Leftovers

Two years ago tonight I was injecting myself in the stomach for the second time as we started the daily grind of injections-appointments-ultrasounds-blood work that IVF requires. It once seemed like such a huge mountain to climb that we would never fully reach the top, but now all of it (and so much more) is in the distant past. A few weeks later my swollen, overworked ovaries produced 27 eggs— far more than the normal one-per-cycle they’re meant to— and, mercifully, one of them would become Ross.

We finished that cycle with two boxes of an expensive fertility medication leftover. It would only amount to a measly 2-3 days worth of dosages but they had cost around $300, so I saved them, believing (desperately hoping) that I could use them in the future to have a second egg retrieval, a second child. They’ve sat in the back of our fridge on the top shelf since then. I worried about them through power outages and even the untimely demise of an old appliance. When we moved in August 2015, I carefully packed them in ice for the drive and transferred them immediately to the empty fridge upon our arrival.

I don’t know at what point over the last two years that I realized they would go unused; I guess it’s just that my hope has dwindled as the months have gone by. Each time I open the door I see them sitting unopened in the back and try to fight the lump in my throat at the thought that they will end up being trashed, that time is almost up. Somehow it’s February 2017 and the expiration date that once seemed so far away is here. But it’s not the thought of never opening those boxes that makes me want to cry the most; it’s the thought I have no reason to that really hurts.

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The Best Day of My Life: A Surrogate Birth Story [Pt. 2]

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For Part One:  The Day I Thought I’d Never Get to Have: A Surrogate Birth Story


The original plan following delivery was for me to have immediate skin-to-skin contact with the baby for at least an hour or so before he was passed around, weighed or measured. Unfortunately, due to the intensity of the birth and the fact that he had spent several hours in distress and was not breathing properly, this was obviously no longer an option. Instead, Kyle and I spent that time watching and waiting as the respiratory specialist and nurses worked to stabilize Ross and ensure that he was able to breathe on his own, hardly daring to breathe ourselves. When the danger had finally passed and things began to calm down, we were able to stand next to him as he remained on the warming bed, and I slipped my finger inside his tiny, balled-up fist to feel as close to him as was possible in that moment.

It was the first time we were able to really look at our son– things had been moving too fast earlier– and I marveled over his miniature fingernails, ears and eyebrows, details we hadn’t been able to see during the ultrasounds. Every feature was perfectly drawn; I’d never seen anything so breathtakingly beautiful in my entire life. While we continued to wait, things had started to wind down for Elle, too. I could hear her nearby, talking and laughing with the nurses. Sometimes she would ask her husband for an update and he would turn around to check on us and let her know that everything was okay.

In the meantime, I couldn’t wait to hold Ross close and anxiously watched his nurse for signs that it would be soon. When the time finally came, I was helped out of my scrubs and settled into the recliner next to Elle’s bed until he could be brought to me. It was a moment I had imagined a million times and I was overwhelmed that this dream would actually become my reality.

Becoming a parent through surrogacy is hard. You are forced to give up complete control of your unborn child and hand it to another person throughout the duration of the pregnancy. So, it is a very strange feeling when your baby is born and suddenly all of that control immediately reverts back to you. As soon as Ross was here, it was up to us as to how to spend our time with him.

Some Intended Parents choose to take their baby to a separate room right away following delivery to bond in private. This is understandable to me– it’s the very first time they can be alone with their child after sharing or giving up literally everything else throughout the pregnancy. If we had chosen to do the same, I believe that Elle would have understood our decision, but from the beginning it didn’t feel like the right choice for us. Unless she preferred it, I hated the thought of leaving her to recover in a quiet room after all the chaos and excitement. She had endured this process to help us become parents at the end of it, and I wanted her to be able to really see what she had given to us; I wanted them to be a part of our celebration. Bringing this child into the world was a team effort and it felt like we should enjoy the reward in the same way. I knew there would be time for the three of us to be together as a family later on– he was ours and there was no changing that, and from the moment he was born, I never felt otherwise.

When our nurse placed Ross on my chest for the first time, everything hit me at once. He was just so tiny and perfect, all I could do was hold onto him and cry. I wasn’t supposed to get this. I should never have been able to have this experience; my body should have barred me from ever having those moments. But there I was with this child that I had fought through 16 years of pain and surgeries and treatments to hold. He didn’t come into the world the way I expected, but he was here now.

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The three of us, reunited.
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Thanking our amazing doctor for allowing me to be a part of the delivery and doing such a great job. (Can you spot Paddington?)

One by one the nurses, our doctor, and other staff members who had been in the room came to see the baby, often with teary eyes, to wish us well and tell us how meaningful it had been to be a part of his delivery. We talked about our story and shared the picture of Ross as an embryo, which was passed around among the nurses. Eventually we were left to soak up that precious time as the sun began to rise for the day and came flooding through the windows.

For a while we happily chatted as the baby slept in my arms, sometimes recounting pieces of this incredible thing that had just happened, sometimes just admiring this new little life. We had been up for more than 24 hours by then, but pure adrenaline had pushed me through the stress, exhaustion, and excitement of the night. Much of my makeup had worn off long before and the little that was left had washed away with my tears. I knew that the photos would reflect me looking every bit as worn out as I felt but didn’t care. In contrast, Elle was radiantly beautiful. She was propped up in bed and beaming, and it was hard enough to believe that she had been up all night, let alone just given birth. At times I couldn’t help but look at her in renewed awe.

