Before I proceed, let me reclarify that when I say “mom” I am speaking of the woman who raised me and when I say “birthmom” I’m referring to the woman who gave birth to me.
Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly interested in how other people in my family conceptualize surrogacy. Ultimately, surrogacy is not just my story but a story that involves many in my family. Digging into the different viewpoints has helped me find my own and to understand more the story I was given about surrogacy growing up. I say the story I was given because the wider narrative of surrogacy being so limited forced me to rely upon my own experience and what others shared with me about what they knew.
The most interesting perspective to me is that of my mom’s as hers is one of inherent vulnerability with another woman helping her. Throughout my life, I’ve only ever heard her describe her relationship with my birthmom as one you might have “with a college roommate”. I only ever had college roommates I didn’t quite jive with so this analogy has never connected many dots for me. I’ve chosen to rely on the Hollywood vision of a college roommate instead. My mom tends to sum it up in this way, “You go through this intense experience of change, growth, hardship, celebration with another person for a few years before you part ways. You’ll always be fond of them, want to catch up with them, and you’ll always have that special time in your life with them. That’s how I view your birthmom! I’m just so thankful for her.” My mom views their relationship as one of a partnership for a time before being fond from afar. In a way, it makes sense – they each had their lives to lead, their kids to raise, etc.
On the flip side, my Dad has a more “cousin/brother” vibe to his relationship with my birthmom. He seemed to keep in better touch with my birthmom likely purely due to the technological prowess he has always had over my mom (side note: I remember teaching my mom how to send email back in the day). Hacking into his email is how I found correspondence with my birthmom leading me to track her down on Facebook as a teenager. I find it interesting my Dad uses familial language when describing his relationship. Language choices can reveal so much and I wonder if the reason for this usage is because she does feel more like family due to the genetic link he has with her through me. There’s a protectiveness and fondness in how he speaks about her.
Both of them speak in simple terms about her – “She’s so kind. She’s smart. She’s giving.” Growing up, this was absurdly frustrating. I could describe a meal I had with more detail, nuance, and overall word count. I’ve pointed this out numerous times only to get a lot of wordless sighs and “I don’t know what to tell you”s. I sometimes wonder if the complexity of the situation these three adults found themselves in has made simple language more appealing and more helpful for engaging in conversation with me. Perhaps to cope they adopted simple language to better compartmentalize. Perhaps they just truly don’t think of it as much as I do (secret: I think this is the truth).
I haven’t yet asked my brother and only reached out to my Uncle today in light of writing this up. I have a feeling my brother wouldn’t have much to say in any case and am not itching to talk to him about it although I’m sure I will in time. Recently though, it struck me that I wanted to know how my grandma on my dad’s side felt about my birthmom. I have always been filled with regret that I could never talk openly to my mom’s mom about surrogacy because she’s the one who financed so much of my arrival. For some reason, this has always brought me to tears to think too much about as there’s something deeply beautiful about someone I’m not even related to working so hard to make my life possible.
Even though I have a wonderful relationship with my grandma including lots of letter writing, FaceTime convos, and in person visits when I’m home, I was anxious about having this particular conversation. I’ve asked her too many personal questions to count but this felt different and more vulnerable as it was more about me than her. I decided to get my dad to do my bidding which failed brilliantly:
I groaned getting his response. Bravery is exhausting. Plus, I wanted capital T “Truth” about how she felt rather than some watered down version she might give because I would be the one asking.
On Valentine’s Day, we FaceTimed on my dad’s iPad. When we FaceTime, he sets up the iPad so that I’m placed firmly in my grandma’s wheelchair, my usual resting spot when I visit. They like to joke that it’s almost like I’m there when he does this. It’s pretty cute to watch my grandma light up seeing me and, at times, turn to my dad when she can’t hear something I say. When we chat, I spend most of the time smiling, asking questions, and trying to speak slowly (a feat for me). Compared to other times, I had a set of questions lined up and a pounding heart demanding I ask them. After a warm up of the usual questions about golf and her books, the first question about surrogacy somehow was still clunky:
“How do you view my birthmom and, you know, the whole surrogacy thing?” I think I asked. As she spoke, I took loose notes resisting the urge to just record the entire thing as I often want to do with her as she gets older. She started answering by looking at my dad saying, “We really wanted you to have another baby.” She then looked at me sharing how because it was “his sperm” they were really happy and glad my birthmom was willing to do it. “It’s a super thing.”
My curiosity overpowered my nerves at this point and the questions flowed. I asked her if she would ever consider being a surrogate. “I would have if someone really needed it like your parents did. I would have been very particularly about who I would have given it too though.” On the topic of if she ever wants to meet my birthmom, she said “I would like to know her. Someone who is willing to give up another child is special.” I’m not sure if it was incredibly obvious that I was asking such vulnerable questions or if my dad primed her but she just exclaimed around this point, “Anne, you have to think that if she didn’t do that I wouldn’t have a granddaughter as nice as you!” Anytime my grandma starts a sentence with my name + “you have to think/realize”, I know it’s her offering up her truth.
I asked if she was nervous at all about surrogacy since it was such an unknown entity at the time. “I wasn’t nervous at first because I saw a lot of adopted children at school where I taught. I saw those kids were so appreciated. We have to be thankful for her, Anne, because we got you.” She said so many sweet things that I had to be careful not to get too emotional. Without prompting, this led her to share something I never, ever knew or would have guessed particularly seeing how private my grandma is, “When I have dinner with friends, I tell them about you being born through surrogacy.” This sent my mind wild with questions. “They see you come in and they ask all about you. I tell them about you and Charles. When I tell them about surrogacy, some of them know what it is and some don’t. We end up having a nice discussion about it. I explain it to them and tell them how proud we are that we have you. I talk about it a lot because of how proud I am of you.” I asked how she thinks her friends view surrogacy and how accepting they tend to be. “They kind of just end up accepting it and I think they see it as adoption. They see it as better than adoption though.”
I’m mindful of grilling my grandma too much and, because I was in quite a bit of shock hearing everything she was saying, my questions ran dry. The fact that she was so willing to speak about surrogacy in general and to take on the burden of educating her friends who come from a generation that, in my mind, would be the most judgmental about surrogacy blew my mind. For someone so private and reserved to be so vocal about me feels incredible. Her sharing about how I was born is unnecessary in many ways but she chooses to because to her it’s a facet of how special I am to be here in her life. I am worth her speaking up and speaking out in a way that I know is not naturally comfortable for her. Hilariously, she’s recently been getting asked if I’m her grandson after I chopped my hair off this past year. “People are so silly”, she will quickly quip back with a laugh.
Before we ended the conversation, she remarked, “Can you imagine how sad my life would be without you?!” Oh my heart was so full after that conversation. I don’t want to imagine my life without that precious conversation tucked neatly into the folds of my story. As for me, I don’t know how to conceptualize how I view my birthmom – I’m still on my way to figuring that out and finding my own apt analogy. Stay tuned 🙂