Saturday, April 11, 2009

Will the real mother please stand up?

Do you remember that old game show "To the Tell the Truth"? For the younger folks, it was a game show started in the 1950s where three people would come out and pretend to be the same person. The contestants would have to deduce from the information who they thought was telling the truth. It came to the climax when the host bellowed out, "Will the real [name of person] please stand up?"

This is how I feel about the notion of motherhood when placed in the alternative world of donors and surrogates. I am out there with my donor and my surrogate on stage and we are all telling a story. As I try to come to terms with what this means for me, I find it really interesting how it all seems so malleable. Is there really a truth? 

I've already read a lot about surrogacy and I hear over and over, including my own thoughts, that we give up the carrying part but the egg is ours, and therefore we are the "real" mothers. I hear on the other side of the coin from donor egg recipients that even though the egg, or genetic material is not ours, we will carry and nurture this child in our bellies and that makes us still feel like the "real" mother. So what's a girl to do if she doesn't carry the child or provide the egg? Now the canon ball argument is blown onto the stage. The "real" mother is the mother who raises the child - period. 

Even though intellectually I can say that over and over again to myself, the notion of creation still remains on the game show stage for me. It's all conjecture for me at this point since I don't have a child yet so I feel like I am just rationalizing, persuading myself, justifying. I can't help but keep asking what does all this biology, physicality, technicality, intention, nature, nurture all mean to me? So I decided to turn to webster to help clarify my thoughts:

1 a: a female parent b (1): a woman in authority ; specifically : the superior of a religious community of women (2): an old or elderly woman
2: source , origin

3: maternal tenderness or affection
4 [short for motherfucker] sometimes vulgar : motherfucker
5: something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale

So let's take this one definition at a time. 

Definition Number 1: a female parent b (1): a woman in authority ; specifically : the superior of a religious community of women (2): an old or elderly woman

This one is fairly easy. I will be a female parent, in authority, although technically I am pretty much equal to a gay man - wanting to have a child with the man I love but with no uterus or egg to offer the endeavor. And yes, eh hum... I am an "old or elderly woman,"according to the reproductive world. Okay, overall I can check this off as "Yes!"

Definition Number 2: Source, origin

This is where it gets sticky. For the all the debating about how far back we have to go to find this - our intention, our money, the womb, the egg, the petri dish, nature/God/the divine/just plain luck - obviously we can choose any of these things that feel truthful to us. An outsider can just see the money and the petri dish and their fists are raised in moral disgust. An insider can just as easily see it in a billion beautiful and logical ways. We have to pick among the many truths to let us feel comfortable with what we are doing, what we are becoming, and how we identify ourselves as mothers. I have been really wrestling with this a lot but it's forcing me to gain new perspective (see Definition #3).

Definition Number 3: maternal tenderness or affection

As I traced back the potential origins of life, I've focused on my personal dilemma of being on the farthest end of this spectrum. I have to cling to "intention" and "raising the child" as my definition of "real mother." But in the past week I came to realize that getting comfortable under my own skin about donor egg requires more than talking about it logically. It requires going really really deep, I mean hyperspace deeper into yourself. I even went to a Buddhist meditation this week and what struck me the most was the redefinition of self that the guru proclaimed. In a nutshell, he argues we cling to "self-cherishing" or self-centered views of ourselves that aren't really true. The real "self" is the potential self. The deepest part of who we are is our potential selves, which is limitless despite limitations we cling to. So I've been digging deep these days, doing the archeology of myself, and I realized I left out one major source/origin in this motherhood trace back - LOVE. Sorry to get Beatles-hippy on everyone but "All you need is love" couldn't be more obvious and true. In understanding how this donor child will be "mine" and how I will be the "real" mother goes to the deepest part of my ability and capacity to love this child. I would even argue that the origins of love go further back or are the same as nature/God/the divine. But this still isn't easy. I can only hope that once I see that cute baby I will be awash with love. But that's still not enough of an anchor right now for me to hold on to. I have to take on a whole new sense of identity. I know I have to go to the outer limits of who I am. This is my most strenuous exercise these days - preparing and believing that my potential self will have limitless ability to do this. 

Definition Number 4: [short for motherfucker] sometimes vulgar : motherfucker

In this regard, it's easy for me to see how motherfucker relates to my own sense of motherhood. I can certainly identify the list of motherfuckers who exacerbated my infertility journey, and to be fair, the ways I've acted like a motherfucker. But even more so, I can define my infertility as the biggest motherfucker of them all. Not only did it completely fuck me over, fuck up my notions of motherhood, fuck with my mind for 3 years, and make me hate other mothers who have no fucking clue, it made the act of fucking a completely useless way of having a baby. 

Definition Number 5: something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale

This one's also a no brainer. My current "Baby X project" has moved to a scale beyond most people's imaginations. It's an ant farm of logistics and an ongoing rumination of how this effects my future. Now managing two women to make me a baby, I'm the ultimate project manager. But it doesn't stop there. Surrogates often remain loving parts of children's lives as the "nice lady" who carried them because mommy's tummy was broken. On the donor egg front things become more difficult. What role does the donor play in the child's birth story? Even though there is the constant proclamation that the donor is not the "real" mother, donor egg parents are also recognizing what that genetic link might mean for the child when they are older and want to know more about this donor. So yes, no doubt, this is a mother of a project.

