Category Archives: Jennings Paige

Around mid-2011, I got a text from this guy. It was all stiff and formal. Like “Hi Jennings. This is Dave’s friend, Ryan.” 😐 like that was it. But I was in this giggly silly mood that day, and my first thought was Hudson’s middle name is Ryan. This guy is named Ryan. So I texted him back, “Ryan!  Let’s get married!  That way my son’s middle name will match your first name! 😁👍🏻”

And then?  Nothing. Bitter silence. One heartbeat later when I didn’t see the …typing…dot dot dot… thing, I wrote him off as a humorless tool and went about my business editing photos. I always thought my friend Sabrina’s husband, Dave, was a funny guy, but his friend was sure boring. Oh well. Also, I had no room for men who weren’t awesome in my world back then.  I was 30 years old, still young and fun and full of good and bad ideas.  The politician was texting me at the same time wanting to take me out again, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Then there was the old guy I couldn’t seem to get rid of. He made me laugh, so I put up with the rest of it. In any case, I wasn’t desperate for any boring losers with no sense of humor. So I forgot about Dave’s square friend. Ryan Squarepants missed out. Too bad for him.
Hud’s middle name really is Ryan, though. I can’t tell you why I wanted him to have that name. I just liked it, and I liked the way it sounded with Hudson. Before I adopted him, and before he was born, I was discussing his name with his birthmother and told her I wanted it to be Hudson Ryan. She liked the Hudson part, but said she always liked the name Ryder. I wanted to let her make that decision and give him his middle name, but I am just not a mom to a Ryder. I insisted on Ryan, and she didn’t mind. I still think that’s a classy, smart-sounding name. It doesn’t really go with Hudson’s personality, but the boy has a good name at least. He was a year and a half old and had recently been abandoned by my first husband, who had some sort of mental breakdown before Hudson was even a year old. I was thinking of all that stuff during the short text exchange with Ryan. Although I wasn’t serious about the boring guy in San Diego, I was thinking how nice it is when a child is named after their father, and their father is a good dad. My kids didn’t have a dad, which is so weird considering how much trouble it was for my ex to adopt them and become their dad in the first place – but enough about Voldemort, this story is about Ryan and Hudson.
Anyway, three days later, my phone totally blew up with text after text after text. All from Ryan Squarepants, of all people. Turns out he texted me on the way up a mountain in San Diego where he and Dave were going to camp. He asked for my number and texted hello right before losing cell service for the duration of the camping trip.  He got my funny marriage proposal text and realized quite a few texts later that his responses weren’t going through.  So while I was writing him off as the lamest dude on the planet cuz he couldn’t take a joke, he was trying to joke and talk right back. His responses were really funny, actually, when I finally got them three (years) days later. They started in the middle of a 3-day-old conversation all chatty and full of lol’s and stuff. Normal.  The dude was normal. Then his texts became one-sided on his end and he texted that I probably wasn’t getting these messages. Then he started worrying about that (as he should have because he was already dead to me by then) and finally he set off on a five-mile hike to the top of a mountain peak somewhere around San Diego to see if he could get cell service to send the messages. He said it was a nice hike, but no luck on service. None of the messages came through until they drove back down the mountain to civilization and cell service.  As another fellow camping lover, it was easy to forgive Ryan for his silent treatment.  By the time I was done reading all of his messages, I changed my mind about him completely. He wasn’t boring. He WAS funny, and charming, and smart and nice. I liked him after all. A lot, as it turned out.
To make a long story short, he asked me out. We met at Disneyland and had the best first date ever. He moved for me, he proposed, we got married and he adopted the kids. Now, no kidding, Hudson is named after his dad, who he didn’t even meet until he was almost two years old. Now, all I need is some film clips to go with some photos of Ryan and Hudson together.  They look alike, too, which is super weird.  No one would ever guess our kids are adopted by looking, or that Ryan is actually the most recent addition to our family.  But life is strange and wonderful like that, isn’t it?
I have many a story about my funny little family. This is just one of them. I want to help you tell your family story. One day, it will make the very best memories for yourself and your family.  You need a Storybook Session, just to remind you what your family was like at this time in your lives.  You think you have all this time, but here we are 6 years later, and I honestly don’t have that many good pictures of Hudson and Ryan.  But this sequence….takes my breath away.  It was shot by the fabulously talented Toki Lee in Pasadena in 2014.  Hudson was 4 and Gracie was 8.  Their adoption became official the following year, but Ryan was the kids’ father from the day they met.  He was always meant to be the one.  This photo sequence is printed on a beautiful canvas in Hudson’s room where he can see it every day and know how loved he is.
Do you have an interesting or entertaining story about your family?  If so, we would love to hear it. Introducing new monthly storybook session giveaways for the family with the best story that we can feature on the blog or website. Text 805-490-1180 for more details. Win a free storybook session with me and a pro videographer and keep the slideshow!  Giveaway also includes a huge spending credit for anything we offer!

