For 15 years, I've been paralyzed from the chest down.
Within days of my spinal cord injury, my neurologist told me that I could still biologically become pregnant and have a family. So I never even imagined not giving birth to my own child until I hit the lowest of lows as a quadriplegic: fracturing both my femurs after being dropped during a transfer. After eight long months stuck on bed rest and not being able to sit, pee, poop or roll without assistance, the thought of being so vulnerable again (with the additional complications of pregnancy and its aftermath) was enough to paralyze me in fear in regards to becoming pregnant one day.
I was in my early 30s when I decided on a modern-day pregnancy: gestational surrogacy. My friends, who were new mothers at the time (not by surrogacy) encouraged this decision.
"Pregnancy isn't all what it’s cracked up to be," one shared.
"I didn't feel like a mother until I was no longer pregnant, and even then it took a couple of days for me to feel a connection to this thing I gave birth to," another confided.
I thrive off of overcoming adversity, and yet sometimes overcoming adversity means succumbing to it. For the sake of my future baby's health, my health and my future husband's sanity, that meant choosing not to harbor a child in my body. Instead, I vowed to work out, gain strength and take all necessary precautions so that I could be in tip-top shape to care for it when that little nightmare/bundle of joy arrived. Now if only I could find a partner to feel the same way.
I thought one of the hardest parts of choosing surrogacy would be finding a compassionate man to see the logic in my choice. But it wasn't. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, was completely supportive of my decision when I explained it to him on our third date. When we married and discussions of starting our family began to surface, it no longer was just a hypothetical. Surrogacy was the only option.
Even if I could mentally push through the eight long months of bedrest that would be required if I became pregnant, my doctor said there was no guarantee I would survive giving birth. At best, there would be months of recovery. I watched a documentary of one other quadriplegic who gave natural birth, and she couldn't get out of bed or even sit in her wheelchair for months after due to dangerously low and then high blood pressure. Not to shame this incredibly brave woman for making her decision, but still I had to ask myself: What kind of mother can I be if I'm stuck in bed and unable to care for myself? Like other new mothers, I want to hold and be able to care for my baby, not be another child that needs looking after.
"I don't want to raise kids without you," he told me while lying in bed one night.
"And I don't want to not be there," I agreed.
Empowered by our very socially responsible decision, my husband and I proudly tabled our surrogacy conversations until this year, when we actually started to think about expanding our family. We knew surrogacy was expensive. What we didn't know was that $100K would be needed upfront and set up into a trust. I also didn't expect to be denied funds by Medicare, a lump sum of money that was set up to pay for all my medical bills related to my spinal cord injury (I was injured on the job, and consequently spent eight years dealing with Workman's Comp adjuster until I settled in 2006).
"No, I'm sorry. We cannot aid you in anyway," the Medicare account manager told me, when I called.
"Nothing?" I questioned. "Not even for the IVF?" I was hopeful for some kind of reward for doing what I thought was the right thing. After all, if I were pregnant, all extra expenses due to my injury would have to be covered under our agreement.
"Surrogacy is viewed as an elective medical decision," she said compassionately.
"And pregnancy isn't?" I asked, emphasizing the logic, or lack of logic, of policy loopholes.
"Not once a woman is pregnant," she replied.
"So even though I'm at high-risk for pregnancy, a natural delivery is the only case where I could receive financial support? There's nothing you can do in support of a safer process?”
She was silent. I could tell this was not the news she wanted to deliver.
"Okay," I finally relented. "Thank you for trying."
Being denied financial assistance was overwhelming, but even more upsetting was the thought of sharing this news with my husband. How do you tell a man that's already been overly accepting, patient, kind, and unconditionally loving that there are still even more challenges ahead?
"There's nothing they can do in regards to the surrogacy?” he repeated after me. “Yet they'd have to cover your expenses if you were pregnant, which would probably cost double the surrogacy costs?"
The illogic of the system is cringe-worthy, especially when said out loud.
"Maybe we should just take our chances?" I proposed. "We could literally get pregnant now and it will cost us next to nothing."
"Absolutely not," my husband declared. "It's not worth losing you or your health. We'll figure something out."
Almost a year later, that's where we are now. Still trying to figure something out.
We tried selling our condo in Florida, and it sat empty for 5 months before we were forced to rent it. We buckled down and finished writing a screenplay, a project that's taken nearly two years. We've bought "Lucky For Life" scratch-off lottery tickets because, you know, just in case. We've discussed social funding ideas, and then agreed we couldn't take someone’s money without offering something in exchange because we are not a charity case. We are adults that want to go on the wild ride of rearing children, stubbornly wanting to do whatever it takes to procreate. And while adoption is certainly a possibility for us one day, we also want to put all of our efforts toward our biggest collaboration to date.
And so we press on, because that's what parents do.
Parents fight for the right of those who are too young to fight for themselves. Parents sacrifice what they have to provide for what they don't have yet. So we will act like parents until one day we ARE parents. Then one day we when our children are old enough, we will tell them the story of their non-conventional delivery, and we will share how hard we — their father and I — worked to make their existence possible.
Because that's what parents do: they find a way to make possible the impossible.