I have been taking an online course aiming at helping women come up with the best business idea for their season of life. (Eventually I will start bringing in an income again but I will wait to write about it at the appropriate time.) One of the things that the instructor talks about is imposter syndrome, or a feeling of inadequacy or incompetence, or an utter failure or a fraud for a person’s own ability or accomplishment. Many people don’t feel that they can or will be able to start a small business to bring in money, or doubt that they are good enough for others to use their service or buy their products. I don’t actually feel like that with the business idea that I came up with because it is well within my professional field. But this word “imposter” came to my mind the other day. I have been attending a weekly bible study with my kids. I get my me time during discussion with my group of ladies and get fed spiritually with the truths that a teaching leader imparts to us. The kids get their precious time to learn about God, be loved on by their teachers, and play with their friends. Last week prior to the lecture, a video was played to us to show the importance of the children’s program to the existence of the adult bible study class. Afterwards, the lecturer asked all the mothers with little kids in the program to stand up so that the crowd could show their appreciation for their dedication in bringing the kids. I hesitated for a few seconds before I slowly rose from my seat. I felt a tiny bit uneasy and didn’t look back at the rest of the people in the sanctuary since I sat quite close to the stage. The lecture started after that and I went on with my day. However, during the quiet evening hours when I reflected back various moments of the day, I thought about the moment when I stood up as a mom to my kids and I started analyzing my emotions. Why did I hesitate and why did I feel uneasy when the leader asked the moms to stand up? Maybe sometimes I still feel like an imposter. Not all the time, but sometimes. I know that my kids are mine and I am their mother. I love them to the moon and back, and will do anything for them. BUT, the fact that I didn’t get to carry them or share my genes with them still haunts me. Not all the time, but it creeps up at moments like this. At times I do still feel insecure about it and wonder how the kids would feel about their unique history when they are teenagers or adults. I wonder if my love for them is enough for them to feel secure about their special situation being children born out of the tremendous love I and their dad have for them. Deep down, at rare moments, I do feel like a fraud, as if someday someone would come and take them away from me because I am not their real mother. This is all silly talk when I am sane and busy with a beautiful life full of chaos of raising twins, but at times this silly talk is not too silly and consumes me and makes my heart ache for the journey that I had to take in order to become my babies’ mama. Fortunately, I feel secure as their mother 99% of the time, but when that rare moment comes at an unexpected time, I am almost surprised at having these feelings. I guess these emotions will probably never completely go away.
I hardly cry these days, but last Friday I teared up twice.
Bunny, our little girl, has always been independent. She soothes herself to sleep and would fuss more if you try to console her. She used to be able to nap in her crib. Lately, because of various reasons, both kids would only nap in our bed, but are okay sleeping in their own cribs at night. Bunny was still tossing and turning for her first nap on Friday after Okra fell asleep by himself. I sneaked up next to her and she immediately turned towards me and snuggled up to my body. I immediately put my arms around her and pat her back. If you knew her, you’d know how rare it is for her to not be moving around but to stay still in my embrace. It was a serene and surreal moment for me to be lying in my bed curling up with my baby girl in my arms on a Friday morning with the blackout blinds drawn and a sliver of sunlight peeking into the room. Scenes of our infertility and surrogacy journey flashed fast in my mind and I felt tremendously blessed to be this perfect child’s mother. I couldn’t help but tear up feeling her warm body against mine and hearing her breathing.
My mom was sick that morning with dizziness, so I was taking care of the babies by myself with changing, bottle feeding, feeding solids, entertaining, and putting them down for a nap. Later that morning, Okra threw up while playing on the jumperoo. Vomit was dripping on the floor and all over a photo album underneath it that was used as a foot rest for the babies. While being busy wiping him and the area, Bunny threw up as well, not once, not twice, but three times. They ate avocado (which I also ate) and had formula that morning. We still don’t know what caused the sudden vomit as this was the 7th time they had avocado. But it was one tiring morning with all the worries about them being sick, consoling, and cleaning. Later that afternoon, my mom felt better and got up to help with the babies. I was holding Okra while my mom changed Bunny’s diaper. Suddenly my mom yelled from the room saying that she was dizzy and had to go sit down. I rushed to the room to put Okra in his crib while mom went to sit down in the rocking chair next to the changing pad which was on the dresser. I turned around and saw that Bunny was arching her back like usual and was trying to roll herself over the changing pad. This sight scared me to death. I was only three steps away but would not be able to catch her if she really rolled over and fell. I leaped over to the dresser and held onto Bunny tightly. She was probably scared by me because of my sudden action and started crying. I took her in my arms, held her tightly, and tears started rolling down my cheeks. What if she did roll over and fell? What if what if what if? The more I though about it, the tears were coming down more. I just couldn’t bear to think of the consequences. It took me a while to calm down.