So I looked at my last blog post just not and saw that it was in May.  May…June…it’s July…..that’s pretty good for me!  I blogged just a couple of months ago!  And then I saw that it said 2017 next to the month.  WHAT?!  I HAVEN’T BLOGGED IN OVER A YEAR!?!??  I’M THE WORST!!!  All I can say for myself is….Facebook.  I live there, in iphone land, while I pretend to parent Gracie and Hudson in real life.

It’s summer, so the kids are home from school and for the first time, I didn’t put them in any kind of summer camp.  They just wanted to stay home like little slugs.  Gracie, at 12, is really into making art.  She draws, paints, sews and sculpts all day, every day.  She lives in an online art community of kids who draw things for each other and send them online.  It’s awesome.  I can’t discourage such a thing.  Even her friends from school are artists.  She has a couple of little girl friends who come over and hole up in her room with her to make art.  The only time I ever see them is when they make animated videos and need to film each other somewhere outside of Gracie’s bedroom.  Really, I can’t complain.  As long as I leave her alone to work on her art, she’s a happy girl.  She never bothers me to take her places or buy her things.  She just hopes I don’t drag her away from her nest to go on a Jeep adventure.  She’s sick of my adventures.  The kids are kind of Jeep’d out.  Not me. My Jeep addiction is going strong.

Hudson is 8 now.  He was diagnosed with ADHD.  We tried changing his diet, using nutritional supplements and this light/sound therapy before resorting to medication.  I was hesitant to give him any kind of prescription medications due to the fact that he was born addicted to opiates when I adopted him.  He has a genetic history of drug addiction, so I didn’t want to put him on any controlled substances.  When Hudson was a newborn, I held him every day in the NICU while his tiny body went through drug withdrawals.  The doctors kept him very sedated so he wouldn’t suffer, but it was still a terrible time for me.  I’ll never forget the way he would stiffen up, jerk and sneeze a lot when he was so tiny.  He had a feeding tube the first few days because he wouldn’t eat.  By the third day, he took a bottle from me and ripped his own feeding tube out, though, and showed the doctors he was healthy and strong.  He was such a good baby.  For the first month, he was so sleepy from the anti-withdrawal medications, I didn’t even know what his cry sounded like.  He barely woke up enough to fuss over a dirty diaper or hunger.  The rest of the time, I just held him or wore him in a sling, and he slept.  Since then, he hasn’t had any developmental delays at all.  He has done well in school, except for his hyperactive tendencies.  To make a long story short, after trying several holistic approaches to treat his ADHD, I finally just asked our family doctor for medication.  He prescribed low-dose Vyvanse and since then, Hudson has excelled in school and at home.  He’s a pleasure to be around.  He’s smart.  He can read! Really well!  He’s a changed boy.  So….in spite of my hesitation to medicate a boy once addicted to controlled substances, doing so has been wonderful for Hudson.  I’m just glad we don’t have a lot of the struggles with him that we used to.

He likes playing games – any kind of game – and he’s really good at most of them.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve played his first game of Monopoly, trying to go easy on him, only to have him make huge, bold moves and proceed to quickly beat all of us.  He is so good at Connect 4, he teases his opponents saying things like “don’t let me win just yet….” and then his opponent is dumbfounded and has no idea where to go next.  And damn if Hudson doesn’t do exactly what he says he’s going to do.  Every time.  He’ll be like “I’m gonna roll a 3 and a 4, take the pirate gold, and head back to my port.”  And then he’ll do it.  I don’t know if there’s some career in gaming, but if there is, Hudson will find it.

JPP is doing really well this year!  With a lighter workload, I’ve been able to put more time and energy into each session.  I filmed a commercial for my business earlier this year with the talented Jackie Palmer Films.  She managed to capture everything about me and what I do in just over a minute-long film.  Check it out here: commercial film JPP 2018.

