A Collaborative Approach to Parenthood

The biggest advantage to surrogacy thus far, from my end at least, is the look on peoples' faces when I say, "My husband and I knocked my sister up." And the really twisted part is that for me, the abnormal word in that sentence is "husband" and not "sister." I was just married less than three months ago. But in my mind, my sister has been my number 1 surrogate pick for nearly two years now.

When most people hear that I am unable to have children myself, as the result of a radical hysterectomy at age 29 following a cervical cancer diagnosis, their eyes fill with sympathy and they murmur something about praying for me or adoption or even getting a pet. (The latter suggestion I would actually love, but my husband, Jeremy, rightly points out that between a new marriage, a new business, new co-habitation, and a new baby, maybe a puppy isn't the best life choice currently). And it's true; I have experienced a sense of loss. Following surgery, before my eyes even opened against the wall of anesthesia, I was aware of a dull ache at my core. Even in a semi unconscious state, my mind was taking inventory of what I was missing, sussing out the loss of this organ or that in a purely clinical way. In the days following surgery, the physicality of recovery was reinforced in the surprising amount of focus required to achieve the small benchmarks that connote recovery (standing, taking a victory lap around the hospital floor, eating solid food, learning to change the temporary catheter), and in the attendant reminders of my own fallibility. I remember noting an absence of grief in those days, but concluded that this was simply my body's way of compartmentalizing the sea change in my life, and that the emotional fallout was still to come.

I was correct in predicting that the processing of my emotions would follow the physical healing of my body, but not in predicting the instigators of this new phase. The experiences that I thought would be painful were often not. Shaving my head turned out to be a beautiful experience, thanks to Jeremy, who praised my pathetically pale scalp with the enthusiasm usually reserved for something more deserving, say Brigitte Bardot's posterior. But I was surprised to grieve over my isolation from my peers, over whether I would be able to hold onto my job undergoing treatment, and over the loss of a more carefree time in my life. In hindsight it is obvious that fretting the relatively small details was my way of coping with the macrocosmic gravity of illness while feeling connected to the more pedestrian preoccupations of my peers. Yet, I still was not grieving over the loss of my ability to have a child on my own.

Fast forward one year: the struggles described above have shifted as I have adjusted to post-treatment life, and fertility issues are sometimes among them. If I see a pregnant woman around my age on the street, I might feel a knot in my throat form and tighten; yet seeing my close friends go through pregnancy floods me with joy so unadulterated that there's no room for anything else. The sorrows I feel regarding the subject of my fertility have never been sharp planes and angles, but instead are contained, softened at the corners, and their acoustics are further dampened by the depth at which they do occur within me. This is partly because emotions rarely take the form you expect, but also because I was lucky enough to have had options. My doctors saw to it that I underwent fertility treatments before any permanent measures were taken and my sister saw to it that I felt reassured about my ability to have children someday. This security was something tangible and became a necessary touchstone that stood in defiance of the physical toll that cancer took on me. Scorched earth but never scorched mind, there were too many people who loved me to allow that to happen.

The differences between Alaina and I seemed to define our relationship growing up, and usually worked to our advantage. Our age difference of a decade kept us from experiencing much of the daily competitiveness that siblings spend years working to surmount. She was artistically creative, confident, ambitious, and fiercely protective, with a mane of black curls that people always wanted to touch. I was shy, less sure of myself at the time, looked inward for solace and found creative expression in writing. People always remarked how much we both resembled our mother yet how different we looked from one another. Until now. This is partly because Alaina shaved her head a year ago (in solidarity with me but also because at that point she would take any excuse to get a haircut). I believe that our physical similarities are also due to shared experience. We have shared in three decades worth of joy, pain, stress, life and death thus far, and a lifetime's worth in the past few years alone. And now we are having a baby, together, with Jeremy, as a family. Of course there are disadvantages to this situation...having a baby in absentia will test the outermost limits of the control freak within me. But it also reinforces not only the strength of Jeremy's and my bond, but also the community we have surrounding us. Just as family and friends are asked to support a couple at the time of their marriage, my sister has taken it upon herself to embody this sense of community in the most selfless sense. Which makes me endlessly excited to prepare for parenthood alongside Jeremy and Alaina. It is the ultimate collaboration.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Stopping by from MBC. Great blog.
    Have a nice day!