Mother, But Not Mom: I Have Two Kids (That I Know Of)


You don’t always realize, when the crazy impulse strikes, that it’s a defining moment—one you’ll later write into the script of your life, for good or ill.

So there I was, tapping aimlessly at a tired old desktop in the flight school where I worked, trying to fathom how I was going to pay for the new engine my Cessna 172 desperately needed. “Desperate” could describe my own efforts; I performed futile Web searches—as if the Internet could somehow magically cough up twelve grand—while lingering near the phone in case a potential new flight student called.

And then I decided to register with an online egg brokerage service.

I never seriously intended to sell my reproductive material to strangers. In retrospect, it wasn’t even that much money for the trouble—$2,500 to endure weeks of fertility injections and to fly across the country for the “harvesting” procedure, quite the euphemism if you consider what that actually entails. All for less than one-fourth the price of a Lycoming O-360, four-cylinder, factory-overhauled aircraft engine.

I wasn’t focusing on any of those pesky details as I answered questions on the egg “donor” website: height, weight, education, SAT scores, IQ, musical and athletic ability. Indulging in fantasies about my perceived hereditary endowments was much more fun than seeking practical solutions to my engine troubles. And it stroked my fragile, only-child ego in a way that felt wonderfully soothing. Good ear for music. I typed. IQ in the 130s. Natural athletic ability.

I was gifted! I reminded myself cheerfully. Never mind that those supposed “gifts” hadn’t come to much since college. They certainly hadn’t conferred any aptitude for navigating my own life.

At 28 years old, with a high-dollar diploma in my pocket, I’d floundered through my 20s, stumbling haphazardly from one job to the next—kennel cleaner, arterial blood drawer, vet tech, data entrist, cubicle bureaucrat, waiter—before finally landing the first job I ever loved.

Four years of lessons and thousands of air miles had made a competent pilot and flight instructor of me. But $12,000 now stood between me and keeping my Cessna—and my students—safely and reliably aloft. I didn’t think I could handle any more failure. The “one airplane, one girl” business plan had to work.

By the time I got the call from an egg broker a few weeks later, I’d already laughed at myself for filling out the application and forgotten all about it. “Someone is interested in your profile,” said the voice on the phone.

I’m still not sure what made me agree to follow through. Certainly it was one part financial need, one part desire to help a nice couple have a baby. But I suspect another, vainer motive may have lurked just beneath the surface: someone had chosen my eggs! They had selected me! Which meant that I, just maybe, was kind of special after all.

I tore into the sushi restaurant 20 minutes late to meet prospective parents Lynn and Robin Krystal.* I felt instantly absurd—tardy, flustered, a jumble of nerves. And once the two introduced themselves as psychiatrists, I became certain they could see right through every jittery mannerism, every flimsy attempt to feign confidence, deep into the resounding chaos within. I imagined them diagnosing me from across the edamame, as I uneasily wiped my mouth with a napkin every 15 seconds or so and fidgeted with the table pedestal under my right toe. Narcissistic. Dysthymic. Compulsive. Notes of akathisia ** lingering beneath a bouquet of toasted introversion.

Despite the inherently bizarre situation—the Krystals were essentially assessing whether they wished to reproduce with me, after all—I quickly warmed to them. Intelligent and unpretentious, they welcomed my questions: “Why do you want to do this? Why not adopt instead?”

Robin told me she’d given birth to a daughter three years before. The couple hoped for another child, but Robin couldn’t produce viable ova anymore. Although by no means aloof, she struck me as self-possessed and undemonstrative, with a sharply discerning intellect; sizing herself up, she admitted to a gnawing fear—that she might view an adopted baby with an unspeakable detachment. “I don’t consider myself to be a naturally maternal person,” she explained candidly. Giving birth, she felt, would solidify the mother-child bond … with a baby not, strictly speaking, her blood relation.

I could identify with that. I didn’t see myself as “naturally maternal” either. Yet, here I was, soon to become a mother of sorts, if not an actual mom. It was a huge relief to know that the people tasked with nurturing my precious genetic potential seemed reasonable, kind, and certainly more responsible than I felt then.

