It’s Baby Week, ya’ll.
Elysia was born on March 20. This week, I’ll be sharing different pieces of that experience, a day at a time.
If you’re confused about all of this, check out the posts under the surrogacy category, you’ll catch up.
One question I encountered a lot during this surrogacy–probably every person I talked to asked about it–was “How can you grow this baby and then give it up?”
Within the surrogacy community (a group that mostly exists online, as we’re pretty rare and geographically dispersed), when someone asks this question, people tend to jump all over her. I see posts nearly every day that say, “I’d like to be a surrogate, but is it hard to give up the baby?” and, invariably, 90% of the responses are, “If you are asking that question, surrogacy is not for you.”
I usually try to jump in and argue that it is the most logical question on earth. If your only experience of pregnancy is growing your own beloved and desired babies, growing a baby that you do not intend to raise is a difficult concept. I’m impressed that so many surrogates don’t have that question, or claim not to. I went into this experience wondering about it, too. How could I not? Every woman I talked to who had completed a surrogate pregnancy said the same thing: It’s not like your own baby. It’s like your friend’s baby. And so I trusted in that. But I can’t deny that I also was a little afraid that it wouldn’t be true for me.
When I had this conversation with other people, I tried to be nonchalant about it. Those who were asking were, I believe, genuinely concerned for me. Always reluctant to be a bother to people, I wanted to diffuse their worry. I said that we absolutely did not want another baby, that we knew the day Petra was born that our family was complete. I said that I didn’t really bond with my own babies in utero, although I know that many people do. I said it was hard for me to imagine that the aches and kicks and pokes in my belly had to do with a real human baby, both with my own pregnancies and with this one. I said it was hard to imagine, looking at my big kids, that they ever were inside of my body. It felt impossible. These were true statements. But I was still a bit worried, and other people asking about that seemed to validate my fears.
And so, when Ely was born, I didn’t know what to expect.
As it turned out, my feelings were exactly as I had hoped they would be–and as I feared they wouldn’t be. I was relieved to discover that no part of me felt that she was mine at all.
With my own babies, I had a feeling I thought of as body-hunger for them. I wanted to hold them constantly and I physically ached when someone else, even JC, took them. This was a feeling that had nothing to do with my mind at all. It was instinctive, from some deep animal place of my being. My body knew that it grew them, and that they were as much part of it as my lungs. The cutting of the cord was an amputation that took months for my body to believe in. When I think about the feeling of having a new baby, that is what I remember the most powerfully, more than the overwhelming sleep deprivation or the magic of their new-baby smell. My friends who have lost babies tell me that their arms burned with the absence of that tiny body, both heavy and weightless. This was the feeling I feared. I knew my mind would accept that she was not our baby, that my family is complete, that we do not want any more babies, that I promised to not try to make her my baby. But would my animal body understand that?
It did, and I knew it the moment she was born. This was a tiny and tremendous gift.
I nursed Ely for a couple of days, until my milk came in and I started pumping so her parents could feed her. When she was a day and a half old, Natalie brought her down for a feeding and then went to get herself a snack. After I fed Ely, I held her for a long time, looking at her milk-drunk face. I thought to myself, It’s time to be honest, now. No one will ever know, and it won’t change anything, but what if she was my baby? Do I want that, even a little?
I searched her long eyelashes and her tiny fingers, unfolding in sleep. I searched my own heart. I went looking for the feelings I remembered from my own babies’ tiny days. I searched for even an echo of those emotions. And they were not there. She wasn’t my baby. She was never my baby. And I felt so much peace about that. This was a tiny, and tremendous, gift.
Holding Ely felt like holding my friend’s baby. Rather specifically, I had the same constellation of emotions that filled me, nearly ten years ago, when I held baby Elisabeth for the first time. She was the first baby I knew as an adult–Bethany was the first of my close friends to have a baby, and I witnessed her pregnancy developing daily, from the next desk over, fascinated. And when I held Elisabeth and looked into her magical blue eyes, I felt love and connection and wonder–how was this extraordinary person suddenly among us, breathing and growing before my eyes? That feeling of wonderment hasn’t faded; I still feel a particular connection with her. But I never had a desire to mother her, never had even a shadow of a wish that she was mine.
I have written before about how I feel that many odd pieces of my life have come together to make me ready to have this not-my-baby. One tremendous factor is that I have loved many people in ways that ignore biological relationships. So much of the value our society places on blood relationships is exclusionary. We expect people to love each other because they share a little extra DNA. But I grew up far from my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and although I love them all, the people I have the kind of feelings toward that others reserve for family are my parents’ friends and their kids. They are the family of my childhood, and they were people who loved me even though we didn’t share any relatives.
I’ve also been lucky enough to have Carlos as my “bonus son.” While I love him intensely, I don’t have any wish to be his mom. He has a wonderful one already! But loving Carlos, and having so very many of these in-between relationships (not family, and yet not not-family) taught me how to love Ely.
As this journey started with a line from Romeo and Juliet, I suppose it is fitting that it ends with one. As I held her, asking myself for honesty, the words that came to me were:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.
Juliet, of course, meant a specific and singular “thee,” but my heart wants to bend the grammar to breaking; my love is only infinite if that “thee” is as plural as it possibly can be.