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Unpacking Judgment and Jealousy on the Path to Parenthood

November 7th, 2019
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A common phrase in the fertility world is “there are many paths to parenthood.” While it’s used so often it can almost lose it’s meaning, it is undeniably true. You can build or expand your family through IVF, insemination, adoption, surrogacy, donor sperm, donor eggs, donor embryos and employ various other options like genetic testing or reciprocal IVF. Not ready to start your family right this moment? Enter egg or embryo freezing. The possibilities can seem endless, but the end goal is the same: having a baby.

CPSA and Surrogacy

I was diagnosed with infertility ten years ago and my family building journey has come to a resolution. I’m grateful to say that through a mix of fertility treatment (IVF in my case) and luck, I’m now the mother of two sons. Since then, I’ve not only continued to write and advocate for the rights of those to receive access to care around fertility treatment, but I’ve connected with some amazing people. My good friend Candace Wohl and her husband Chris, for example, built their family through surrogacy.

Before I share Candace’s story, I’d like to tell you about something I was involved with earlier this year: the CPSA Bill in New York. CPSA stands for the Child-Parent Security Act and it aimed to legalize surrogacy in New York, which is where I live. It would also establish some of the most comprehensive "best practices" in the country to protect the interest of the surrogate (who is a willing participant and has agreed to serve as a gestational carrier), intended parents, and child. The CPSA would also eliminate demeaning and expensive requirements for establishing parenthood for gay couples, single parents, and others.

The phenomenal team at ConceiveAbilities sponsored my trip to Albany to support this bill in June, where I met with representatives and lawmakers to educate them about the fact that surrogacy is legal in 47 states and establishes some of the most comprehensive "best practices" in the country. Unfortunately, misconceptions remain around this bill and surrogacy. CPSA was put on hold and never brought to vote.

Every path looks different

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While this bill has been in limbo, my amazing friend Candace welcomed her second daughter through the help of a surrogate in July. Due to medical reasons and “scary adhesions” (as she would put it), Candace had to have a hysterectomy and is not able to carry a pregnancy.

She wrote about the journey of the second surrogacy in this post, but what particularly struck me there was the video of the surrogacy from start to finish, which I strongly encourage you to watch. It’s just a few minutes but so, so worth it. Grab tissues. You’ll thank me.

Watching this video recently, there were a few things that hit me. You see Candace watching her daughter being born and there’s a beautiful scene where she is holding her baby, crying. You see an incredibly intimate, bonding moment between mother and daughter.

And do you know what I felt? Jealous. Jealous in a good way, but jealous nonetheless.

What’s conventional isn’t always pretty

The people who are “against” surrogacy would probably think the way I had my children is the “right” way and that I’m insane for feeling any jealousy whatsoever. On paper, even though I conceived with the help of fertility treatment (at least with my first son, as my second was a, “Holy crap! How did I get pregnant?”), I was incredibly fortunate to be able to carry and deliver my sons.

However, I had cholestasis brought on by my pregnancies (because I can never do anything normally) and in each case, I had to have a medically necessary scheduled c-section to ensure the health of myself and my child. This meant in the first case, my oldest was not ready to come out. When he was born, the doctor quickly lifted him up over the curtain so I could see him and then he was whisked away to the NICU where he was intubated to help him breathe. For the first 48 hours, I was in a hospital room highly medicated from both the cholestasis and the c-section, unable to visit him. He was hooked up to wires and tubes in the NICU, unable to visit me. When I was finally able to see him, I couldn’t fully hold him, I was still bloated, sick and recovering.

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With my second son, I had another scheduled c-section and an overzealous anesthesiologist. I felt like I couldn’t feel the bottom half of my lungs. I was having trouble breathing and even my OB/GYN (who delivered my first son) said to him, “What the hell did you do?” I’ll spare you all the details, but I became so sick during the delivery that I don’t really remember my son being born. I didn’t get to hold him until I was in recovery and most of the first week after his was born is like a blur.

I don’t recall seeing either of my sons being born. I was physically and mentally compromised in both situations, and while there must have been a bonding moment, I was too stoned on Percocet from the c-section and recovering from cholestasis to remember much.

So, what’s the point?

The bottom line to all of the above is this: I’m not at all saying I wish I had a surrogate. While I’m jealous of Candace for those moments she had that I didn’t, I have no doubt she’s jealous for the baby kicks I experienced while I was pregnant. And THAT is my point. There ARE many paths to parenthood and seeing her video reminded me that those who are “against” surrogacy or even IVF, for that matter, don’t understand that even though they may be different ways of having a family, it doesn’t mean they don’t hold profoundly loving, earth-shatteringly beautiful moments. Different isn’t bad, people! It’s just different.

There are some who feel that surrogacy takes advantage of women who choose to be gestational carriers. Aside from the fact that the people who say this aren’t familiar with the criteria you have to meet in order to become a surrogate, but watch the video and tell me if you feel there’s anything nefarious going on.

Speak to women who have been surrogates like the ones recently featured in this People Magazine article and ask them how they feel. Furthermore, ask people like the woman who wrote this Glamour article, or Candace, who would have given almost anything to carry her own children how much her surrogates have meant to her. Can we say anything is wrong or right if we haven’t experienced it?

I hope when CPSA comes back to New York to be voted on, it will be successful this time around. Until then, I remain committed to that phrase, as often as it’s used, and stand by its meaning – there are many paths to parenthood, and no matter how you get there, each one is special.

Written by Jennifer (Jay) Palumbo
Jay is a writer, a healthcare and family building advocate, CEO of Wonder Woman Writer LLC, a comic, and thyroid cancer survivor, a wife and mother of two extraordinary boys. Check out her Instagram and LinkedIn.