When I was ready to pass the baby around, Kyle prepared to hold him for the first time. Seeing the two of them together made my heart feel like it was going to burst. Our nurse came back to tell us it was time for Ross to eat, and because he hadn’t been able to cut the umbilical cord as planned due to the urgency, Kyle took the first feeding. A bottle was brought with some of the colostrum that Elle had thoughtfully been pumping for us in the weeks before delivery.

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Focusing on the hand-off
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My boys!

My mom was next to hold him, and I want to say just how grateful I was that she was able to be there. Having any of us in the room for the delivery was completely Elle’s prerogative, and the privilege of my mom seeing the birth of my child was another priceless gift we were given. Had I been able to carry a child on my own, there’s no question that she would have been there for it, but I had never imagined that it would still be a possibility with the surrogacy.

From the beginning, Elle told us that when it came to the birth, we should take as much time with the baby as we wanted and not worry about her. She said that she understood how important it would be for us to bond with him and asked that she just be able to see him and hold him at some point before leaving the hospital. It was important to us for them to be able to spend time with Ross before we went home, but for months I wondered how it would really feel when he was finally here. Would I feel even a little bit jealous of the bond he shared with her? Would I struggle in sharing our time with him during those first few days at the hospital? Even though I didn’t think so, there was no way to truly know in advance.

But, everything changed the moment I saw him. All I felt was happiness, pride, and overwhelming gratitude as I handed him to her and stepped back to see the two of them together for the first time. Elle’s husband patiently waited nearby for his turn to hold the baby next, and it is clear to me that the three of them will always share something special. Although there are things I may have lost through the surrogacy, Ross has only gained from the experience. There are now people in his life who would have otherwise not been there, and they love him so deeply. He is beyond blessed by their presence in his life.

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Showing Ross off to Elle
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My favorite; this photo is framed in the nursery

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Ross with his Aunt Elle

After he was weighed and measured and the time came for us to pack up and move out of the delivery room, we were directed to our own rooms just next door to each other. The nurse took Ross for a quick clean-up so that I’d have the chance to change, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, call my grandparents, and regroup for the first time all night. He returned a few minutes later for another skin-to-skin session, and while Kyle got the bags from the car and something to eat, I savored every moment of being alone with my baby for the first time. Never before in his existence had I had the ability to talk or sing to him without someone else overhearing us, but now that the opportunity was there, words failed me. Instead of saying all the things I’d wanted to say for so long, I just whispered how much I loved him and how long I had waited for this moment. I tried to remember every detail– the weight of his warm little body against mine, the way his tiny fingertips rested up by my collarbone, and the feeling of his knees pressing into my stomach as they were tucked up underneath him. If I could go back to any moment from the day, it would be that one.

That night our nurses had the sweet idea to bring an extra table into Elle’s room so that the four of us could have a celebratory dinner together. They set things up so nicely, and Ross slept peacefully in the portable crib beside us while we ate and talked.

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Our celebratory dinner!

We spent most of our time at the hospital all together, going back and forth between rooms so often that we ended up confusing the nurses, who weren’t the first to tell Elle and I that we looked like sisters. One time while the guys were out getting food and I was showering, a nurse walked in to look for Elle and, seeing her with the baby, thought she had the wrong room. Another time I was resting on her bed while she was in the bathroom when a nurse came in and started setting up to take my vitals. Again I was reminded of just how lucky we were to have become so close throughout such an intense and difficult process.

Our experience at the birthing center could not have been better. The nurses made me feel special for the first time in the surrogacy process, celebrating me as a new mom and Ross as a miracle. Throughout our stay we had several visitors– nurses who weren’t working over the hours he was born but wanted the opportunity to meet the surro baby. A couple of them even shared their own struggles with infertility, some of them cried hearing ours. Others talked to Elle about her experience and told her how extraordinary it was to see our relationship.

We stayed a second night with the baby, but Elle was discharged and ready to go home after the first day. Before she left, the director of the birthing center came to talk to both couples separately to make sure that everything had gone according to plan and to wish us well. She told us that they had been preparing for our arrival for several weeks to ensure that everything went smoothly. Then, during our conversation, she pointed out Paddington on my night stand and I shared that I had carried him through every treatment and ultrasound over a year and a half in hopes of giving him to a child someday. We felt a bit like minor celebrities while there and left having made friends. Now, a year later, we still keep in touch with our L&D nurse and our first baby nurse, who was the one to hand Ross to me after he had been checked out following delivery.

As a whole, the experience was better than I ever could have imagined. The second night in the birthing center, once Elle and her husband had gone home, I asked Kyle to take some photos of me holding Ross. It was important to me to still have those classic “new mom” photos– sitting up in bed with the baby and wearing a hospital gown– even though I hadn’t become a mom in the traditional way. I am so glad we took the time to capture those moments, especially with the craziness that followed in our lives, because they ended up being some of my very favorite photos of the two of us.

