On Nov. 30, 2000, it was official: I would never carry a child to term. Never. Never see the outline of a tiny hand or foot travel across my midsection.
Never stand in front of the refrigerator, debating the nutritional benefits of broccoli and ice cream for the soul growing inside of me.
Never lie in bed, stroking my stomach, whispering promises.
The pain of that seventh miscarriage brought years of fertility treatment to an end.
I curled up in bed and sobbed.
I knew there were other avenues to parenthood, and had always told myself that if fertility treatment didn’t work out, it was no big deal. I didn’t need to carry my own child.
But I had been lying to myself. It was a big deal. The most basic, primal element of parenthood–for a woman– seemed rolled up in being physically linked to that tiny soul.
So I was devastated.
If there’s one thing that miscarriage after miscarriage had taught me, it was how to shove profound disappointment to the backburner and move on.
My doctor suggested my husband and I enlist the help of a gestational surrogate, someone who could carry our genetic embryo to term. After some discussion, we signed up with an agency and waited.
And that’s when Angie Ramos, a.k.a. our “Guardian Angie,” came into our lives.
Angie’s brother and sister-in-law had been struggling with fertility issues, and Angie had looked at gestational surrogacy to help them. Circumstances changed and her brother and sister-in-law decided not to proceed.
But Angie couldn’t turn back. She had felt her brother’s heartache and knew other couples experienced the same pain. For her, a mother of four, pregnancy had always been simple and worry-free. How, she thought, could she not share her luck with others?
Her husband, Felix, had only one question: “Are you sure?” Once convinced she had considered the situation from every angle, he was behind her all the way.
And that’s how we all met. Two couples, sitting at a table, being led through a list of “get to know you questions” by our agency’s psychologist. We discussed everything from favorite sports teams to our feelings regarding pregnancy termination.
At the end of that session, my husband and I knew we had met the right people. If we were going to leap off this cliff in pursuit of parenthood, we wanted to leap with Angie and Felix.
Five months later, after contracts and medical tests were complete, Angie and I went through a fertility cycle together and four “Shacter” embryos were planted into her uterus.
For two weeks, we waited.
Unlike my past experiences, I wasn’t analyzing every twinge I felt, closing my eyes when I used the bathroom, afraid of seeing blood. I could even go for, oh, three minutes without thinking about it.
Then the results came: positive!
Angie, being the person she is, threw a party the next day so we could meet her family and friends. We worried. Was a party such a good idea? Angie had been spotting a bit, and for me spotting had always meant one thing: miscarriage. Felix and Angie both assured us she would simply sit on the couch and enjoy everyone’s company.
While one side of my brain fretted, the other side was thrilled to leave the decision to someone else. I was going to spend, hopefully, nine months watching Angie grow, our child tucked inside of her. If we were all going to survive, trust was paramount.
I felt myself begin to let go.
At the party, Angie sat on the couch, letting her amazing, thoughtful friends and family members buzz around her.
Then came the moment I realized how intertwined our lives had become: I went to get a glass from the kitchen and Angie’s youngest child, Mia, gave me a hug around my legs.
Unlike Angie’s older children, Mia didn’t understand the mechanics of the surrogate arrangement. But she had seen our picture, and now she had met us. We were real. And her mommy was going to make us a baby. That’s all she needed to know.
A week later, at the doctor’s office, I stared at the ultrasound screen and caught my breath: Not one, but two white dots glowed in the black of the ultrasound screen.
Over the next 36 weeks, there were moments when jealousy bit: When Angie told us for the first time that she had felt the babies move; the moment I saw a sweet little hand (or maybe a foot…) push up against her stomach.
But I knew the babies were safe and sound with Angie as their keeper. I knew that having her experience those “firsts” allowed me to have a lifetime of other wonderful firsts.
And, I must admit, I didn’t envy Angie at all toward the end—five weeks of constant contractions, crowned by a C-section.
This month marks the two-year anniversary of our friendship with Angie and Felix, as well as the 10-month birthday of our boys, Benji and Jason.
Angie’s children love to see pictures of the boys. They’re proud of their mom. And they should be, for she has shown how one person can shed enough light to chase darkness from her corner of the world.
Sara Shacter is a children’s writer, mom and former teacher living in Chicago.