Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Families Through Surrogacy: Consumer Advocacy Group or Trade Show?

I was very excited when I first joined the FTS conference committee .  I felt honored to be part of a group that promoted transparency, ethics and best practices in international surrogacy.  It wasn't very long though before  I began questioning how the conference's policy on sponsorship could be reconciled with its mission statement.   

While I understand the financial reality of doing conferences around the world, I am disheartened by the way the financial need for sponsorship appears to be overshadowing FTS's stated mission.   When I was on the committee one of the very difficult conversations we had regarded a set of sponsors who had ties to a medical tourism company currently under FBI investigation.   When I expressed concern about promoting players with a history that was at the  least problematic,  Sam responded with something along the lines of "Well they are being investigated, but they aren't indicted yet."

Surely there is a better measure of best practices than "Not yet indicted." Allowing people with long histories of questionable behavior the opportunity to promote themselves at Families through Surrogacy conferences not only makes vulnerable IPs a captive audience to providers with known issues, it undermines the credibility that the conference has with the wider surrogacy community.  Whether the committee realizes it or not, allowing someone to present at the conference is an endorsement of their services.

Unfortunately, the conference has been used by more than one provider in this manner.   Speaking at the conference legitimizes providers, allowing them to present themselves as recognized "authorities" when that is often not be the reality.  It grants them a veneer of respectability and allows them them not only a captive audience, but they can later refer to their "speaking engagement" as a way to recruit new clients.  

The year  I spoke at the West Coast Families through Surrogacy conference Kim Waters Hendrix of Complete Surrogacy Solutions also spoke.    It was very clear the conference was used as a platform  to promote her business.   This pattern was repeated later that same year in Australia, where many people complained of Kim's "grandstanding."  Kim  used the forum not only to promote her own services, but also to denigrate her competitors.

Last year, Megan Sainsbury was "banned" from the Families through Surrogacy conference in Australia.   This year, Kim Hendrix is banned while Megan is attending under the umbrella of the clinic she promotes in Mexico.  What changed during this time?  To my knowledge,  no one from Families Through Surrogacy has explained why Kim went from being actively promoted to being banned and what Meg did that resolved the issues that caused her to not be allowed at the conference one year and then allowed to return the next.

At the very least, if a concern is brought to a provider, and it's serious enough to warrant not allowing them to attend the conference,  and then they take the time and energy to resolve those issues so that you feel comfortable bringing them back, it seems like it would be in everyone's best interest to give them credit for making those changes.

If the conference wants to grant sponsorships to anyone willing to pay the fee,  in much the same way that vendors at a trade show are selected, that is clearly their prerogative.   However, it's my opinion that if you want to maintain credibility as a non profit IP focused advocacy group, "not yet indicted" and "not popular at this time" is an incredibly low standard for professional participants.

When Families through Surrogacy allows agents to abuse intended parents publicly and says nothing?  They are giving their tacit approval of the behavior.  They are in fact contributing to the climate of fear and intimidation that permeates the international surrogacy community.   When Families through Surrogacy is not transparent about how they choose sponsors, they are not modeling the transparency that intended parents should expect from ALL parties who work in this field.  

I know that I am not the first person, nor am I likely to be the last,  to bring these issues to their attention.

Consumer driven advocacy groups have a responsibility to advocate.   If they do not want to take on that responsibility then truth in advertising demands that they notify attendees that they are a trade group for agents and clinics.   This would all them to continue to provide information to consumers, but would give those intended parents the proper context for that information.

If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Is this professional behavior? - by Drew

While we have always named specific people who have exhibited behavior with which we have grave concerns, it could still be possible that someone could read our blog and believe that we are against international surrogacy, and that it should be shut down.  This is not true.   Despite Johnny's death and what has transpired subsequently, without international surrogacy we would not have the delight that is our daughter.  However, we are disappointed by the sheer number of people in the international surrogacy community who seem committed to behaving in  unprofessional and/or questionable ways.

