Crystal Kelley ran through the calendar once again in her head.
It was August, and if she got pregnant soon, she could avoid carrying during the hot summer months -- she'd done that before and didn't want to do it again. There was no time to lose.
But there was one problem: She had no one to get her pregnant.
Kelley picked up the phone and called a familiar number. What about the nice single man who'd inquired before -- would he be interested? No, the woman told her. She hadn't heard from him in weeks.
Disappointed, Kelley asked if there was anyone else who would hire her. She'd had two miscarriages herself and wanted to help someone else with fertility problems. In return, she'd get a $22,000 fee.
Hold on, the woman said, let me see.
Yes, she said, there was a couple who wanted to meet her. Was she ready to take down their e-mail address?
Absolutely, Kelley answered.
A playground meeting
Most surrogacies have happy endings, and this one should have too -- with a couple welcoming a new baby into their home and Kelley enjoying her fee, plus the satisfaction that she'd helped another family.
Instead, it ended with legal actions, a secretive flight to another state, and a frenzied rush to find parents for a fragile baby.
After speaking with the surrogacy agency, Kelley, then 29, arranged to meet the couple at a playground near her home in Vernon, Connecticut, a suburb of Hartford. When she arrived, she liked what she saw. The couple was caring and attentive with their three children, who were sweet and well-mannered and played nicely with her own two daughters. The couple desperately wanted a fourth child, but the mother couldn't have any more babies. Yes, Kelley told them right then and there. Yes, I will have a child for you.
CNN made several unsuccessful attempts to contact the couple by phone and e-mail.
The couple had conceived their children through in-vitro fertilization and had two frozen embryos left over. Doctors thawed them out and on October 8, 2011, put them in Kelley's uterus.
About 10 days later, a blood test showed she was pregnant -- one of the embryos had taken.
Kelley and the parents were thrilled, and over the next few weeks, the mother was attentive and caring. When Kelley had morning sickness the mother called every day to see how she was feeling. She gave Kelley and Kelley's daughters Christmas presents. When Kelley couldn't make rent, the mother made sure she got her monthly surrogate fee a few days early.
"She said, 'I want you to come to us with anything because you're going to be part of our lives forever,' " Kelley remembers.
'There's something wrong with the baby'
"Congratulations! You made it half through!" the mother emailed Kelley on February 6.
It was one of the last friendly e-mails between Kelley and the woman who'd hired her.
A few days later, Kelley, five months pregnant, had a routine ultrasound to make sure the baby was developing properly. The ultrasound technician struggled to see the baby's tiny heart and asked her to come back the next week when the baby would be more developed.
At that next ultrasound, the technician said it was still hard to see the heart and asked Kelley to go to Hartford Hospital, where they could do a higher-level ultrasound.
Apparently, there was more to it than that.
As Kelley was driving home, her cell phone rang. It was the baby's mother.
"She kept saying, 'There's something wrong with the baby. There's something wrong with the baby. What are we going to do?' " Kelley remembers. "She was frantic. She was panicking."
Then the midwife called. She told Kelley the ultrasound showed the baby had a cleft lip and palate, a cyst in her brain and serious heart defects. They couldn't see a stomach or a spleen.
The next ultrasound was three days away, and Kelley grew increasingly anxious with each passing day. By the time she walked into Hartford Hospital on February 16, 2012, she was 21 weeks pregnant and "absolutely terrified" of what the ultrasound would show and what the parents' reaction would be.
An emotional standoff
With the parents standing behind her, the ultrasound technician at the hospital put the wand on Kelley's stomach. The test confirmed her worst fears: It showed the baby did have a cleft lip and palate, a cyst in the brain, and a complex heart abnormality.
The doctors explained the baby would need several heart surgeries after she was born. She would likely survive the pregnancy, but had only about a 25% chance of having a "normal life," Kelley remembers the doctors saying.
In a letter to Kelley's midwife, Dr. Elisa Gianferrari, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Hartford Hospital, and Leslie Ciarleglio, a genetic counselor, described what happened next.
"Given the ultrasound findings, (the parents) feel that the interventions required to manage (the baby's medical problems) are overwhelming for an infant, and that it is a more humane option to consider pregnancy termination," they wrote.
"Ms. Kelley feels that all efforts should be made to 'give the baby a chance' and seems adamantly opposed to termination," they wrote.
The letter describes how the parents tried to convince Kelley to change her mind. Their three children were born prematurely, and two of them had to spend months in the hospital and still had medical problems. They wanted something better for this child.
"The (parents) feel strongly that they pursued surrogacy in order to minimize the risk of pain and suffering for their baby," Gianferrari and Ciarleglio wrote. They "explained their feelings in detail to Ms. Kelley in hopes of coming to an agreement."
The two sides were at a standoff. The doctor and the genetic counselor offered an amniocentesis in the hope that by analyzing the baby's genes, they could learn more about her condition. Kelley was amenable, they noted, but the parents "feel that the information gained from this testing would not influence their decision to consider pregnancy termination."
The atmosphere in the room became very tense, Kelley remembers. The parents were brought into the geneticist's office to give everyone some privacy.
After a while, Kelley was reunited with the parents.
"They were both visibly upset. The mother was crying," she remembers. "They said they didn't want to bring a baby into the world only for that child to suffer. ... They said I should try to be God-like and have mercy on the child and let her go."