It didn't go as planned, I guess you could say. In the end it went fine enough - I was fine, the babies were fine, but it was not at all what I expected or really wanted, for that matter. But it's what lit the fire inside me to find my love story.
Eleven years ago today I gave birth to two beautiful, healthy baby girls as a gestational surrogate (using the parents' egg and sperm and my uterus as the incubator). It was an easy pregnancy as twins go, heck, even as carrying a single baby goes. I had no complications, no bed rest or activity restrictions, and I went full-term with the pregnancy.
Full-term as in I carried them until 39 weeks, when one night as I lay on the bed around 9pm reading "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to the kids (yes, this was in fact July, I had toddlers at the time so "The Grinch" is standard bedtime reading with that age group), I felt my water break.
Grandparents mobilized to stay with our three young kids, bags packed, camera loaded up with film (this was pre-digital in our house, thus the less-than-stellar photos here), parents of the babies alerted to the impending birth, Doug and I headed to the hospital. Once there and the usual labor and delivery ministrations completed, I moved into a large bathtub to ease my labor and manage the contractions. The babies' mother came in and out of the room, while the babies' father stayed in the waiting room (this was his choice, not mine - I preferred to have both parents present for the whole thing, but during the pregnancy the intended mother told me that once the babies were born, bathed, and dressed, they would be presented to their father - this was about the point in the pregnancy where I flipped my lid and knew this surrogacy was not headed where I wanted it to go).
The first baby, called "Baby A" in twin-speak, was born quickly and easily in the tub. My previous birth had been Aster two years ago, and she was born at home in a birthing tub, so I knew what to expect (i.e., I knew not to get out of the tub until she was out because it's way better in my book to birth in the water rather than on the bed). So out beautiful Baby A slid in the tub, much to the hospital staff's chagrin (this was against policy, but really, have you ever tried to reason with a woman about to push out a baby? not gonna happen, I assure you).
Once Baby A was out and retrieved by the OB, the staff made me get out of the tub and move to the bed. Baby B was still in the chute and goodness knows they didn't want her making her way into the water like her older sister (horrors!). So I moved from the tub to the bed, and nothing happened. The contractions stopped. A quick ultrasound showed that Baby B had moved back up and away from the birth canal. Not good.
We waited her out for over an hour to no avail. She was high up in my uterus, laying sideways with no intention of coming out to meet me, her sister, her parents, no one. No dice.
My OB made a last ditch effort to manually guide her into position and upon doing so, realized that her "presenting part" (which in almost all births is the crown of the head, unless it's a breech birth, then it's the baby's bottom) were actually "presenting parts," as in she was coming down with a hand and foot first, her whole body stuck sideways. This birth was going to be a no-go.
I was immediately moved to the ER for a c-section. As I sat up to move from the gurney to the operating table, I felt a warm puddle beneath me and giggled "oh, I think I just peed all over the table!" (oh the things you find humorous at 3am while attempting to deliver your second baby of the night). I lifted the sheet and my embarrassment turned to shock, I was actually sitting in a pool of blood - the placentas had abrupted (released from the wall of the uterus, which would cut off the supply of oxygen to Baby B, who was still inside). In an absolute flash I was pushed down on my back, instantly numbed, and Baby B was pulled out via c-section. Healthy, crying, beautiful Baby B.
I barely remember the next 24 hours, to be honest. Sometime later that morning after the delivery I remember laying in a room and feeling really wet, even my socks were wet. I brought it to someone's attention (can't recall who, my brain was so fuzzy at the time) and I remember a round of chaos starting. Nurses scurrying, meds being pumped through my IV, concerned faces all around. But I was too out-of-it to really know what was happening (in retrospect, this was probably a good thing - I'd had a dangerous episode of postpartum bleeding).
Later that day and now stabilized, I was moved up to a private wing, not where the rest of the mothers and babies were, but where the women who were having complicated pregnancies stayed. It was remote and quiet and the care was constant. This kind of scared me, what had I just gone through?
Like I said, I barely remember that first 24 hours after the babies were born. I do remember being flat on my back and not having enough energy to move, even a little. This also scared me.
I believe the babies' mother came to see me that afternoon, but I have only a fleeting memory of it.
By the next day, I was awake and strong enough to sit up a little and see and hold the baby girls. I wish there were adequate words to describe what that felt like, but there just aren't. Pride, awe, astonishment and adoration all come to mind, though they really don't quite capture it. Surreal joy might be closest to it.
