I have a group of friends who have been getting together for a monthly book club for around fifteen years or so. We call ourselves a book club mainly for the benefit of our husbands, because what we really do is sit around and shoot the shit. Talk about work, our kids, mutual friends (or not-so-much-friends). We eat and drink and just enjoy each other’s company. At one particular meeting though, things got serious.
One of our friends, I’ll call her Pam but only because I know about fifty women named Pam and it’s none of them, went into detail about her recent health problems. Soon after the birth of her first child, she’d had a life-threatening, pulmonary embolism and had been advised by her doctor that future pregnancies could have severe consequences and may very well kill her. Having dreamed of having a large family one day, this was a devastating blow to her and emotions ran deep that Saturday morning.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the gist of the story is that somehow I volunteered to carry her next baby.
You’re probably thinking, “That woman is ape-shit crazy.” And you wouldn’t be wrong.
I really did think about it for a very long time. Once my husband finally realized that I was honestly considering being her surrogate and not just carrying on the world’s longest practical joke, he mellowed to the idea and decided that maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. I had experienced two, very easy and uncomplicated pregnancies, and my boobs got huge both times, so that was a plus in his book. My kids were still pretty small at that point, and we figured that it wouldn’t scar them for life (too badly). And that’s how I found myself with my legs in stirrups on a sweltering August morning, being implanted with another woman’s baby.
The first two weeks were great until I found myself at a bowling alley, doing a team-building activity with the staff of the elementary school where I was working at the time. Not knowing how a school district would react to a surrogate pregnancy, I had decided that no one needed to know my little secret until it was obvious. After the implantation, the doctor told me to avoid any heavy lifting but with my team waiting on me to bowl, I panicked. I grabbed the lightest ball I could find, stood at the end of the lane and awkwardly tried to overhand that sucker down the lane without putting any pressure or twist on my mid-section. My co-workers thought I was the worst bowler in the history of that god forsaken sport. Ten times I humiliated myself with those pitiful half-hearted attempts. By the time the game was over, I was convinced that I was the laughing stock of my school.
I fessed up to Pam that I’d bowled that day. In hindsight, I should have kept my mouth shut because boy was she pissed and rightfully so. She and her husband had spent a ton of money to get me pregnant, and I had an obligation to keep the kid safe. So when I started bleeding profusely a couple of weeks later, I knew I’d screwed up.
It was a shock to see that much blood coming from my body. My own pregnancies had been so uneventful that there were times I’d actually forgotten that I was expecting a baby. More like, “Why do I have so much gas today?” Pam and her husband picked me up from work and rushed me to the doctor. I apologized all the way there while Pam cried. One long hour later, we got confirmation. I had a blood clot that would go away with medicine and, oh yeah, it was twins and they were both fine.
The car ride home was much different. Even now, ten years later, it’s hard to put into words what that was like. Joy, amazement, wonder, disbelief, pride. Panic.
The pregnancy as a whole was fine, but the nine months that it encompassed were the most difficult of my life. Hurricane Katrina hit the next week. My grandmother and both of her sisters died. A close relative of my husband went to jail. Another family member was diagnosed with lung cancer. I look back at that pregnancy now and know that carrying those babies was what saved me from falling down a deep well of depression. I needed to be strong for them; to get up every day and eat, because you can’t starve when two babies are battling with you for their survival. Plus, it’s really hard to lie in bed and feel sorry for yourself all day when two babies are constantly squeezing air and urine out of you.
I finally spilled the news to my co-workers sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I told my principal first, a man who loved fishing and jogging. Hearing women tell him they’re pregnant was likely one of the most uncomfortable aspects of his job as an elementary school principal. I’m positive that he’d rather have been tortured with hot pokers than have to be shut up in a small room with a woman talking about her womb. Sure enough, he sat and stared at me for a little longer than normal before he sputtered something to the effect of, “That’s cool.” I then crafted an email to the rest of the staff entitled, “What I did over my summer vacation.” If I’d known then what I know now, I would have told them much sooner. After the initial shock of, “You did what???” wore off, they were amazing and even threw me a non-baby shower.
The twins were born sometime after 1 on an April morning. Both of my own babies had been induced and we had scheduled a C-section this time, but those little turds (and I mean that as a term of endearment) decided not to wait that long. At 38 weeks, they’d had enough of me. The doctor pulled out baby girl first then had to wrestle baby boy out from between my rib cage and right lung. He’d found a comfortable spot and wasn’t going down without a fight. Pam’s eyes were huge as my doctor dug all the way to his elbow for that one. As she left my side to tend to her newborns, I breathed a sigh of relief as my doctor tied my tubes. The closure of my uterus that morning marked the end of my baby-making days.
My husband is reading along as I write this, and we pause to talk about how long ago that seemed. So much has happened since the morning I gave birth to babies that weren’t mine. I’ve had to explain to doctors more than once why I’ve had three pregnancies, resulting in four live births but only two of them are mine. Truth be told, it’s kind of fun when they ask. I smile and say, “It’s a long story.”
Yes, I still see the twins. They are ten years old now and are awesome humans. They know the story of their birth and how they grew inside Miss Susan’s belly. They know that I’m not their mom and that we don’t have any biological ties to each other. They belong to their mom and dad—Miss Susan was just their oven for nine months. People ask me if it was hard to give them up, but they were never mine to have. Instead, I feel I owe them a debt of gratitude because they came along at just the right time. As I lay with my feet in stirrups that day in August, who could have predicted that those invisible specs in the petri dish would wind up saving me from myself, when I could have easily drowned in the sorrow of the loss I was feeling. It’s not always easy to recognize a blessing in your life but I’m lucky to have those two to remind me.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Michael Verhoef