More Than I Could Have Asked For

AUTHOR: | POSTED: March 28, 2011 | COMMENTS: None Yet - Post a Comment
CATEGORIES: Love This...Not So Much,

Carolyn Savage

Here, Holly shares both the difficulties and blessings in conceiving through embryo adoption


When I was ten years old, I was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome. Turner’s is an abnormality, affecting the X chromosome in a female. For me, the most obvious reality of this was short stature; I am four feet nine inches tall. What was most painful about this disorder came when, at the first appointment with the doctor, she turned to me, and said, “You’ll never have your own babies.” I still remember the look my mother gave that doctor. Honestly, she took it harder than I did; I was only ten. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to grasp the magnitude of what that meant to me.

I married my husband when I was twenty-four. I had told him at the beginning of our relationship about my medical problems, and the infertility, so we both knew we were going to face some challenges. About a year after we married, we pursued in vitro fertilization, using an egg donor. We were crushed when it did not work, and we had no remaining frozen embryos. It sent me into a deep grief, because I felt hopeless. And I felt like I had lost a baby, and really, I did.  We had poured all our hopes, and all of our finances into this, and it seemed there was no other way, at least not for many more years. I looked into adoption, but it seemed it would be just as expensive as what we had just been through.

About a year after the failed IVF, I finally came to a place of peace within myself. I realized that I was OK whether I had children or not, I had much to be thankful for, many who loved me, and many ways in which I could share the love in my heart with others. That feeling of failure and desperation inside me dissipated greatly.

I was watching television one night, as my husband slept, when I came across a story about embryo adoption, when a couple who goes through IVF has frozen embryos that they are not going to use to build their own family, and they choose to donate them to another couple. The two families had a nice relationship with each other, the embryos were already created, waiting to grow, and the cost was admittedly much less than if we asked an egg donor for help. Not only did this seem perfect for us in a financial perspective, but it just felt more comfortable. After some thought, my husband agreed that this was worth looking in to. We made an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist, and were put on a list to be matched with embryos. On my 29th birthday, we received a package in the mail, stating there was a couple who was tentatively requesting we adopt their embryos. This was a birthday gift I could not turn down!

A successful embryo transfer took place in May. I called our caseworker to tell her that she could tell the donating family that we had a positive pregnancy test.  When she asked if I wanted their email address, I hesitated at first but then decided to contact them.

Two weeks later, the caseworker called me. She told me that they were having a hard time (For privacy purposes, we’ll call them the genetic mom and genetic dad). My heart sank. She encouraged me to send them any updates that I want to, but not to be hurt, if I didn’t get a response. I sat down and wrote a short update, and told them I was sorry that our joy was causing them pain.

I received a reply shortly after that from the genetic mom. She congratulated us, but she sounded conflicted and sad. She told me her heart was broken, and my own heart broke. It was very overwhelming, and I didn’t know what to say, so I decided that I wouldn’t reply. I would let her reply when she felt like she could, and maybe it would get easier as time went on. It was very frightening to think that people I did not know could affect my future with the child growing inside of me; the baby that I had always wanted. At the same time, my heart went out to her.

She wrote me a couple of times, asking how I was doing. I thought maybe it would be best to be brief, but nice, and just tell her “I’m doing great, and I’ll let you know if I learn anything new.” I don’t remember what I wrote, but at one point, I thought maybe I would elaborate a little bit, but whenever I did, the responses were always mixed. Happiness for us, but sadness for them, anger at God, and yet desire to learn anything. It just made me uneasy. I didn’t know her, and yet I was sharing intimate things with her. Did she regret donating the embryos? Did she see me as the surrogate who wanted to keep the baby at the last minute? I woke up crying one morning after a dream in which I had my baby boy, and the nurse took him away. She told me I was just the surrogate, and she was taking him to his parents. Despite the fear and the guilt, it didn’t take me long to like the genetic mom. She was charming, she was honest, and she was passionate. There were a few times, when I let my guard down, and we had some sweet conversations. We exchanged family pictures. She and her husband had similar coloring and features to me and my husband. At twenty weeks, I found out I was having a boy. Seeing pictures of their son was strange and wonderful at the same time. Would my little boy look like the sweet child she was holding in the pictures?