Making the commercial inspired me to offer integrated film and photography sessions, which I’ve named Storybook Sessions.  Now they are my absolute favorite sessions.  It’s more work for me to make a slideshow incorporating film and the final images, but the results are so worth it.  These slideshows will be cherished by my clients for the rest of their lives.  I can see each one of them watching it ten years from now, saying how glad they are they had it done.  In fact, I want it done for my family.  Emily is a photographer now, and she’s really, really good.  She’s helped me film my storybook sessions, and I’ve also hired a videographer a few times.  They basically film my clients while I’m posing and photographing them.  Later, the final images are worked into the film clips, which are slowed down and set to music.  The emotional impact is intense.  Every one of them makes me choke up with tears, and laugh, and smile.  Imagine how the parents in the films must feel!  I need Emily to help me do my own family’s storybook session.  In the meantime, here’s one I made for the Lloyd family.  This is one of my first ever Storybook Sessions.  Judging by the parents reaction to the photos, I’d say it was a huge success! JPP Storybook Session

I’m trying to offer discounted Storybook Sessions to my former clients so they can try it.  Even if it’s something you only do once, I think every family should do it.  The memories we make last a lifetime.  The only regret you’ll have is not doing it more often.  It’s so worth the effort.  If you’d like more info on our $250 for $500 summer storybook session, call Dani at 805-490-1180.  🙂

Here’s a whole bunch of recent sessions I’ve done!

 

So, 2017 has been slow.  Painfully slow.  Mostly because we moved.  We were finally able to purchase our first home.  It’s a darling house in Thousand Oaks, built in 1960 but recently remodeled inside and out.  The property is large, but the house is small.  Whereas I used to have my studio and viewing room in my 3rd car garage at the old house, now we have no garage at all.  So, I had to have a good way to continue showing my clients their images and wall displays.  I had all the equipment but nowhere to put it.  My solution?  A custom shed built just the way I wanted and decorated to match.  I found the shed online at backyards unlimited.  The price included on-site installation.  So one day, a guy brought all the supplies and a ladder and a few tools, and he had the entire 10×16 foot shed built, roofed and finished in one day!  I think I did about four loads of laundry in the same time he erected a building.  There’s a quick way to feel incompetent!

After the shed was there, we had the task of finishing it, which was actually harder and more expensive than the building itself.  First, we had to run power to the shed so that I could run the AC or heat, the computer and projector, the lights and sounds.  In order to run power to the shed, we first had to run a lot more power to the detached garage.  We trenched the ground 50 feet from the main panel to the garage, and then from the subpanel there over to the shed.  Once it had a power line, the electricians still had to install outlets and recessed lights.  After all that was done, we had a new crew come in to drywall the inside.  Because of the barn style roof, there was a lot of added framing and detailed drywall work.  Then we painted the inside and the outside, including the trim.  Finally, we laid the flooring and furnished and decorated it.

Now that all the hard work is finally finished, I have the most amazing little studio behind the house!  The flower garden was my own ingenious idea.  Since we currently don’t have a sprinkler or watering system in the backyard, real flowers couldn’t survive out there without diligent gardening.  I’m the kind of gardener that kills any plants I touch.  I have a black thumb.  So…how about fake flowers!?!  I went to the 99 cent store and loaded up a cartful of purple and yellow flowers of all sizes.  And then for the first and last time, I was a diligent gardener as I carefully shoved about 200 fake flower stems into the dirt.  I love how it came out, though!  One day, the backyard landscaping will be an inspirational little walk to the she-shed through a beautiful garden.  For now, it’s cement blocks, wood chips and river rocks.  The shed is almost too cute for the backyard.  Therefore, clients should just hold off on judgment until we arrive inside the studio.

Now that my little shed is finished, business is flowing again.  It is so much easier to show my clients their images on a large slideshow than on a tiny computer screen.  The emotions are lost when photography is displayed on a cold computer screen.  The emotions are what I do this for!  My job means nothing if I can’t see the emotional impact my images have on my clients.  I get to watch their faces, hand them a tissue if they get choked up.  The studio also comes equipped with this amazing wall art software which allows me to show my clients their own images in exact sizes and in room displays to show scale.  Since most clients are not interior decorators with a good eye for measurements and aesthetics of wall art, the software takes all the guesswork out of it.  This allows my clients the freedom to play around with their images to see what display they want the most for their home.  The final products are always stunning, too.  There is no way to really appreciate a fine art photograph unless it is printed on a fine art medium.  The art medium brings images to a whole new level of art, and what better way to decorate your home than with the people you love most?

So, I am thoroughly enjoying the experience the studio shed has brought to my business.  My spiritual baby sister and former employee of forever has started her own photography business, too!  Emily Elizabeth Photography will be offering a Conejo Deal similar to the ones I have run in the past when I was just starting out in the Conejo Valley of California.  I think her deal will go live on June 1st.  Besides the fun session and beautiful images she will be giving to her new clients, they all get to see their photos in the new studio!   I hope the space and the experience is pleasant for everyone who comes!

