Exclusive interview of Jeanette Runyon to SURROGACY.RU
Jeanette Runyon, who suffered a lot to become a mother through surrogacy in Ukraine and became a victim of Ukrainian law enforcement system instead for the first time reveals extraordinary details of her detention in Ukraine and her struggle to get her “surrogate” daughter Victoria back from Ukrainian authorities.
SURROGACY.RU: Mrs. Runyon, in 2006 you travelled to Ukraine to arrange for a surrogate birth. Why surrogacy? Why Ukraine?
Jeanette Runyon: There was a group started by Carla which I joined in 2002 hoping to have another baby by donor egg. Through this group I learn about ISIDA woman’s Hospital . Ukraine seemed OK for me then.
I had travelled Kiev earlier for donor egg IVF at ISIDA woman’s Hospital and to Institute of Reproductive Medicine After both failures a member of this group wrote to me privately telling me about how she had her son via surrogate arranged by ISIDA woman’s Hospital I then asked ISIDA about surrogacy and they said they could arrange everything for me and my husband using their lawyers.
SURROGACY.RU: Tell us about your surrogate. Did you ever meet the girl?
Jeanette Runyon: I did meet the young lady and liked her very much. Her name was Sasha. Her personality reminded me of Vivian, my first daughter I lost in a car crash. Sasha was doing this for the right reasons, to provide a better life for her daughter. In February 2007 I received a call from ISIDA's Larisa, the foreign coordinator, to tell me Sasha did get pregnant. I then began to wire Sasha a monthly stipend.
SURROGACY.RU: The rumor is you used services of gamete donors, so neither you nor the surrogate has genetic relation to the child she was bearing. Is it so?
Jeanette Runyon: Yes, I used both donor egg and donor sperm. This was because I was too old to provide my own egg and my husband has a genetic disorder that he didn’t want to pass down to a child. We just wanted to be parents.
SURROGACY.RU: Who were responsible for the organization of your program and its legal part? Why didn’t you employ a professional law firm?
Jeanette Runyon: ISIDA arranged everything including drawing up a contract. I paid ISIDA’s lawyers a separate fee for legal advice. Their attorney accompanied me everywhere including the registration of Victoria’s birth. However when I went to the US Consulate the attorney no longer came with me. I was assured by ISIDA attorneys that what I was doing was completely legal and proper for both the Ukraine and the USA; and that because we were using a gestational surrogate (she had no genetic relationship to the child she would be carrying), that my husband and myself were the legal parents of the resulting child because of our intention to be parents.
SURROGACY.RU: It reminds of a well-known Buzzanca case in the US, doesn’t it?
Jeanette Runyon: Absolutely. The situation in the USA was identical (case Buzzanca v. Buzzanca Sup. Ct. No. 95D002992). The USA Court ruled that parental relationships may be established when intended parents initiate and consent to medical procedures, even when there is no genetic relationship between them and the child. That it is a "standard procedure" to put the commissioning parents name on the birth certificate as a matter of contract (as it is done in several US states such as California and Georgia).
The embryos belonged to me and my husband from the moment of conception and do not cease belonging to us because we hired a woman to carry them for us.
We did not buy a baby, we just bought genetic material (sperm and egg).
SURROGACY.RU: Surrogacy programs might be quite expensive. How much did it cost you? Where did you get the money for your reproductive program?
Jeanette Runyon: It cost me 35,000. The money came from a small inheritance and insurance payment from the death of my daughter Vivian.
SURROGACY.RU: Your daughter Victoria was born on October 10th, 2007. What happened after that?
Jeanette Runyon: When I arrived at Kiev I went to my apartment and then took a taxi to ISIDA to see my daughter. She was so beautiful and amazingly looked a bit like me and Vivian. She was a very easy baby and hardly cried at all. I stayed at ISIDA hospital rooming with my daughter for a week until Sasha signed the documents saying that she was willing that my and my husband's name go on the birth certificate. After a week the surrogate signed the release and Victoria’s birth was registered. I had the birth certificate translated into English and I had it apostille by the Ministry of Justice. ISIDA arranged for a taxi to take me to the US Consulate. I had only the Ukrainian birth certificate which was apostille by the Ministry of Justice for me. I was lead to believe by ISIDA that was the only document I needed. That is where this bizarre nightmare began. I became the victim of a bureaucratic bully.
SURROGACY.RU: What happened at the consulate then?
Jeanette Runyon: The US consular jumped to the bizarre conclusion that I bought this child. They refused to let ISIDA fax a copy of my contract and they refused to let me download it of my computer or call the clinic. Special agent Matthew Q McGuire called the police and told them I was a human trafficker. He refused to look at the contract and claimed that the birth certificated a forgery. In fact he told me that he wouldn't believe *any* documentation I showed him because the Ukraine was the forgery capital of the world.
It is beyond belief that the US State department would turn one of their own citizens to a very corrupt police without a shred of evidence of wrong doing except in the vile imagination of an incompetent "special agent," who was ignorant of the language, the laws, and the culture of the Ukraine. Right there on AMERICAN SOIL!!! Not once was I told my rights! I was intimidated and frightened. They told me to leave the Ukraine right away, without my daughter.
