S and I met while living in Japan on a youth exchange program in 1995. She was from Sweden, I am Canadian. We were both in a strange country, trying to cope with different customs, a new language, being so far away from home alone for the first time. It was just before the internet blew up, before free, easy connection across oceans. We were eighteen that year, and coming of age.
Those factors helped foster a deep bond between us; we imprinted on each other. We had an amazing, intense year, then returned to our homes and carried on our individual paths: going to school, falling in love, travelling the world, beginning careers, and in my case, getting married and having children. We maintained a sporadic connection through snail mail, then email; we met once at a friend’s wedding in Belgium… and then came Skype.
Via Skype, S delivered the devastating news that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer; it was invasive upon discovery, and she had had an emergency hysterectomy. She was dealing with tremendous shock at the diagnosis and the necessity of facing mortality at the mere age of 31.
Once it was apparent that this disease was not going to take her life, her awareness turned to what it did so cruelly rob her of: her ability to conceive and carry a child. S has always wanted to be a mother. She is gentle, creative and generous with so much to offer a child. Adoption and surrogacy were the two obvious options. Surrogacy is illegal in Sweden, and S wasn’t a candidate for adoption, not being “five years cancer-free” nor married. She began researching surrogacy in other countries.
I had been blessed with two smooth, pleasant pregnancies and home births. I knew I was finished having children of my own. And it seemed the most natural thing in the world to carry S’s child. She had ovaries and healthy eggs; her partner had plenty of sperm. I had a uterus that wasn’t being used.
I gently suggested the idea when S came to visit me in early 2011; I wasn’t sure if it would offend her, or make her feel obligated. However, the idea immediately resonated with her, and we spent much of that visit researching and crying and talking about whether it would work. My carrying her baby would allow her to be intimately involved in her child’s development. She trusts me, knows my lifestyle and how I care for my body. She could visit any time. Lay her hands on my belly. A very different prospect than paying a stranger to act as her surrogate.
S is now head-over-heels in love with an old friend, P; she has found a partner with whom to create a family. I have been careful to ensure my children know that pregnancies are not always successful. But we are being cautiously optimistic, and this process has presented wonderful opportunities to talk to them about how they came into this world (my five-year-old daughter astutely remarked, “But babies are so BIG and vaginas are so small,” with appropriate hand gestures), how bodies work, and the many ways we can help others. I am in an eight-month-old relationship with a wonderful man who is not entirely sure that he’s comfortable with me being pregnant with someone else’s baby… but blessedly, thinks that what we have is worth sticking around to explore.
It all makes my heart swell.
We are now two and a half weeks from our intended transfer date. It has been challenging for S to find doctors in Sweden who are willing to help her obtain the necessary investigations and medications. We have negotiated contracts and timelines across six time zones. This medicalization of conception is fascinatingly counter to my oh-so-natural experience of getting knocked up the first two times, and to my general view of the world as a naturopathic doctor. I’ve given the poor doc a headache or two as I’ve challenged his protocol, refusing to take antibiotics or aspirin, providing him instead with the evidence for probiotics and fish oil.
S and I have both been on drugs that medically induce menopause; we have commiserated about hot flashes, and moodiness that we are SURE is due to the hormones. My children are helping me remember to take all my prenatal nutrients and medications, and will be around when I inject myself with progesterone every day for 12 weeks. My guy and I are actively enjoying my non-pregnant body.
Our intended embryo transfer date is October 14, 2013 — Canadian Thanksgiving. P will try his hand at football with my boyfriend’s crew. I will muddle my way through making a traditional turkey dinner. We will put S and P’s baby in my womb. It will truly be a day to give thanks.
For family that is created by blood, by choice, and by spiritual connection. Family that reaches across oceans, and family that stands by, even when life doesn’t proceed as planned. Family that morphs and grows and evolves. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for friends who are family. I’m thankful for the messy, brilliant life we all share. And for our ability to create life together. Blessed be.