Here are some progress photos of the studio as it was completed between December of last year and March of this year:


Okay, first a disclaimer:

I am a real professional business owner.  I am successful.  I have built this photography business from blood, sweat and tears for the last 11 years.  My kids have my business ingrained in their souls because once upon a time, we were forced to live in my commercial office building studio for a year and pretend we didn’t really live there.  My son, Hudson, thought my real name was “Jennings Paige Photography” until he was 4!  I am dedicated, fierce and intelligent about my business.  This one you’re reading this blog about.  I have a college degree from UCLA, and a Masters in business.  Oh and I’m a good photographer!  This has been my passion since I was a little kid.  My mom used to trade me 2 packs of Polaroid film cartridges for every time I let her cut my hair into a little bob.  Even when bob haircuts weren’t cool in the 80’s and 90’s, I got used to whoring myself out to my mom for film from a very young age.  I’ve tried and failed so many times in the last 11 years running this business, but I have also succeeded and grown and gotten better at it over the years.  JPP is a pretty serious business now.  People know me.  Thousand Oaks is kinda decorated with wall art of my work.  That’s awesome.  Anyway, I swear on my life, I am a real professional.  You can trust doing business with me.  I’m a good person, I use professional packaging and equipment (that’s proof!) and everyone unanimously loves their family photos.  That’s really cool.  My job is pretty damn rewarding nowadays.  It seems almost too easy, compared to where I was just six years ago.

Now that the disclaimer about being professional is out of the way, let the real fun begin!  Let’s focus on the personality of the person behind the camera, because that is more important than you realize.  I can see it.  I know exactly why my new clients are afraid to do family photos.  Usually, the mom forces the rest of the family to dress up for some lame photographer who directs you about, puts you in weird awkward stiff poses and then asks you, professionally, to smile.  This actually works with 1 out of 100 clients.  The other 99 though?  They fucking hate it.  They do it, but after the shoot, the whole family is usually irritated with the photographer and with Mom for making them do that boring shit again, just for the annual Christmas card or embarrassing formal portrait on the wall by the front door.  That’s a pretty accurate description of what most people expect with a professional family portrait session.  Am I right?  Expensive, awkward, not fun, lame thing to do just to appease Mom?  That’s how most of my clients show up to my shoots.  They’re fun for me, because I can take those people with extremely low expectations of how it’s supposed to go, and then I wow them with really funny antics.  I tickle their kids, I make fun of their dads, I threaten to spank the parents if they don’t do what I say.  I sing and dance and shake my booty at my clients.  If you are one, you already know this.  And you may already know that it’s the SOLE reason you like me and want me to take your pictures again with me next year.  Well, also because the results are natural and real with real smiles and genuine affection for each other, which is the key to magical family photos with real depth and emotion.

You’re probably here hoping to see some new pictures, examples of my recent work, etc etc.  I don’t think blogs should be about that.  You can look at three pics on my site and decide if you like my style or not.  For most photographers, blogs are simple marketing tools to keep people coming back to look at more beautiful photography.  That’s cool, and my hat is off to those who are able to pull this off and blog on a regular basis. I just can’t.  Whenever I think about blogging, I end up skipping it, because it bores ME.  Here’s family number 1,623 for you to look at and know nothing about.  *Snore.* Or here’s a post about my life or a story about this family that’s boring because it’s not funny.  Sorry about all my previous boring blog posts (the ones that are related to the business).

See, I’m not one of those real professional photographers.  Every time I try to be all professional and polite, my soul gets crushed just a little more.  I worked in a corporate environment for years as a college intern.  Before that, I watched my single mom and my aunt work in the same corporation – one of the huge Fortune top 50 corporations.  I’m quite familiar with the bullshit it takes to act like a professional, especially in a corporate professional sense.  It’s just that to me, though – bullshit.  Because…..once you work in a big corporation for awhile, you learn the behind-the-scenes truth.  The head of HR is having an affair with the Marketing Director’s wife and such nonsense.  The new graphic designer got hired because the new accountant got her friend a job he isn’t qualified for.  The factory workers’ criminal records and immigration status are overlooked at a professional corporation because the corporation doesn’t pay factory workers fair wages, etc.  Bullshit bullshit bullshit.  That’s pretty much my view of Corporate America.  The individuals that make up a company create the work culture.  That’s why some companies are awesome and respectable, while most companies are at least a little shady to very criminally shady.  Right?

I’ve been trying to act professional since I started my business back in 2006.  Like ohhhh, you better tone that personality, Jennings, if you expect people to respect you and pay for your photos.  Maybe someone said that stuff to me once upon a time, but most likely, I just made it up in my own insecure brain and told it to myself on repeat for a decade.

