Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Birth of a Book

I started my journey to surrogacy two years ago this month, and it's been a life changing process that has been filled with so much knowledge and patience and hope. During the matching process with Baby Mama and Baby Daddy I began to talk about what surrogacy was with my friends, family and my children.

Everyone always asks me what my kids think about all this. Do they understand that this baby isn't a sibling for them? Do I think they'll be sad when we don't bring this baby home? Do they get upset when I can't do things with them because I'm pregnant?

Surrogacy is a complicated subject to discuss with lots of adults. They question the ethics of it. They question my attachment to the baby. A lot of grown ups just can't wrap their minds around why a person would do such a thing. Women tell me they could never "give up the baby". They'd want to keep anything growing in their wombs. And I totally get it! But kids are surprisingly easy to talk to.

Our conversation basically just went "Hey you know how I grew you in my uterus?" They looked up from their cereal and  confirmed, yeah they remember me saying something about that once. (Sunshine asked about a tampon sign in the bathroom of our favorite burger joint once and got a 3 minute description of the menstrual cycle.)

"Well," I told them. "There's a mommy who wants a baby, but she doesn't have a uterus." They asked why and I told them she got it taken out because she had cancer. They wanted to know if they would get cancer. I told them I didn't know.

Then I told them my uterus was still working, but that I only wanted two babies. They asked if I would give them an older brother, and I told them if I had another kid it would be a baby and probably a girl baby since that's what their daddy makes. Then I asked who wanted to ride by themselves at Disney World because if we got another baby that would mean we'd have 5 people, and that's an odd number. They decided the dog we have is all the additional siblings they need. 

Then Sunshine said "Well if your uterus works why don't you grow a baby for Miss (Baby Mama)?" I asked if she'd be okay with that and she looked at me like I was nuts. "Um yeah that would be the nice thing to do," she told me. Jeez don't be an ass. You're not even using that dusty ol' uterus.

And that was that. As far as they were concerned I had a uterus that I wasn't using that was perfectly capable of growing a baby for a mommy who really needed help. Why not?

Still I heard other surrogates asking for tips about talking to their kids about their journey, and it got me thinking that maybe they just needed a story. And wouldn't you know it...story telling is my specialty.

I wanted to write a story that was simply about family. It didn't need to scream surrogacy or IVF or explain what a uterus was. I just wanted it to be a universally sweet story about families helping one another. Kids don't like to be preached to. They like to be entertained.

So I sat down and hammered out a little story about a chicken taking care of a duck egg. But the story fell flat. I couldn't get into the characters, and it seemed forced. I scrapped it and just sat on the idea for a while. In the mean time I was signing contracts and getting ready to cycle for our first transfer.

Then as I got to know Baby Mama the story kept coming back to me. She did work rescuing sea turtles, and I thought it was so cool that she was protecting baby sea turtles while I was working to grow and protect her own baby.

The idea for the book kept sloshing around until one night I woke up from a dead sleep with the entire thing written in my head. I got my phone out and jotted down some extensive notes and crashed back out.

The next day I shaped the story and soon sent it off to P.C. Zick, my editor, for some honest feedback. She'd worked with Florida Fish & Wildlife, so I wanted to make sure I wasn't making any glaring technical errors with my setting or characters. I chose gators as a nod to my alma mater, and of course I chose turtles as a nod to Baby Mama.

I loved the story, but the ending just seemed...off. It was missing something.

I based the story off of our own journey. We started with 10 embryos, much like the turtles started with 10 eggs in their nest. I researched to make sure that 10 eggs was a reasonable clutch for snapping turtles. It was. I used snapping turtles because I couldn't think of a scenario where sea turtles would be hanging out near alligators. Maybe they do, but I couldn't get past it being kind of weird. I also had a really horrible cheesy ending where the Mama Turtle names her baby Ally Gator Snapping Turtle. I'm super glad I killed that darling. After I slept on it I realized that it was constipation-inducing level of cheese.

I had the first draft written right before we transferred the one surviving embryo Baby Mama and Baby Daddy had from her retrieval. When that transfer ended in miscarriage I realized that was the missing piece of the turtle's journey. Surrogacy isn't just about a woman grabbing an embryo, sticking it in there then popping out a baby like it's some kind of easy bake oven. Loss is a big part of infertility, and there are often several bumps in the road. But those bumps shape the ending.

So I changed it up a bit, and I had Mother Gator carrying two eggs back to the turtles. And although both eggs don't make it back, the ending meant that much more because Mama and Papa Turtle were overjoyed just to be parents. They got the baby they were meant to have. 

Rewriting the ending to the story was just the beginning of the real work. I had to now figure out where the heck I was going to find an illustrator. I've got another book I wrote for my kids that I illustrated. It's just a silly story meant just for them, so I really didn't care about having beautiful artwork to accompany it. I haven't even published it because it's just something I pull out for them from time to time.

But the Turtle's Tale needed art. And I just so happened to know a lovely girl who just finished art school at SCAD. I've known Victoria Allen since she was just a wee thing in high school. She's been BFFs with my brother-in-law since my first baby was just a baby.

It also just so happened that she grew up in Louisiana, and my book was set in the swamp. It's like this book was made for her to illustrate. I sent her the manuscript, and the sketches she sent back blew me away. It was almost scary how close to my own ideas they were.

I also didn't realize how lucky I was that she said yes, because not only did she crawl inside my head and pull out the most breathtaking illustrations for this story. But she also did all the design work for the book with only minimal nitpicky feedback from me. (minimal right Vicky?! The hyphens!? The damn trim!)

It was a long road, and at times it seemed to crawl at a turtle's pace. We hit our own snags and hangups with production and printing. But right around Christmas she sent me an email titled FINAL. I couldn't believe it was actually this close.

And so...just about a month before I'm set to bring this sweet little baby into the world and into the loving arms of his parents, we pushed out this amazing story of surrogacy and familial love.

I hope you enjoy A Turtle's Tale as much as I do. I hope it can help surrogates and intended parents to open up communication about what surrogacy is. And at the very least I hope it's just a good read.

Thanks for coming along on this journey. We are just about 6 short weeks away from my due date, so that means we are really headed into the home stretch here! Things should get pretty interesting in the next few weeks as we go on BABY WATCH 2016!