The Final Countdown

So now we’re in the last monthish of this strange pregnancy.

Overall, I’m doing pretty well–but ready to be done! I’m officially measuring right on track, but I think I’m carrying this baby more to the outside than I did with my own babies. I don’t feel giant until I drop something and it rolls under the couch. I keep forgetting that there’s a lot of simple stuff I just can’t do right now, like holding a squirming child on my lap and putting her socks on her (bonus, Petra can now put on her own socks. And tights. And everything else). I’m definitely at the phase where I’m exhausted a lot of the time and just need to remember that I can’t do every single thing I want to get done in a day. Scaling back my expectations of myself has been one of the challenges of this pregnancy (and my other pregnancies, too, haha).

People keep asking me about this rebozo I’ve been wearing for support. It’s not a fashion statement (I think it looks a little silly, maybe!). It’s helping me feel less sore. It’s just holding everything together a bit more. This baby is generally in a different position than my babies were, and so things are stretching in a different direction than they did with them, and that kind of hurts!

Emotionally, I’m actually doing okayish. I had some hormonal depression off and on for a few months, but I feel much better lately. Apparently there’s some evidence that IVF pregnancies have five times as much risk of antenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety. No one knows why. All the bonus hormones at the beginning are certainly part of it, but I also have to wonder if there’s something about the experience itself, the way so much of it is about one’s body being acted upon, the loss of agency, that does it. I’m hoping that my current fairly stable mood lasts. After my experience with Silas, PPD is one thing I’m pretty concerned about. But there’s no way to know until we get there, and worrying won’t help anything.

One symptom of depression that I have had is an extreme inability to concentrate. I could barely read, particularly not anything complex, when it was bad. Coding was nearly impossible. That experience made me realize that much of my life depends on my unusually high capacity for focus. It’s not anything special that I do, I’m just wired that way–I see it in Petra, and I know for sure she just was born with it. I think I’ve always had a certain amount of pride wrapped up in that, and losing it for a bit has been humbling. I have more compassion and patience now for people who can’t just block out the chaos around them and get their stuff done.

I’ve been consistently caught off guard by some of the assumptions and culture around surrogacy. This experience has been a window into a world I didn’t know existed. I shouldn’t be surprised by how many women have said, “You must have had easy pregnancies! I would never do that.” But the truth is that I didn’t. They were healthy, yes, but not easy. And also, the truth is that they probably could if the right circumstance presented itself, even if they had rough (but safe) pregnancies. I don’t see this as anything I’m doing by my own strength; I’ve discovered in this time how deeply I depend on God and on my community to have the strength for whatever tough things are in my path. Because I don’t have the strength for this in myself. Bigger forces at work, definitely. Bigger love than I have on my own.

People who haven’t been through the particular hell that is infertility don’t have any idea what it takes to carry a baby that my body didn’t make. I just mean on a totally technical level–the shots and clinic visits and the kind of ultrasound that certain male politicians in my state were trying to force on women who wanted to make important life decisions for themselves, and the specific ways in which IVF pregnancies are a little more risky, and all of it. There’s a casual sense of how people talk about it, if they haven’t gone through it. The response I’ve gotten from people whose children were conceived through IVF has been entirely different from those who don’t know that world.

I’ve also been disturbed at how surrogacy is portrayed in the media, both in nonfiction work (mostly about women in the developing world who are horribly exploited as baby factories for people from wealthy countries) and in fiction (I have yet to see a portrayal of surrogacy in a movie or TV show where the woman carrying the baby isn’t completely ditzy, from Friends to Baby Mama to Fuller House). I know you have to have conflict for a good story, but does it all have to be about women being dumb? There’s also this strange erasure of the women who carry these babies. While lots of books exist directed at the intended parents, I’ve not found much of anything from the carrier’s point of view. Most families treat having a child through surrogacy in the way that they used to treat adoption in the 1950s–it’s not something to celebrate; it’s often pretty secretive. I think that’s disrespectful, at best. Natalie and Logan aren’t that way, but I’ve been surprised how many people actually plan never to tell their child that it took a village to make them.

I had forgotten how much status one loses simply by being pregnant out in the world. I’ve had situations where I was talking to professional contacts and I felt like they were putting me in a category of “not available for any serious projects for at least two years.” I’ve awkwardly overshared about how this is not my baby–which just highlights how weird I am right now and also makes me super angry about The Patriarchy, because men don’t get sidelined when they have another kid, even if it’s a kid that is actually theirs! Oversharing did not help, from what I could gather, and might have made things worse.