2017 has brought me a completely new perspective.  A lot of things I’ve been confused about are suddenly clear.  I can’t go into all of them, but this one is about this business.  I changed my mind about being “professional” in that sense.  I think my clients like me and return to me every year because I’m actually funny and inappropriate and seemingly quite unprofessional!  This was like a serious revelation.  OMG maybe, just maybe, if I stop trying to be “professional” and just let loose my real personality, my business will actually grow and prosper?  I guess I’m feeling confident enough to find out.  I’m gonna try it.  Prepare yourself.  Some of you will be offended and will never do business with me ever again.  Sorry, not sorry.  This is an excellent way to find out if you prefer the funny inappropriate photographer, or the quiet and serious artistic type, or just the professional and courteous type.  I can only relate to the first one – funny and inappropriate.

My real friends, the ones I really love to be with, think I am hilarious and I think they’re hilarious, too.  Just SOME of these funny people include my besties: Nicole, Sabrina, Emily, Julie, Gracie and Ryan.  Plus a ton of others who come and go in my life.  The funny ones are the ones you remember and love.  Just a simple self-test: would you rather watch a Ted talk or a stand-up comedian?  Hopefully, if you’ve had a good life, you don’t even know what a Ted talk is.  They’re about as thrilling as visiting the DMV.  Whereas one line from a good comedian can stick in your brain and make you feel fondness for the comedian forever!

Now I’m not pretending to be a stand-up comedian, but my inner circle thinks I’m really funny, and I think I’m really funny, mostly.  Sometimes I just amuse myself all damn day, just for the sake of comedy.  In fact, Emily have been on like a week-long bender of comedy.  It started with her buying a car for her and has progressed into something ridiculous.  We keep laughing so hard with each other, after about 12 hours I force her to go home so my abdomen muscles can relax.  Yesterday it was Korean BBQ in downtown LA, with jokes to my kids that we were actually visiting Skid Row, and then we ate five delicious slices of pie at House of Pies in L.A.  Oh and we toured the GINORMOUS Scientology building, which I didn’t even know existed!  It was TERRIFYING!  If you’re a Scientologist, just know that you’re certifiably insane and it isn’t funny anymore.

Yesterday’s adventures with Emily and I…..completely unrelated to anything about photography or business:


IMG_1042

 

Right about here is when Hudson called me from my husband’s phone and said “Mom?  I miss you….Can you please come home?”  To which I said, “Emily and I are finishing up eating pie, but don’t worry, we’ll bring you pie.”  And then he says in a very small voice, “Mom?  Can you pwease take me with you to Skid Row next time?”  (HAHAHA!)  “Sure, Baby.  Mama will take you to visit Skid Row sometime. See you soon!”

And then Gracie texted me, asking where we were.  My response and hers is shown below.  Try not to laugh at the picture she sent me.

 

As many of you know, Ryan and I lost our surrogate-carried twin babies, Julian and Aria, last January 29th, late in the second trimester of the pregnancy.  Sudden premature birth at 21 weeks caused the near-immediate death of our tiny, fragile children.  In fact, our surrogate’s husband held Julian and Aria as they died in his arms, while Ryan and I drove frantically to meet them at the hospital.  The day we met our beautiful twins was the day we said goodbye to them, along with our dreams, our life savings and the joy, the zest my husband and I used to feel for life in general. The death of our twins is nobody’s fault; we know that much.  There is no blame to be placed, and no particular event caused this loss.  Ryan and I did our best, our surrogate did her best, the doctors did their best.  We tried to do everything the correct way; we went through what we thought was a reputable surrogacy agency, we used a healthy surrogate and most of our legal contracts were done professionally and correctly, as far as I can tell.  To read my letter to my babies and the story behind their existence, please visit:  http://jenningspaige.com/2015/02/a-letter-to-my-babies/

twins goodbye107Our child loss has been compounded by the agency owners, Jon and Christy Anderson, who have repeatedly made and then retracted promises of good faith to continue helping us realize our dream of a living baby.  Jon and Christy Anderson did all of this for us and and three other Surrogacy Together couple in the name of charity.  As Jon explained to me in person back in April of 2014, Surrogacy Together’s goal is to bring awareness to the community, to help four couples a year who could not otherwise afford surrogacy and make it affordable by getting professional services donated to the four couples.  One of those professional services to be waived was the agency fees.  It only makes sense for a non-profit company to NOT profit off agency fees, right?  It does to me.  So.  Ryan and I agreed to be paraded by these people as one of the four Surrogacy Together couples online, in print, while speaking at an event they held, setting up fundraising accounts in our name, putting our story in magazines and on all of their websites to promote themselves, etc.  Like the other three couples, all of this was agreed to via e-mail, text and talk or in person.  Because all professional fees were supposed to be waived under Surrogacy Together, none of the couples were asked to sign an agency contract before entering into their charity arrangement with Surrogacy Together.  To my knowledge, the other three Surrogacy Together couples were never even asked to give anything back to the agency, although I was asked to trade plenty of free photography to their companies.  Seems to me, Christy and Jon are a little confused by what charity means.  We clearly did have a trade agreement in place (see emails below), and we were most definitely one of the 4 Surrogacy Together couples from 2014-2105.

