Prior to publicly posting the blog, I talked to all of my close friends and family. Many of them already knew I was planning on a second surrogacy, but not the details. On one hand, it’s really none of their business what I choose to do with my time and family, and it’s certainly not like they were going to convince me otherwise. On the other hand, I felt it was important to tell them personally before they heard it from someone else.
I have a shirt from HRC that reads “Legalize Gay.” I don’t wear it often because of the feeling I have when I do. I’m self conscious enough as it is—genuinely thinking that overall I’m a pretty awesome person while at the same time consistently believing that the majority of people don’t agree. Whenever I wear that shirt though, I feel like people are judging me even more. Maybe they assume I’m gay. Maybe they assume I’m a gay-lover. Maybe they assume I’m going to hell. Of course, I’m not gay, I am a gay-lover, and it’s up to no human being where I end up for all of eternity after I die. For the most part, I couldn’t care less what people think about me. But still, I hate the feeling of being judged and am thus uncomfortable every time I wear that shirt.
Take that feeling and multiple it by one thousand and maybe I can relate just a tiny bit to how my gay friends feel every day of their lives. Regardless of how much they don’t care about others’ opinions, having the feeling of judgment all the time. The same, I imagine, is true of someone infected with HIV—a consistent sense of judgment from everyone who finds out. But of course, as a straight white woman, what do I know?
Looking back at out when I first reached out to J & A, I can see why it took so long for them to respond. First of all, engaging in the surrogacy process is no joke. It is a serious commitment from all sides, and even when you’ve decided that you want to pursue it, it takes time to process what that means and what the steps are to make it happen, and then to actually begin on each of those steps. I knew that. And I knew I reached out to them quite a bit before they were actually ready and would have started pursuing surrogacy, which has resulted in a slower than average process. As much as I’m anxious to just get started (because who doesn’t want to start sticking themselves with needles, injecting all sorts of hormones into their system, and then become pregnant and once again start her mornings by throwing up?), I can be patient and was expecting for it to move at a leisurely pace.
Now add in the aspect of being HIV positive. We talked for quite a long time before J brought that up. I imagine they were feeling out the situation, trying to get an idea of if I would be receptive to working with them, and if not what my reaction might be otherwise. Had they gone directly through an agency, the agency would have that uncomfortable conversation for them. When considering matching, the agency would do their best to find a potential surrogate whom they thought would be open to the idea, often someone who works in a profession that would lend itself to the idea, perhaps someone in the medical community who would have an easier time understanding and being comfortable with the science behind the process, or say special education who is used to working with different populations and researching individual circumstances and needs.
If they thought I was that person, my coordinator would have called me to tell me she had a couple in mind that she thought I’d work well with and she’d tell me all the amazing and wonderful things about them and I’d see pictures of their ever-so-handsome selves and read their compelling profile and start to fall in love with them. Then she’d say, now that you know how great they are, are you willing to work with a couple where one of the guys is HIV-positive? And I’d say, well, I just don’t know. She might be able to convince me to consider it, and if so, she’d arrange a phone conference with the doctor at the SPAR program. Regardless, I’d respond that they sound great, but it’s just really too much of a risk for me to take. I have a husband and three kids and I just can’t put my family through that kind of additional stress and worry and take the very very very slight chance that I might contract it. At least that ‘s how about half of the women whom agencies approach generally responded. By having met and discussed a match prior, J & A had the chance to feel me out first, and they had the advantage of my already deciding that I really really liked them before telling me about their specific circumstance.
Having been through a surrogacy before, I’m experienced with the responses, and am thankful to say that the majority of people I know responded positively. I wasn’t sure, however, how those same people would feel with this new added element. And more, so, I wasn’t sure how their own friends would react, friends who would doubtless find out about it and subsequently feel compelled to voice their opinions about how I choose to live my life. I wanted my close friends and family to be prepared.
One person in particular I wanted to talk to was my dad. I was fairly certain that my mom had already told to him about it. Like me with Evan, secrets don’t last long between those two—perhaps one of many reasons they’ve been married for over fifty years. I gave him a call and, after our usual catch-up on how school’s going, I told him that I was going to be doing another surrogacy journey and that one of the guys was HIV-positive. “Yeah, I heard that,” he replied.
