There were so many pulse racing unknowns to this when all four of us (Hitchhiker’s parents, Valentine and I) arrived and got settled into our labor and delivery room. I changed into a very lovely gown and IV pole, but thankfully was allowed to keep my bra on,dignity in these moments comes in the simplest of forms. We were team Hitchhiker the four of us. Their journey began in 2011, we were just playing catch up starting in 2013, and now here we all were together waiting for this little girl to finally be out in the world. So it didn’t seem to matter so much that I had to forgo underpants for the day. This was so much bigger than me and my embarrassment.
We waited a long time. Well, longer than we had thought. My two were born rapidly. The Hitchhiker had other intentions. This hospital was much gentler with the pitocin and gave it to me very gradually. That combined with the Hitchhiker’s sunny side up position made for 12 hours of labor rather than 6 or 3.5. Thankfully there was an epidural in there, so rather than it being a horribly painful experience we were able to laugh. The Hitchhiker’s mom stayed with me, sitting in front of me as I hunched over for the anesthesiologist. Valentine gets squeamish around needles, so she stood in for him. It was just another task for team Hitchhiker. The hardest part of the day for me really, was not being able to do anything to make the delivery go faster. I just wanted to help get her out sooner. I wanted Valentine to be able to go home and be with our kids. I wanted our friends to not have to sit on the edge of their seats and most of all I wanted those parents to have their baby in their arms.
Throughout this wait, we were surrounded with amazing nurses and two fantastic doctors. I didn’t know how the nurses and doctors would treat us, and I have to admit, I was worried about this in the days that preceded her birth. Would they think surrogacy was a good thing? Would they look at my tattoos and think it was a money thing? Would they respect the wishes of the parents? All of them were very supportive of what we were doing. All of them thanked me for what I was doing, which seemed so crazy, especially since some of them were there delivering babies while battling their own infertility. To me they are the heroes. They respected the parents' parental rights, but they were very protective and respectful of me, making sure I was okay with everything, letting me be the decider on issues of who would get the baby after she was born. I always gestured to the Hitchhiker’s mom and said, “give her to her mom”. It was nice though to get to say those things, to get to make the decisions and not feel like I was just a cog in this baby making wheel. We never felt this way thorough out this process when it came to her parents. The only time I ever felt like that was at the reproductive clinic in the beginning. The hospital staff were fantastic and helped make the whole day a joyful one.
There had been discussion about where her parents would be during delivery. I felt very strongly that this was their baby and their birth experience. I also knew that when delivery happened suddenly there was a whole cast of strange nurses and doctors around, so it wasn’t a time for worrying about who was watching. Still a part of me was thinking about the indignity of it all, and experiencing that with them. So when it came time to push, the doctor who I had just met, asked where I wanted everyone. I remembered how excited Valentine was as he watched our own kids birth, and so did he, so we welcomed them to watch everything. Again, it probably should have been awkward, but any awkwardness only made me laugh. The absurdity of being so naked and out there was hilarious to me as I prepared to push that little girl out.
Delivery itself was something so wonderfully different than how I feared. I worried for days before hand that it would be awkward or tense, and it was anything but. We had just met our delivering OB as our regular OB went off shift. He seemed nice, but I had no idea when we met that we would be discussing mission trips as he tried to, um how should we say this, open things up for the wrong facing Hitchhiker. It was comfortable territory for me, talking about serving others abroad, and it put me at ease. There were a few complications and some extra pushes, but he kept me laughing though it all. Really, just watching her parents watch her, was so much fun. It should have been embarrassing maybe, but it was so cool. Having been the birthing mom, I have never gotten to watch a mom see her baby be born, or hold her for the first time. It was awesome.
This beautiful, chubby little girl who had been frozen for almost five years as an embryo was here. This girl who shouldn’t have been born because cancer nearly robbed her parents of this moment, was here. After the doctor finished fighting the placenta and stitching things up, we were left the four of us, team Hitchhiker to just marvel at her for a bit. Honestly there was no part of me that wanted to snuggle her. I was perfectly content to watch them. I did hold her, more than I would normally hold a newborn infant, but for me, it was about watching them be her parents. There honestly was not the urge to hold her and hug her and kiss her. I had my time with her, and I was glad it was her parents’ turn. I felt more like a co conspirator with her, than a parent. We had gone through a lot to get her to this moment, and I just looked at her and laughed as I held her, then I got nervous about holding a newborn, and gave her back.
We spent the next day in two rooms side by side. I was able to visit as much as I wanted, but I didn’t want her to hear my voice all day, I wanted her to hear her parents on more than just the recordings I played for her. I wanted them to be able to bond without me around. So I sat and rested in my room a lot. It was surreal being there and not having nurses barge in every hour. I was stir crazy to see my kids and get home. We had worried that they wouldn’t be able to visit, but like we were on some clandestine spy mission, we managed to sneak them in, and they got to meet her too. It was an awesome moment our family and theirs enjoying this baby together. Her mom dressed her in a onesie we had bought for her to meet the kids. It was a very sweet gesture and funny, because did not look tiny in the three to sixth month outfit. I don’t know how this kid got so chubby, I have never seen a newborn with fat rolls.
There weren’t tears as we parted because I was going to miss her. The tears came when I thought they wouldn’t let me leave that night, i just wanted to go home. I wanted her to be able to go home too, I wanted their family to be home, with her brother. I was so relieved to be done with the birth, to be done with the fun of having nurses take you to pee, to be done being responsible for someone else’s child. That anxiety was gone, I was tired and I just wanted to be at home. When they told me I couldn’t leave because she would have to be discharged too (our records were tied together in the system), I broke down in tears. Her parents very graciously wanted to make sure I could go home though, so they had her discharged and checked into pediatrics for some jaundice treatment. I was free and could return to my family!
Really, the only weirdness in this process came when I had to sign things as the birth mother, and when I couldn’t leave the hospital until the baby was ready, or she was checked into pediatrics, because our records were linked. It will be nice someday when forms, and hospital protocols have gestational carrier as a category, instead of birth mother. I am not a birth mother, I have not had to sacrifice my relationship with my own child to give them a different life. I simply carried someone else’s baby. I hope those things will get easier for families, and while I don’t think everyone should be a gestational carrier, I do think it’s an important option for parents who can’t carry their own children.
So that’s how gestational carriers, have babies, or at least this one. I know I would be curious about this process. It may not be the typical story, but it’s ours. It felt like a marathon, and though the race is over, the adventure is not. We have a new family member, a whole new part of our family with theirs and a love that will last a lifetime. I can see now,