Where Lexington's famous quadruplets are now

Gay couple, surrogate feuded; kids now live with dad in California

awilson1@herald-leader.comMarch 14, 2010 

  • Surrogacy in Kentucky

    In Kentucky, there is no statutory provision that directly addresses the validity of surrogacy agreements, but a state Supreme Court case and an Attorney General's opinion indicate that uncompensated agreements may be permissible. The issue of surrogacy agreements involving lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals has not yet been considered by Kentucky courts.

    SOURCE: Human Rights Campaign.

Platinum-haired Michael is the intensely focused one who plays the guitar and loves baseball. The reader, Tristan, loves school and does well at it. Twinkly-eyed Jacob is always smiling and is a darn good gymnast.

Taylor, well, she lives in her own princess room, despite the fact that she has three brothers born on the same day as her. She's a ballerina who plays with dolls and loves nothing more than to make daddy dress up for father-daughter dances. Pink is a good color with her pale skin and titian locks.

They're four good-looking kids who once, seven years ago as the newly born Meehan quadruplets, were big news around the world. Born to a gay Lexington couple with the help of a Jessamine County surrogate mother, the babies met the press with aplomb. Overnight, their biological father, Michael, and his then-partner, Thomas Dysarz, became the accidental flag bearers for a movement they never meant to champion.

"I just wanted to be a parent," says Meehan, now a California lawyer who works from home most days so he can do the afternoon shuttle duties to gymnastics, baseball, ballet and the library.

Instead of quietly becoming a Lexington father to four on July 26, 2002, Meehan answered nonstop phone calls from traditional and gay media. The story of the impending births had gone out on the news wires. There were calls from ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today. Diane Sawyer hustled to town to follow the new family for a segment for ABC's Primetime. The couple made the cover of leading gay magazine, The Advocate. ACE Weekly named them one of Lexington's Power Couples.

Truth was, gay couples using surrogate mothers to build their own families was something new. Any family having four babies at once via a surrogate was news. They were a double whammy of international buzz.

Not all of it was congratulatory.

But a lot of people in Lexington were kind and supportive, says Meehan, even in the face of protests from the many who didn't think the couple should be parents or who didn't agree with the priest at the Cathedral of Christ the King who baptized the children of such an arrangement.

The unusual family was supposed to fade into the fabric of Lexington after that. Meehan and Dysarz had, after all, expressed publicly their intent to be regular folks and raise their kids in peace. They said they wanted to stay together for the rest of their lives.

But the attention didn't stop. By the time the babies were 1 year old, surrogate mother Brooke Verity Cochran was pregnant with Thomas Dysarz's son, per a second surrogacy arrangement with the couple. Her request to terminate her parental rights to the quadruplets was in trouble. An attorney appointed to represent the children before a Jessamine County family court judge had issued a report advising against the termination of rights. The report said the children needed a mother and a father.

By the time the babies were 2, Meehan had fled town with his four children in order to get as far away from Dysarz as he could, he says.

Meehan and Cochran have not seen or heard from each other since he left in 2004.

Cochran and Dysarz have not seen or heard from each other since 2006.

Meehan and Cochran say there are lessons here. And they have been hard in the learning.

Michael's Story

"My goal was to be a father. I didn't want the attention. I had a different view of it than Thomas did."

Co-owners of Lexington's two Planet Salons at the time of the births in July 2002, Meehan and Dysarz had been in a committed relationship for four years before deciding to become parents together. While Meehan would be at home with the children, he had expected a full partner in parenting. He says that never happened.

Famously quoted years ago in the Herald-Leader, Dysarz said the four newborns were "a breeze." Meehan said, on the contrary, that friends would come over and be surprised when Meehan would ask them to please help him wash out bottles or rock this one or do a load of laundry. It was hard work and he loved it, but he wasn't getting any help.

"Look at any couple, add children, that changes the dynamic," he says. "Children cause tension in a regular traditional relationship. We had four children all at once. With one, maybe you can be spontaneous and pick up and go and do things. With four, you just can't."

Meehan says once people started to "root for us to fail, even at the salon," things fell apart.

Meehan now says the initial rift between the couple was precipitated by the unusual success of the in vitro procedure. Very early on, it was discovered that Cochran was carrying five embryos. Doctors worried about the health of both the fetuses and of the mother.

Meehan and Cochran struggled with the choice, then decided together they would clinically reduce the number of fetuses to four. Dysarz was incensed. Both Dysarz and Meehan were Roman Catholics.

It's disputed when the pair ceased living as a couple. Meehan says it was before the babies were born. Dysarz would tell a court that it was after that. In either case, they stayed in the same house and shared expenses. By mid-2004, the men had separated and swapped allegations of abuse in open court. Dysarz was denied visitation with the quads.