img_8822img_8815screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-3-04-22-am
1619-bw-logoimg_8823a-baby-will-makeimg_3855surroloveimg_4555

1559515_693544947398604_6150777801824766542_o

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-3-13-22-am

 

image1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is also my opinion that the contract they made us sign was put together hastily without any attorneys to explain what we were signing, unlike all the other legal documents we signed.  I feel like we were coerced into signing their contract. Why?  Because Christy and Jon waited until we had a surrogate ready to cycle, embryos created, paid for and genetically tested, legal clearance was in, surrogacy contracts were in, medical clearance was done, and we had already taken a loan for $50,000 and placed it in escrow with another $8,000 good faith money for our baby, not to mention deeply emotionally invested once we had crossed all those hurdles.  The way the agency came up with this contract and had us sign it at the last minute is just immoral if you ask me.  Wrong. Bad.  Mean. Greedy.  We didn’t want them to delay our IVF cycle with our surrogate, so we signed the stupid contract literally days before our surrogate began medications to prepare her body for the transfer of our embryos.  I feel the timing and legitimacy of the contract we signed with Expect Miracles Surrogacy was and is….shady as fuck, just like its owners.  That is why I feel my husband and I were absolutely coerced into signing this document to prevent huge delays in our IVF cyle with our surrogate.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-2-58-29-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-25-at-2-59-00-pm

However, this “Special Consideration” appeared at the time to have me and Ryan covered.  We signed this assuming the writing meant the same as what we’d agreed to with the Andersons months before.  We thought this paragraph meant that after we got our baby (or babies) home, and all bills were paid for them, the agency would get to keep any leftovers in the escrow account if there were any money left over.  I feel like the wording in the whole contract is confusing and conflicting, but the EMS owners assured us our agreement was in place and it’s all outlined in this paragraph:

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-08-20-am

Ryan and I had no reason to suspect the Andersons had any bad intentions at that point.  We just thought it was strange how they asked for it at the last second and didn’t have a lawyer review it with us before signing.  Had we not signed this contract though we would have had to start over with our surrogate’s IVF cycle, which would alter everything about the process.  The costs go up and the success rates go down the more you mess around with a woman’s body and hormones and stress and timing with her job, etc.  I’ve been through this so many times, I am very familiar with statistics and facts surrounding fertility.  You don’t delay an IVF cycle over some small personal matter like the agency all of a sudden wants you to sign a contract before completing your IVF cycle.  You just don’t.

Everything went all fine and dandy after that, though.  Our cycle was not delayed over the contract because we signed it quickly enough.  Our surrogate got pregnant on the first try with healthy twins.  She and the babies grew beautifully, and to our knowledge, all professional services had been donated and most were already complete.  We paid the remaining balance to our escrow fund due for twins by 20 weeks gestation, and we watched Julian and Aria grow into beautiful, perfect little human beings with little unique personalities we could see on ultrasounds every couple of weeks.  The only thing left to do before finishing their nursery and throwing a baby shower was to establish our parental rights in court.  It wasn’t done.  
screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-06-24-am

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-10-35-am

 

By the end of 2014, I had completed 12 different photo shoots for Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together, and delivered hundreds of carefully retouched, high-resolution digital images to them to use however they liked.  The value of these services under my normal business costs totals over $40,000.  None of that was ever credited toward our journey in any way.  Not one dollar, not one parking fee, not one tank of gas was ever reimbursed or credited as promised.

Our embryos were well along the way in the process of being created at the fertility clinic with IVF.  Our surrogate started medications for the cycle, embryos were transferred in September, and we had a confirmed hearbeat by October 1st, 2014.  Clearly, the contract was done hastily at the last minute, and that has been the biggest hurdle ever since.  Money.  Of all things, we finally got shut down by money, even though we’d spent $75,000 to have these babies.  Can you blame me for thinking Expect Miracles Surrogacy is the worst surrogacy agency on Earth?  I think it’s a pretty fair conclusion to draw.

