here we are. the first day of the third trimester. one step closer to a new chapter of our lives.
but i should probably back up a bit – we are having a baby…!
in between living through a pandemic (as we still await our vaccines), my dad’s death after his courageous life with cancer, the ongoing daily struggles for so many as we work to dismantle racism, our collective grief of being part of a mass casualty event, and knowing that nothing is certain, we thought it was time to share some news. a baby is perhaps one of the finest symbols of the human spirit’s perennial optimism. a chance to start over, see the world anew, have hope for what the future could be, that there is a future to make better.
as our community, you’ve all been so supportive, patient, generous, insightful and vulnerable with us over the years. we’ve come a long way together.
in transferring my caringbridge over a more permanent blog site – https://keepingabreast.me/ – i’ve had a chance to go through my whole cancer journey and organize my continued journaling and writing. it’s all there. and wow, it’s been a lot. and still is a lot, as in march my oncologist changed my medications to help with some memory lapses, fog and fatigue that crept in (pandemic brain and pandemic body, maybe?). the long tail of a “health event,” many elements of which i had mentally blocked, stamped from my active mind because it was too hard to be always sitting in those memories.
you have also known that, if we were to pursue parenthood, our pathway would be…clinical. and turns out, it would also end up involving a whole other family and a whole other womb. our surrogate katie is amazing, as one might guess in this instance. a NICU nurse and mom of 3, she fell into surrogacy (in as much as that can happen) and perhaps we were meant to find each other, matching only 4 days into what’s typically at least a 6-month process. and, in appreciation of science, technology and freezers with back-up generators, our embryos that we created in 2012 were still viable. out of 3 that grew out and made it through testing, 2 were boys and 1 was a girl. we asked them to implant the best one, the one that would have the highest chance of success, because we were only going to do this once. we would just plan be surprised later. it turns out the girl embryo was the best.
it’s been such a distant thought, made even more distant by so many factors. and all the sudden, we’re here, in this third trimester, assembling baby gear and reading baby books and anticipating all the things we cannot anticipate.
because of the timing of our match with katie, my dad knew. he was delighted, supportive, sad and yet accepting that he would not be here to see the outcome of our efforts. he will always be the brightest star in our sky, and our daughter’s too.
i imagine i’ll keep my permanent blog up when i can, as my creative space to process what is happening in the world around me and inside my own life experience. in the meantime, i’m sharing a piece i contributed to a magazine, Wildfire, about becoming a parent and moving towards closure with choosing the pathway of surrogacy. it follows one of our recent sonogram pictures.
thank you for being here and sharing in this transformation that is on its way for us.
I didn’t think about you, not once, not ever. Well, maybe that’s only partly true. I thought about you in such a way as to not think about you. I didn’t want you, you see. It’s not exactly the warm welcome you anticipated. And I am not sure how this is going to work out. We never are.
The baby dolls I had when I was little were either hand-me-downs or statues. The second-hand toys were missing an eye, sometimes even a head, laying bare without clothes, or their hair, a matted nest. The others were white porcelain, faces painted ever so delicately with a steady hand, thin lips and blue eyes, layers of petticoats, upright on their doll stands and collecting dust. I don’t recall ever opening a huggable baby doll that I nurtured, held, pretended to be its mother.
I remember in eighth grade, walking home from the neighborhood ball park one steamy summer evening and telling my friend Tara that I know I’ll die young and clearly motherhood is not for me.
I turn 40 next month and have never changed a diaper.
Sometimes I pause and interrogate why I have been so certain. I have the most caring, compassionate mom, grandmothers, and maternal figures in my life. The archetypes abound, mothers coming in all forms. The people who have been there to care for my wounds, rub my back, listen to my wails and my worries about what is and what might be.
Mothers give life. A mother birthed the stars, planets, suns, moons, and earth. I glory in these gifts every day – bird song, spring blooms, the exhale of autumn leaves drifting to the ground. A capacity for unconditional love with multitudes and deeper than the ocean’s trenches.
This is a lot to live up to.
And then there is the social chatter of the white western world of what makes a good mother. That is, losing oneself to further one’s children – my career, travels, passion pursuits, and dreams all are supposed to go in the backseat. Dedicating every waking hour to a child. Concerning myself with all matters of this person’s diet, sleep patterns, screen time, air quality, school system and homeroom teacher, friend groups, sports or extracurriculars, and quirkiness level. Hopefully, one day if all goes according to some assumed plan, the child flies the nest to be an economically-independent adult who makes good choices, assembles IKEA furniture, and votes at the ballot box. And always comes home for the holidays.
When did mother become a verb?
Maybe at the root of my resolve is the other part of the world, the scorched earth, tipping to a point of no return. How could I reasonably think it a sound plan or be responsible for bringing a new person into this doomed place? White supremacy and racism undergirding every system that we walk in? Wondering if no amount of work, power sharing, and reconciliation can dissolve the privilege of being white and heal the shortened lives and heartbreaks that it sows for so many, too many, others? And the changing climate, its severity and destruction exacerbating broken systems. The bees and the biodiversity, lights blinking out before they are even seen, heard, touched. And any new life part of Generation C for COVID, navigating the chaos yet to come.
The tally marks are clear and bright.
Until the choice of being a parent was nearly taken away from me.
The breast cancer diagnosis, coming in like a wrecking ball to our newlywed life. Telling us that if I were to live, cancer would impact my chance of becoming a biological parent, of carrying a baby, and make adoption agencies pause. The hustle and decision of whether I had enough time and we had enough finances to harvest my eggs, put them on ice as embryos for a future that was even less than uncertain. The answer was yes, if we hurry, we must hurry.
The ravages of eighteen months of chemotherapy, the fast-growing cells – even the good ones – disintegrating as the chemicals washed them away. The six years of shots and ongoing daily pills to keep me in chemically-induced menopause through my entire 30s, to dampen the risk of estrogen circulating in my body and feeding whatever cancer cells yet lurk in the shadows, camping out for a time and place when they could bloom again. Moments turned to years, stretches of time stolen.
Until life crept back in, sunrise by sunrise. And the quiet question, a mostly-concealed curiosity, I asked in a clinical setting about a baby and the answer – that the risk was too high, the heart too weak, the body too tired.
Yet I realized that with cancer, when I crossed the threshold of a “before” and an “after,” a light flickered on low and deep in my body. Maybe it was primal, or cultural, or perhaps it was maternal. This curiosity of what it would feel like to become an ancestor.
I’ll save you exactly how we got to today, maybe until you get to know me and your father better, each of us a chapter book to go deeper into with time, just like you. You can ride the roller coaster with us – the murkiness of health care, the fear of exacerbating my body’s newfound fragility, the pros and cons lists, the joy at having a full adult life of brunches and sleeping in, the research, the hand-wringing, the passage of time, the guilt, the worry, the recognition of a heart’s capacity to love, the dreaminess of a transformative experience that makes people so exhausted, and still, they would not trade for anything.
Why am I telling you this, on the day that the paperwork is signed, the surrogate is matched, the womb is chosen? Today feels like something distinctive, a leapfrog towards another providence, a do-si-do away from a young death and a world dictated by cancer, from who I thought I always was to who I will become, through and with you.
You are still a stranger to me. And I can’t wait to meet you.