toddlers do.”