A few weeks ago Matt and I were working on picking an egg donor for our future child (or children). The information we received about each potential egg donor included a series of hormonal markers, numbers that would perhaps reveal further information about the donor’s ability to be a successful egg donor. We did plenty of Googling, and found some basic information on the topic, but I wanted to get more input, and preferably from a knowledgeable human, instead of just from websites, no matter how informative or well regarded.
I decided to call my Aunt Kerry, who is a nurse, and also someone I’d been very close to while growing up. In many ways, Kerry had been a second mom to me. We’ve had a complicated, mercurial relationship over the years, but we’ve always loved each other very much at the end of the day, and worked through our various conflicts.
“You know, unfortunately I can’t tell you much about that,” Kerry said when I asked her about the hormonal markers. Her nursing background hadn’t really called for her to know much about the subject, she said, and she’d had her children without the assistance of IVF, so she didn’t have any specialized information.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone line. “Have you guys spent time thinking about maternal nutrition with this whole surrogacy thing? I mean, we are talking about a surrogate who is living in poverty in a developing nation. Are you sure that she’ll be eating right? Nutrition is one of the most critical elements of a developing pregnancy.”
“Of course,” I said to my aunt. I was caught off guard by her immediate questions and the fact that there had been no excitement or congratulations about the possible arrival of a baby. “Our surrogate’s nutrition is supervised by the clinic, and she’s seen regularly by doctors and nurses throughout the pregnancy. Many Indian women have had little or no healthcare up until becoming surrogates, because of finances, so many have more medical attention than they’ve ever had in their lives while they’re surrogates.”
All of the Indian surrogates working with our clinic already had live births of their own, and were still raising their children. In many cases, Indian mothers became surrogates to help support those children financially, buying a new home for the family, and paying for the entirety of their children’s education with one nine-month surrogate pregnancy.
“And have you thought about the exploitation of those impoverished Indian women?” Aunt Kerry asked, her tone developing an edge, her words coming more quickly.
“Kerry, the average salary for an Indian citizen is less than $800 a year. This woman will be getting six times that amount for being our surrogate. The average American makes about $40,000 a year, so that’s like the average American woman getting offered almost $250,000 to bring a pregnancy to term—a pregnancy which she’s not genetically linked to in any way. I mean, even if you wouldn’t do it, a quarter of a million dollars would still give you pause for consideration, wouldn’t it?”
Aunt Kerry was having none of that. “Oh, so you think a prostitute really has a choice when her pimp tells her, ‘I’ll take care of you, do this for me and you’ll have anything you want?’”
“What?” It was my turn for a tone change. “Kerry, what are you talking about?” How had this conversation devolved from researching prolactin numbers to Matt and I somehow becoming pimps?
“And do you even know what you’re taking on, becoming a parent? Do you have any idea? Do you realize that your entire life will change? That you will have no time for yourself, and everything you do in your life will be about this child? You’ve always had time to go running and write fiction and whatever you wanted to do, Josh. All that’s going to change now.”
“Kerry, obviously I realize things are going to change, but Matt and I are ready for that—or as ready as we can be—and we recognize that as part of becoming parents we’ll—”
Kerry plowed right on. “And, Josh! Do you realize that you hardly played with Alexis and Michael?” She was talking about my young cousins, her children, whom I’d loved and doted on and played with for years. “Sure, you’d come over, but how often did you really read them stories? How often did you play games with them and just hang out with them instead of talking with the grown-ups in the kitchen or texting on your phone or doing whatever you wanted?”
I was about to freak out on her, and I knew that I needed to end this conversation before it took an extremely ugly turn and I started saying things I would have a difficult time unsaying.
“Wow, Kerry. I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Everything you just said is completely absurd, and not only that, it’s entirely untrue. It’s a low blow, even for you.”
“A low blow? Even for me? Okay, I’m done.”
The phone line disconnected.
* * *
Kerry remains the only member of my family, or of Matt’s family, who hasn’t been fully supportive of our journey to become parents. My grandparents are over the moon about their pending grandchildren. Even Matt’s grandmothers—ages 89 and 84 (one of whom, sadly, just passed away)—were thrilled about the prospect of becoming great-grandmothers again when they first heard the news.
After Matt explained the gestational surrogacy process to one of his grandmothers, she said, “Well, honey, I didn’t understand a word of what you just said to me, but I sure am happy for you and Josh.”
“No pressure,” they said with a laugh. “But we’re looking forward to the day you make us great-grandparents.”
Our friends have been nothing but supportive. We’ve already received hand-knit presents for the future baby (hi there, Alisha!), and plenty of congratulations and well wishes.
I would love to have Aunt Kerry along for this crazy, amazing journey we’re embarking upon. But unfortunately, if she wants to sit this one out, she’ll have to do that. She’s free to make that decision, just as Matt and I are free to become parents, any legal way we like.
A month has gone by since Kerry and I had that fateful phone call. I often find myself wishing she could be a part of this process with us—standing by us as we go through both the good stuff, and the potential tough stuff, on our journey to becoming parents.
The fact remains that whatever she chooses to do, if she’s an absent aunt or not, she will always be the aunt of this child (or children). Sometimes things she has said and done over the years have been hurtful, and don’t make a lot of sense, but she’s still family, and we still love her, and miss her.