As the therapist soundlessly slips tiny hot pebbles between my toes, I feel my body slip deeper into a state of total relaxation. The ‘wet noodle’ kind of true bliss. A configuration of smooth stones aligned atop the vertebrae of my back disperse their warmth and remind me to slow my breath. In. And out. In. And out. Eucalyptus-scented air fills my lungs. My mind, so used to racing through my never-ending to-do list and being constantly interrupted by ceaseless requests, is quiet. I am on cloud-nine.
It’s been almost a month since Claire’s birth and my two close girlfriends have kidnapped me for a girls weekend – an unconventional baby shower so to speak, post birthing a baby which wasn’t even mine. It’s difficult to explain to strangers, so I don’t even bother anymore. I just let people wonder what I’ve done with my newborn as I sip my wine enthusiastically.
I had been looking forward to this getaway for months. As many working parents of small children (especially Moms) can attest, having time to oneself occurs so seldomly that it has become a recurrent fantasy of mine.
At home, requests for my attention happen at minute-to-minute intervals. “Mommmmm, I need you RIGHT NOW”, “Mommmmm, the wheels of my Lego creation keep falling off!”, “Mommmm, I want you to come play with me”, “Mommmmmm, I need to poop!”. Even if Blake is around, willing and able, the Mom requests keep rolling in. Sound familiar? I hope so, because I can’t be in this boat alone!
No one ever follows Blake around the house in the same way that Henry, Alice and Ada constantly trail behind me. If I try to slip into the shower, it takes mere seconds before the Lego party has moved to the bathmat or a quiet face is pressed against the glass of the shower stall. If I try to have a moment of peace to go to the bathroom, Alice will inevitably settle herself onto the stool right in front of my feet, always accompanied by Ada who sits beside her, exclaiming, “You poopin’ Mom? Are you?” I just cannot get away. Even Ada, our beloved but anxious Labradoodle constantly follows so closely at my heels that I often need to go to our bedroom and close the doors to have a moment alone.
So, when my besties, Meghan and Megan, proposed a kid-free, girls weekend in Winnipeg, I was beyond excited. A day at the spa, coffee in bed, waking up slowly, sleeping in a bed alone, eating unhurriedly at hipster restaurants – all of the elements of my fantasies became a reality. It was a much needed reprieve from the constant go, go, go environment of home and a small break to allow reflection on the changes that have transpired over the past few weeks of my life.
Having the space and time to reflect on my experience as a surrogate has made me realize that there have been many expected and very unexpected emotions, joys and challenges.
Expectedly, the biggest challenge for me has been working through the physical changes in my post-partum body. Immediately after Claire’s birth, I had felt great and so excited to be able to move again. I was on the snowshoeing trails on post-partum day 2 and back at the gym within 72 hours! Then, the moment that inevitably comes for many post-partum mothers unmercifully hit me like a Mack truck on day 4. That moment, when standing in front of the mirror, with engorged and painful breasts, a jiggly, spongy belly protruding over my granny underwear while sporting a menstrual pad an inch-think, I could not wrap my head around the fact that the reflection staring back at me was truly me. Of course I had known that my body would not be the same after growing Claire for nine months, but confronting the new version of myself was a hard reality to ignore. I have to say, it was downright devastating.
I struggled through the next several days of that first week coping by having quiet sob-fests in my walk-in closet as I burned through painkillers and many heads of cabbage to ease the engorgement. When this phase eventually abated, I hit another roadblock in my recovery as my very reluctant placenta continued to give me grief with a small piece of the after-birth stubbornly refusing to let go of my womb causing ongoing bleeding and eventually another trip back to the hospital for a procedure under sedation in the OR to remove it.
Despite these set-backs, I immediately got back into my gym routine, anxious to feel ‘normal’ again. This too proved to be more challenging than I ever had imagined. I was completely out of shape, of course, but I had also hadn’t expected to feel quite so humbled in the process of rebuilding my body again from scratch. Before the pregnancy, the gym had been a sanctuary for me. A time for self-care, to feel strong and confident in my abilities. Now, surrounded by mirrors that continued to remind me of my physical changes, I felt dismayed and daunted by the mountain I now had to climb to get back to my pre-pregnancy body. My friends and Blake urged me to keep perspective and practice self-compassion. It had only been mere weeks since Claire’s birth, but without a newborn to remind myself of how little time had passed and what an amazing thing my body had done, it was easy to slip into thinking in unrealistic terms.
The struggle coming to grips with this new version of my physical self has been a constant challenge to reconcile. Reminders occurring daily of the almost 20lbs I still need to shed – the inability to do up my ski pants, the ongoing necessity of maternity jeans, the shocking number on the scale… I know that I am not alone in these post-partum challenges and that it will just take some time to get back to my pre-pregnancy self, but again, without toting around a newborn, I continue to feel almost embarrassed to be out in public without an obvious ‘excuse’ for that extra layer around my belly.
Unexpectedly, however, the emotional transition from pregnancy, through Claire’s birth and in the weeks that have followed have been so much smoother than I had ever expected. In the immediate post-partum days, I had an immense amount of support from numerous Sioux Lookout ‘sisters’. Women who all banded together to feed our family, to ensure I was getting rest and most importantly, who lent their listening ears to support me through that first week. What had worried me the most prior to Claire’s arrival, was a fear that somehow I would feel an immense sense of loss and would experience significant loneliness after the excitement of her birth had abated. Thankfully, this never transpired. While Amy, Adam and Claire spent their first week as a new family in Sioux Lookout, we visited daily, but we generally fell right back into our own family’s rhythm as if nothing had really happened. The kids barely blinked when we had introduced them to Claire at the hospital and explained that there was no longer a baby inside my tummy. Even more shockingly to me was that when I held and cuddled Claire, I knew that I cared for her, but there was no part of me that made me feel that she was mine. She didn’t look like me nor Blake and oddly, she didn’t smell like my baby. Weird, right?! It’s hard to explain, but I just knew that she wasn’t mine and I was happy to hand her back to Amy for feeds and diaper changes!
Now that Amy, Adam and Claire have settled in at their home in Kingston, I have been enjoying a very unusual (but highly enjoyable!) pregnancy leave. Without a newborn to attend to, I have been savouring quiet days at home playing with Alice and Henry, cooking, baking, working out and spending time with friends. Aside from the two four-month long maternity leaves that I took following Alice and Henry’s deliveries, I have never taken any extended time away from full-time work. There has been something so special about the simplicity of just being a Mom over the past few weeks. I am incredibly grateful for this time with my family and recognize that this will likely never happen again as I am fairly certain that my ‘career’ as a gestational surrogate is over. This uterus is now closed for buisness 🙂
Now we are set to spend the next month in beautiful British Columbia – with three weeks in Nelson and a final week in Kelwona to ski as a family, enjoy a break from the minus-thirty temperatures of Northern Ontario, enjoy some refreshing and quirky Kootenay culture and hopefully be able to greet Spring upon our return home in April! To the ski slopes we go!