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Silly faces!
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Worth the Wait

I can’t end this birth story without thanking Elle (and her husband) again, for giving us the best gift possible. We are forever grateful to them.

The Day I Thought I’d Never Get to Have: A Surrogate Birth Story [Pt. 1]

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A couple months ago I wrote a post answering some of our most frequently asked questions. Considering that it’s still rare enough that most have never met a family brought together via surrogacy, there is a lot that people are curious about or want to know. Above all, the question that we are almost always asked is, “Were you able to see the baby at the hospital?”

The answer is yes.

We were there when Elle’s water broke. We were there when she checked into the delivery room. And we were there when Ross took his first breath.

I had intended to share the birth story here when we welcomed Ross into the world, but after our commitment to being open with our most private and emotional moments for the year and a half before his birth, it felt nice to have something to keep ourselves for a little while. Now, as we are looking back to this time last year and preparing for a first birthday celebration, I feel ready to give a glimpse into the best day of our lives and share what a birth story looks like when surrogacy is involved.

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It’s hard to imagine our lives without Ross. Was there ever really a time when I didn’t know his face as well as my own? When I didn’t know the color of his eyes or the sound of his laugh? Logically, I know there were many years like this, but already I struggle to fully remember what it was like not to know my own son. A year ago today was just such a day, our very last one without him.

By January 23, 2016 we were beyond anxious for Ross to arrive. We’d left home more than 2 weeks before and it started to feel like he might wait until Spring to meet us. Then, that night, Elle’s water broke. Not wanting to sound a false alarm, she got up and left the room to check after hearing two tiny popping sounds while we watched tv in the den. None the wiser, I remained on the couch until a few minutes later when Kyle and Elle’s husband came home early.

“Her water broke,” her husband stated calmly when he had both Kyle and I in the same room. I stared at him, uncomprehending. “Her water broke,” he repeated at least once more, while I struggled to process his words. And then: clarity. And… what now?! After frantically dumping out the smaller of our suitcases (Kyle’s) and repacking us for the next couple days (minus any socks and my shampoo), we drove into the cold winter night on our way to the birthing center.

As we settled in to the room, our labor & delivery nurse located the birth plan and information our surrogate agency had sent ahead in December and informed us that our OBGYN was not on call. Immediately, my stomach dropped. For months now we had talked through the logistics of the surrogate birth with our chosen doctor and I was terrified of how our situation might be handled by someone who didn’t know us. Although we’d had a great experience so far at the practice, we’ve also come across many who feel that our choice to pursue surrogacy was a selfish or foolish one, and there was no way to know how this new doctor would feel about it.

Things progressed quickly. Although she wasn’t in pain when we arrived, the rapid escalation of contractions left Elle struggling soon after. She had come prepared with information on acupressure and massage, and I began watching for signs of oncoming contractions in an effort to help ease the pain. We helped move her back and forth from the bed to the birthing ball for a long time while I alternately kneaded her lower back with my knuckles and knelt on the floor beside her to press the acupressure points on her feet, legs, and hands. A few hours must have passed this way, though I was mostly unaware of the time. It was deep into the middle of the night and my knees and back were aching and painful, but I was determined to ride out each and every contraction with her. Both her mom and mine offered to take over to give me a break, but I felt honored to do it. Taking care of the baby was not yet my job; there was nothing I could do for him. Caring for him was still Elle’s responsibility and privilege, and mine was to care for her.

It wasn’t long before the contractions started to come more quickly together, leaving Elle very little time to rest and recover between them. When she accepted an epidural despite her preference to go natural, I was worried she would regret it but also relieved. Watching someone suffer through the pain of labor for you is incredibly overwhelming. It is not easy. Even as we were there I felt it should be me in pain; I wished it was me.

Then, as we drew closer to morning, it became clear something was wrong. The machine monitoring the baby’s heart rate showed it dropping to dangerous levels, from around 150 bpm (good) down to the 80’s (not good), and later we even saw it fall to the 60’s (scary). Our nurse was on top of it, coming in to check when his heart rate dropped and continuing to closely monitor the readings when it seemed to stabilize. Every time she came in the room a spasm of fear would grip me, but I tried not to let myself get swept away by it. I didn’t want to upset Elle and I didn’t know enough to fully understand what was going on or how close we were coming to needing intervention. We tried to have Elle reposition her body during contractions to see if it would help– I’d watch his heart rate and nod to her when it was okay or shake my head when she needed to move again. Unfortunately, it didn’t make enough of a difference. He was in distress and it was decided that our doctor needed to be contacted.

I’m sure the very real possibility of an emergency c-section was on all our minds, but no one said it out loud. Of course, the health of Elle and the baby was the most important thing, but if our doctor felt this was a necessary course of action, it would change a lot. We had been warned by the agency that we were unlikely to be admitted to the room in the case of a c-section. Usually only one person is allowed, and that person would be Elle’s husband, meaning that we would not be there for the birth of our child. Elle also strongly preferred not to have one since it would mean a much longer and more difficult recovery time as well as a significant delay in returning to work. But all of that was out of our control; there was nothing we could do now but wait.

