So, lots of thoughts this past week. I was thinking of actually writing two blog posts but then everything got jumbled in my head.
First- let me scream it: THE SURROGATE PARENTING CENTER OF TEXAS, founded and directed by MERRITT TURNER PATTERSON of Dallas, Texas; specifically the Park Cities People. This was the egg donor “agency” that screwed us over two summers ago. You remember right? Here’s the story again if you forgot:
I lost DIJ in March, which wrecked us. That pregnancy was from IVF #8, donor egg at Cornell. We had no clue what was wrong with either of us since every test came back perfect, so we decided to swap something out to see if it worked. Our first Cornell egg donor backed out a few weeks before because she wanted time to visit her sister in California. Ok. So then we had to wait some more for a second donor, and at that point we honestly didn’t even glance at her profile. Is she proven? Great, let’s go. It worked the first time with the egg donor until 20 weeks when DIJ slowly passed away in my womb. (Now we know it’s because of the Celiac disease, as I wasn’t getting nourished myself, so how could I grow a fetus?)
Once we lost DIJ, we were completely at a loss as to our next steps. We were so wrecked that we decided to take both of us out of the picture and use proven donor egg, proven donor sperm and a surrogate. We also explored adoption and met with three separate adoption agencies, assuming we’d go on all burners at once.
We were matched with the awesome Kelly in Dallas, and I flew down there for her first appointment at SIRM. We were talking to the nurse and she said a great egg donor had just come through, provided a whopping five CGH normal blasts, and she wanted to donate again in two months. I said- can I get her? I don’t even care what she looks like! The nurse said she goes through an agency called The Surrogate Parenting Center of Texas, however SIRM usually did not like working with SPCT, as often the donors were unreliable, were late to appointments, didn’t do the meds correctly, etc. I will never forget sitting there hearing the nurse say this- it raised a little of a red flag but I thought it’s not a problem, she just donated, knows the drill and the nurse mentioned that this donor was actually very responsible and unlike the others.
So, I called SPCT immediately and said can I please have donor #123. Merritt said, sure, of course, I just need $9,000 right away- $5,500 for the donor comp, and the remainder for the agency fee. I also remember thinking it was weird to pay so much for the agency fee, as she really wasn’t doing much for me. I came to her with the donor I wanted!! This whole time I thought I was simply speaking to a Merritt Patterson, egg donor coordinator, as that was what her email said. At no point did she ever let on that she was the owner, as well as the only employee.
She told me I had to pay in two separate installments, which again I thought was odd. Also, I did not receive a receipt for one of the payments, and when I tried to get her on the phone to ask for it, it became difficult- always to voicemail. I tried her again while sitting in my car and she finally picked up. She sounded very confused, and kept saying to herself why so and so would have printed it out like that, and not sent me a recipient. I remember asking to speak to whoever this person was, but she said that she would take care of it. Again, I was under the impression that SPCT had multiple employees, including a finance person. That whole conversation was a farce, an act.
Soon we were all set- Kelly got her calendar for meds and I was told the donor was on birth control. The evening before the donor was to come to SIRM for her first suppression ultrasound I received an email from Merritt. She said that the egg donor emailed her that she got into a small car accident, the doctor wanted her held overnight for observation, and the doctor said she must stop the birth control pill while in the hospital. Hmm, now color me an idiot, but aren’t we all told that if you skip just one pill you can lose the contraceptive ability of it? Have you ever heard of a doctor telling a woman to stop her contraceptive? Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous? But, of course, I believed Merritt, why wouldn’t I? Now I look back and can only imagine what she thought of me, and how DUMB I was to believe that. I still can’t believe I bought that story.
So, we waited and waited and the egg donor never got back in touch. Everything was cancelled. Kelly had to stop her medications, and I had to pay her a cancelled cycle fee because she had already begun injectibles. I don’t remember now how much that was, but it was at least over $1,000. Add that to the tab.
