“Mommy, that’s a mitzvah!”
That was my 4-year-old daughter’s reaction when I told her I was becoming a gestational surrogate.
“Am I going to get another baby brother?”
“No, honey. I am going to grow the baby for someone else.”
“You know that only women can grow babies, right?” She nods. “Gil and Tomer are two daddies, two men, so neither of them can grow a baby-they need help. So I’m going to grow their baby for them.”
A few seconds of silence. Then Ramona’s face splits into an enormous grin, and she says, “Mommy, that’s a mitzvah!”
That was Ramona’s foray into surrogacy advocacy. Since that moment, my daughter has become surrogacy’s youngest and most passionate spokesperson. She will tell anyone who will listen, without missing a beat, that the babies in Mommy’s belly are not ours, but rather, they belong to Gil and Tomer, the couple I got matched with through our surrogacy agency.
“Sometimes people need help growing a baby,” she says. I even had to send an email out to the other parents of her preschool classmates, warning them their kids may come home talking about growing babies for other people or, as was the case for one kid, volunteering his mommy’s uterus for the job. Thankfully, I have received nothing but support and good wishes from the other parents at the school.
This is my first surrogate pregnancy, and although I was taught by my mother from a very young age that love makes a family, I am now experiencing this concept in a whole new way-one of the many unexpected gifts I have received by becoming a surrogate mother. It began with Ramona, who, from the day of the IVF transfer, became fiercely attached to those little embryos. The day I got home from the clinic, she brought me a blank sign she had made from a stick of bamboo and poster board. She asked me to write the words for her and then proceeded to dictate: “Don’t squeeze mommy right here because there are baby eggs in there.” She carried the sign around for days.
In the weeks after the transfer, once the pregnancy was confirmed, Ramona became the embryos’ watchdog, admonishing me to be careful when I had to pick up my 2-year-old son. “Mommy, put Solly down! You’ll hurt the eggs and then they won’t turn into babies!” As the embryos developed into fetuses and my belly began to grow, Ramona began lavishing my belly with hugs, kisses, and raspberries.
When people find out I am carrying a surrogate pregnancy, many of them will ask, with thinly veiled horror, “But what are you telling your kids?” The truth, I respond. “But won’t they be confused?” No, I reply, because I am being honest with them. Children are astoundingly open, accepting, and receptive if we trust them and give them the chance. Most young children have no preconceived notions about what a family should look like, so it’s the perfect time to normalize all different kinds of families.
Even with all the love she is showing for these babies, Ramona clearly understands that we are not going to be keeping them. This understanding was surprisingly easy to come by. She never had any reason to think that growing babies for other people was out of the ordinary, and, because my husband and I were honest with her from the very beginning, she never assumed the babies were ours. (Well, there was that time when she found out it was a girl and a boy.
“Can we keep the boy?” she asked excitedly.
“Hmm,” I said. “Don’t you think Gil and Tomer want both their babies?”
“Gil and Tomer are both boys, Mommy,” Ramona explained to me patiently. “They don’t need a boy baby.” She is a very logical child.)
Now that my huge belly is a constant reminder to her, Ramona routinely packs boxes full of stuff to send to the babies once they go home with their daddies (very useful things, too, like rulers and scotch tape-essential for every newborn), and she often frets about what the babies will eat since the daddies can’t make breastmilk. When I reassure her that I will be sending them my breastmilk and that they can also buy baby formula at the store, she is very relieved.
Her love for these kiddos is obviously not diminished by the fact that they are not her brother and sister. And she instinctively knows that together, the babies and their daddies will become a family, a family that love made.
Carrying these twins has been an overwhelmingly beautiful experience for me (emotionally, I mean-I’m not sure I would describe hormone injections, never-ending nausea, and heartburn as beautiful), and I owe a lot of that to my kids. My husband and I went into this journey with eyes wide open, simultaneously knowing that these are not our children I am carrying and that I would doubtless develop an attachment them.
One of my husband’s initial concerns was how I would feel handing the babies over to their dads, ending those long nine months with no baby to cuddle. But any worry I might have felt has been eclipsed by the excitement I see in the dads and, perhaps even more profoundly, by the sheer joy I see in my daughter. Through Ramona’s eyes I can see the mitzvah I am doing, I can learn along with her the lessons this experience is teaching her, and I can share her pure, innocent joy. I am proud that I am giving my kids the gift of this experience, but I am even more grateful for what my kids and my surrogacy have given me.
By Jenessa Schwartz