A little while after 4am we stood out in the hall when our nurse came in to check dilation. We heard her say it was 7cm when all of a sudden, people started coming down the hall toward our room. Walking back in we heard them telling Elle that even though she wasn’t fully dilated, they wanted her to start pushing and that the baby needed to come out now.

We had arranged with our original OBGYN that I would “catch” the baby during delivery once the head and shoulders were free. When we got to the hospital, our nurse asked the on-call doctor if she’d be willing to let me assist as planned and she had agreed. Now I was being told I needed to suit up immediately and a nurse nearby yelled for someone to grab me disposable scrubs. I stood with my knees literally shaking while they dressed me, wondering why on earth I had ever wanted to do this and wishing I had never asked. At some point in the chaos the doctor had arrived, and as she was getting suited up next to me, she carefully (and sternly) warned me that newborns are very slippery. “The last thing I want to do is drop him!” I managed to squeak out, and she must have been satisfied by my sincerity because she didn’t question me again in regards to catching him.

Elle now had an oxygen mask, her body had started involuntarily shaking, and she was being prepped for delivery at the same time as me. Her husband stood by her side toward the end of the bed, our nurse stood on her other side up by her head, and a stool was brought for me to sit out of the way until they were ready for me. The mood in the room was intense, pressing, urgent. For such a large space, there was almost no room to stand due to the sheer number of people there. Some stood by the door, some were ready by the infant warming bed, others were crowded toward the back of the room and around the bed with various tools. My mom stood to the side with the camera while Kyle stood slightly behind a nurse where he could “see everything [he] wanted to and nothing [he] didn’t.”

I sat there, stiff and unmoving after being warned that I wasn’t allowed to touch anything (for sterile purposes). My nose itched and I willed myself not to think about it. The paper scrubs were so large I worried that I might slip off the stool and cause a ridiculous scene at the end of the bed. My feet had been covered in enormous paper socks when someone noticed that I wasn’t wearing shoes. Only part of my brain seemed to be working. Part of me understood there was significant risk to the baby’s health, but rather than processing that normally, I went in to a bit of a shock. I don’t know if I was breathing regularly– or at all. I just went on autopilot. It could have been 10 hours, 10 minutes, or 10 seconds that Elle pushed, but time lost its relevance to me.

Unfortunately, progress was slower than the doctor hoped and I watched as she assessed the situation and made decisions. A vacuum extractor was called for and she quickly explained to me that my baby would come out with a bubble on his head. I nodded my understanding, caring only that he was safe and breathing. The vacuum was suctioned to his head and with each contraction and the additional help of Elle’s pushing, the doctor held on and worked to guide him further down as he came out at a strange angle. Eventually we started to see the progression as he began to move closer to us.

And then his head started to appear. I could see his hair. That’s my son, I remember thinking to myself. He’s mine. The entire room fell away. All I could focus on was him.

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It was then that the doctor’s voice cut through my reverie–

“I need you to stop pushing,” she said firmly. “The cord is wrapped around his neck.” Somewhere in my head, two separate thoughts bounced around: this isn’t good and that’s just like my Grandpa! [Ross’ namesake]. I watched as she worked to stretch the umbilical cord up and away from him. It had been wrapped so tightly that I couldn’t even see it from my vantage point and she seemed to barely be able to pull it over his face.

And then, “Hold on– one more.” For the second time I watched her pull the cord up and slide it over his head to free him. I was still holding my breath when she called out, “And again!” before removing another tight section of cord from around his neck. “That’s three times, everyone!”she said in what seemed like near disbelief.

By then I could see his eyes, nose, and mouth. The doctor had me stand up as she prepared to deliver his shoulders and showed me where to place my hands around his head. I held on to him as she helped to work him free and suddenly he was simply there, in my arms. I will never forget that moment, staring down at him. I watched him make only the slightest movement and took in his blue-gray color while somewhere in my head I thought, He’s not making any noise. I had been told to bring him immediately over to the warming bed once he was delivered but might still be standing there even now if the doctor hadn’t urgently yelled out, “Make way for her!” to the collection of people around us. I started at her booming instruction and it took every ounce of energy I had to focus on not tripping over my ridiculously large socks and scrubs. Gently, I laid him down on the bed as he made the tiniest of noises– it sounded just like “hello“– and from somewhere in the room I heard Elle’s mom exclaim, “Did you hear that? He just said hello!” I took one last look at my baby as I stepped back and was replaced by those who would help him breathe and make sure he was stable.

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I felt terrified and helpless, but there was nothing I could do beyond trusting that he would be okay. I leaned back into Kyle while we waited and tried to remember how to stay upright– and breathe. It seemed like forever before we heard him cry, and when we finally did, it was the most wonderful sound I’d ever heard in my life and relief flooded over me.

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Because this post has gotten so long, I’m going to separate it with the second part going up (hopefully) tomorrow where I’ll talk about being able to really hold Ross for the first time, seeing Elle and her husband with him, how our situation was handled by the birthing center staff post-delivery, and lots more pictures, including the first of Elle on the blog.