SURROGACY.RU: You mean that it's enough for a US consular officer to make a disparaging remark about you, and Ukrainian authorities feel encouraged to take a harsh approach?
Jeanette Runyon: Apparently all that was needed was the Special Agent Matthew Q McGuire to call the Ukrainian authorities and claim that I was a human trafficker. Agent McGuire refused to see my documentation and refused to speak to the lawyers at ISIDA. He claimed that Kiev was the forgery capital of the work and any proof I gave him would be a forgery.
SURROGACY.RU: What did Ukrainian authorities hope to achieve by detaining you in October 2007?
Jeanette Runyon: I expect at first it was just to make the American consulate happy. Then it was simply to invent a scandal to promote themselves.
SURROGACY.RU: May it be that the real goal was your child and the real customers behind that were a wealthy Ukrainian couple willing to adopt a healthy newborn?
Jeanette Runyon: Not at first. At first it was just an ignorant bureaucratic bully throwing his weight around. He didn’t understand surrogacy procedure and the law in the Ukraine and he had no interest in finding out. But Victoria was an extremely easy baby and that was repeated over and over on the news broadcast. The deputy mayor then stepped and declared she was going to care for my daughter until I was cleared. I suspect she had other plans for my daughter. It wasn’t long before she gave my daughter to some friend of hers.
SURROGACY.RU: Were there attempts to negotiate a deal for your release at the time? For example, in which you would declare yourself guilty and be allowed to go abroad in return without a baby?
Jeanette Runyon: No attempts to negotiate a deal in fact one they released me from prison and the deputy mayor had my daughter they were remarkably disinterested. They never contacted me until they wanted to force me to leave the Ukraine.
SURROGACY.RU: So you have been behind bars in Ukraine. What has been your experience of the Ukrainian prison and legal system as a whole?
Jeanette Runyon: Very corrupt and powerless. Everyone was also very afraid. I was detained by Ukrainian police less than two hours after my visit to the consulate at my apartment. They confiscated my belongings (wedding ring, computer, money, purse, credit cards, wallet) and did not give me a list of what they took. I spent three days in detention without food, water or heat in a dimly lit cell. At times I was taken in an inmate transport, and locked in a freezing metal closet. At other times I was locked in a closet within the police department.
My knee suffered trauma in detention and I now need surgery. I'm also including a photo of one of my bruises I received when I was detained. It was brutal, no food no water no heat and most the guards were quite cruel.
When I was released from detention my belongings were not returned. I was given the keys to my apartment and 50 Hryvnia ($10.00 American dollars). They had stolen everything else.
SURROGACY.RU: When you were detained and put in Ukrainian prison, did you receive any help from the US consulate? And after your release?
Jeanette Runyon: The consulate? They told me at the consulate to leave the Ukraine right away, without my daughter. Of course I received *no* help what so ever by the US consulate. In fact Special Agent Matt McGuire called the state department and lied about me. He told everyone that it was illegal in the Ukraine to use donor eggs and donor sperm. He became enraged when my Senator's office called about me. It was then that he lied to have me arrested. The complaint he wrote about me is pure fiction. He has me claiming I was Victoria's biological parent. I am a trained nurse; I would never say anything so stupid. I simply put my name down on the form where it said mother, because I *AM* her legal mother.
SURROGACY.RU: But have you ever been really indicted in Ukraine? What was the case against you?
Jeanette Runyon: I was charged and the city prosecutor dropped the case for lack of criminal intent.
SURROGACY.RU: What did your day look like when in Ukraine when fighting for Victoria? Where did you live? Who helped you?
Jeanette Runyon: When in detention I asked for a priest. Fr Paul came to see me then when I was released offered me a place to stay with the Sister's of St Joseph. I stay there until I was forced to leave. I prayed with the sisters and took mass everyday and sometimes went out to with them to run errands and go shopping. In many ways lived just as the sisters did. At first the media was a bit interested in me but then they lost interest. I did get a phone call on my cell telling me I was a criminal. It traced back to some TV studio. I never got anything resolved about the theft of my belonging nor could I get the police to give me any documentation.
SURROGACY.RU: How often did you see your daughter when in Kiev? Is there any chance to meet her now?
Jeanette Runyon: They let me to see her only twice. It was horrible because it was always outside in the cold with lots of reporters around; I couldn't even hold her. Her whereabouts is a big secret no one will tell me.
SURROGACY.RU: After you were released, did you seek the advice of US or Ukrainian politicians? What do you expect of politicians today?
Jeanette Runyon: Yes. It was a complete waste of time. Either I was told everything was my fault or I never even rated a response at all. No one was remotely interested in the kidnapping of my daughter. I was told that I should move on and stop being so bitter. They had no clue what it is like to have a child kidnapped. I though the death of Vivian was the worst thing to ever happen to me. The kidnapping of Victoria is.