What a strange, cosmic joke, I thought, that our bodies are best suited for procreation at an age when our psyches, so often, are not. The coupling of an unsettled 28-year-old’s DNA with a 40-year-old doctor’s life skills seemed ideal, and highly practical. I settled comfortably into the waning evening, feeling good about helping such a capable couple add humans to a teeming world.

And then I dropped my napkin. Bending under the table to retrieve it, I realized, to my horror, that the object I’d been caressing with my right toe for nearly two hours was not the table pedestal.

I shot what must have been a stricken look at Lynn, the man who would soon fertilize my eggs. “That,” I said, “Has been. Your. Foot.”

“I was wondering,” he said, with a half-smile.

I ask you: Why did this man not move his foot away two hours ago?

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

It turns out I am unnaturally responsive to fertility drugs. “The egg is the largest cell in the human body,” my Bio 141 professor liked to say. “It’s actually visible to the naked eye. I’ve never seen one, but that’s not for a lack of trying.”

I never saw the 26 eggs my ovaries manufactured that spring, but I sure could feel them, in all their cellular largeness. By harvest time, my fertility zone felt as swollen as a dirigible. The pressure on my lower spine made it impossible to stand up straight. And all that spawning had engendered truly impressive PMS symptoms.

A few days before the procedure, I sank into an ugly stupor, obsessively monitoring the evening news: some boys had just shot up a school called Columbine, and ambulances shrieked by, bound for the nearby hospital. The world suddenly seemed a dark, mean, inhospitable place for new life. I wept hormone-laced tears to the wails of sirens.

When the day came, I (wisely) opted for general anesthesia. A mere pelvic exam sends me into the rafters, so I struggled to imagine how I would weather the insertion of a long needle into my ovaries through the vaginal wall. (I am hyperventilating now, just typing this.) Unconsciousness is bliss.

I later learned that the fertility clinic—thanks to Lynn’s arduous labors—fertilized 15 of my eggs and implanted three embryos into Robin’s uterus. I received a letter containing a photo of two Krystal babies—plump, blue-eyed, and red-faced. I couldn’t detect anything familiar in those tiny features. But then, all babies kind of look alike when they’re not your own.

A little more than 10 years have passed, and I haven’t heard from the Krystals since. If they wanted to keep in touch, I imagined, they would. They owed me nothing. My eggs weren’t exactly a gift, after all. They were a happy quid pro quo, a win-win that helped keep my little plane airworthy, me in business, and Robin a mom, threefold.

So I figure, the one present I can give the Krystal family is to quietly disappear and let them be. My part of the job’s long finished, and an insignificant part it was, compared to all the actual Mommying and Daddying that has to be done.

Sometimes crazy impulses aren’t mistakes. I smile when I think about the “egg twins,” just knowing they’re out there. I wonder if they have my weird webbed toes, or whether they tend to laugh in inappropriate situations. Maybe they’ll stumble sometimes, and overworry about whether they’re living up to their potential. And then they’ll grow up, stop fretting, and navigate life just fine. Because they’ll know, deep down, that they’re special, regardless of their genetic gifts.

* Details have been changed to protect identities.
** akathisia is a syndrome characterized by unpleasant sensations of “inner” restlessness that manifests itself with an inability to sit still or remain motionless.


denny's picture

Wow, you really draw me into your story, fertility stories always have something interesting to tell. What I want to ad is that you can't imagine how much happiness you can give to a couple of people who love each other just by giving away one of your eggs, that's what you should think about. Check this IVF Austin resource and see for yourself some real life stories that turned from desperate to happy.

Genetics can play tricks on us. You think that everything is perfectly normal, until you realize it's not. Unfortunately, fertility problems are increasingly common, both in women and men. A visit to the ob gyn chicago il office can clarify things, so you'll know exactly what to expect, before making plans to expand the family. Things aren't always as simple as they appear to be.

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