“Well, I just wanted you to know. I know how people talk and I wanted you to be aware before.”
“You know I don’t usually pay very much attention when people talk.”
“Yes, I’m aware.”
I have inherited the “I don’t give a flip what people think about what I do” gene from my father, along with a large majority of my other personality traits. I love my mom and she is my go-to support person. But my dad is whom I have shaped my life after. My religious, social, and political foundations are rooted in what I’ve been taught by my dad. I went into education because of my dad. And on the days (weeks…months…) it’s just too much and I want to quit, I think about his perseverance in the field and I keep going. I worry about what he’ll think about my actions—one of only a handful of people whose response I do actually care about—and I strive to make him proud. I was worried less about him having a negative perception of the action itself, and more about his reaction to his daughter’s safety. On my first surrogacy journey, my dad and I had numerous long talks about the process, particularly in regards to the legal precautions and my own protections. He might come off as stern and grouchy, a bit of an ass (okay, not might—he definitely always gives that first impression), but he’s my dad and like any dad he worries about his children’s wellbeing. Especially his favorite youngest daughter. Thankfully, as I expected he would be, he was completely supportive.
Like my husband was, and like they all were about my first surrogacy, I had incredibly positive feedback from almost everyone I spoke with. I had already talked with my mom, and she was fine. I called my sisters and let them know. They were supportive but had lots of questions. I texted my best friend, my sister-in-law, and my niece.
The exception to all of this was, as anticipated, my mother-in-law. I love Sandy dearly, and when it comes to in-laws, I basically won the jackpot with Evan’s parents and sister. But Sandy is a worrywart, and has a tendency to hone in on the most negative aspect of any situation. In some regards this is a good quality—it’s important to look at all aspects of things, and occasionally us optimists like to just gloss over those parts. But often it’s a hindrance. I gave her the facts, once again stating that this particular clinic has provided the service to over 173 surrogates, all of who remained uninfected and who bore uninfected babies. That there are over 4,000 cases of HIV-positive males contributing to third-party reproduction through one way or another and all of those have had the same uneventful results. Etc, etc, etc. “I don’t know, Michelle,” she said. “That’s scary. That really scares me.” She was hesitant and anxious through all of my first surrogacy, and this merely adds another layer of complication and concern for her. Hopefully reading this and my continued teaching on the subject will put her mind at ease. But I doubt it.
One last person to explain all of this to was my son. My son is nine, and quite simply an amazing child. He is smart and funny and so incredibly thoughtful and caring. He loves to learn and wants to be a geologist and a judge and maybe the president when he grows up. And I’ve no doubt that he will be absolutely fantastic at all of those things. But he has his dad’s anxiety and I wanted to be the one to explain everything and put his mind to ease. We sat down and started talking about my upcoming surrogacy, of which he was already aware of, and more about J & A. After my basic explanation of HIV/AIDS—what it is and how it’s transferred—Clem remembered that he had read about the immune system and T-cells and white blood cells in his biology and anatomy book.
So this happened.
When we finished our conversation, Clem pulled out his biology book and reread those sections, then got out his anatomy book and looked at pictures of the immune system.
This right here. This is a huge reason for my deciding to do this particular journey.
My son is engaged in learning more about the human body, viruses, and HIV/AIDS, with genuine interest and buy-in. His understanding of it is increased as he can make real-world connections to what he’s reading. When my son learns this in his health class, he’ll be able to say to his friends—some of whom will likely make uninformed and possibly hurtful comments about the HIV-positive community—“I have a friend with HIV; let me explain.”
Through this journey, even more so than our first, my son—and my two daughters—are learning about empathy. About researching and fully understanding a topic before you make assumptions about it. About giving back to humanity in whatever ways your talents allow. While I am honored to hopefully be able to give the gift of family to J & A, I’m equally honored to be teaching these values to my own children along the way.
Michelle is a thirty-something married mother of three. She teaches special education at an alternative high school in rural Southern Oregon. Her first surrogacy was for a same-sex couple from Israel. When she’s not taking care of her own children or birthing them for someone else, she enjoys reading and writing and exploring Oregon. Read more on her blog: Positive Surrogacy.