“Better safe than sorry,” is a motto I have lived by for a long time when it comes to many things, especially healthcare. It’s one that has literally saved my life in the past. As a senior in college, I visited a university physician who casually recommended that, at some point down the road, I might want to see a cardiologist. Thinking to myself, “Better safe than sorry,” I scheduled an appointment right away and within two weeks learned that I had a congenital heart defect that had gone undetected for 22 years.
A week before my last Spring Break I had to decide when, not if, I would have the surgery to fix it. I was told I could wait as long as graduation, but not longer. So, as my friends took off to all corners for their last hurrah as college students, I checked into the hospital for pre-op work and, eventually, open heart surgery.
We all know the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” No doubt this is true, but I have realized there we are never too old to need our village. My surgery was the first time I realized what a powerful support network I had. From my mom, who pretty much moved in with me as I got back on my feet at school, to my professors who allowed me to miss a month of my last semester and figured out a way for me to still pass and graduate on time. Our family friend two thousand miles away was able to give us reassurance through his professional opinions as a cardiologist. The family whose children I babysat reversed roles and drove me 2 hours to meet my parents at the hospital. Once my mom left, my brother and my friends were around to keep an eye on me.
That was the most serious medical issue I have ever had to deal with, thankfully (I won’t lie – it was a doozy). But it reinforced that I will always err on the side of caution when it comes to my health and that of my family. On this journey as a surrogate, things have gone almost as smoothly as the first two pregnancies. Recently, however, we had a scare that resulted in a week of bed rest. While both babies are perfectly healthy, the bed rest was a precaution (one that I can obviously appreciate). It gave me time, though, to reflect once again on my “village” and how fortunate I am to have so much support. Thus far, here are the people who make the experience of having someone else’s baby look like an easy one:
- Husband – No one person makes more sacrifices than someone’s spouse or partner in this. I have hardly lifted a finger in these last 10 weeks or so to make meals, get kids ready for school, do laundry, clean the house, etc. While that sounds luxurious to some, I can tell you it’s not all it’s cracked up to be when you feel kind of helpless at times.
- Children – We spend a lot of time worrying about what our kids will think or how they will process this experience. It turns out, it’s all pretty normal for them. My youngest (4) drew his first family portrait, where I had two mini stick figures in my belly. He even casually told his classmates that Mommy is having two babies for someone else, in the context of a discussion about families. They not only think it’s normal; they think it’s exciting. They often come up and hug my belly or put their ear to it to listen to the babies. They don’t ask questions when I’m on the couch all day or complain when I can’t walk them to school. All of this greatly reduces the stress that comes with committing to a process where you know your attention will be more divided.
- Family – Just as I did when I had surgery, I’ve been able to call on my parents for support. This time, it’s mostly in the form of babysitting (which is probably one of their favorite activities), but is equally important. Siblings and in-laws are also offering to lend a hand. Having a sister who is a massage therapist is a huge bonus when it comes to being pregnant.
- Friends – From those in town to those on Facebook, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. I get messages from people who I haven’t seen in 25 years and those who I’ve only recently met. My best friend of 20 years in town brings me chocolate and magazines. Interest in this process, personal connections to the experience, and general positive messages all help shape this as something that seems like a cakewalk.
- Coworkers – I’m not sure I could do this as easily if I didn’t work in a virtual organization. Although I usually spend some time in a physical office, when the going gets tough and I get put on bed rest, I can still complete most of what I need to do, trading face time for phone calls and working my way through my inbox.
The parents of these peanuts are certainly part of that support as well. They have offered far more than I have had to take advantage of, even commenting on how fortunate they are to benefit from our great network of support. It was that observation that got me thinking about how fortunate we are. I recognize this kind of access to help when I need it as a privilege, one for which I am extremely grateful. I hope that my children learn not to take our good fortune for granted. And I hope they are actively learning how to become part of someone else’s support network. The same people who are part of raising our two boys are also part of bringing two children for someone else into the world. As selfless as people think it is to be a surrogate, we learn best from those around us.