Though overwhelmed with joy to welcome their twins to the world at the start of the year, Tammy Myers and her husband, Jordan Myers, are facing adversity as a result of an outdated and little-known Michigan law. But that isn't the only reason their journey to expand their family has been a difficult one.
In February of 2015 at the age of 33, while trying for their second child, Tammy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the course of the past five years, Tammy has completed 18 rounds of chemotherapy, 28 rounds of radiation, and over 25 surgeries. Cancer has taken a heartbreaking number of things from the Myers, including Tammy's ability to carry another child. Through it all, they held their heads high and remained strong.
Tammy has become a public servant to her cause and her community by partnering with Van Andel Institute, Spectrum Health, The American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and many more foundations to raise awareness and funding for cancer research. While fighting for her own life, she became a source of inspiration and hope for other women facing similar life struggles by sharing her own story in the public eye on her blog and speaking at countless seminars and events across the state.
Now that Tammy is cancer free, the Myers are starting to get back the lives they had before cancer. Through social media, Tammy and Jordan met Lauren Vermilye, who carried and delivered Tammy and Jordan's twins—a little boy, Eames Alexander, and a little girl, Ellison Erin Jewel—at 32 weeks on January 11th, 2021.
"We knew that it would take a very special person to be willing to carry our biological babies, but we didn't really understand the depth of gratitude we would feel for Lauren until we felt our babies kick from inside Lauren's womb for the first time," Tammy said. "It is a feeling that is impossible to put into words. We are just in awe that someone we didn't know before this process would be willing to selflessly bless our family in this way."
Now that the Myers twins have arrived, the only request Tammy, Jordan and Lauren have is that the State of Michigan recognize the Myers as the legal parents to their babies. Unfortunately, the road to completing this request has been a rough one.
The State of Michigan has not updated the Surrogacy Act since 1988, which Tammy notes is mind-blowing considering the technological advances in fertility over the past 33 years. In short, this means there's not a clear path to obtain legal rights for babies born via gestational carrier or surrogate in Michigan, making Michigan one of only two states who have not updated surrogacy laws with technological advances in infertility and family building
"We knew it would be tricky to obtain my maternal rights, given the laws in Michigan haven't been updated since 1988 when it was impossible to carry a child that was not biologically your own," Tammy said. "However, we knew that 72 pre-birth orders have been granted to intended parents like ourselves in the past 10 years throughout the state of Michigan, so we did have a great deal of hope."
Despite the outdated laws, several judges across the state have declared both of the biological/intended parents to be the legal parents in a pre-birth orders under the compassionate surrogacy case. This is what Tammy and Jordan had hoped would happen in their case. Unfortunately, it did not.
Their first blow came when they found out their assigned Kent county judge not only dismissed their case to obtain maternal and paternal rights to the babies, but also denied their request for a hearing. According to the Myers, the judge denied their request in under 45 minutes—less time than it takes to read through the more than 50-page legal document submitted, and was not willing to hear their side.
Their first judge, Judge Zemaitis, retired after dismissing their first case. Judge Noto was the second judge assigned to the Myers' second case. He also denied the family legal rights and did not grant a hearing to hear their side.
"To be completely honest, we truly believed that no judge could listen to our story and all of the challenges we've faced in order to grow our family and then look us in the eyes and deny us the rights to our biological children," Tammy said. "We were also very confident that even if I was denied my maternal rights, Jordan's legal rights to the babies would be recognized under the Paternity Act of 1956. We were floored to hear that the judge was denying both maternal and paternal rights to our biological children. We have also struggled to understand why neither judge has granted us a hearing."
Mellisa Neckers, a family law attorney from Miller Johnson in West Michigan, is representing the Myers, alongside Dion Roddy, who is representing their gestational carrier, Lauren and her husband. Tammy says Neckers has filed a second case requesting that the State of Michigan at the very least recognize Jordan's Paternal rights under the Paternity Act of 1956, however this second case was also dismissed by the Kent County Judge, again without granting The Myers request for a hearing.
"It has been a hard five years for our family, but Lauren and these babies have brought so much happiness and joy to our lives," Tammy said. "For the first time in a very long time, our family has been hopeful and excited for our future. The hardest part of all of this is the emotional toll it has taken on our family. Instead of being overwhelmed with the joy and excitement that parents typically feel when welcoming a baby into the world, we are also filled will fear, anxiety and sadness because of the legal battle that has consumed our world."
Tammy, Jordan and Lauren are now more determined than ever to fight for an update to the surrogacy laws in Michigan so other couples don't have to face the same legal and emotional hardships they have.
"We know it's unlikely we'll be able to change our own outcome, however, we would love for our story to open people's eyes to the injustice that has come from Michigan's outdated laws and the decisions of many Kent County judges," Tammy explained. "We are not the first family in Kent County to have faced these legal challenges, but it's our greatest hope that we will be the last. It's time for Michigan to update the laws surrounding gestational surrogacy so judges have a clear path to granting biological parents like us the legal rights to their children."
The Myers are extremely grateful to the West Michigan community for all of the support and love they've received over the past few weeks.
"It has been truly amazing to witness what is possible when a community comes together to fight for what is right," Tammy said. "Ultimately, our goal is to push Michigan lawmakers to update the laws surrounding gestational surrogacy in Michigan. Although there will come a time when more action is necessary, our attorney believes raising awareness to the outdated laws in general and the injustices that are taking place are currently the most important actions our community members can take."
Tammy specifically noted how grateful she was for the amazing care and guidance the family received from their specialists at The Fertility Center of West Michigan and their NICU team at Spectrum Health's Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.
"Our medical team has truly become family over the past two weeks and has gone out of their way to welcome us with open arms," Tammy said. "Inside of the walls of the NICU, we are recognized as the true parents to our twins, Eames and Ellison. We will be forever grateful for the care and compassion they have shown our family during this difficult time."
You can read more about the Myers, Tammy's journey with breast cancer, their surrogacy journey, and their fight for legal rights to their biological babies on Tammy's blog at mypersonalpinktime.org.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor of West Michigan Woman.
Photo courtesy of Tammy Myers.