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When a Surrogacy Application Comes to Life
by Dena Fischer
When I called my parents to tell them we were considering surrogacy my dad’s first question was “How do you know these people aren’t doing drugs?” It was valid. How did I know? How would I ever know?
We’d read through a pile of applications and one had floated right to the top for both of us: Shannon & Brad. A smiling couple who lived a couple of hours away from our San Francisco home. Nearly ten years younger than we were – married just as long but with two little girls and a vasectomy behind them – this was a couple who’d decided, for sure, they weren’t having more kids. On paper they were ideal – she ran a home day care (could she love kids any more???); he was a local store manager. Her application talked about how much she loved being pregnant, how easy it was and how they didn’t want any more of their own but she missed, actually missed, being pregnant. They’d passed their preliminary psychological screenings – no red flags.
Our facilitator arranged lunch for the six of us: my husband and I, our prospective surrogates, our facilitator and her husband. I was stressed! I worried about what to wear and went for middle-of-the road-conformist straight out of The Gap. FutureMomWear. I worried about how to act. I practiced not swearing. We’d been told that many surrogates are Christian and we wondered if they would care that we’re Jewish. Why was I so worried about what they’d think of us? Wasn’t it really about whether we could trust them with this task? For 45 minutes on the drive to meet them, I had that buzzy feeling you get after Dayquil on an empty stomach – not quite in my body, hyper-aware of the blood coursing through my veins, jaw slightly clenched.
And then there they were, just as sunny as they’d looked in their photo. My muscles began to loosen. Introductions were made, circumspect staring took place from all sides. The facilitator and her husband sat back and let us do the talking. It was fits and starts at first – the kind of basic biographical data traded on blind dates. Sports talk, weather, and then – finally – the nitty gritty.
Shannon focused her deep, watery brown eyes on me and asked to hear my story – basically why we needed her. I told it all, the whole journey that brought us to that table. She listened, rapt, and took my hand while I spoke. She wanted to make it all better for us. I just knew it. But that wasn’t what turned me. What stuck out most from the four-hour lunch – at some point the facilitator and her husband left and we stayed – not instant friends, but four people sizing each other up to see if we could do this together.
What I still remember most vividly – more than seven years later - and what allowed me to make that Anne Frank, “people are basically good at heart” leap of faith that they weren’t going to do drugs, that it wasn’t just about the money, that it was OK if she didn’t eat strictly organic and follow every up-to-the-minute pregnancy do & don’t, that she wouldn’t sniff household chemicals or inhale second hand smoke, was something else that told me they were the ones. It was when her husband, Brad, a big guy who had that high school athlete, weekend-warrior-who-likes-a-few-beers-after-the-game kind of build moved seamlessly from telling a story about watching his beloved hometown Mariners play ball to recounting, with tears in his eyes, the day each of his daughters was born – and looking just as much at his wife as he was at us. I knew they were in it together - and for all the right reasons - just as we were.
Months later my parents had planned a visit that wound up coinciding with the day we transferred embryos into Shannon. I asked how they’d feel about meeting her. There was hesitance. Mom deferred to Dad, who spoke for both of them, “If that’s what you’d like, we’ll meet her.” We were putting her up in a hotel near the doctor’s office and when we entered her room, she was propped on pillows like a queen, probably repeating to herself the words we’d all said aloud together in the procedure room, “C’mon Shannon, get pregnant.”
My father leaned over slightly to shake her hand while my mother hung back. Mom is beautiful and elegant and worldly and incredibly smart, but she’s shy at first and I knew she wasn’t comfortable with this whole thing. She followed Dad’s lead and reached out her hand. But Shannon said, softly, and with complete earnest sincerity, “Can I give you a hug?” And then I think my parents knew it too. They knew the gift we were all receiving was not just Shannon and her family generously carrying our twins, it was showing us that some people really are just good at heart.
Dena Fischer is a literary agent with Manus & Associates Literary Agency, Inc. and a freelance writer. In addition to working and raising her children, she is actively involved in education in her community and is a founding member of The Potrero Residents Education Fund whose mission is to improve public education in her San Francisco neighborhood of Potrero Hill. She lives with her husband of 15 years, Brad Rothenberg, and their twin boys Henry & Sam.