When the twins died, Ryan and I, the biological and in every other way REAL parents of these two babies, were not even allowed to have our names on their birth certificates.  Legally, they weren’t ours yet, and we were told by an attorney that the process to establish parental rights for deceased babies was tedious, expensive and basically pointless.  So, our surrogate and her husband are in fact the legal parents of our twins, and that means we have no rights to the medical records involved, although we still got to pay for all the burial/cremation expenses.  It’s a cruel world sometimes.  The grief, the loss of our twins was unspeakably bad.  Everything you’ve ever heard from a grieving parent is so true it rattles your bones when you have to join the awful club of bereaved parents and you start reading some of it, hearing some of it.  It’s forever a burden to us and to our surrogate that something tragic happened and there was nothing we could do to stop it, make it better or change it.

IMG_1347 bwMonths after our loss, we were all starting to heal a little and move forward.  We decided with the blessing of our doctors to start trying again for a baby, using the remaining embryos we still had from the original IVF cycle.  Our surrogate wanted to try again, and we wanted to give her the chance.  Our subsequent embryo transfers all failed, and we ran out of embryos by the end of 2015.  Ryan and I didn’t know what to do at that point, except to see what we had left and see if we could scrape up enough to make new embryos on an even tighter budget.

Sometime around the summer of 2015, Ryan managed to get a copy of the accounting from our escrow account, showing us what was spent and when.  Most of it looked legit to us, but then one thing stuck out like a sore thumb from two different escrow accounts – the first one we had when the twins were alive, and the second one we opened after they died.  It was that day that Ryan and I discovered several payments had been made, all payable to Expect Miracles Surrogacy, for thousands and thousands of dollars, during the pregnancy and after it ended as well.  Cue the eye bulge.  WHAT?!  WAIT WHAT???  $5,000 taken out here, $3,000 there, $5,000 there, $5,000 over here again, etc.  See below. The green ones came from the first escrow account when our surrogate was pregnant, but their dates are still way off.  Heartbeat was confirmed October 1, but they didn’t withdraw the fee until December 10th?  We were already in the second trimester when they claimed they were owed a fee due at HB (heartbeat).  The second green one is a withdrawal they seem to have made randomly and without good reason.  The white ones are from the second escrow account.  NONE OF WHICH WE SAW UNTIL LATE 2015, which was roughly 17 months after Jon asked US to be one of THEIR Surrogacy Together Couples and promote THEM!  In my opinion, this right here showed us that the people we trusted actually screwed us over really badly, and that makes them bad people who should be avoided like a nasty STD.  In my opinion, it is completely unreasonable to expect us to have a crystal ball and see what they were doing with our money.  We trusted they were doing the same thing for us that they were doing for the other Surrogacy Together couples.  We had no reason to suspect or look for anything like this:

 

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-30-41-amscreen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-30-53-amscreen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-32-17-amscreen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-32-29-am

 

We were particularly peeved when we saw that the largest of the deductions were taken against our knowledge or consent AFTER our babies died!  They died in January of 2015, so why were we billed an additional $14,000 in March, April and November 2015?  Why is that important, you ask?  Because it shows, at least in my eyes, BAD FAITH.  My husband and I, my children, my surrogate were all being advertised to the world as a charity case but still paying their full normal agency fees the whole time?  How the hell does that make any sense?  And for a pregnancy that was only halfway done and babies that had a 0% chance of survival?  Our surrogate certainly wasn’t paid her entire compensation fees, but EMS felt like the full amount was rightfully owed to them?  And totally unlike the other Surrogacy Together couples’ arrangements?  WHAT???  In my opinion, these “do-gooders” straight up scammed my family out of $22,000, and they’re standing behind a bullshit contract to defend themselves.  It just doesn’t sit well with me. I believe that while Jon and Christy Anderson originally did intend to help us have a baby, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to profit from our situation when it turned sour.  I believe they failed to provide invoices throughout the pregnancy and to this day in a weak attempt to deliberately hide their wrongdoings with our money. I also believe they lied to us for a very long time to avoid being sued or exposed by the truth about all of this.

Back to our story!  When we found the huge money withdrawals, Ryan contacted Christy right away to ask her what that was all about?  First, Christy claimed the withdrawals were a mistake and would be corrected:

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-1-56-40-am

Later, Christy seemed to change her mind.  She sent a follow-up email:

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-2-02-33-am

In conversations between Christy and Ryan over the phone, she assured him (and he then assured me) many times over the next several months that the full amount was still credited toward our “journey” to bring home a baby.  Our first surrogate was ready and willing to give up her pregnancy compensation completely to help us, and Ryan and I made the mistake of believing Christy when she said she was going to help.  We were never comfortable with them moving $22,000 of our dollars from the escrow account that was set up to monitor that money.  At the same time, we felt powerless to change it and bullied in an already awful situation.  We believed the best chance of having a baby was to move forward with the agency and hope they used our money to do it.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were comfortable or happy with the new arrangement; by then, we trusted them about as far as we could throw them.  Actually, I stopped wondering if Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together was shady to KNOWING they were.  That sucks.  Just when I thought I was getting better picking out the jerks from my life and avoiding them!

