ADA, Mich. — Thanks to a set of newly introduced bills, a family that’s being forced to adopt their own biological children might now be the last ones to deal with an antiquated Michigan law.
Written in 1988, the law grants full parental rights to surrogates. Michigan is one of the only states in the nation where that is still the case.
After a cancer diagnosis in 2015, Tammy Myers and her husband Jordan were told the only way to grow their family was to harvest Tammy’s eggs and use a gestational carrier to have children. That’s exactly what they did, and after five years of discussion, in January of 2021, twins Eames and Ellison were born to surrogate Lauren Vermilye.
“Although they are biologically my children and they were my eggs, I wasn’t carrying the baby so the state did not recognize me as the mother,” said Tammy. “In a way it almost feels like we were robbed of the joy that we should’ve been feeling.”
Born about two months prematurely, the Myers were able to stay with the twins in the NICU while they recovered and grew. But neither Jordan nor Tammy’s name was on the birth certificate and by law, neither were recognized as the twin’s true parents.
Even after multiple appeals to Kent County judges, the couple was still unable to gain parental rights. Throughout the process, Vermilye was fully supportive of the Myers and their attempts to become the baby’s true mother and father.
“They assume, when they hear that this is even an issue, that she fought us; that she was the one that started this,” said Tammy, “and she could not have been more supportive.”
It wasn’t until April 2021 that Tammy and Jordan were able to even gain guardianship over the twins, allowing them to get the twins on their insurance, enroll them in school, and make other important decisions. But they’ll still have to adopt the twins.
“Michigan really is an outlie as a state here, most other states in the nation have updated their laws,” said Michigan Senator Winnie Brinks, (D) – Grand Rapids. “In the state of Michigan right now, there is no allowance for having a contract for a surrogacy arrangement at all.”
Sen. Brinks has been working with the Myers to repeal the 1988 law that’s been holding them back from parentage and replace it with a comprehensive set of legislation that would allow for contracts between parents and surrogates – ensuring the adults who share DNA with children are recognized as the true parents. The bills would also outline specific services be made available, like a mental health screening, guidance and counseling for parents and surrogates, and coverage for medical care expenses.
“[The law] was put in place in a time where it was not technologically possible to put someone else’s eggs or embryos in another women’s body,” said Tammy.
“There’s been so much new technology since the original law was written, it really is time anyways to take a look at it and update it for the new realities of how people start their families,” said Brinks. “It’s important for us as legislators not to leave these families behind simply because they’re using this technology to start or grow their families.”
While Brinks and the Myers are hoping for speedy passage of the bills, here’s no timeline. Sen. Brinks hopes to have the bills on the governor’s desk by the end of the year, but said she’ll reintroduce them immediately when the legislature returns to session in 2023.
“We want our case to be the last instance that this has to happen to,” said Jordan.
“This is really a human issue,” said Tammy. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a human issue. And it’s time for a change in Michigan.”