Author’s Note: This piece was inspired by the most recent reading “It May Be Her Eggs But It’s My Blood”: Surrogates and Everyday Forms of Kinship in India by the Social Studies of Medicine Reading Group. I was interested in the fluid meanings of “motherhood”, the work that goes into human kinship, and how this all ties into the OB/Gyn that I’m learning in class.
The broker arrived the morning after the third day of Diwali, Lakshmi Puja. When all the celebrations had ended, sticky fingers had been licked clean, and candles were blown out, I remained to clean and purge. My body ached but the sacrifice was routine, the duties familiar. My muscles hurt to shiver as I swept the dirt off the rangolis in the cold morning.
I expected the neighborhood gossips at the door but instead the broker was a woman of the city, shining in gold jewelry and vibrant cloth. The terms of the agreement seemed fair, the money beyond anything I had ever heard of. My three children would be given allowances for food and to live with my sister. I would be apart from my husband to live in Anand, a bus ride away. Really, it seemed simple at the time.
I only had to deliver another woman’s baby.
My husband did not like the idea of concession, but he could not deny our desperate poverty. The amount of rupees was grand and greed negotiated his acceptance. The night before I left for Anand, he mourned my impending absence through violence. I burned so terribly that after he slept, I crept out of bed and held a cold poultice to my bruises to numb the stinging. The smell of lavender reminded me of my dead mother, and when I was still a girl of my father’s house.
After a month of living in the Anand hostel, I was with child. I could not believe that the doctor merely poked and pushed and a few weeks later the blood did not come. As my belly swelled, I would push my hands against my skin to feel for the kick of the baby, another woman’s child. They told me that I was only the surrogate, a carrier, but I could feel my blood surge into this baby, feel my sweat when I got heavier. I had the familiar headaches and pains, felt the same labours churning in my stomach. It was as with my other children.
The other women of the hostel welcomed me, as if by our curved shapes, we were sisters. By this shared miracle, we were kin. We were surrogates, and despite the reminder of our temporary contract, we were mothers.
The rules were strictly enforced. No men were allowed to have relations with us, not even our sour husbands who stagnated through the afternoon, whispering and glaring through their lost power. At night, we were closely watched. During the day, precise food was prepared for us, and every week we would receive the mandatory medicines. I lived in greater wealth than I had ever known, but the routines reminded me of my place. As the nurse injected the drugs, I would feel a dizzying pain. Part of it was the unknown chemicals pounding into my blood.
Another was the painful reminder that I was by no means free.
The day after my third miscarriage, I could not speak. My husband drove me home and we listened in silence to the weather and traffic. At home, the baby shower gifts were still piled in the living room but I merely walked by them, unable to rip them into shreds with the furious injustice that thundered in my brain. My body felt broken, incapable of feeling or sensation.
At night, as the sighs of my husband deepened into rhythmic snores, I finally allowed myself to cry, to feel the loss of our shattered hope. The doctors had said that this was the final attempt, the last chance. In all that I believed in a world that was good and fair, I believed that this would be the child. Our child.
When I returned to work, my desk was an endless foliage of flowers in gentle pastel colours. Everyone had been invested in my “battle” but their sympathy was just a reminder that I had lost. I took time off to escape my suffocation and see my mother on the other side of the country. Despite all the disappointment that I had carefully avoided for her all my life, I couldn’t bear this one on my own. She picked me up and we drove to the local diner for mac and cheese, foregoing her usual acerbic veganism. As the tears rolled uncontrollably down my cheeks, she crossed the table and gave me a hug, not saying a word. It was the first time in a while I felt like she was kin.
It was a friend from college who first told me about surrogacy. She emailed me to tell me she heard about my loss (“once again, so sorry”) but that her sister had great success with the looser rules and cheaper prices of surrogacy in India. “And it’s practically yours anyways. Your egg, your sperm, it’s easy.” I immediately sent out emails and phone calls, my ambitions channeled into this new hope. Within 6 months, a woman in Anand was pregnant with my child.
I paid for a trip to India to attend the birth and began writing emails to the surrogate, a woman whom I didn’t know but who was giving me this gift that I could never repay. I wrote to her constantly, sending endless gratitude and curious questions. She was 25. She was a mother to 3 children. Her husband and family lived in a smaller town nearby. She craved garlic roti and fish soup.
I wondered constantly about how she was feeling. I wanted to be connected with her – I paused in the maternity aisles at the mall to wonder what colours and fabrics she would prefer. Did her belly swell? Did her breasts feel tender? Did she wake with pains in the middle of the night?
As the days counted down to my flight to India and the birth, I couldn’t sleep. My mind would whirl with thoughts and questions, fears and the overwhelming hope that I would hold my child soon. I’d lie limply all night, holding the cold emptiness of my abdomen. Sometimes, I’d feel the jolts of my muscles as I struggled to keep my sobs silent.
The air of the room buzzed with heat and electricity. I felt faint from the humidity, as if the weight of the air was pushing me down. The medicine was exact and detailed: a shot of this, a drink of that, the rhythmic order of “push”. A fan buzzed overhead, but the heat of the summer drenched everything in sweat. I constantly wiped away the perspiration dripping over my eyes because I knew that I had to focus. My heart pounded thunder and my brain grew hazy with the intensity of the moment.
One last scream, one final push. A release of blood, sweat, and heat as a loud cry permeated the room. It was a girl, tiny pink fists and a waft of dark ringlets. She screamed with rage and uncertainty, her first mark upon the world. She was complete, breathtaking, wholly perfect. I felt my heart swell and burst with how much I loved her, I knew as absolute truth to measure all other feelings on. The nurses wrapped her in a rose cloth and cut the cord. I was exhausted to my bones, and yet had never felt so alive. I sobbed for her, felt every muscle of my being reach for her. Let me hold her, I pleaded. Carefully, the other woman nodded.
The baby was softening her cries, curled into a graceful ball. I wanted to protect her forever, from the cruel people and states of the world, from all the tears, pain, and vulnerability I knew they would try to break her with. I wanted her to always fit in my arms like she did, so I could carry her forever. I imagined a lifetime of love, hope, and freedom. I pledged with ferocity that I would do whatever I could in my limited power to create that world for her. My heart exploded with love and joy that boiled through my veins. This was it, she was finally here in my arms. Blood, sweat, work, and kin. My child.