I do have more photos of the actual delivery, including my part in it, but since Ross is unable to consent to me posting these private photos of him, they will stay in our photo album for now. 🙂

For Part Two: The Best Day of My Life: A Surrogate Birth Story

 

Labor

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It was two years ago that we agreed to be matched with Elle*, our gestational carrier, after meeting via a Skype session less than 48 hours before. As I think back to that moment and the overwhelming feelings of hope and fear that were fighting within me, the miracle that came from that decision is napping peacefully beside me.

When we first started to share the news that we were pursuing surrogacy — our only hope of becoming parents — one of the most hurtful reactions I received was, “You’re so lucky!” …because having a baby without the pain of labor somehow came with the perception of taking the easy way out, no matter the circumstances.

It’s not exactly what you want to hear when you are facing the most excruciatingly painful and downright terrifying journey of your life. We were already devastated, already heartbroken, already physically, emotionally and financially exhausted. As someone who had spent 15 years in fear of being rendered incapable of ever carrying children, I was also suffering a crushing personal defeat. And although surrogacy can be amazing and wonderful, it is also full of loss and sacrifice. Not only that, but we weren’t even attempting surrogacy with a trusted friend or family member as we’d hoped. Instead, we were beginning the search for a compassionate stranger to whom we would hand over control of the most precious thing we could ever imagine– something I’d once vowed I would never do.

For as gut-wrenching as the process was, our journey went (almost) as smoothly as was possible, and looking back over these years and the events that have since occurred, it’s somewhat tempting to see the way things unfolded as being predestined. But it did not feel that way as I answered the call from our agency and committed to working with someone we only knew through a few photos, notes from extensive interviews, and a 15-minute Skype call. We had no way of knowing where that decision would lead us or what, if anything, would come out of it. In hindsight it’s hard to believe I was ever so brave (or maybe so reckless) as to take that step in the first place, the one that would ultimately change our lives.

No, I did not give birth to my son, but that doesn’t mean that I did not labor in bringing him into the world. It may have been different from the traditional labor that most mothers experience, but it took every ounce of strength and energy I possessed. At times it tore me apart and the unbearable pain felt like it would never end. At times I felt completely overwhelmed by the task before me. (It also lasted a hell of a lot longer than normal labor.) But, just as I’d heard, when I held him in my arms that first time,  everything else faded away and I was forever changed.

When I relay to Elle yet another insensitive comment I receive or the implication that I had it easier than other women, she often reminds me that I did something most could never even imagine doing. Ross was not born from my body, but I most certainly labored to get him here.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons

Questions on Life After Surrogacy

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We’ve had a lot of questions in the last several months about life post-surrogacy, so I thought it might be easier to answer a few of the ones that seem to come up the most.

Do you still keep in touch with your gestational carrier, Elle*?

Yes! We are actually in contact most days of the week.

Just one of the many parts of the matching process took into account whether we would want to remain in touch following the birth of a potential child. Elle had specified in her paperwork then that she would be happy to receive the occasional photo but would not make it a stipulation for being matched. As for our preferences, we hoped to continue some kind of a relationship past the surrogacy. I liked the idea of sending photos as our baby grew up and keeping in touch in some way. I hoped that we’d have the kind of relationship where I would feel comfortable contacting her in the future if our potential child ever had any questions or wanted to get to know her better. But, the relationship we have now far exceeds even what I had imagined as a best case scenario.

As I’ve mentioned before, we will always consider Elle & her family as part of our family. Last Summer we asked if they would like to be known as “aunt and uncle” to Ross in honor of the special role they’ve played in his life and ours. We regularly send pictures and video clips of milestones or just cute or funny moments that we think they’d like to see. In April they came to visit us for a few days around the time Ross turned 3 months old, which was so much fun. It was the first time they got to see where we lived since we’d always stayed in a hotel outside the fertility clinic for the testing and transfers. Back then we were about 2 hours away from the branch that dealt with surrogacy cases, so having them to our house before now was unfeasible.

How is she doing?

Elle is doing really well since giving birth. The recovery was relatively easy and she was able to return to work within 2 weeks as planned (though, I’m not sure you could’ve stopped her if you tried; she is very determined when she sets her mind to something!). She chose to pump breastmilk in order to help her body normalize, and within 6 weeks she had lost all of the weight she gained during pregnancy and then some!

Was it difficult for Elle to give up the baby after carrying him for 9 months?

Both Elle and I have been asked this question (or a variation of it), and I want to be clear that Elle did not give up the baby, she gave him back. Early on we joked that gestational surrogacy is really like a form of “extreme babysitting.” Ross has been ours from the moment he came into existence. Over the period of 9 months, Elle cared for him while I could not so that he would have a chance at life. She didn’t start this process because she wanted to have another child or even because she wanted to be pregnant again. She started it because she wanted to help someone else experience the joy of parenthood. That has always been her main goal and it’s what motivated her to push through the tough aspects of surrogacy.

Elle said that when people have asked her this question, she tells them that saying goodbye to our family as a whole was the hardest part, especially because we live 14 hours away.

Does Elle want to do this again sometime?

