Even before Michael, Taylor, Jacob and Tristan were born in 2002, they were already Kentucky’s most famous children.
The quadruplets were born to a gay couple with the help of a 23-year-old surrogate mother, Brooke Verity Cochran. The couple, Michael Meehan and Thomas Dysarz, were emblematic of a nontraditional family built in a country struggling to accept its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. The men were featured on the cover of The Advocate, an LGBT magazine, were named one of Lexington’s power couples by Ace Weekly, and were interviewed on ABC’s “Primetime” with Kentucky native Diane Sawyer.
On July 26, the quadruplets, who now live in California with Meehan, will turn 15 years old. Their mother, Cochran, won’t be there to celebrate.
Cochran died unexpectedly in Lexington on Nov. 25 from chronic drug abuse, according to Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn. She was 37.
“I’ve always been proud of Brooke and how generous she was,” said Cochran’s mother, Kathleen Verity. “Being a surrogate multiple times showed just how selfless she was. I didn’t really care much about the media attention, and I know Brooke certainly didn’t do it for that. She just wanted to help.”
Ginn’s autopsy revealed that Cochran had seven drugs, including an opiate, in her system when she died. All the legal drugs in her system, including an anticonvulsant and an antidepressant, were at appropriate doses, but it was their combination and her history of drug abuse that caused her death, Ginn said.
Her husband, Scott Cochran, said his wife had been prescribed medicine for back pain, but her use of it “was beyond what she was prescribed.”
Cochran’s history of drug use isn’t unusual. Kentucky continues to fight a losing battle against an opioid abuse epidemic. According to Kentucky Health Issues Poll published in early May, “27 percent of Kentucky adults say they know someone who has abused prescription pain medication.”
Cochran’s life was a patchwork of broken relationships and courtroom dramas that weighed heavily on a woman described as loving, according to new interviews with Cochran’s friends and family. One current legal battle involves a teenage son whom Cochran gave birth to as a surrogate for Dysarz in 2004. The son is at the center of a messy custody case in Woodford County between Dysarz and Scott Cochran.
Custody battle ensues over son after death of surrogate in celebrated case
Brooke was first exposed to the legal side of love when she was 4. That’s when her parents divorced. After a year with her mother, she went to live with her father at age 5 and grew up in Ohio.
“She did ride horses competitively around the ages of 11 to 13 and won many awards,” Verity said. “She loved her horse Cochise as well as all other animals. I do remember she used to bring home injured animals and nurse them back to health, something she continued to do throughout her life.”
Brooke got pregnant at 17, in 1997, and she married the baby’s father at 18. The young family moved from Ohio to North Carolina.
There, when her firstborn, Cody, was 6 months old, the idea of becoming a surrogate mother struck her.
“He was so beautiful,” Cochran said in 2002. “And I looked at him and thought, ‘What would I do if someone told me I could not have him?’ God gave me the ability to have children. I’ve been given a gift that I can share with a couple who can’t have a child.”
Cochran and her first husband discussed the idea of surrogacy for some childless friends in North Carolina, but they changed their minds.
In 1998, Cochran’s family moved to Lexington. Not long after that, she became pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl. Two years later, she filed for divorce.
Cochran enrolled in law enforcement classes in 2001 at Lexington Community College, now known as Bluegrass Community and Technical College. She got her hair cut at Lexington’s Planet Salon, where she befriended the salon’s co-owner, Dysarz, a former Beverly Hills hairdresser who had moved to Lexington in 1998. Dysarz’s partner of four years was Meehan, a former California deputy sheriff and deputy district attorney who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the California legislature. Both men had discussed with Cochran their desire to become parents and were looking for a surrogate mother.
They visited Cochran’s home to see how she interacted with her children. Cochran peppered both men with questions and ultimately decided to give birth to their children.
Cochran and Meehan signed a contract: Meehan agreed to pay for her living and medical expenses in exchange for terminating her parental rights. The in-vitro fertilization, using Meehan’s sperm, took place on Jan. 6, 2002, at Lexington’s Good Samaritan Hospital.
The five best eggs were chosen to implant. Cochran was warned of the risks, including the possibility of an abortion, or “reduction,” if there were more than three babies. Cochran was pregnant with more than one child a week later. Five fetuses were ultimately found.
