People always said that once you become a parent, it doesn’t matter how you got there. They were so very wrong.
Yes, we got to the finish line. But for us, it took four lawyers, three teams of physicians, a dozen or so additional people, and an incredible couple willing to help us. It very much mattered how we got there.
Like many other couples that have dealt with infertility, we patiently waited our turn. We watched our friends get pregnant. We hugged our nieces and nephews when they were born. We put on brave faces at baptisms, baby showers, and first birthday parties. We listened to everyone complain about short naps and muscle through spit ups and blowouts, and it absolutely ripped us apart that it took effort for us to be happy and sympathetic for them.
A cancer diagnosis at 27 years old left me unable to carry our children. Thankfully, my doctors had been proactive in encouraging us to freeze embryos prior to definitive treatment. So now, we were faced with the question, “Do we tempt fate? Or was the universe trying to tell us something?”
If it did end up just being the two of us forever, it wasn’t a bad deal. The cancer had brought us closer, and we were lucky to have grown together from the experience rather than apart. Should we take advantage? Travel? Sleep in? Or do we buy a house in the suburbs and make sure it is in a good school district?
We were told to wait until I was cancer-free for two years before moving forward with trying to find a gestational carrier (a gestational carrier is a woman who carries a child who is in no way related to the child. It would be our bun, her oven). During these two years, we promised to enjoy both life and each other. But, in a lot of ways, this was complete torture. Family and friends would ask, “So when do you think you are going to use those embryos?” I wanted to know the answer to that question as much as them.
One of my memories during these two years was having a meltdown in a dressing room about a pair of pants. I called my husband and said, “I need navy pants for work, and I don’t know if I should get the more casual ones or the dressier ones. Am I going to be a soccer mom, or should I plan to climb the corporate ladder?” I will never forget his response: “Maybe just buy them both.” At the time, this was a metaphor for my life.
We decided to “give it a try.” We gathered more information, found people who had been through it, and tried to figure out if it was something we could stomach. To be honest, I had no idea how I was going to do this. The only other people I know who had used a gestational surrogate were Giuliana and Bill. I had always hated working in groups. I’d like to say my friends would describe me as strong, self-sufficient, and organized, but realistically, they would probably say I am a control freak who needs everything to be perfect. How would I give up control and let someone else carry my baby?
After four months of research and soul searching, we found an agency to help us. Eventually, we were paired with “family”— an amazing couple who loved their kids and wanted to be able to give another couple the same thing.
I knew that I trusted her the second I met her. The relationship and friendship felt very natural, and like I had known her my whole life. But, I still struggled to get excited. I couldn’t help but keep bracing myself for bad news. What if she miscarried, or the embryos wouldn’t be good? Or, maybe there would be some freak thing that people would later hear about on TLC.
We had to complete what seemed like endless amounts of paperwork and work out a million details before the delivery, all while fielding tons of awkward questions from family and friends. But most importantly, we also had to prepare for finally having a baby.
Looking back, I had no anxiety about whether or not the baby would know I was his mom. I’m not sure why this never crossed my mind (maybe since I had such a massive amount of other details to worry about, there just wasn’t room for this one). My stressors gradually changed throughout the pregnancy. I was initially very worried about missing the delivery. I had this image in my head of the baby sitting in one of those bassinets in the room by him/herself. But as the months passed, I got less worried. This incredible couple would make sure that this baby was loved from the second they entered the world. Yes, I would have been disappointed to not be the first one to hold this baby, but these were the cards we were dealt. There were a lot of things that I was going to miss out on. So, I promised myself that I would make every single moment count after the birth.
The night before our baby was born, we were staying in a hotel. We went out to dinner with our carrier and her husband and we got into bed like it was just another day. I would have thought that we would be on pins and needles, but we both fell asleep fast and slept hard, (kind of like the universe knew that it was going to be our last night of sleep for a really long time). I would have never thought we would have felt such relief without the baby in our arms, but everything felt completely okay. Any day now, our new friends were about to give us what we had been wanting all of these years.
The next day bright and early, we all headed to the hospital with excitement, and it all seemed completely surreal. On one hand, the months had flown by and on the other, I couldn’t believe that it was finally happening.
Although I’m usually a crier, I really didn’t cry at any point during the entirety of the pregnancy. Not even when we heard the first heartbeat, or when we bought tiny clothes (it probably was a self-preservation technique). But, about 10 minutes before our son was born, the floodgates opened.
We were both present for the entire labor and birth, and it wasn’t as strange as we thought it might be (or as it sounds). And that afternoon, the four of us welcomed our little miracle into the world together. Everyone in the room was emotional – there were so many tears and not enough tissues. It was perfect. And, despite my fears that I would miss my child’s birth, I got to be the first one to hold him and welcome him into the world.
I had not even imagined what this moment would have felt like, but somehow everything about those next few hours surprised me. How was I sitting in a room full of people and feeling so comfortable? I would have thought I would have been “done” with the group project and ready to be alone with our newborn. But actually, the group felt right — this was our family. And it was one of the most magical moments of my life.
In the chaos of the process of having our son, we were not only lucky enough to walk out with a healthy and happy child, but also with life-long friends. We are still in touch with our gestational carrier and catch up like old friends a couple times a month. Our yearly visits are a reminder of how grateful we are for this generous couple and our ability to have a family because of them.
My birth story was nothing like I imagined as a little girl, but now, I’m able to be grateful for our non-traditional path, and the journey has changed us for the better.
We worked hard for our family, and I am glad we did because it is a daily reminder to appreciate every single moment we have together. It did matter how we got here.
If my experience taught me one thing, it’s that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.