Both the genetic mom and I have since agreed that we wish we would have met prior to the donation, and spoken about our hopes and expectations at that time. There were times when I would go up into the nursery, sit in the glider rocker we had put there, put my arms around my belly, and rock. Sometimes, to assure myself that I really did get to bring him home, but more often to marvel at the fact that this was really happening. I was having a baby.

There was a time when I looked back on these moments with a little bit of bitterness, but when the dust settled I realized I could still remember all of the wonderful moments that a woman experiences when she’s pregnant. At fifteen weeks, I woke up one morning, and I felt a “popping” in my belly, on the right side. My baby’s first movements! At eighteen weeks, it was a real kick. I remember seeing the kicks, feeling him roll around. I remember hearing his heartbeat, and seeing him on the ultrasound. I remember every hiccup, and every jump. I remember the baby shower my best friend gave me. I remember painting and decorating his room with my mother, and my mother-in-law. Without the generosity of the donating couple, I wouldn’t have any of those memories.

I delivered the baby on January 15. I was exhausted beyond belief, but when they put my son in my arms for the first time, it was the sweetest feeling I have ever felt. No words could describe the overwhelming love when I looked down at that precious little face. At that moment, I told him that no matter how it happened, no matter how anyone labeled it, I was his mother, he was a part of me, and I would love and protect him for the rest of my life. Many times I had asked God “Why me?” Now, I had the answer in my arms.

We took our son home, and settled into life as new parents of a newborn. We had the same adjustments and sleepless nights as any other parents, I suppose. Ethan was a little colicky, and he did have some feeding problems, but I was in love. I would look at him and think “I can’t believe this is real!”

I called the caseworker, and I let her know about my son’s birth. I sent a couple of pictures. She called the genetic mom to let her know, and she said she took the news very well, so I wrote her an email. When I reread it later, I realize it was a little jumbled, because I was sleep deprived, and on pain medicine. Two weeks later, she sent two emails that seemed to plead with me to let her in. The caseworker told me to go ahead and write back, so eventually, I did. I wanted to get to know her, and I wanted to help her, too.

Every day, I began to look forward to hearing the tone from my computer, that told me I had an email, and seeing that it was from the genetic mom. We chatted for hours on end about everything, or nothing at all, and got to know a lot about each other. Still, the feeling of uneasiness didn’t leave me. There were still times when the conversation would get serious, and she would talk about her grief and pain about donating the embryos. I have to admit, I didn’t discourage it, because now, I was also afraid to lose my friend. It just became too much pressure to be supportive of her, and adjust to new motherhood at the same time. I remember after one email I received, shortly after Ethan’s birth, I was sitting and holding him, crying.  “I feel like I’ve taken something from someone that I shouldn’t have,” I sobbed. Can we say “Post-partum hormones”?

One thing that struck me was that in one email, I had referred to adoption in some way, I don’t remember exactly, and she replied, asking that we not refer to my son as having been adopted, because it made her feel like she had given up “a physical child.” Now, this I understand. I too, was confused about the use of that term. How could we adopt a child that I gave birth to? Legally, we didn’t have to. In the US, the woman who gives birth to a child is the legal mother, and if she’s married, her husband is the legal father, unless there is a surrogacy contract, or papers establishing paternity. I do view embryos as life, but I really felt like we all participated in the creation of this child, and that, because I carried him as he grew from eight cells to a fully formed human being, and brought him into the world, that was a biological process, and I did not appreciate the context in which my experience was viewed as being simply and incubator to “someone else’s baby”. I got pregnant with the full expectation of keeping, and being a mother to, my baby. I was told, however, that the adoption language is really used simply to honor the fact that two families are involved in the process of the child’s creation. Today, I say call it whatever you want, it doesn’t really matter to me. People’s views are so diverse on this, and I don’t feel that there will never be a language with titles, that everyone who gets involved will be happy with. Hey, if you’re comfortable with it, far be it from me to tell you any different.  I didn’t choose embryo adoption because of my political or religious beliefs, but I certainly don’t judge anyone else if they did. To me, any decisions about family building are personal to that particular family, and if the decision is right for them, then it’s the right decision.