Crying is good for the soul. I mean I still sometimes do feel a sense of loss because of the loss of the ability to carry my babies or the chance to be genetically related to them, but I am just tremendously grateful that the heartaches and longing for a baby aren’t the reasons for my tears anymore.
You may wonder how an intended mother may feel once she is expecting via gestational surrogacy. The answer is, it changes all the time, and you don’t know when and how frequently your feelings may change.
The other night Bob and I were chatting in bed about how we’d turn 15 weeks the next day. Suddenly, this sadness overcame me. It just hit me like a ton of bricks without warning. I lay there and started tearing up. What went through my mind was how Annie will start feeling the babies’ movements in a few weeks and I will feel nothing inside of me. That loss on that particular day at that particular moment was so unbearable. My babies are growing in another person’s body, and I am 100% grateful for that. However, this same fact also reminded of my missing out on this experience and it was very difficult to bear. I knew all of this going in, and I knew that these feelings are going to surface once in a while. I do think that it is important to acknowledge them and cry when I need to cry.
These complicated feelings made the next day even more difficult. A close friend of mine who had been banking day 5 and then day 3 embryos for the last two years (because of diminished ovarian reserve) just received her positive beta after failing her first transfer a month ago. She started banking after she turned 40 and she had been quite adamant about not using donor eggs. I totally respect what she’s been doing and support her in her endeavor. It has not been easy for her and I want her to be successful. At the same time, I didn’t know how I’d feel if/when she eventually gets her BFP. I found out on Wednesday that her BFP has hit me hard. I was super jealous of two things: 1) she does not have to consider the need of donor eggs, and 2) she gets to experience a pregnancy. I know that this jealousy and these thoughts are not rational. As a close friend, I *should* be very excited for her. But I was just super super jealous. There is no rhyme or reason. Like I said, I would not have known how I’d feel about a particular person’s pregnancy until it happens. There have been many times I am immediately very happy for someone and do not feel an ounce of jealously. Unfortunately this time my primary feeling has been jealousy rather than anything else. I felt a little bad for not being able to fully celebrate with my friend, but I was told by another co-sister on this journey (and she’s a therapist herself) that I don’t have to feel bad. I am not going to analyze myself too much, but I believe this stems from both my need to use donor eggs and my necessity to use a gestational carrier. I knew that I was still sorting through my feelings about not being able to carry, but I was surprised by my feelings regarding donor eggs. I thought I have completely worked through those emotions, but I guess the grief for foregoing my own eggs lingers for longer than I thought. I knew and still know that I was completely done with my own eggs at the time we moved forward to donor eggs and am very grateful for having the twins using this method, but it’s still tough when someone else achieves what I can’t.
Today was tough for me. My friend was of course still super excited and sent me two pee stick photos. It was hard for me to see pee sticks without prior warning. Pee sticks, bump photos, and ultrasound photos still serve as such a trigger for me. She also mentioned about other pregnancy related things that were too much for me at this point. After a few moments, she asked me if it was okay for her to show me these photos. I was silent for a little while then decided to tell her that I was okay with them because as a good friend, I don’t want to dampen her joy. However, my friend A. wanted to make sure that I don’t get ambushed by this friend in the future so it might be wise to establish some boundaries. I decided to be honest with my friend so I made this suggestion: “I support you and love you and am very happy for you for getting to this point. Just for me, you may need to be a bit less specific about your pregnancy symptoms and things in the future. I’m not saying that you are overdoing anything right now because you are not, but this is to protect myself because I don’t get to experience what you will experience. I don’t know how I’d react.” My friend took it very well and thanked me for being open with her. I wish I could be there for her 100% but as of now, I am not quite there yet.
So it goes to tell you that even when we are 15 weeks into this pregnancy, we don’t live happily ever after. We still have all sorts of feelings to process. And sadness and jealousy hit whenever they want to. We’ll have to be honest with ourselves and handle these feelings as they come. Hopefully, like what A. said, that by the time the twins come, I will be so busy mothering that this stuff will have less opportunity to fill the space in my head.
