"I want to raise awareness for other surrogates," she tells PEOPLE, "to understand what happens when things go bad"
Melissa Cook doesn’t have many reasons for smiling these days.
On Feb. 22, the 47-year-old surrogate mom from Woodland Hills, Calif., gave birth to three baby boys that she’d been hired to carry for a man she now believes is unable to care for them.
Soon after the babies were born, she watched helplessly as nurses whisked the infants away from her.
“She’s very, very sad and distraught,” says her attorney Harold Cassidy, who has filed lawsuits on Cook’s behalf to have the state’s surrogacy law declared unconstitutional and grant her custody of the children.
“She can’t even provide breast milk for them,” adds Cassidy, “because the father insists on using another woman’s breast milk.”
Cook found herself entangled in a complex, headline-making legal battle earlier this year that was set into motion after she refused the father’s demands to abort one of the babies [created from the father’s sperm and donated ova] she was carrying because he’d allegedly run out of cash.
An attorney for the father – a deaf, single 50-year-old postal worker who lives with his elderly parents in Georgia, identified only as C.M. in court papers – eventually threatened Cook with a “breach of contract” lawsuit.
C.M.’s attorney Robert Walmsley, who also owns the surrogacy agency that brokered the deal, told PEOPLE that his client asked Cook to abort one of the babies out of concern for “her health and the health of the children.” He describes the divorced mother of four, who was never allowed to meet or speak with C.M., as “money hungry.”
But 12 days before giving birth to the triplets, Cook – who served as a surrogate once before, for a same-sex couple in 2013 – sat down with PEOPLE for an exclusive interview and spoke about the joy she felt shortly after being implanted with the three embryos.
“I started talking to them as soon as they were in me,” Cook recalled. “I said, ‘Hello. Get all snuggled in. I’m going to do my best to go as far as I can with you. I’m here for you. I’m your mom.’ ”
Whether or not Cook’s attorney can convince a judge of that remains to be seen. In the meantime, Cook hopes others can learn from her sad story – which many experts say is an anomaly.
“I want to raise awareness for other surrogates,” she says, “to understand what happens when things go bad.”