The most recent example of this:

Last night, I received this Facebook message from Catherine Moscarello, of IP Conceptions.

To put it (very) briefly, Ms Moscarello started out as a Planet Hospital employee.  Catherine and her husband seem to be the only ones to who materially benefited from its implosion.    While the rest of us lost thousands of dollars, Catherine Moscarello awalked away with a set of embryos and the entire Planet Hospital client file.  Catherine then launched IP Conceptions,  her own surrogacy facilitation business in Mexico.  In the beginning,  Catherine  consulted frequently with us as to our opinions on best practices, transparency, etc.   We wanted to believe that she had good intentions.  However,  when she began make decisions that appeared to put her interests above those of IPs  who had lost tens of thousands of dollars to Planet Hospital,  we spoke up.    On good days, she ignored the concerns we and others shared with her.  On other days, we and several other former Planet Hospital clients were viciously attacked.

Ultimately, we decided  there was no point continuing to engage with her, so we severed contact with her and considered the matter closed.

Putting aside the hubris that makes her think that we are required to publish any comment she were to write, let me point out that we have not "attacked" Megan Sainsbury.  While we have expressed disappointment at Meg's behavior towards friends of ours, we haven't made any posts that address her or her business.   I have no idea what comment Catherine is going on about.  Please keep this in mind as you read the conversation between Catherine and I.

The following is the screencap she linked me to:

And now these are my screencaps of the rest of our conversation:

Ms. Moscarello is correct that we have put things out there publicly.  If she would like to refute those things or address them, it's my understanding she has her own social media accounts that she can use to do so.  My wife has blocked Catherine on her telephone, on email,  on Facebook, has put her on ignore on BabyCenter and has repeatedly asked her to not contact us.   Despite that,  Ms. Moscarello  appears to believe she has the right to continue a barrage of unwanted and harassing contact. This does not seem like professional behavior.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Written by Drew - You know what they say about birds of a feather...

Sharing confidential information with other people is unethical and unprofessional. We will not address the many false statements in these emails because there are just too many to count. However, this sharing of information and bullying is not appropriate. We have redacted the client names to protect their confidentiality.
Upon seeing these messages, we decided to reach out to Carrie and respectfully request that she not engage in discussing our case anymore.  Enough people had already been made privy to our private information.
This was the answer we received.
Our response to her threatening us:
Her final message to us.
It would have been perfectly acceptable for Kim to ask the people who have had positive experiences with her to share them. She did NOT need to discuss all.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kim Waters Hendrix & Complete Surrogacy Solutions Review and Complaint: Client Confidentiality

As I’ve written before, client confidentiality is a fundamental part of any professional surrogacy agency, facilitator, etc…     Surrogacy facilitators have access to financial information, medical information and are frequently given significant amounts of personal information by their clients.   

There were many times during my relationship with Kim where she shared information with me, that in retrospect was inappropriate.  I should not know about the couple who had to terminate their much wanted pregnancy at 13 weeks due to fetal abnormality, nor should I know anything about the sperm quality of several of my Facebook friends.  

That’s why when I found out that Kim was sharing my information with other people I wasn’t surprised.  Hurt, yes.  Surprised?  No.  One of the first people to let me know that this was going on was Paul McDavy.  Frankly, if he had been the only one and it had been an isolated issue, I probably would not be writing this post today. 

Posting information (and inaccurate information at that) about our struggle to get records  on my Facebook wall?  Not appropriate.  Sharing even more information with a prospective client?  Not professional.  