Early in the pregnancy she was very interested in becoming a gestational carrier again in the near future. However, a few things make this difficult. For one, the long distance was hard on her, just like it was for us. Then, late in the second trimester, Elle came down with Whooping Cough and struggled for a very long time. Although her illness did not affect the baby, being pregnant seriously complicated her healing. She developed severe pain from a potentially fractured rib, possibly due to the coughing, which was exacerbated by the strain her body was under and Ross kicking around. Elle is tough, but the pain was excruciating and significantly affected her daily life. During the times we were with her, it was very hard to watch. She lived with it throughout the rest of the pregnancy, but has thankfully been able to heal since.

Finally, there is always a risk in being matched with someone you don’t know for such an intense experience, whether you are the Intended Parents or the gestational carrier. Both Elle and I have seen other, less compatible matches and we know we are among the lucky ones. Her husband once said that he felt they used up all their “good luck” in being matched with us for their first go around, and we feel the same.

Was it difficult to bond with the baby following the birth since you hadn’t been pregnant with him?

No, it was not difficult at all. Of course, there is no way to know how it will feel once the baby is born, whether you are becoming a mom traditionally or somewhat unconventionally. But, not being able to bond with your baby during the pregnancy adds another layer to normal worries or fears. I did struggle at times to feel as though the baby was really, truly mine during the pregnancy–not because of anything Elle did, but more so because I was trying to be respectful in not crossing boundaries when it came to her body and because it was tough when I compared our situation with those around me. It was also hard to feel like a mom-to-be when I often wasn’t acknowledged as such: I didn’t have the all-important baby bump, which apparently matters a lot to some people. I did regularly write to Ross in a journal throughout the pregnancy as a way to build a bond, but the reality was that he couldn’t really bond with me. If we had been geographically closer to Elle it might have been a little easier, but ultimately it is just one of the many increased difficulties of becoming a mom through surrogacy.

However, the moment he was born, there was no question about it: he was mine, and I never once felt otherwise. It wasn’t even something I ever thought about again. It just was.

What do you plan to tell your son about the surrogacy?

We will tell Ross whatever he wants to know about it. I’d like to eventually print some of my posts so that one day he can read them, if he chooses. I am not ashamed of the way he came into the world; in fact, I think it’s pretty amazing. But, since we are hoping that it’s not something he ever remembers first learning and we want to normalize the surrogacy as much as possible, he may never think much of it. Obviously, pregnancy itself will not have the same kind of significance for him that it has in my life because it’s not something his body is designed to do. So, will his surrogacy story make him feel special? Indifferent? Embarrassed? It’s hard to say what kind of impact it will have on him.

In November 2014, when we were officially matched with Elle, I bought a children’s book called The Very Kind Koala in hopes of reading it to our child someday to help explain the surrogacy:

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Sometimes I do wonder if and how Ross will describe the surrogacy to others. I wonder if he will mention it to kids at school before he has the understanding or words to explain it. I wonder if we will ever be questioned by a confused teacher or parent. In seven months it has already come up in surprising ways, so I’m sure we will have some explaining to do as we go.

What was the overall experience of surrogacy like?

Having a child via gestational surrogacy was the craziest, hardest, scariest, bravest, most painful, most wonderful, best thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

*Name changed for privacy reasons

 

My Best Friend

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I stopped posting regularly after describing our 5-day, 14-hour trip home from the hospital for a few reasons. Eventually I hope to cover more of them, but one of the biggest was this post. I wasn’t ready to write it for a long time and it’s still hard to get out now, but before I could move forward, this was something I had to do. It’s a lengthy one and it’s okay if you don’t read it; I just felt like I had to acknowledge it.

When we got home, Ross was a week old and everything was so wonderful, so new. That first morning in our own home I woke up to the sound of his cry and practically floated on clouds as I walked over to the pack n’ play. I will never forget how blissful it felt to lean over and pick up my son before carrying him back to bed to cuddle with him while he ate. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest.

But even in the midst of the joy, there was pain. When we had stopped at my parents’ house on our journey home, we discovered that our dog, Orion, was not well. They had mentioned a vet trip during a phone call about a week or so prior as we waited for Ross’s arrival, but nothing had prepared me for… this. As soon as I saw him, I knew it was over. Within a split second, my emotions went from the elation of putting Ross in my grandma’s arms for the first time to the complete and utter devastation of knowing I was about to lose my best friend. The shock of it took my breath away and my legs collapsed underneath me.

Kyle and I went upstairs with Orion to make the decision I had been dreading since the day I brought him home as a puppy, and I missed seeing my dad and grandma meet my son. We both cried as we took turns gently holding Orion’s tiny, broken body. I could barely breathe from the pain. The decision was clear– he wouldn’t even be able to handle the 2 1/2 hour drive home the next day. It was one of the worst moments of my life.

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And then by the morning, he perked up. He wasn’t back to normal, but we started to hope that maybe this wasn’t the end, maybe we’d get to have a little time as a family of four after all. We stayed an extra night with my parents before completing the last leg of our trip.

Those first days with Ross finally at home felt blissful in so many ways– but not carefree. Inside I felt as though I was walking on eggshells, terrified that the smallest movement would bring everything crashing down. I was acutely aware that time was short. The clock was ticking; I just didn’t know when it would stop.

