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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.