Merritt says she is dedicated to finding me a new donor and starts sending me profiles. It’s obvious from the beginning that she’s sending us anything, as none of them really fit the profile we filled out. One was not proven, which was our #1 priority, one had had an STD in the past (really, Merritt?), things like that. All the profiles were sent via PDF and basically were snapshots that had been taped to a piece of paper that had been scanned in. It was so unprofessional, especially after coming from Cornell (and then afterwards, working with The Donor Solution which is also a tiny agency but seeing how she put together these wonderful profiles.) DH and I knew we had to get OUT. We emailed Merritt and said we’d like to leave the agency, but she kept dragging us on and on, saying she’ll find us an egg donor. (A few years later a man reached out to me after reading my story one of the IF forums I wrote on, and it turns out Merritt was sending both of us the same profiles at the same time.)
The letter to terminate our contract went out, and thus began a cat and mouse game to try and get our money back. I just went back and re-read all the emails back and forth (or rather, her lack of reply and if she did reply, only one or two evasive sentences and never answering our questions), and I was going to copy and paste them here for you. But I am so utterly disgusted that I don’t even have the stomach to do it. We got the “check is in the mail” run around, Merritt said she mailed the check to DH’s office, she could never provide a FedEx tracking number, etc. Another example of where she must have thought we were idiots- have any of you fellow IFers EVER used your work address for something as personal as IF? Sure, I had meds delivered at my office a few times, but never would I have correspondence, especially from an egg donor agency, sent to my husband’s place of work! Is she for real??
It took the threat of legal action to finally pin down a FedEx number, and four months after we terminated our contract we received a check for the donor comp, but not the agency fee. We feel this is not correct, as we fulfilled our part of the contract, where she did not. Additionally, I spoke to other, more reputable agencies and when asked what happens when a couple needs to terminate a contract do to a loss of a donor, the agency returns the fee minus about $400 in admin costs. I felt this was reasonable and fare, but my requests were replied to by her ignoring me. I kept begging to speak with someone in the finance department to straighten this all out, and I felt it was odd that she never mentioned and took notice of my request. I didn’t understand why the egg donor coordinator was trying to deal with billing issues, and of course now I know she was a one-woman show.
Throughout the years, other SPCT victims have contacted me. One went to her “office” and found a closed and locked place, and when he asked the business next door they replied they rarely see anyone go in there. Eventually, there were a bunch of us who found each other online, including egg donors who went through an IVF cycle and donate, but never got compensated. Which, in my opinion, basically means that Merritt stole the IP’s money. Who knows what she was doing with all this money. She most likely gave us the run around because she had spent our money instead of putting it in an escrow account like you are legally obligated to do. I should mention that Merritt lives in an extremely wealthy part of Dallas, she lives in a gated community, kids go to private school, she lives a very specific lifestyle. And here’s the kicker- running SPCT was NOT her main job! She is a gossip columnist/blogger/podcaster for the local newspaper/rag mag, the Park Cities People. She is ruthless, calling people out, snapping pics on her cell phone of people jay walking, things like that. She definitely created a persona, the whole while living a lie. I listened to one of her podcasts once and she paused for a moment and said, “oh excuse, I just want to check this email!” I was disgusted- what if that email was one of my tons of emails to her, asking where my egg donor or my money was? She was supposed to be working for ME, what the hell is she doing la-de-dahing talking about the differences between the two new coffee shops in the Park Cities? What the hell was my agency fee for??
A group of us got together and went to the media. A few newspapers were interested in our story, but the local ABC news affiliate decided to run a full five minute segment during sweeps week. DH and I were interviewed for it while in Dallas after the twins were born. Of course, the Park Cities paper defended Merritt and their response to the segment is ridiculous. The writer wanted to interview me but I was advised not to for various reasons. Now all of us wish we had, as it was extremely one sided.
One heartbreaking story is of a couple who can no longer go forward with their family building, as Merritt stole the last of the money they had to use for IF. Is that not disgusting?
So, I’m not sure how writing all of this will really help anyone, but I still wanted to write it. Man, I could go on and on, but I’ll stop.