Three days after getting home, Orion quietly turned 15 years old. I had wanted to make a thing of it, but now the circumstances didn’t feel right. Instead, I gave him a few of his favorite treats and spent the day cuddling with my two babies. I loved seeing them together– it was something I had pictured so many times throughout my life. Orion was always going to be the first dog my children knew. He was meant to be there, keeping watch by their highchairs for stray bits of food and scurrying out of the way as they took their first wobbly steps. I knew he wouldn’t live forever, but he should have had several years as a ‘family dog’ by the time we had to say goodbye to him. I just never thought it would take so long to have a family.

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Ross with his big brother, Orion, on the morning of his 15th birthday

Two days after Orion’s birthday he took another sharp turn for the worse: now he couldn’t easily move or lay down without crying out in horrible pain. Watching him suffer was agonizing, and we decided to find a vet near our new place and book an appointment first thing in the morning. My mom came up to watch Ross so Kyle and I could both go to the vet, even though we had originally wanted some space to bond with our baby alone for the very first time in his existence (we didn’t have the advantage of having him “baked in-house,” as my friend Arwen would say). Knowing we would likely come back without Orion, I asked her to take the first and last picture of us as a family of four.

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Holding our boys, each wrapped in their blankets

To my relief, the vet was hopeful that trying something new might buy us a little more time since it was difficult to determine the underlying cause. And, desperate for any other option, we jumped at the chance. He prescribed us a new medication, wished us luck, and told us to call him if anything changed.

But the next three days were horrible. Orion’s pain never let up, and he needed someone to hold him still every moment of the day and night. He could barely eat or drink. He couldn’t sleep. Kyle was trying to focus on catching up on the classes he’d missed as we traveled home following Ross’s birth, so my mom and I alternated between taking round-the-clock care of Orion and Ross, the far easier of the two. Although Kyle had spent the last 10 years with Orion, he was mine first. The final, horrible decision was mine to make. And while I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, there was no way I could continue to let him suffer. I called the vet back in defeat and made an appointment for the following evening while tears streamed down my face. We had one last night together.

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Holding both of my babies

Tuesday, February 9th, Ross was just 16 days old when we left him with my mom as we bundled Orion into his favorite blanket and out into the cold night air. For months now as we anticipated Ross’s impending arrival, I had been reassuring Orion that he would always be my first baby, and that is what I whispered to him again as we walked to the car through the falling snow. Every step I took felt against my will.

Holding Orion in the vet’s office and waiting for the inevitable was even worse than I had imagined. They gave him a sedative to help calm him and then left us alone for several minutes to say goodbye. As I carried Orion back to the chair next to Kyle for those last moments together, the room started to tilt around me and for a moment, I thought the floor was going to fly up and hit me in the face. My ears rang and I felt sick to my stomach. We talked to him as his eyes began to close, telling him what a good dog he had been and how much we loved him, promising him that my Grandpa would be waiting for him on the other side. I held him close as his body eventually went limp against me and his raspy breathing became slow and steady. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt; he was there and yet not there. It seemed like a horrible betrayal, bringing him there for something he could not understand. Briefly I let myself imagine wrapping him back up in his blanket and running out into the night. It hasn’t happened yet, part of my brain reasoned, I can still change my mind. Instead I forced myself to stay seated and go through with it, wondering how it was possible to hope that the vet would both hurry up and also that he would forget about us.

Orion has been in my life since before he was even born. While I was in 8th grade, my best friend’s dogs were expecting puppies, their last litter. Early in the morning on February 3, 2001, the call came that the puppies had been born. Alisha had been spending the night at my house, so my mom drove us back to her house for our first look. There were three of them: two boys and a girl, and they were so tiny! Each one was just a few inches long, maybe a couple ounces in weight, and still completely pink with hardly any hair. I was in awe of them, never dreaming that one of them would become my best friend as they huddled together with their eyes still closed, .

I loved watching the puppies grow over the next weeks when I went over to Alisha’s house. I’d laugh as they skittered all over the hardwood floors in the kitchen and peek out at us from underneath the table. The girl was claimed first, and then one of the boys. Only the runt was left, and I saw an opportunity. I promised my dad that I would pick up after him in the backyard and feed him every single day. “Are you sure you want to take care of this dog until you’re 30 years old?” he asked me. At 13 that seemed like a lifetime away, but I was sure.

The first night he came home, I slept nearby him on the kitchen floor with a sleeping bag and a tap light (remember those?), but once he was housebroken he ended up in my bed, a habit that lasted for the rest of his life.

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Orion sleeping on the kitchen floor in his new home
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Orion at 2 months old

Sometimes I’m still surprised that my parents agreed to have Orion join our family (as perhaps was expected, my dad ended up picking up the yard after all). But, they had watched my life change just a year before when severe chronic pain became part of my life and a surgery confirmed my endometriosis. I think they recognized companionship and stability for me in him, and he was just what I needed. Over the years as my health worsened and the surgeries and diagnoses continued to stack up, Orion was always there. He never minded spending the bad days cuddling next to me in bed; in fact, he preferred it that way.