After meeting with Dr. Doug Milligan, a perinatologist at Central Baptist Hospital (now Baptist Health Lexington), Cochran was concerned about the risk of carrying five babies.
“I would die, or we would lose all the babies,” Cochran said in 2002.
Cochran and Meehan decided to reduce the number of babies to four. Dysarz didn’t agree.
“Thomas and I argued about it, but I had three other people to think about,” Cochran said in 2002, referring to her other small children who could have been left motherless.
Dysarz and Meehan went public with the news of the surrogacy on June 23, 2002. Cochran’s name wasn’t released at first because she feared for the safety of her children and the unborn babies. She also dreaded the reaction of people who oppose gay men raising families.
The four babies were born premature on July 26, 2002. Each one weighed roughly 3 pounds.
Cochran suffered from postpartum depression and pain after the births. She also faced a legal battle over her parental rights.
An attorney appointed to represent the quadruplets before a Jessamine County family court judge — Cochran moved around Central Kentucky — had issued a report advising against the termination of Cochran’s rights. The report said the children needed a mother and a father.
It’s disputed when the men stopped living together as a couple. Meehan said it was before the babies were born. Dysarz would tell a court that it was after that. By mid-2004, the men had separated. A judge threw out Meehan’s abuse accusations against Dysarz. But the judge ruled Dysarz had no legal standing and denied him visitation with the quadruplets. That same year, Cochran gave birth to Dysarz’s son.
By the time the quadruplets were 2, Meehan said in 2010, he had moved to California with his children to get away from Dysarz.
In 2007, Cochran got full custody of the child she’d had for Dysarz, who had become ill and moved.
With Dysarz out of her life, she enrolled at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in 2007. Her math teacher was Scott Cochran.
Scott remembered her asking him to go for coffee, but because of ethical concerns, they didn’t begin dating until May 2007, after the class ended. He was drawn to her wit. “She was sassy and funny,” Cochran said.
They married in July 2007, but Brooke’s mind lingered on the quadruplets.
She told the Herald-Leader in 2010 that she had expected to have more of a role in the quadruplets’ lives and said she would “go looking for them when they turn 18. They should be given the choice about whether or not they want to know me.”
A contract between her and Meehan said she would be known to them as “Aunt Brooke,” she said in 2010.
“Those are my kids,” she told the Herald-Leader at the time. “It’s like I don’t exist anymore.”
In 2010, reflecting on both pregnancies — and the son she’d had for Dysarz, she told the Herald-Leader that she felt she was lied to about the men’s lives and their intentions about “living the rest of their lives together”.
Cochran terminated her parental rights to the quadruplets at Meehan’s request. Her subsequent sadness was compounded by her husband’s mounting legal troubles.
Scott Cochran was convicted in 2014 of trying to take a photo up a woman’s dress at a Kroger and in 2016 of fondling his genitals in a parked car, according to police reports. He disputed the police reports in an interview with the Herald-Leader.
Cochran was convicted and served 30 days in jail in both cases. He also served 60 days of home incarceration in 2016.
Cochran’s arrests strained the marriage, according to Cara Bailey, a childhood friend of Brooke Cochran who reconnected with her on Facebook three years ago. The two often reminisced about their time in elementary school and discussed Brooke’s marriage right up until her death.
“She loved the quadruplets. It was something she did and wanted to put it behind her,” Bailey said. “She was losing who she was; that is how I felt about it. She got depressed when she wasn’t able to see them anymore. She started to drift away from who she truly was.”
Meehan and Dysarz were saddened by Cochran’s death.
“I was in shock,” Dysarz said. “Brooke is both the surrogate mother of my son and was an old friend. I was very disheartened to see my son lose his mother. I was also disheartened to be informed her death was related to drug addiction.”
The quadruplets — with whom Cochran wasn’t able to reconnect — are now freshmen in high school, “each developing their individual talents and personalities,” Meehan said.
Dysarz said that after Cochran died, he had no knowledge of his son’s whereabouts. Dysarz and Scott Cochran subsequently became embroiled in a complicated legal battle over custody of the child Brooke had for Dysarz.
Brooke’s mother wants people to knowwhat her daughter gave.
“I want Brooke to be remembered as someone who loved people unselfishly, loved her kids and was always looking for and responding to opportunities to meet people’s needs, whatever that meant and whatever it cost,” Cochran’s mother said.