I am the mother of a child to whom I did not give birth. I am the mother of a child born through a surrogacy procedure, and if anyone has a strong opinion on the matter I invite them to change places with me, to be in that room two weeks before your 32nd birthday and to receive the diagnosis of breast cancer, to go through 16 chemotherapy treatments, an operation and radiation therapy and to take two targeted drugs due to which I still do not have a functioning adrenal gland or a reasonably functioning digestive tract.
I invite that person to hear my mother saying: “I will never recover from this,” and when she says “from this” she means her fear that I may die, or to look deep into my father’s eyes or at the prematurely graying beard of my partner. I invite them to walk in my shoes or in the shoes of my sisters who have been stricken with diseases, who have lost breasts or a uterus or ovaries, whose organs have been reduced, whose veins are scarred from so many examinations, who have lost hair and eyelashes and eyebrows but more than anything else have lost their innocence, their confidence and trust in their body.
Three and a half years ago, just as we were starting to try to become pregnant, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Upon receiving the diagnosis, I was compelled to say goodbye to my most profound dream, “at least for the meantime” as the doctors put it. “Afterwards, we’ll see.” When afterwards arrived, I discovered that I would have to take an experimental targeted medication, and then one more, and then give my body time to cleanse itself of them. Later, I had to listen to inadequate answers as to the effect of these medications on my ability to become pregnant. All the while, I heard “afterwards, we’ll see.” Who knows if or when, or the fate of this body of mine that had known so much suffering at a time when I hoped it would be creating life.
Then we began to think about surrogacy. And we thought about it more and more. And we argued. And we came to terms with it. And then we went to one meeting, and we left feeling unsettled. And we decided that it was a no. And then we thought about it again. And we were afraid. We were mostly afraid. I was mostly afraid. Nobody skips to the entrance of the surrogacy agency.
The day that we signed the surrogacy contract we stood in the crowded parking lot that stank of urine and cried our eyes out.
How would I feel like a mother without having been pregnant? How would I make a connection with a baby without hormones? How would I feel without a nine-month process and a round tummy? How would my partner feel toward a child that I did not give birth to? Toward me? Would I think "surrogacy" every time that I looked at my child? How would I tell people?
The day that we signed the surrogacy contract, we did not go out and celebrate. We did not call our parents to tell them, we were not overcome with expectation or excitement. The day that we signed the surrogacy contract we stood in the packed lot that stank of urine on the -2 level of the parking garage in Ramat Hahayal and we cried our eyes out. We cried over the tummy that would not become round. Over the kicking I would not feel, over the birth I would not experience. We cried deep, agonizing tears for the first and only time since I was diagnosed, when we stopped to acknowledge this thing that was continuing to happen to us, even after it had ended.
We were and still are in contact with her, our surrogate. The woman to whom we owe light and happiness and life. Three months before the birth, we flew to Georgia to meet her after hours of screen time, written correspondence and videos. There are some moments that the best of interpreters could never find the words for.
Weeks before the flight, I thought of what I might sing to him when we met. They say that it is good to sing to a baby while it is in the womb. This would be the first time when he would hear my voice and not her voice, and I could not think of a single song that would be enough. It was as if my world rested on the lyrics. I placed my hand on her tummy, and the words seemed to burst forth from me: “Put your hand in my hand, I am yours, you are mine.” I repeated them over and over, warmth passing through my hand and her skin. There are tears that no words can explain.
On the flight back to Israel, I had an anxiety attack. My mouth went dry, my hands sweated. My pulse skyrocketed. I wanted to get off the plane, I wanted to scream. I could not understand how I was going home without my baby. I wanted to adjust myself to his dimensions and to fit myself into her womb as well.
I wasn’t pregnant. Until not long ago, I felt like a little less of a mother because of that. I have no birth story; I didn’t have hemorrhoids or cravings, I don’t have a cesarean scar or stitches. I did have nausea, but not for the reason I so yearned for. I look at my naked body in the mirror and it reflects a different sort of journey.
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During conversations about pregnancy, I used to shift uncomfortably, as if I had been caught in a lie and that I would be ostracized at any moment from the women’s club to which I did not belong. When I would be asked how I look like this after a birth, I would look downward and answer “lots of Pilates.” Sometimes, on particularly brave days, I’d say “Wait until you see my surrogate,” and to those who dared to ask if he was one of ours, I would immediately go on the defensive and respond, “Yes, we froze embryos before the treatments,” and then outdo myself and add, “Look how much he looks like me.”
Two years and three months later, I carry my story on my sleeve and place it on a table like a dexterous waiter in a crowded restaurant: I had cancer, I recovered, I am the mother of a child who came into the world through a surrogacy procedure. I do not apologize for it; I am not embarrassed by it. I would not have done anything differently.