Jan 11, 2008

the gift of family

The Gift of Family

One year ago today I was at a fertility clinic. I was not there for myself – I was there for and with my best friend. Seven years before that she found out that she had cancer, and that she would need a hysterectomy to save her life. As a girl in her early twenties, this was devastating on so many levels. She was just starting out on her adult life. Just figuring out who she was. She had just begun dating a goofy guy who was fun to be around. A man who knew all that she was going through and only wanted to be there for her. He wasn’t scared off and stood by her side the whole time.

I watched her as she went through the stages of grief. I always saw that it was easier for her to process and deal with the cancer than it was for her to digest the loss of her future children. Being a mother was her life’s dream. In our high school yearbook she listed her ambition as “To work with children, get married, have a family, and be successful.” Knowing that she would not be able to bear her own children was not something that she could accept. Everyone encouraged her to look to adoption, but she felt strongly that if she were to have children that they would have her eyes. His sense of humor. Her drive. His artistic talent.

It is hard to know exactly how to help someone in a situation like this. You care for them, stand by their side. But there really is no way to take the pain away. She had to do that herself. And the only thing that would heal these deep wounds was time. Distance. Whenever the subject of children came up she would brush it aside. She would say that children were not meant to be. No matter what road she chose to have children would be hard. Expensive. Beyond any capabilities she thought she might have.

From the beginning I let her know that when the time was right that I would help her to become a parent. Her relationship with the goofy guy was strengthening in ways I don’t think they even realized. They are a complete yin and yang. His strengths are her weaknesses and his weaknesses are her strengths. Together they form a dynamic force- a circle. I could see that they would forever be joined.

The fall after their wedding her mother began to not feel well. It began as a mild irritation that would not go away. She just did not get better. Soon enough they discovered that she had pancreatic cancer. By the time she received a diagnosis it had spread. It was a raging wildfire beyond anyone’s control. Her mother was a young vital woman who lived each day with gusto, with dignity. She possessed a love for life like almost no one else I’ve ever known. Watching what this disease did to her, and to her entire family was incomprehensible. Cancer affects people and families in so many difficult ways. My friend was so strong. Sitting by her mother’s bedside, caring for her. Seeing to the minute details and helping her to get her life in order. This was again a tragedy no young girl in her twenties should have to face. It was so hard to understand a world in which one stupid disease could affect a family so profoundly.

I received a call from my friend on a Sunday morning in April. She was exhausted. Distraught. Trying to sound strong. I hung up the phone with her and got right in the car. I didn’t know what else to do but be there for her, and pray. It was all I had to give. I sat with her and her family in the waiting room as they each took turns with her mother saying their goodbyes. We all knew she had reached the end of her valiant fight. She had given it all she could, but it was time to let go.

I was taken completely by surprise when she told me that she had promised her mother that she would have children. That she was finally ready to take the next step toward her dream of motherhood. It had been so long since we had even discussed the possibility. The last I knew, she was still experiencing the grief. I did not realize that she had become ready to move forward. I’m not sure if I said much beyond expressing my surprise.

After her mother passed, researching and learning about surrogacy was something that helped her to cope. It gave her a positive focus. Something to look forward to. The expense was one of the biggest factors concerning her, one that had scared her from the prospect all these years. For those who are not able to naturally conceive their children, time and money are required in copious quantities. Unexpectedly, she received a small sum of money from her mother’s estate. Enough to make her comfortable enough to move forward. She was weighing her options, examining the process from every angle. She could use a surrogate that was hired from an agency or call on someone that she knew. She is blessed by a large circle of family and friends who love her and her husband, and had many offers of help. She was in the rare position to have options.

As soon as she had declared her intentions to me at the hospital, I began to discuss with my husband the possibility of helping them. He has been with me through all of this, and considers her a part of our family as I do. His desire to help them was as strong as mine. We did some research of our own to see how this would affect us and our family. This was not a commitment that I would make alone, it would require my entire family to be dedicated to the decision.

She began working with a fertility clinic and was preparing to make her decision. We reminded her that we would be honored to help. After much conversation between all of us, we decided that we would take this journey on together. We all, husbands included, had to go through extensive testing, followed by lawyers, contracts, and more doctors. Finally it was time to begin. She and I started a regimen of medication. It did not go as planned at first, and there was some trial and error. After several months the doctors informed us that we were ready for the embryo transfer. I spent the night at their house and tried to quiet my mind enough to sleep. The magnitude of what we were about to do was more than my mind could handle.

One year ago today, we left the house in the wee morning hours to make our way to the fertility clinic. She held my hand as they implanted three embryos. Three embryos were all they had, and if they did not take, it would mean starting over from the beginning. Financially, physically, and emotionally, this would be a huge challenge. As we waited in recovery to be released, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of the moment. It was not something I was even able to express. The sunlight in the room was warm and beautiful, and we could feel the presence of her mother all around us.

The pregnancy was typical for me – a few months of sickness, followed by a few months of discomfort and anxiety. The only difference was having so many sets of eyes on me at once. It was certainly more attention than I was used to, and took a lot for me to be comfortable with.

After eight months of ups and downs my water broke and we were admitted to the hospital. It was five weeks before the due date, so the doctor did not want to induce me. She felt that it was best to let my body work the way it was supposed to, to allow the baby time to develop as much as possible before delivery. Time passed very slowly as we waited for the baby’s arrival. My friend and her husband passed the time with me and my husband at the hospital while their family stayed at my house with my children. At this point we had melded all of our family’s together in a way that was only making sense to us, but it worked. There was such a strong bond of family and community amongst us all.

When the time came I held my friend’s hand, as we had during the transfer, as their daughter was born. Despite being premature, she was healthy and beautiful. To say it was an emotional moment is a complete understatement, but it is impossible to put into words the mood of the day. Tears were shed by us all.

As I look back on all that the last year has encompassed, I am filled with the sense of having fulfilled my purpose on this earth. So many times I have gone through the day not able to see the big picture, not able to understand my station in life. But now I do. In life, I know now that it is not the gifts you receive, but the gifts you give that are the most meaningful. For my family to help them create their family was an amazing honor and accomplishment. One that I would never hesitate to do again.

Happy anniversary to us all.


To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.