Unhappy, exhausted and needing to protect his children, Meehan says he left the state for good in late 2004.

Still very guarded about his children and his life, Meehan gives up few details. He has been in a committed relationship for the past six years with former Lexingtonian Jamie Cline, a hospital administrator. Together, they have raised the quadruplets who, Meehan reports, are healthy and have no disabilities that can typically be found in those born prematurely.

The kids have been at the same school for three years and have lots of friends.

He would, he says emphatically, change nothing about what happened "because I have them."

He says he hopes that all the hubbub stirred up in the national press somehow paved a way for gay couples to approach surrogacy, but he never meant to do that.

"I hope people got to see there were more acceptable ways to define family out there than a mother and a father and two kids. That's just not the reality of most people's lives."

Parenting is, however, exactly what Meehan expected, he says.

"It's not all ease, happiness and joy. I had to work pretty hard to have them."

Brooke's Story

Cochran says Meehan left with the babies in 2004 and never told her where he was going. She says she was promised a picture every year at the very least. She says there is a contract that says they will know her as "Aunt Brooke" until they are old enough to comprehend that she is their mother. Further, that they could even vacation together along with her own children.

She has received no pictures and had no contact with the quadruplets for six years.

"Those are my kids," she says. "It's like I don't exist anymore."

But, she says, she is confident that Meehan is "a good father, a good person, that the children are not at risk."

In January 2003, Thomas Dysarz and Cochran contracted to have a baby in a similar surrogacy arrangement as the one she had with Meehan. The idea, Cochran says, was for Dysarz's biological baby and Meehan's biological babies to have a connection while they all grew up together in the same house.

They were not living together at the time, she reminds now. "They didn't have any such intent."

Dysarz's child, Branden Lane, was born Jan. 9, 2004.

Cochran has had visitation rights with him from the beginning and, eventually, in a messy custody case, was given full custody of the child when Dysarz failed to show up in court.

"Let's just say I had Branden on a Wednesday and he was back in my arms on a Monday because Thomas complained that all he did was cry."

The youngest of four children she now has at home with her third husband, Branden has legally been given a new last name, she says. He is "a happy momma's boy."

As for the quadruplets, she says she doesn't know what Meehan has told them about her but she will not disrupt their lives. She will, however, "go looking for them when they turn 18. They should be given the choice about whether or not they want to know me."

The termination of Cochran's parental rights has never been taken up again. It is an issue Meehan has said he will revisit soon. Cochran is unlikely, she says, to give up those rights now, even though she tried to do so in May 2003. A surrogacy contract was signed by both Meehan and Cochran before the babies were conceived.

Shirley Zager, director of the Organization of Parents through Surrogacy, says nothing about the Meehan-Dysarz-Cochran surrogacy agreement adhered to a standard that safeguards the surrogate mother or the parents of the child born through surrogacy.

The role of the surrogate mother, says Zager, is never to parent the child she gives birth to. Neither is it to claim parenthood at a later date.

"It sounds like they flew by the seat of their pants," says Zager, head of the nonprofit group based in Gurnee, Ill. "By cutting so many corners, by not getting the proper legal counseling and by not getting any psychological guidance, they created their own mess. It's really an aberrational case."

Cochran says there's not a day she doesn't think about those four children.

In both pregnancies, she feels she was lied to about what Meehan's and Dysarz's lives were like and what their intentions about "living the rest of their lives together and all that" were. Her disappointment in them has nothing to do with their sexual orientation, she says. That didn't matter to her. It had to do with them.

"I don't regret what I did," she says, "but I regret who I did it for."

Thomas' story

Meehan says he has no knowledge of where Dysarz is. "Maybe one of the A states," he says.

Cochran says she has not heard from Dysarz since the last time the two tangled in court over custody of Branden.

In November 2006, she received an emergency temporary custody order for Branden. That order became permanent in December 2007 when Dysarz failed to show up in court.

She, too, has no idea where he is.

Neither Meehan nor Cochran has made overtures to find Dysarz in the intervening years. They have not heard from him.

Court records list Dysarz's last known address in Alabama. The Herald-Leader found an address in Florida. Phone numbers at each location were disconnected. Dysarz did not respond to messages left at a social networking site.

On Feb. 1, 2010, after two contempt of court orders were issued and ignored, Jessamine County Family Court Judge C. Michael Dixon issued a warrant for Dysarz's arrest for the non-payment of child support to Cochran.

The arrest warrant was not something Cochran says she wanted but in order to receive state medical aid for the treatment of febrile seizures that Branden has previously experienced, the state needs to be able to find all sources of possible support.

In the interim, Cochran is raising her youngest son and "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears contributed to this report. Reach Amy Wilson at (859) 231-3305 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3305.