I was told to “set clear boundaries”. OK, what does that mean? At the time, I wasn’t sure, and the genetic mom and I continued to communicate, and have times where we would struggle to understand each other. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of her emotions, and my own.   While she was dealing with her feelings of loss, I was adjusting to my role as a mom. I was dealing with colic, and tummy trouble, but also seeing the first smile, the first time he rolled over, watching and learning how to stimulate his development, and I needed to rejoice from all of those wonderful things, heal, and decompress.

I have always known that the donating couple are my son’s genetic parents, and their son his brother,  but I saw their role in my son’s life more as a part of the extended family, similar to that of aunt and uncle, or grandparents. My plan for raising this boy has always been to be completely honest with him. He will always know how special his beginnings are, and where all of his roots come from, both birth and genetic, however being the mom and dad are exclusive to us. At the time, when I explained this to the genetic mom, it seemed like it upset her. We both began to realize that we needed some time from each other.

Communication between the two of us seemed to cycle. We would take months-long breaks from each other, while other times we’d speak on the phone daily. There were times we were the best of friends, others where dialogue was strained. Finally, when  my son was two, we spoke after a year break from each other.  We agreed that we would talk every two weeks from then on for the time being, and see how that arrangement worked out for us. When we hung up from the call, I felt so light and happy, like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The genetic mom and I used to refer to each other as “soul sisters,” and we were, and still are both sentimental and emotional women. As sappy as it sounds, having my soul sister back in my life made me feel whole, and made the world make a little more sense again.

We had discussed meeting in the past, and I believe it was the genetic mom who brought it up again. My husband was a good enough man to agree to support me in my trip, as long as I didn’t take Little Man, because he was deployed, and he really wanted to be with us when both families as a whole met. That was fine with me because I wasn’t sure I was ready for that anyway.

I sat waiting nervously that June day when I heard, “Hey Girl!” I whipped my head around and saw the genetic parents, and their son. I jumped up, walked over, and threw my arms around her. The genetic dad hugged me, but their son was a little shy, so I asked him if I could shake his hand. What an amazing experience to be right there with the people who were also flesh and blood to the child I brought into the world! They didn’t feel like strangers at all. As we ate lunch, I noticed similarities in all of them to Little Man. I showed them the most recent professional picture of him, and the genetic dad said “He looks just like you.” I was a little shocked. I had always thought Little Man looked very much like the genetic mom.

The genetic mom and I talked about everything. I asked her if she still had bad days when it came to thinking about the embryos, Little Man, and the whole situation. She said “No, not at all.” She said “During our year apart, I thought a lot about things. I realized what I missed the most was you and your friendship, and it gave me a different view of things. I also think I needed it to be able to get through my grieving.” As we walked along, I was remembering a line from one of the poems she had written about her feelings for my son, and how in her dreams, she and my son walked on the beach and shared their feelings. I thought, how ironic it is, that that’s exactly what she and I were doing right now. I picked up a small shell and put it in my bag to take home to Little Man. It was a little piece of this beautiful place, where his genetic roots were, to bring home to him. I also traced his name in the sand, and took a picture. Both the shell and the picture are now in his bedroom.

When I started the journey to become a mother, I hoped that at the end, I would have a child. I ended up with so much more. I now also have their son, my little one’s brother, who feels like a nephew, or a godson, the genetic dad and the genetic mom–who we’ve mutually decided we’ll call Aunt and Uncle–my sister. Now I look at my life, and when I think why me, I think what did I do to be so blessed? This story is just as much about the journey of two mothers coming together through a shared experience, as it is the journey of one woman to become a mother. Through it all, we found each other. I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.

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