It is a balmy but pleasant early evening on Sunday, March 27th when my dad cruises up in the Prius to pick me up at Tampa General Hospital. He had last seen me two days earlier when he dropped me off to give birth to my surrogate baby. He’d hugged me goodbye, wished me well and assured me I would be feeling lighter the next time he saw me. As I hop in the car, several pounds lighter, my dad asks me to tell him everything. I grin. My dad is a retired OBGYN, I used to laugh about his job when I was younger and I thought my sterling silver sperm earrings were so cheeky, but as an adult he has counseled one friend after another with his compassionate listening skills—from complications after terminating a pregnancy to an aggressive doctor who wanted to perform a hysterectomy on my friend. My friends all tell me how lucky I am to have him, but when you are 35 and live with your parents, it is sometimes hard to see.
My dad has a way of driving on open roads that makes me feel they I am on a landcruise and the scenery becomes romanticized with questions or nods of contentment from him, and it’s smooth as he moves around drops in the road. With the palm trees whizzing by us, and my dad acknowledging the plot twists in my birth story with technical terminology for when a baby is “sunnyside up”, I have a small a-ha moment. My family is not pleasant to sit down and have meals with. In fact meal time is the single most stressful and chaotic event in my family. From my parent’s ever-changing restrictions on what they can eat–from the latest best seller on the NY Times list, and our clashing palettes, to my mother’s new found tendency to talk with her mouthful—a habit I find disturbing and stomach turning. It’s just not happening for us in a way that so many families seem to enjoy. One of my favorite poems by Joy Harjo paints the kitchen table as being central to life, she writes, “Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table” (Harjo). I wonder for a moment if I should date an Italian with a big family and a big table.
When I get out of the car at home, in my leopard print wrap dress, I brag to my mom about how I birthed the baby without even tearing! My mother is flabbergasted, as she still clings to the idea a woman has two options in a vaginal delivery: tear or an episiotomy. My midwife laughed when I told her. I just massaged my perineum with evening primrose oil in the days and weeks before labor to help the tissue elasticize and accommodate the baby out of the birth canal. There isn’t any scientific data on this of course, but it worked for me last time, with my “keeper” as the children you are raising in your family are identified in the surrogacy world. My birth with my keeper—my daughter was 10 years ago.
“How is that possible?”, she asked. “I’m superwoman.” I tell her confidently. “But, I do feel like I got run over by a truck now.”
“Well,” my dad says, “You did get run over by a truck, an 8lb 6oz truck.”
The only time my parents are squeamish about the details of the birth, is when I talk about what I am going to do with the baby’s placenta. A nurse at the hospital accidentally referred to me as the mother of the baby, I corrected her that I am more like a cool aunt, and technically the placenta is the baby’s first mother. And I realized in talking with my doula, I did not want to consume the placenta. Most mammals who eat their placenta are probably malnourished and the placenta also functions for waste to be stored. I think burying my placenta under a tree will do nicely. My parents ask not to hear about it. Even though my friend helps me bury it several feet down, under a moringa tree, I discover the next day the tree had been partially dug up and the placenta was gone. What my parents don’t know is that somewhere in our neighborhood there is now an animal with a very shiny coat running around.