I wish I could do this, but invisibly. In the past, when I’ve done things to help other people, I was able to do so quietly and privately. That was easier; I could just do it and not explain it to anyone. I remember saying to Jennifer, when I was trying to decide whether to have this baby, that if I said no, it wouldn’t be written on my body. No one would ever know that this choice was even presented to me. Not being able to say yes in secret has been hard.

The thing that bothers me the most, though, is that when I say that this has been hard, probably the hardest thing I will ever volunteer to do in my life, many people assume that I regret it or that I made the wrong decision. I can’t deny that this has been an incredibly challenging year. Many things that I thought would be very hard were easy. Other things that I thought would be easy, or didn’t think about at all, have been so very difficult.

I don’t regret it. 

Lots of things are hard, but still worth doing. Making art is hard. Building a bridge, physical or metaphorical, is hard. Climbing a mountain or running a marathon (I’m told) is hard. Raising children is super hard. Beating swords into ploughshares and loving your neighbor are both hard.

But all of those things are still fundamentally rewarding and worthwhile, and so is this.

I’ve learned so much from this experience, about biology and family and time and my own spiritual growth, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’m excited to help Logan and Natalie become parents. I love this weird little baby who has nine elbows and never sleeps, and I’m eager to see her face (and hand her off to her parents, because I already had one baby who never slept and one is enough for a lifetime, thankyouverymuch). I keep thinking about how Katherine said that she was eager to see how my art changes after this, and I’m eager to see that, too. I don’t regret this magical and impossible year. I can’t.

And now we’re in the last bit of it.

I’m a little nervous. Anyone who isn’t a little nervous about a birth is fooling herself. I can hope that it is as fun as Petra’s was; ironically, I remember saying to JC not an hour after she was born that I would totally do that again if it didn’t mean having another baby to raise. I should have specified that I also would only be up for it if it didn’t mean going through another pregnancy! But I also know that births go sideways sometimes, that there’s so little one can predict or control. I trust my midwife and my body. We’ve done this before. And yet, I’m still a little nervous.

Natalie will be here in under two weeks. She’s renting a cottage from some friends. Logan will come later, I’m not exactly sure what his plans are.

I’ve got my birth kit all assembled and the rooms ready. Unless something unexpected happens, we’ll have another home birth. Putting together the birth kit is always the point at which I start to feel like, “Wow, this is a real thing that is really happening. Oh my.” It’s a familiar feeling, because I’ve been here before. Familiarity does not render it less intense.

I’ve given up trying to explain to Natalie what parenthood is like. There’s no way to adequately do it, and no one gets it until they are confronted with the reality that is a two-week-old infant, angry at who knows what, every 90 minutes around the clock for days. I can’t even adequately prepare her for Virginia weather. She sent me a text the other day about how rain and snow are predicted for her arrival date. She was surprised when I told her not to trust any forecast more than three days out. I guess in the desert, they can see what little weather they have coming from months away? Meanwhile, in the space of three days, I discovered that the A/C in my car isn’t working properly and scraped two inches of ice off the windshield.

I can’t prepare myself for what’s coming, either. People keep asking me what kind of support we might need afterward, and I don’t know what to say at all. Compared to when Petra was born, and JC and I were alone with her and newly-minted two-year-old Silas, after having been up all night doing the whole birth deal, I can’t even begin to imagine that the logistics could be remotely as hard as that was (and it ended up being fine, our church brought us food and my friend’s tween came over to entertain Silas for a few hours so we could sleep, and we all more or less survived). By comparison, we’ll have four adults, two kids who are big enough to dress themselves and get their own snacks, and one infant. How hard could that be? I keep telling people that I appreciate their offers of help, but I don’t have any idea what kind of help we might need.

I’m a bit nervous about what everything will be like after the birth. I’ve done all the rest of this before, but for that tremendous difference. Whenever I try to imagine it, all I have in my head is the memory of Jennifer saying to me, a year and a half ago, “Sometimes God leads us to the edge of the swirling sea, and the path God clears is only one step at a time, and yet we walk through on dry land.”

And the next step is nearly here.


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