I confronted her about this in January:

One would have thought that this would have ended the matter.  However, it's very clear now that this pattern-  which was going on throughout our pregnancy and after our son died has continued.
She admits that she knew John wasn't well, although she and Bakshi repeatedly assured Drew and I that no oxygen deprivation had taken place.   Additionally, she fails to share that while she offered to go to Delhi it was with the understanding that Drew and I were footing the bill. 
Sharing details of our financial situation is not appropriate.   Additionally, we were being told that Adiva was a good hospital, there was no oxygen deprivation and no reason to move him unless we wanted to do so for the sake of doing it.  Given the information we had at time we made the decision to leave John where he was until I got there.  Had we been told that Adiva was not qualified to care for him, we would have moved him, regardless of cost.

Kim had absolutely no right to share the ongoing issues we were having in terms of getting the records or my other concerns. 
John died of HIE and Klebsiella pneumonia.  HIE is not genetic, nor is pneumonia.  HIE is caused by oxygen deprivation at birth.  Secondly, the genetic issue that our six year old has is not carried on the Y chromosome, it's maternally inherited...which is why we used an egg donor.  Lastly,  it is absolutely unfathomable that any person calling themselves a professional would feel this kind of disclosure is appropriate. 

I am also aware that Kim has also emailed clients, sharing her version of our tragedy and requesting that those clients give her positive reviews.   The fact that she has recruited other "professionals" not involved with our case to help her do this is even more disturbing.  While it's certainly her right to ask people for testimonials, the fact that she is continuing to share our personal, private information, despite our repeated requests that she not do so is disgusting.   

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Complete Surrogacy Solutions: You had ONE JOB - by Drew

I’ve been an IT professional for almost 10 years now.  I’ve been in my current job for a little over a year, and its been a new experience for me, as I’ve moved into a sysadmin role.  I very much enjoy my job, and I’d like to think I’m doing well in it.  If someone comes to me with a problem, I am straightforward about my ability to fix it, as well as how much time I think it’ll take.  If I misrepresent either, I’m not only making myself look bad, but my whole team’s appearance suffers.  In a similar vein, when dealing with vendor support teams, I need to be honest about my knowledge and experience in order for them to best know how to assist me.  If I were to claim I knew more than I did, I’d actually impede the process of resolving my problem.

When the disasters with our travel visas and our twins’ birth happened, I don’t doubt that on some level, Kim believes she did everything she could to help us.  The ultimate reality is she accomplished nothing that helped us.  One reason for this is that I believe that Kim, for all of her projected confidence, amiability, bluster, and bravado, doesn’t have any influence on the actual surrogacy process.  At the very least, she doesn’t have as much as she thinks she does.  Here is how I came to this conclusion.

Point 1 - Kim did not seem to have any substantial relationships with the professionals in India, and didn’t appear to have invested in the ones she may have had.

  Until she went there after we’d returned home, Kim hadn’t traveled to India since the birth of her ‘nephews’ back in May of 2013.  We know this, because said so on her Facebook page.   At the very least, despite promising us that she would, she never visited India while our surrogate was pregnant.  As a result, she never saw the conditions at Adiva Hospital.  If she had, one would think that different decisions about Adiva’s/Bakshi’s viability as a partner would have been made well before we became her actual clients.

  In all fairness, Kim did communicate with Bakshi’s office via Skype.  I know this happened at least once, as she was on a Skype call with them at the same time that I was at Bakshi’s clinic filling out our initial paperwork in November of 2014, and I saw her myself.  Even if that happened on a regular basis, if she never traveled there herself, she missed out on a tremendous opportunity to cultivate personal and professional relationships.

  There are loads of articles out there that talk about the commuting vs. telecommuting debate that many businesses contend with on a regular basis.  As an IT professional, I get asked about it, and contend with it, frequently.  I have a very pleasant working relationship with my colleague in Delhi, but I had only ever talked to him over Skype.  While I was in Delhi in October, though, I managed to meet him for the first time, took a tour of the Delhi office, and met a few of the other people who work there.  I thoroughly enjoyed doing so.  No longer was “the Delhi office” just a conceptual place to me, I could picture it.  I felt much more connected to my colleague, and he and I were able to talk about things that didn’t have anything to do with the work that we did together.  That deepened and broadened our relationship.