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Experimenting with a new hairdo; 2 months old
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Out in the backyard after school (thanks to my little sister for cutting my head off in this photo); 4 months old
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2001; Orion kept me company as I was still recovering from my ruptured appendix (those are knee socks from my school uniform, by the way)

Leaving him with my parents when I went to college was painful. For my first year away, I sent him a package of treats to make up for missing his birthday. On summer and holiday breaks, we’d fall right back into our routine: Orion would lay down by my knees while I read before bed, and as soon as I put down my book, he’d sit up, wait for me to settle again, and then curl up next to my stomach to sleep. Before I’d leave to go back to school, I’d often find him sitting on top of my bags in hopes of keeping me home. The first time Kyle came back with me he was mostly amused at meeting Orion, who was protective despite his size and not quite ready to accept someone new into our lives. Eventually they grew to love each other too.

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Little bed buddy
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Stowaway
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2007
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Birthday boy; 2008
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2010
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Kyle & Orion; 2011
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Anderson Family; 2011
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Halloween 2012
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2013
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2014

When I look back on so many hardships, milestones, and events in my life, Orion is always there. He was there for me during my first break up and all through the rough days of high school, when my tears would soak into his fur. He was waiting for me to come home from the hospital after every surgery besides the very first. For every move to a new place, he sat on my lap in the car. He celebrated with me when I graduated from middle school, high school, and college. He was next to me when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 for the first time in 86 years. He was there when I got ready for dinner the night Kyle and I became engaged and while I did my makeup for our wedding. When my grandpa was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2010, Orion stayed faithfully by his side as he recovered from brain surgery. The last words my grandpa said to me just before he died were about him: “nice fellow,” he breathed, when I held Orion up to his bedside. And the hell of infertility, Orion was there for that too.

We were peas in a pod, the two of us. I could read his every expression and understand his every bark. We grew up together.

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College Graduation
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Post-wedding Photos; 2009
Orion
August 2015
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December 2015

I know that no amount of wishing would have kept him alive forever. He had lived a long life and our story was always going to end with goodbye. But I hate that it came so close on the heels of Ross’s birth. After so many years full of loss, that was supposed to be our time of celebration. Instead, a fresh loss brought new grief that seeped into everything. I was torn between relief that they’d had the chance to meet and guilt that I’d left Orion for almost three weeks as we waited for Ross’s arrival. I wondered if he gave up on life because he believed I was never coming home or if he had felt replaced during the last days we had with him.

My inability to deal well with grief is one of my biggest personal weaknesses. I haven’t managed to figure out the balance between letting the pain consume me and trying to avoid as much of it as possible by hiding my feelings away. I didn’t know how to process the mix of extreme emotions in February, so after a day or two of crying at the sight of his things and struggling to sleep without him curled up next to me, I let myself pretend like it never happened just to get through. Instead of dealing with it, I put away his sweaters, his blanket, his bed. I let myself imagine that he was staying somewhere else. And then somehow almost six months passed without him, and here we are. I miss him.

The First Half

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Enjoy every moment; they grow up so fast.

It’s a statement I’ve heard regularly since Ross arrived, and still, I could never have prepared myself for the breakneck speed with which a squirmy, 7-pound newborn can become an active, curious 6-month-old. Time has never moved as quickly as it does now, just as it had never before inched by as slowly as it did while we struggled to bring him into the world. The juxtaposition of these extreme perceptions has made the last several months feel even more surreal. Now half a year has somehow passed us by and all I did was blink.

We’ve had more than our share of bumps in the road since we brought our tiny baby home at the end of January (which I will write about another time), but he made it easy to transition to life as a family of three. There was never an adjustment period; it just felt like we’d found the missing piece to our puzzle. They say that you are never really ready to have your first child, but the day he was born I knew without a doubt that I could not have felt more ready. Being his mom felt natural to me, maybe because I had been dreaming of it for so long.

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I just wish it wouldn’t go by so fast. By the time Ross was a month old, I was already struggling with how quickly he was changing. I love watching him grow and discover the world, but the beginning of each exciting, new stage is often bittersweet because it also means the end of another one. Every photo or video clip we’ve taken of him represents a moment that has already slipped through our fingers into the past, and the pain of knowing that we are unlikely to have a second child makes the endings that much harder to accept. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that we only have a matter of days to enjoy a phase before he’s moving on to something new; if I am constantly looking backwards, I will miss all of it, and I don’t want to spend his babyhood that way. Instead, I am doing my best to focus on today while looking forward to tomorrow and appreciating yesterday. We have had so many wonderful moments these last six months and I know there are so many more still to come!

I never stop feeling grateful for our miracle. It still hits me at random times just how lucky we are, and I feel overwhelmed all over again. I can be doing something completely mundane like folding his laundry or buying a box of diapers, and all of a sudden I will think, I can’t believe this is my life! I can’t believe I get to do this now! The grief and loss of the last several years have made me take for granted less and appreciate more during this time. I believe that the hard moments have been easier and the good moments even better because I know all too well what life is like without him and that everything– no matter how maddening or tiring or monotonous it feels at the time– is a privilege. Everything.

January:

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February:

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March:

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April:

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May:

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June:

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July:

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Our Paddington Bear