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Weird Science

a blog by Suzanne Rico, May 28, 2012

The night before my second son was born, I drank two glasses of red wine and ate half a pizza. I woke from a lovely nap when labor started about 4 a.m., and then welcomed my baby into the world two hours later, tears sprinkling his soft, warm head. And when I finally stopped crying, I walked to the hospital bed where my surrogate was recovering, kissed her forehead, and whispered the most heartfelt “thank you” of my life.

Having a child via surrogacy is a weird way to have a baby. Since I’d carried my first son nearly to term (an IVF baby conceived after two miscarriages), for me it was like being the father instead of the mother — I was an integral part of the process of creating life, but a little, well … unnecessary once things got underway. I was the one who took my surrogate to all her doctor’s appointments. I was the one who hovered uncertainly on the sidelines during ultrasounds, feeling shock and awe as a delicate hand or slight curve of a nose flickered on screen. I was the one who paced the delivery room in the hour before birth, feeling impotent to help, and who cut the umbilical cord to begin my son’s independent life. Weird? Yes. Simple? Not at all. Miraculous? Absolutely.

Modern medicine has given people like me — people who struggle with having children the natural way — more options than ever before. Embryologists and reproductive endocrinologists continually push the limits of possibility — and have already created procedures like intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which sound like science fiction, but are used every day. We now have egg freezing and egg donation and assisted hatching, which sound more like the chicken coop of the future than 21st century baby-making. It is all a little strange, even to someone who has leveraged reproductive science to the point of renting another woman’s womb. But what it really feels like to me is the very real intersection of medicine and miracle.

“This is the first time that any organism in the history of the world has had this much control over their own reproduction,” says Marc Kalan, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist with The Center For Fertility And Gynecology in Tarzana, CA. “This is an amazing frontier we are on. And we need to treat it with the utmost respect and realize how special and new this is.”

That’s why, every time someone asks me about my children (and even sometimes when they don’t!), I never hesitate to recount the special way they got there. Most people are a little stunned. “Really? Um … Wow! Cool!” they say, as if I’d told them the Starship Enterprise had beamed them down. It takes a moment for the idea to settle in that both were conceived in a lab instead of a bed — and that I had outsourced the job of carrying my youngest. And then, nearly always, they ask what having a surrogate mother was like. That’s when I begin to talk about the revolutionary blend of weird science and soul that helped my baby dreams come true.

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