  Seeing the responses and reactions that Kim’s emails to Bakshi and her staff received as compared to ours, I didn’t see any real difference.  As far as we could tell, Kim seemed to be just another American emailing them with questions.  Skype is a great tool to promote connectivity with business entities in remote locations, but without that personal touch - meeting them in person, shaking their hand, exchanging pleasantries, etc. - a relationship can only be built so far.  Only so much a rapport can really be established.  Even though she was a facilitator, Kim didn’t seem to have any more of a relationship with Dr. Bakshi and her staff than we did in the beginning.

Point 2 - Kim never took an active role in our surrogacy journey

  Once we’d signed on with her, Kim sent us several documents about packages, pricing, etc.  One of them was a pre-natal schedule, which supposedly outlined when our surrogate would have checkups, ultrasounds, and the like.  Once we were pregnant, it seemed our entire lives revolved around how far along we were, and how long that meant we had to wait until we got the next ultrasound pictures.

  Almost right off the bat, we had to ask Kim when the next scheduled scan was going to take place and why there were delays.  It didn’t take us long to stop going through Kim entirely and ask Dr. Bakshi directly about the scans.  As a facilitator, Kim’s job was supposed to be preventing us from having to do that.

  We were entirely focused on the ultrasounds, as they were the only link we had to our developing twins.  As the IPs, this should be entirely unsurprising.  In retrospect, however, this was a mistake on our part.  We should have realized that if we had to chase after the clinic to perform ultrasounds on schedule, then who knows what was going on with our surrogate’s checkups?  We eventually did get the medical records for our surrogate, but by then all the damage was done.  Had we asked for these records during the pregnancy, we could have voiced our concerns about Mrs. S’s rising blood pressure and anemia.   Rhy did voice some concerns about Mrs. S’s risk of developing gestational diabetes, but was shamed into silence.  This happened more than once.  While it would have been good for Kim and Dr. Bakshi to at least hear out her concerns, it would have been ideal for them to have been proactively addressed.

  But again, this was supposed to be Kim’s job as our facilitator to ask for and obtain those records.  By being the one who was supposed to monitor the surrogate’s health status, she was supposed to be allowing us to focus on those precious ultrasound pictures.  Instead, all we got were assurances that we were having the ‘picture perfect’ twin pregnancy.  Basic monitoring of our surrogate’s health should have made it quite clear that this was not the case.

  Another set of promises that Kim made to us was that she could help us get what we needed during our stay in Delhi.  She had supposedly negotiated a special rate for her clients at the Hilton Garden Inn.  She had a deal with a local driver and his fleet.  Her package and pricing material even claimed that she would get us an Indian cellphone.  While we remarked to her at the time that an Indian cellphone would be considered quite valuable when we traveled there, we never heard any offer or mention of it again.

  We did not initially stay at the Hilton when we arrived in Delhi.  My colleague at work recommended one that my fellow Seattle-based employees stay at when they travel to Delhi.  While it was very close to Adiva Hospital, it wasn’t as good a hotel as the Hilton was supposed to be.  So we asked Kim to help us make arrangements for her reduced rate at the Hilton for the remainder of our stay.  It was then that we learned that her ‘contact,’ with whom she’d supposedly negotiated the reduced rate for her clients, had left the Hilton for another job, and had left some number of months prior to our arrival.  This is something that, if she were actively managing her relationships in India, she would have known well in advance of our arrival.  So in the end, we had to pay full price.

  Before we even left for Delhi, Kim asked Rhy to check in on another couple’s surrogate for her.  Personally, the fact that she had the gall to ask that of us infuriated me.  Our son, after all, had just died.  Rhy, however, was smart - Given that we were already upset with the level of effort Kim had put out on our behalf, if she checked on this surrogate, then that couple could be assured of a thorough, honest evaluation of the surrogate’s condition.  In exchange for Rhy essentially doing Kim’s job for her, Kim offered to pay for one of our nights at the Hilton.  Even then, she’d only made those arrangements after I reminded her to do so twice.

