My mother, who, to her own or my knowledge, had never done anything that would be considered the least unconventional, offered to be the surrogate for my and Bill’s biological child.
She wrote her offer in a letter: three small pieces of creamy white paper containing an invitation that would change our lives. I read the letter on the floor of my bedroom, feeling none of the things my mother had feared I might feel (rejection, alienation, overstepping of bounds). I clutched the paper to my chest. I felt only awe, incredulity, gratitude and- for the first time in many months, hope.
We knew the idea was wild and far-fetched. We called our fertility clinic to set up an appointment anyway. To ease our insecurity we cracked jokes about the idea’s sensationalist nature, laughing over the mock holiday card we could send if the idea worked: “WOMAN GIVES BIRTH TO OWN GRANDSON”.
I laughed but was aware of a deeper sensation humming within me. Despite the protesting of my logical mind, I felt this surrogacy idea like a song—a song that called to me like wind in the trees.
I also knew something that possibly no one else aside from my father knew at that time—that this act of colossal generosity on the part of my mother was also the answer to another prayer: my mother’s desire to discover a calling. Two years earlier, newly retired from a career that had been successful but never a passion, my mother began calling me for advice. I happily offered the techniques I used in my life coaching practice: meditation, journaling, and exploratory questions. “I keep coming up with the same thing,” she’d lament after journaling. “The time I was the happiest in my life was when I was pregnant with you three girls. What am I supposed to do with that?”
Out of sheer persistence, she attended a coaching workshop and created a vision board for her ideal life. In the center was a young ostrich; its beak stretched wide open in a great yawping grin. “This is the way I want to feel about what I am doing in my life,” my mother said. She’d also pasted onto the board a page from a magazine that read: Women after menopause have a choice.
“I meant the page to say retirement,” she said. “I’ll change it when I get home”.
Instead, she hung the vision board up in her room at home as it was and promptly forgot about it—until three months later when a friend mentioned that she’d heard about a post-menopausal woman who’d become pregnant.
My mother went home and stared at the board. The skin on her body pricked and she felt as if a current moved through her. The idea took shape in her mind. In that moment our two visions, mine to have a family and hers to find a calling, became one.
On Feb. 9, 2011, my son, Finnean Lee, came into the world and at 61 my mother became the oldest woman in Illinois to give birth. One of my mother’s favorite quotes is from a rabbi who said if we are open along the way of realizing our own visions and dreams, we will also become the puzzle pieces for the visions and dreams of others.
Years before, my mother displayed the quote in her kitchen and sent a copy to me. She called recently to say she couldn’t find the paper and would I send her the passage again? That evening I took out a thick piece of cardstock and sat down to handwrite the words. As I reached for an envelope in which to enclose it, I wondered if she needed it anymore. In carrying Finn my mother had embodied the essence of that quote, lodging it deep within the heart of our family.