I'd gone through an agency to set up this surrogacy and along the way during the pregnancy I'd expressed my misgivings about how things were going with the couple. I found them distant and cool and at one point, even a bit menacing. Things really broke down when I was about 5 months along in the pregnancy and the father told me he wanted no more contact with me. Shocked? Yes! From my agency I was all but patted on the head and told "Oh, they're just nervous, once you deliver they'll realize that everything is fine and come around."
That's not exactly what happened.
They didn't come around. They didn't relax. They told my agency they didn't want my kids meeting the babies in the hospital. To me, this was a non-negotiable. Think of it from a young child's perspective (and mine were ages 5, 3 and 2 at the time). They've just seen mommy's belly grow huge, they've heard about these babies for months and have been told they're not coming home with mommy from the hospital. That alone is a hell of a lot for any kid to grasp, especially with no physical baby to ever see, let alone hold. Emotionally, there was too much at stake for my kids *not* to meet these babies.
Winnie and Caty did end up meeting the babies at the hospital (being barely 2, I figured Aster wasn't that aware of the situation and didn't need to come) and the photos from that day show exactly how the parents felt about it (actually it was just the mother there, true to his word during the pregnancy the father stayed away - I saw him for mere minutes the whole time I was in the hospital). But the look on my kids' faces made me realize this right was worth fighting for.
The parents told the hospital staff not to allow the babies into my room. What exactly they thought I might do to them, after nourishing and growing them to 39 weeks and safely delivering them, I'll never know.
On the third day the babies were ready to go home (I, however, was not, I stayed recovering for another three days). This part I remember so clearly… the mom came into the room saying "The babies were just released and we're leaving now. <The father> is getting the car. If you want to say goodbye to the girls, get a nurse to take you down to the nursery."
It felt like a slap in the face.
She walked out, I sobbed and found someone to get me a wheelchair to make it to the nursery (I could still barely walk at that time, I was so weak and dizzy from the blood loss). The nurse could barely understand my request through my tears, but I made it down there. I sat in the wheelchair next to the girls, caressed their heads, held their hands, held each of them individually, and for the last time, both of them at once. I placed them back in their bassinets.
The nursing staff was very tuned into the unfortunate situation and was so sympathetic. The nurse that had brought me down there said "Here, I think you need these" and took the caps off the babies' heads and gave them both to me. They smelled of the girls.
And that was that.
I stayed for three more days before returning home again to my own kids. Shortly after I arrived home, it was Aster's nap time. I laid down on the bed next to her and rubbed her back until she fell asleep. And then I sobbed.
And I sobbed, and I sobbed.
They weren't tears of sheer emotional release, as I've cried after every other return home following a surrogate birth. Those typical tears are a mix of joy, relief, physical separation, with just a touch of sadness, and they pass quickly, I'd say within 10-15 minutes. They're followed by a nice long nap, maybe a shower, and a feeling of deep satisfaction and pride and excitement to get back to my family life as usual.
But those weren't the tears I cried that day 11 years ago.
Those tears were of sadness, frustration, deep hurt, anger at the parents and anger at myself for not following my instincts when I'd first met them (yes, I'd had red flags in the getting-to-know you phase but I chalked it up to inexperience on my part, as did my agency). So there was that deep disappointment that I'd let myself down on this.
Once home from the hospital, I thought perhaps the parents would call to see how I was doing, or at least tell me how the baby girls were doing.
Once several days went by, I thought maybe they'd call with an update.
Once a week went by, I thought maybe they might call, or possibly email, letting me know about the babies.
Once two weeks went by and I was able to drive and shop, I made a big gift basket for the girls, filled with clothes and books and toys, mementos and handmade cards. I had it delivered to their house via courier. I thought maybe they might call to thank me for the gifts, and possibly offer an update on the babies.
After three weeks went by I called the courier to confirm that the delivery was made, and they said it was, and it was signed for by the babies' mother.
That felt like a punch in the gut.
It's also what a broken heart feels like.
But already, even then, I knew this was not the end, that surrogacy meant much too much to me to let my story end this way. I was in search of a love story, the kind I knew other surrogates had, the kind I knew was entirely possible, the kind I wanted written on my heart.
The kind that required the writing of a new chapter.