Siblings

Every year we celebrate our anniversary with a weekend getaway. We don’t give each other cards or gifts for our birthdays, Christmas, or anything in between, so that time in late September is special. This past year, our eighth, we needed to stay fairly close to home and chose to spend the weekend in the city where our fertility clinic is located. We decided to book a room at the same hotel we stayed in for each of our embryo transfers and felt a bit like things were coming full-circle.

It was supposed to be a sort of celebratory experience, taking Ross back to this place from our past where we spent so much time hoping for him. Perhaps it was naive, but I didn’t expect to be hit with so much emotion when we walked into the lobby. And yet, all I could think of was sitting on those same couches next to Elle as I told her through tears that the doctor had just called to say we had lost 15 embryos overnight against all expectations.

Despite our lives having changed dramatically in the time since we’d last been there, everything felt strangely the same as when we had last left it, and for a moment it was like being transported back to 2015, back to a time when I was terrified that I’d never know what it was like to be called Mom. Now as I walked into the lobby, a little hand gripped my own, but the stark reminder of just how close we’d come to only holding emptiness in its place was haunting.

After checking in to our room, we buckled Ross into the car and made the short trip to our clinic down the street. The last time we’d stood in front of the building was 2.5 years earlier on the day we transferred Ross, a microscopic 5-day-old embryo who had spent the last few months in the freezer, waiting for us to come back for him while we hoped for his sibling to implant.

He had grown into a rambunctious toddler since then, and we persuaded him to stay still long enough for a quick picture by the clinic’s large sign before I held him up in front of the building for another, trying to position us as close as I could to the embryology lab that was his first home. At a little over 18-months-old, he couldn’t understand the significance, but some day he will come to know the story.

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In front of the building where Ross spent a few months in the freezer as an embryo.

As I watched him run around outside the building where we saw his image for the very first time, it struck me again that his wasn’t the only story that started there.

He wasn’t alone in that petri dish.

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The first embryo

Even though surrogacy eventually became our only path left to having a baby, choosing to pursue it was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. After a while you begin to feel like nothing will work simply because nothing has, and I was downright cynical when we started the process. Then something changed after my egg retrieval. I’d produced an exceptional number of eggs (27), and even more importantly, had a great fertilization rate (62%), especially considering how many embryos that gave us. Day after day the embryologist called to say that all 17 were thriving. It was only then that I started to hope. I began to believe that I wouldn’t get to hold just one of those babies in my arms over the coming years; I believed there were siblings in there too.

Of course, it wouldn’t work out that way.

It’s somehow nearly three years later, and I still think of those “what ifs” every once in a while. Things could so easily have been different for us. But the truth is that as I held him up in front of his first home and thought about the others who shared that space with him, I wondered if it would be the closest Ross will ever come to having siblings in this life.

From his earliest moments, I have worried that I won’t be able to relate to him in his experience as an only child. In contrast, I’ve been a big sister for longer than I can remember: my sister was born before I even turned two, and my parents have often told the story of the time they asked me if I wanted a brother or sister (I told them I wanted french fries). Being a sister, especially one of four, has had a profound effect on my life. I talk to at least one of my sisters on any given day. All three of them stood beside me on the day that Kyle became my husband. They are the keepers of my childhood, the only people on this earth who experienced the life we shared as the only kids along that worn road a quarter-mile from the ocean. I changed (some of) their diapers and let them climb in bed with me when they couldn’t sleep at night. They hogged the bathroom while I ran late for school and held me as I cried in the days after my first break-up. I can’t imagine my life, or who I would be, without them. As a twin, Kyle is perhaps even less qualified to understand the life of an only child than I am– he was sharing everything from before he was even born.

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I want that for Ross. I want him to experience all of it: the way a sibling can push your buttons like truly no one else can and that feeling of having someone who understands every single reference from your childhood. He is fortunate to have cousins just 9- and 4-months-apart from him respectively, as well as good friends close in age who have grown up alongside him. He loves them like they are his siblings, but they will have siblings of their own. It will be different.

I have already started to dread the day Ross comes home from school to tell me that another one of his friends will have a new sibling soon and wonders why can’t he have a little brother or sister too. I don’t want the day to come that he realizes he’s the only person he knows who was born via surrogacy.

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