Not too long after we spent another $15,000 creating new embryos and we had no money of our own left in escrow, it was finally time for EMS to start paying for our expenses from our $22,000.  The very first bill was rejected, and an employee of theirs told us to talk to Christy about it again.  Again, my husband contacted her asking for more clarity.  We thought you said this, now you’re saying that, which do we believe now? That time, Christy didn’t respond, even when Ryan let her know in writing that we would take legal action if she didn’t respond.  She didn’t.

Based on the following email from Ryan, I so badly wanted to trust EMS so that we could move forward again.  We were down to just the $22,000 “invisible credit” of agency fees and they appeared not to budge on it.  I cut all ties with the agency and began seeking legal counsel at that point.

email-exchange-sarah-and-jennings-june-2016-1

What does a person do when she feels so wronged in such a situation?  I don’t fucking know, but here’s what I did.  I wrote bad reviews about their agencies on Facebook and on my photography blog and on Yelp.  I told the world I believe these people are scam artists disguising themselves as surrogacy advocates.  I said, and I still believe, that their actions were at least immoral and possibly even illegal.  I shared this story.  Within a few hours, I had a huge response from other people who felt they had been wronged in some way by the same couple – former employees, friends, surrogates and intended parents.  I contacted a well known and respected specialized attorney and shared our story with him.  He was so compelled by it, he offered to represent our case against Expect Miracles Surrogacy completely pro bono (that means free).  SWEET!  I wrote down his name in my bad reviews about Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together, because I thought that spoke volumes for our complaints.  I believed for the first time in over a year that someone good was going to fight some evil on our behalf.  He asked me to remove all of my bad reviews in an effort to show good faith while we try to work something out with the Andersons, out of court.  I did it right away and have not posted anything about it since.

Now Christy and Jon Anderson under Expect Miracles Surrogacy have hired an attorney and are now threatening to sue me for libel unless I go online on every social media platform and tell the world I lied and I regret every negative thing I ever said about Christy and Jon Anderson, Expect Miracles Surrogacy and Surrogacy Together.  Ha!  So much for my good faith efforts to shut up about this big fat freaking elephant in the room!  Their demand letter is so ridiculous to me, I just laughed and laughed when I read it.  Hilarious!  Here’s the funniest part:

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-2-37-48-am

Christy and Jon will do whatever they do.  Sue me for libel or don’t.  I really don’t give a shit anymore.  I’m not afraid of the truth like they should be.  I’ve made a lot of bad decisions based on emotions since losing Julian and Aria, but I haven’t lied to try and bring down some super great company that helps people create families.  I’m not worried one bit about a libel case against me for telling my story.  I’ll post my negative reviews of them right back up on all the social media platforms I can.  The Andersons probably won’t like it, but if they really want to spend thousands trying to prove that a negative review is the same as libel and defamation of character, I say go ahead.  I also think if they had thousands to burn in court, they probably wouldn’t have needed to take our money in the first place.  The burden of proof is on them in a case like this, not me, but I have the proof and the truth I don’t think they have.  It makes me wonder how many attorneys are getting rich off of bullshit libel and defamation lawsuits made against reviewers on Yelp and other consumer-reviewed websites.  Is there some law I’m not aware of that says companies are allowed to do anything they want and can sue you if they don’t like your review of it?  I suppose anything is possible – after all, Donald Trump is the freakin President!).  I just think telling the truth about our experience is a good thing, no matter how unfavorable the outcome may be for the business being reviewed.  I think potential surrogates or intended parents have the mental capacity to read reviews like mine and make their own decisions. If you’ve read this far, congratulations.  I know I am long-winded, forgetful and repetitive.  Thanks for hangin in there with me.

I strongly feel that it would be incredibly risky (and stupid) to trust, befriend or do business with the Andersons or their many companies, ESPECIALLY if it’s about Surrogacy.  In my opinion, if you see Expect Miracles Surrogacy or Surrogacy Together, RUN.  I think they are greedy bastards and their for-profit company needs to go down in flames, kinda like how their non-profit status got suspiciously suspended this year (hmmmmm, makes ya wonder…..).

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-2-53-09-am

If I can save one more person from being victimized by, in my opinion, the biggest couple of players in the surrogacy community, then it’s ALL worth it.