Ever since we started this surrogacy journey, I have experienced a whole gamut of emotions.
Of course there are the positive emotions, such as hopefulness, excitement, and gratitude that a person such as my gestational carrier has such compassion for us that she is willing to go through pregnancy for another person. This is sometimes too profound of a concept for me to fathom and to grasp.
Every single stage of the journey also invokes fear, worry, and anxiety, such as our donor’s egg retrieval, fertilization rate, number of embryos remaining, potential weather issues, thawing of the embryos, the transfer itself, waiting for beta, and waiting for ultrasound.
And then there is this deeper emotion of joy that is much greater than the temporary feeling of happiness. This joy that comes from witnessing the miracle of life that is growing inside of our gestational carrier and from the hope and the promising future of our children being born into this world and meeting us face-to-face.
What surprised me was the sense of loss that I felt during our epic first ultrasound while experiencing this tremendous joy of seeing the two heartbeats that were flickering on the screen. I didn’t know that those two complex emotions could exist in the same moment, but they did, because I experienced them.
Seeing those two heartbeats was one of the most exhilarating and monumental moments in my life. The tears that were shed were definitely tears of joy. However, seeing Annie’s name on the screen and the ultrasound photos brought me back to the reality of what my body will likely not ever be able to accomplish. It was supposed to be my name and my date of birth printed on the photos. If I could have my way, it was also supposed to be my eggs, my uterus, and my pregnancy five years ago. While being super excited and joyful and amazed, I was at the same time tremendously sad.
But I believe that God’s plan for us is perfect in every way and His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). I believe that this is what needs to happen for us to have our babies. And I fully embrace that. But it does not mean that I will not continue to have a sense of loss that I have to grieve. What I need to do is to continue to process my feelings with the help of my therapist. And I did exactly that.
My visit to my therapist was highly emotionally charged. It was just so exciting to be able to finally share good news with her after having to tell her heartbreaking news over and over again in the past two and a half years. But at the same time, my biggest need was to process my grief and sadness with her. I even cried when I was telling her that. I knew that sadness and joy could exist simultaneously but it was reassuring for a professional to confirm it with me. She told me that it is very common for intended mother to feel a sense of loss while expecting via a surrogate, especially when the surrogate starts to feel the baby or babies. There is the loss of the sense of control because it is not my own body. There is nothing wrong with these feelings. It is just part of my reality. I told her sometimes I don’t know how to feel. And she said that it is okay to not know how to feel. She said that as the pregnancy progresses, I may find myself feeling jealous, annoyed, or frustrated with Annie. But at the same time, I would continue to feel grateful, joyful, and excited. The key is to feel all that I need to feel and to tell myself that it is okay to do so. She has heard enough from intended mothers about these feelings, but she kind of experienced it first hand when one of her best friends was expecting via surrogacy. The second and third trimesters were kind of difficult for her friend. And I am sure that it will be similar for me. I don’t know if this sense of loss and the grief will ever completely go away but maybe it will diminish with the birth of the babies.
In terms of my fear that something bad may happen to the pregnancy, my therapist reminded me that I have lived in the unknown in the past few years. Treat this the same way. Embrace the unknown. Whenever I find myself having these thoughts, ask myself if they are helpful. If they are not, acknowledge them and then let go. And if anything bad were to happen, I would be able to deal with it just like how I have been dealing with bad news in the past few years.
One interesting thing is that, ever since the news of us expecting twins, my attitude towards pregnant women has changed for the better. It has been easier for me to chat with my pregnant coworker. It has even been easier for me to accept pregnancy announcements. It is quite eye-opening for myself to see the immediate change in my thoughts and feelings. I know that the sting of infertility doesn’t totally go away, but it’s surprising for me to be able to feel more positive or at ease with other people’s pregnancy in such a short amount of time.
What I am trying to say is, our pregnancy is not always going to make us feel positive and excited. There are also fear, worry, jealousy, sadness, and anxiety. But having these feelings doesn’t mean that we are ungrateful about where we are now. The reality is, we are human beings and have complicated emotions. The key to maintain emotional health is to address these feelings rather than brushing them aside so that we are ready to welcome the babies in every way possible when the time comes.