Being a mom is hard. But becoming one, that was even harder.
Cankles, hemorrhoids, fear-factor-type cravings at weird hours of the night, I wanted that. Vividly, I had envisioned the litany of profanities that would fly out of my mouth in transit to the hospital during childbirth. But none of that happened. I would never see double lines from a pregnancy test of my own. Instead, those double lines would be from another woman. Two women, actually.
Hey ma! My parts are broken.
For us, infertility was a huge punch in the lady bits and dangly parts. Our fertility woes snuck in like a thief and robbed us of our financial stability, pride, and joy for others more fortunate. It rocked every relationship facet of our life, and let’s get really real, our faith was a bit rocky at times, too.
Like many of you reading these words, we never thought this would be our new normal. Yet here we were, feeling alone and desperate. For us, our “baseball stats” of treatments and surgeries, and subsequently the number of failures that followed were pretty high up on the leader board.
Coming to terms with the uncertainty of parenthood was hard. Explaining that to our family and friends was even harder. Talking about the status of your cervical mucus over tacos with your in-laws is usually not the best conversation starter, just saying.
You can’t unhear bad news.
Like an onion, each disappointment made my husband and I reevaluate what being parents meant for us and, subsequently, what the future would hold. We would peel back each expectation and redefine new ones. Was experiencing pregnancy a hard line for me? Or was the ultimate goal, becoming a mom?
The turning point for us was when I found out that I had the beginning stages of uterine cancer. My OB/GYN had been working closely with my fertility doctor, and they dropped the ball. “This is your last cycle before you will need to consider a hysterectomy.” Hearing such finite words was soul-crushing. I mean you kinda need a uterus to become pregnant, I had one last shot (literally) to do a final round of IVF, and frankly, the odds were not in my favor.
Needles, camera, action…
Right before that last post-uterus round of IVF, an MTV casting producer found our blog and reached out to us. We literally opened up the doors to our bedroom and invited a whole team of people, their cameras, and the world to witness and document our struggle with something that was both acutely painful and intimate for a couple to experience. Sorry to disappoint, but this wasn’t some B-budget skin-a-max movie, it was True Life, I’m Desperate to Have a Baby. Not the most flattering of titles, but not entirely inaccurate either. That round failed…on national TV, no less. The cries were electrifying, and fate was sealed on the chance of pregnancy for me.
There’s nowhere to go but up!
With no uterus and not much money remaining, we had to move down the alphabet of plans. Plan A through D didn’t work, so what’s next? We began pursuing adoption. The Cliff Notes version is that failed, twice.
Even though gestational surrogacy was the furthest from our minds, someone reached out to us and offered to be a gestational carrier. So, with a few embryos still frozen, we dove into surrogacy with reckless abandon. Going through treatment was a sprint. A causal jog if you will. For us, it felt like surrogacy was a marathon. It is beautiful, it is challenging, and it will humble you to your core.
Still, the emotions surrounding surrogacy are complicated. If I couldn’t experience my own pregnancy, how could I handle witnessing someone else carry our baby for me?
We put our trust and embryos in someone else’s much more capable hands, and guess what? It worked. The first time I ever saw a double line was via a picture over a text message. I was curious, hopeful, scared…and if we are all being honest here, jealous. My body had failed to do something which proved to be so easy for someone else. I had to learn to let go of what I wanted and embrace the needs of everyone involved.
Surrogacy is a partnership. There is a hell of a lot of compromises. Will the baby in utero have the finest of organic foods? Nope, unless she’s into that. Our first gestational carrier loved bacon and donuts, and our second lived at Chick-fil-A. Will you be doing pregnancy yoga and meditation daily? Nope. Will you feel the first flutter, the first kick, or that first hiccup? Also, no.
Even though that was not lost on me, we did celebrate the joys, as non-traditional as they were. In both of our surrogacy partnerships, our gestational carriers were very welcoming and allowed us to be at almost every appointment and scan. I may not have felt the baby, but the possibility of motherhood and all the emotions that come with it grew each month.
An un-pregnant birth
I was expecting, but not physically. We had bags packed for the hospital, but the items were a little different. In witnessing the labor of our first daughter, and five years later our second, with each contraction, I wrestled with self-loathing of my own body and felt awe by the selflessness of another body.
While our gestational carrier(s) labored physically, I labored mentally. The flood of emotions at helplessly watching someone else endure pain on your behalf is beyond anything I have ever felt. It is raw, it is altruistically beautiful, and it is an acute reminder of my own ten years of failed fertility.
I am no less a mother.
Two moms believed in me. They wanted me to have the same joy of motherhood that they have in their own life. This is why they chose to become gestational carriers. They chose us, and those two women will always be in our lives. While I never gave birth, I wipe butts like a boss, kiss boo-boos, and have epic mom fails.
I am no less a mother.
In fact, living through a decade of infertility has made me a better one. I am aware of what it took to get here, and the people who are still waiting. Pregnancy doesn’t define motherhood, just as infertility doesn’t define a woman’s self-worth. No matter where it leads you, with or without a child, promise me one thing: never let this disease define who you are.
Candace Wohl is a mom of two girls via gestational surrogacy and a fierce infertility advocate.