Originally published May 4th, 2012, on The Next Family.
Nearly four weeks after the birth of my second surrogate child, I had a phone call from my mother’s cell phone. It was a Monday morning, and I was trying to get a crazy five-year-old ready for school on just a few hours of sleep. Normally in surrogacy, the time after giving birth is a reprieve. You’ve gestated another human for the past approximately 40 weeks, and now you get to rest. We surrogates sleep gloriously flat on our backs or stomachs while someone else feeds, changes, burps, and changes again a tiny infant. We have six weeks off of work to recover, and the freedom of not having to parent the child we birthed. That is, unless you’re a slow learner like me. The first time Mom called, I was busy pumping. After both of my surrogacies, I pumped and donated milk. The first time, to Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio, the second time to the little girl herself, with some extra going to mamas in need on Human Milk for Human Babies. I couldn’t get to the phone because of the double electric breast pump that I had just gotten hooked up to, and that looked and sounded like a milking machine for cows. Mom called a couple more times to my cell phone, and then to my husband’s. By the time she called Dwight, he was available to pick up, so he did. Early in my second surrogacy, I had discussed the issue of milk and feeding with my Ifs. They jumped. One of them is European, and both are very health-conscious. They very much wanted to give their child the best start possible, from picking a healthy surrogate with similar priorities as they, to organic bedding for the crib. Included in that spectrum was feeding with human milk, as much and as long as they could. On that, we agreed. My son was nursed for nearly two years, and I strongly believe in not “breast is best” but “breast is normal.” Some have accused me of being a lactivist (although those accusations usually come from self- identified lactivists). It’s just something I believe in as supported by science to be beneficial and evolutionarily normal to both women and babies. So we decided that I would pump and ship for them as long as I could. My goal was six months. Dwight brought me the phone, and told me that I needed to talk to Mom and her husband. That my sister had died. She had shot herself the night before, after yet another fight with her husband. That Mom and Dusty were driving up from Florida as we spoke. I took the phone, and have no memory of how the rest of the day went, other than that I pumped. And I think I cried. In the hospital after giving birth, the night feedings were my duty. The munchkin stayed with her daddies all day, and a good part of the time we all spent together. Nights, she went to the nursery, so that the guys could take advantage of a last couple of nights of decent sleep, and ease into parenting. For night feedings when she woke up, the nurses brought her to my room. We had spoken about it about mid-way, and decided that to ensure the best start to my supply that we could, I would nurse some as well as pump while we were all together. Anyone who’s nursed knows how critical those first few days are for supply, and how poorly pumps mimic a baby. Those moments alone, just the two of us, with a common goal of filling a tiny tummy efficiently and getting back to bed, were extremely helpful. We said our well-wishes to each other, their little girl and I. It was fumbly and awkward, because that’s what nursing is at first, but it was our time. We were working together for the betterment of both of us. In those painful, empty, lonely, few weeks after Kim’s death, when I should have still been on maternity leave and resting, pumping oddly gave me a respite. I had a focus, a purpose that needed to be fulfilled. There was someone depending on me, and I couldn’t let them down. I had to stay strong. Focus and determination had gotten me through quite a lot in my day, and itwould get me through this as well. Right?