  She also gave us no assistance with obtaining our exit visas, despite that being one of the most important parts of her self-written job description.  The documents we’d need, the steps we’d have to take once we’d arrived at the FRRO, even the appointment itself were all arranged by Poonam Jain, a consultant in Delhi who has helped many intended parents leave India with their babies, and someone who had worked in the US consulate for many years.  Thanks to her, we were able to get in and out of the FRRO with our exit visas in about 2 hours.  All we had heard from Kim on this subject were horror stories she’d read about online, which involved couples forced to make multiple trips to the FRRO over several days, and in some cases weeks.  “Try to stay calm and give them whatever they ask for,” comprises the sum of her ‘advice’ to us.

  While we were at the FRRO, we learned that the rules had changed regarding medical visas for surrogacy that required us to register with the FRRO upon our arrival.  We didn’t know this, and because the rule change came so close to our arrival, the FRRO agents allowed us to leave despite this oversight.  I understand that rules can change often, but rules such as these are ones that Kim should have been keeping extremely close track of.  Despite us informing her of these changes, she did not pass this information on to another pair of intended parents, and as a result, they had multiple issues obtaining their exit visas, one of which was caused by this rule change.

Conclusion: Kim would seem to have very little to no influence in India.

  When Johnny died the day before Rhy’s flight to Delhi was set to depart, we sent multiple emails to Kim, the US Consulate, and Dr. Bakshi’s team, pleading with them to save a lock of his hair, or take a handprint or footprint for us, as they would serve to be the only physical link we’d have to his 10 days of life.  We have since learned that the way Indian culture handles the death of a child/infant is much different than the way it is handled here in the US, both from a medical and cultural standpoint.  To judge another culture through the lens of one’s own is the height of ignorance, so I want to make clear that this is NOT what we are doing.  Given that, though, I would presume that one would be hard pressed to find someone, regardless of cultural background, that would find our request unreasonable.  Yet when Kim made our request to Dr. Bakshi and her staff on our behalf, the answer we received is that it simply could not be done.  While we were never told why this was the case, here is what I see this is a symptom of, and the point that I have been building towards for the last 3 pages.

  Kim was a facilitator who was sending intended parents to Dr. Bakshi’s clinic.  In short, Kim was supposedly helping Dr. Bakshi make quite a bit of money.  Kim appeared to only maintain digital lines of communication with her, and did not participate actively in the surrogacies that she was responsible for.  As a result, despite the basis of their relationship, it would seem that Dr. Bakshi did not see her relationship with Kim to be important enough to warrant a departure from the standard procedure, even in the event of a premature infant’s death.

I understand and am fully aware that India is a very different country than the United States, and has a very different way of doing things.  At the same time, advertising yourself as a surrogacy facilitator in a country in which you have no ability to take or influence real actionis, at best, foolhardy.  At worst, it is reckless and dangerous.  Kim boasted to us early on in the process that if we were disappointed in Bakshi in any way, Kim would call her up and ‘read her the Riot Act.’  She claimed that she did this several times over the course of our pregnancy, yet we didn’t see Dr. Bakshi’s or her staff’s behavior change at all over time.  Had Kim actually had any of the influence she claimed to have, she could have prevented the death of our son and the infection of our daughter with an STD.  At the absolute minimum, she could have avoided having a set of grieving parents end up with no physical remembrance of their son, which is one of the worst things for the grieving parents of an infant to have inflicted upon them.  We continue to hope that no set of parents ever experiences anything like this as a result of trusting someone they shouldn’t have.

This is the doctor our facilitator used in thailand.   It really makes me wonder how these surrogates were screened and whether they truly understood the surrogacy process.

I wish this wasn't the case, but I believe that it is true

Surrogate mothers in India not aware of risk...