So I am learning and practicing to stand for the first time, just like a child. I have to start out kind of wobbly with fear and skepticism before I can stand with confidence and conviction when the host shouts out "Will the real mother please stand up?" As Mother's day approaches, I ask for all infertiles at one moment of that day (May 10th) to stand up from where they are sitting and practice.


DAVs said...

Wow. What a post. I will probably come back to this one time and time again.
Of course the motherfucker part is hilarious. I will be sharing that one with DH.

As someone contemplating DEs myself, I often wondered about the argument I've heard from those using surrogates vs those using DEs about what makes the 'real' mother the mother. It's crazy how each person can spin it whichever way they need to.

I wish things were easier for you. I wish none of us had to deal with any of this chaos and uncertainty, and wrestle with these deep questions for which there are no easy answers.

Thanks for writing.

Duck said...

I recently read a post about DE on a blog that I love, she had written that at a support group the women said that even though the egg wasn't there's they carried the egg/child and therefore imparted their selves on the embryo.
I found that hard to read - did that mean that our GS was imparting her onto our embryo? What of the DE/GC scenerio? Does what happen in-utero really mean that much? i don't know, I don't have an answer, but, I know that these are hard decisions and hard times, and it is only the powerful strong and determined who are able to keep on moving forward, your love for your child/ren is what makes you a mother, all this genetic business, all this carrying the child stuff is just plain horseshit. In my opinion of course. (as you may remember I have a 1 more cycle limit to my body(I think I owe myself to have 1 fresh cycle) - if this doesn't work then I too will be checking out my eggs and searching for someone else's for the de/gc option too).
Always here if you need me.

alicia said...

great post. you have a lot to think about, but you summed it up so well. good luck with all this, it sounds like you are making progress though it all though!

luna said...

this is a really wonderful post, tabi. so many issues you cover with this one. not even sure where to begin...

I think with adoption I've had to overcome a lot of fear and anxiety about feeling "entitled" to be mother to someone else's child by birth and genes. so much of it is intention. and love pure and simple. you are right that it is work to get to that point. and maybe I won't feel sure until I see that baby's face and know...

for you, I am wishing strength and peace and clarity as you approach the next step of your journey. and you are right -- it is the motherfucker of them all.

awesome post.

Not on Fire said...

Wow! This is amazing. I am in awe of you.

Elizabeth said...

Excellent post, Tabi. I've had a lot of those same thoughts myself. Lately, I've been thinking about how I consider myself the mother b/c of the biological connection, but my head whispers, "if you were adopting, you'd be touting the role of mother and not the biology." That Babble article about surrogacy didn't help today either. I appreciate your efforts to work through your own thoughts about surrogacy, donor egg and motherhood b/c they are giving me answers to my own questions.

wheresmy2lines said...

So glad to have stumbled across your blog. We are going down the De road now. I like your style of writing - I will be back to read up!

bumpfairy said...

Very thought provoking. For me, Mama is all about intent. Mom is a choice, a commitment. It has nothing at all to do with round bellies or genetic flubs. Mama is something that is in your heart and no where else. So the real Mama that is standing up? Is you, every time.

Marilynn said...

The idea that a mother is a mother by intent alone is ridiculous. Your heart and mind tells you and the rest of the world that you know that to be a parent you have to have reproduced your own genes in your own biological offspring. There are tons of people that are lousy horrid mothers and fathers but that does not strip the title from them - they are just shitty people, abusive or absent parents. The aunts or brothers grandparents that step in and adopt do the job of mother and father but they cannot call themselves mother or father because that would be stupid and confusing. When you raise another person's child you do it from pure love without the cape, crown or title of mother simply because the job needs to be done and the child deserves to count on someone and it always feels good to be that someone. But that reality exists, its somebody elses baby not yours and that really has to be not only ok but clear like don't call yourself mom because its a game.
Carrying and delivering another womans baby makes you her surogate. Your carrying and delivering her offspring. It makes no difference that you intend to raise her baby and she doesnt who cares who paid who? She's willing to take money to abandon a baby and you are willing to pay money to have the baby abandoned into your care. You're clearly the more responsible person, you are thinking ahead about the needs of the baby -her baby, she may not be a good and qualified mother if she is willing to relinquish her child to a stranger so its not like you are a bad choice. But if your husband conceived a baby with an anonymous woman and you give birth, its their child not your's your not crazy for thinking it. You are right intent has nothing to do with who is the childs real mother or who will raise the child when the real mother abandons her responsibilities. You will do that the child will love you, not her. But make no mistake, the child will long for her, will ache for her will dream of her night and day until he/she finds her until the day the child dies he/she will be dreaming of meeting his/her real mother. Keep it a secret and you are a calculating evil worm, tell the truth and you will at least be doing the job of raising the baby in the light of goodness and honesty.
CREating an orphan is something to think about at least face it honestly head on so the world and the kid will respect you.