Blessed and Highly Favored - The Clark Sisters
If It Wasn't For My Sister, I Never Would Have Been Able to Become a Mom
I peered over the edge of the barn roof, felt my boots slip just a little on the blanket of snow, gingerly stepped back. "You go first," I said to my sister, Jenna, making my voice authoritative—big sister like. Without hesitation she launched herself off the roof into a front somersault and landed into the fluffy pile of snow below, laughing with delight. I jumped right after her, and we spent the next two hours practicing our gymnastics flips off the roof—just a regular Saturday in the life of two Canadian farm girls.
The roof is only one example of Jenna's willingness to put herself out there for her older (and some might say wiser, though certainly more risk averse) sister. She taught me to shave my legs, always walked ahead of me into the terrifying haunted house at our local fair, and put our family's station wagon into drive "just to see what happens" when she was six (luckily our mother was a fast sprinter and we didn't plow right through the house). She also became a wife long before I did, had her first baby before I finished my graduate degree, then had her second two months after I got married.
She may be 15 months younger, but she has pretty much done everything first. So it shouldn't have surprised anyone (and it didn't) when she was the first to offer to be our surrogate when I was diagnosed with cancer.
I was 30 years old when I heard the words, "You have cancer." They came from my shell-shocked gynecologist, who had never seen a case like mine before.Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the cervix.A rare diagnosis; unexpected in a thirty-year-old vegetarian, who worked out five times a week and had made good life decisions up to that point—including letting her little sister be the guinea pig.
When I called Jenna, who was living in Chicago at the time, to tell her the news, she was on the first flight out, her four-month-old daughter in tow. We did things together I wouldn't have had the strength to do alone, like go for my wig fitting—reality sinking in that soon enough I would lose my hair. And while she sat with me in the wig salon she made me laugh a lot (and cry only a little), and then she told me she would carry my baby for me if it turned out I couldn't.
Well, it turned out I couldn't.
Luckily I was in remission, and my husband and I had enough pre-treatment frozen embryos to start our own hockey team; unfortunately those embryos would never create life inside my chemotherapy and radiation-damaged body. When Jenna said she'd carry a baby for me, I'm not sure she knew exactly what she was offering: months of medications and fertility appointments, countless procedures, lawyers and contracts, morning sickness and elastic-waistband pants that wouldn't end in a bouncing baby in her arms.
But she was a mother, times two. And she was determined I would also know that joy. So she took another jump off a different kind of roof, and became our gestational surrogate.
It wasn't easy, for either of us. She suffered with swollen ankles, all-day sickness, and exhaustion (she had a busy chiropractic practice and two little kids underfoot). I struggled with the anxieties that come with being a mother-to-be from afar. The crushing sadness of never feeling your own child kick from within. But there were beautiful moments, too. Like when we heard the heartbeat for the first time. Or when we learned our baby was a girl. Celebrating my baby shower—her belly massive, mine still flat, both of us beaming.
In the packed delivery room—filled with our obstetrician, two delivery nurses, a student doctor, me, my husband, Jenna, her husband—I held one of Jenna's legs while she pushed, sans epidural, and watched my daughter come into this world.
"Get on the bed," one nurse said, as soon as our daughter was out. Clumsily, still in awed shock from her birth, I settled my body awkwardly onto the edge of the gurney. Everyone laughed, and the nurse said, "Exactly how long do you think this umbilical cord is?" So I snuggled in beside my sister and cradled my daughter onto my chest, all three of us still linked together for one spectacular moment.
My daughter was born perfect in every way, continues thriving at every turn. She is the spitting image of me, though I can see plenty of her daddy in her, too. As for whether she'll be jumping off any barn roofs like her auntie, that remains to be seen—though I suspect she also got a little of my risk aversion in her DNA.
I believe we would have had a child one way or another. A different surrogate, maybe. Or through the gift of adoption. But if my sister hadn't been the first to stand up and say she would help us become parents, we would not haveourdaughter. I would not be a mother to this child, who with her arrival took the hell of our experience leading up to her, crushed it into a tiny ball and dropped it down a deep, dark well where it can no longer break my heart.
So without my sister I would not be a mother.
Because of my sister, I am a mother.
Thank you, dear sister of mine, for always being willing to go first.
Video: Alec Benjamin ~ If We Have Each Other (Lyrics)
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