SURROGACY.RU: How did you managed to leave Ukraine after all?
Jeanette Runyon: I was forced to leave. The SBU (Ukrainian security) threaten me with violence if I didn't leave. I knew if I left without Victoria there was a good chance I would never get her back. As I arrived at the airport the news reported that Victoria was "adopted" by a wealthy Ukrainian couple! Of course I find out that isn't true. She is just living with this couple, they just "keep" her like a cat. Until recently both myself and my husband were still listed on Victoria birth certificate. As soon as I began legal proceedings to get her back, the city prosecutor behind closed doors secretly removed me and my husband's names form the birth certificate.
SURROGACY.RU: What happened when you returned home?
Jeanette Runyon: I was arrested for passport fraud and taken to jail. The federal government tried three different courts and had to rewrite the complaint before they could finally get an indigent - a $10 misdemeanor.
SURROGACY.RU: So "child trafficking" turned out to be a $10 misdemeanor? Tell us about the trial in the US.
Jeanette Runyon: There was no trial. The US governments refused to authorize my attorney to go to Kiev and gather evidence. They had no evidence against me but I was told I had to take the lesser charge.
SURROGACY.RU: Who in your opinion was behind the accusations in human trafficking in both countries? What's the purpose of all this farce?
Jeanette Runyon: Agent Mathew Q McGuire was converting his rear. He knew he made a mistake so he lied more. I am not the first American he has cause problems for. He had an American teacher fired from his job in Kiev because he was a victim of a scam committed by the police in Kiev and came into the consulate to report it.
SURROGACY.RU: What's your strategy now to get Victoria back?
Jeanette Runyon: We are suing the police for false arrest and we are trying to get our names back on the birth certificate. I would like to sue ISIDA for the return of my fees that I paid to them. They presented themselves as being knowledgeable about surrogacy laws and bringing my child back home to the US. I even *paid* them for their so-called legal advice! They told me she would be a US citizen because her name would be on the birth certificate. As it happens, they were wrong and they did **nothing** to help me and help get Victoria returned to me. Their incompetence put me in this mess.
SURROGACY.RU: The Ukrainian trial is dragging on and on, and by now it seems practically Kafkaesque. What's the purpose of all this?
Jeanette Runyon: They are scared. My guess is the people who have Victoria illegally are both wealthy and are highly placed politically. The Judges and attorneys are afraid of what will happen if they do the right thing and return Victoria to me. So far my attorneys have won almost all their motions in court. The problems have been back room dealing and deliberate delays from the judges and the attorneys.
SURROGACY.RU: Your daughter Victoria will be 4 on October 10th, 2011. Do you think it's possible that the issue would be finally settled until she turns five?
Jeanette Runyon: I hope so. But I don't know it seems everyone is afraid. There must be powerful political and financial forces being the kidnapping of my daughter to cause such fear.
SURROGACY.RU: Do you still have some embryos stored at the IVF clinic in Kiev? If so, do you have any plans to use them in another, more friendly country?
Jeanette Runyon: Yes, I have four embryos left that are Victoria's full siblings. I would love to see these children given life. If I could afford another surrogate I would be overjoyed to have one of these precious babies. I had hoped ISIDA would do the right thing by me and offer me treatment seeing as they misrepresent their expertise with surrogacy and then abanament me after I was arrested claiming I wasn't their problem.
SURROGACY.RU: In 2007, you had the reputation of being someone involved in human trafficking. Today you are seen as a martyr in the name of reproductive rights. Do you derive any satisfaction from this?
Jeanette Runyon: The only satisfaction I will get is when my daughter is return to me. Only people who aren't interested in the truth who just want to smear still insist on calling me a "baby stealer" and human trafficker. It is the nature of the internet to smear and defame people if someone expresses opinions contrary to their own. I now have lost TWO daughters. I have no family and the thought of living the rest of my life with no children is just horrifying. I wish I could afford to use another surrogate but getting Victoria used all the money I had.
SURROGACY.RU: How much longer can you pay for your defense and the worldwide campaign to support you?
Jeanette Runyon: So far my attorneys have been doing this pro bono. But now the last motion (which I believe is another delay tactic) will cost much money, which I do not have.
SURROGACY.RU: For outsiders, Ukraine due to liberal legislation might seem like a reproductive paradise. Your story also seemed a fairytale but then turned out to be a nightmare. What are your views about Ukraine's legal system now?
Jeanette Runyon: The Ukraine's legal system is very corrupt, and at the whims of powerful interests. The judges and police operate out of fear, not because they want to do the right thing. Laws are simply invented and used for political purposes and self interest.
SURROGACY.RU: What would be your advice to anyone willing to arrange for surrogacy in Ukraine?
Jeanette Runyon: Considering the complications of citizenship as well the seemly fluid nature of the rule of law in the Ukraine I would advice people *not* to go to the Ukraine for surrogacy. It happened to me. It could happen to them.
SURROGACY.RU: Mrs. Runyon, we thank you for this interview.