Nature, Nurture, Or Does It Matter?
If you follow me at all, there's a good chance you already know I have two college age boys. Eli, the older one, graduated college (in the living room) over Mother's Day Weekend this past May and Dylan is training with the expectation he will be returning to school and soccer, for his sophomore year this fall.
I talk about them a lot. Anyone who knows me, knows I adore my boys and (other than the inflated grocery bills) having them at home has been the best thing about this pandemic. And, while it's certainly not a secret, far fewer people know I have been an egg donor several times, and have other children "out there" somewhere...
When Robert and I decided we were ready to start a family, (well, I decided and he didn't really seem to object) we were excited and grateful to have gotten pregnant with Eli so quickly. Silly me, I had no idea what was in store! For the record, I hated being pregnant, hated everything about it. I felt ill all the time, completely exhausted all the time, with monstrous mood swings and I could go from sated to ravenous in the blink of an eye!
I could likely do a whole blog post about how these are all the qualities Eli exhibited upon his arrival, and really every day since then as well... Seriously, that child could sleep! He was sleeping through the night and eating cereal in less than two months and I swear he came out of the womb looking for a cheeseburger! The question around dinner time, ever since Eli hit puberty, wasn't "would you like more?" Rather he'd ask, "Is there more?" because the answer to the first question was always yes. Eli's eating habits aside, it did make me wonder how much of my "pregnancy personality" could be attributed to his personality and his presence in my body. In the age-old question of nature versus nurture, how much of who a child is, comes from them and how much comes from us?
Even though it felt like an alien was trying to overtake me, we were so thrilled to be expecting his arrival. And, as would turn out to be the case for pretty much everything Eli, he preferred to do things his own way and really could have cared less how long he'd been in my belly. He was just not interested in changing locations so, my due-date came and went and we ultimately ended up with a very long, non-productive labor, leading to an emergency C-Section. (If you missed that whole story, you can catch up with it here, in my blog post called, Meeting-Michael).
It all happened very quickly and frankly, it was kind of terrifying but, in the end, we were both alive, and that was all that mattered. We had a beautiful baby boy and I was completely in love!
I had gotten pregnant so easily and, aside from the whole scary labor and delivery experience, all was right in our world. Except, all around us were clusters of friends who had been trying over and over again, to get pregnant and start their families as well. I felt so lucky, I wished there was something I could do to help. There had to be some way to say thank you to the Universe for the gifts we had been given, and just maybe put some good karma out there for our friends as well. I had no idea what that meant, until one day, while reading though yet another parenting magazine, I saw an ad in the back, looking for Egg Donors. They were specifically looking for Jewish Egg Donors and I thought, "That's it!"
Perhaps, in helping another couple have a baby, some of our friends would reap the karmic benefits? Maybe it sounds ridiculous and probably a bit naive but, that is truly how I thought about it. I was alive. My beautiful baby boy was alive and part of me needed to give something back to the Universe. Which is what I told the psychologist when she called me in for an interview. There was a psych evaluation, a personality test, a medical history and then a face to face interview, before they would add me to their catalog of donors. She seemed a little surprised as she shared with me how most people did this sort of thing for the money. Of course I knew there would be a financial benefit but, I was trying to repay a debt that money couldn't touch. Keep in mind also, this was well before the days when blonde, blue eyed co-eds were being paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for their eggs. I knew my reasons and for me, the money was a perk, not the main reason. Besides, "newbies" like me didn't make near as much as donors who had already produced healthy babies.
It didn't take long for me to be matched, and a seemingly nice couple picked me out just a few weeks later. They had been abandoned by their previous donor after going through all the motions and now, feeling more protective, they wanted zero contact with me. The night before the procedure to scoop up all the eggs I'd been producing for them, and after much cajoling by the psychologist, they finally decided to call me. It was a short conversation and I was glad they finally wanted to "meet" me. I told them the same story... I was honored to help and wished them well. That was it. Nine months later, I heard they had a beautiful set of twin girls and I never heard anything about or from them again.
Around the exact same time, messages started floating in and it seemed like more than half our group of friends, who'd been struggling to conceive, were all becoming pregnant!! One day someone would call with the news, and then a few days later another friend would call, and over and over it went. Something inside me wanted to shout to the Universe, "I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!" While at the same time, I wanted to sit down and cry in both gratitude and utter disbelief. Even back then, something inside me inherently knew what marvels the Universe could create for us, if only we would bother to ask!
A few years later, just as Rob and I were starting to talk about having baby number two, another couple expressed interested in matching with me. They were different though. Having already welcomed a son, with the help of an egg donor and surrogate, they wanted to meet me before deciding I was the donor they wanted. This was fine with me, except for the fact that they lived on the East Coast and I was living in LA. Apparently this was not actually an issue for them, as the next week Eli and I found ourselves having brunch in a popular LA eatery, with Leslie* (not her real name) the nicest woman you'd ever want to meet. Like me, they had learned many lessons during their first go around and wanted to be more involved in the process this time. After our initial meeting, Leslie stayed in touch throughout the donation process, even flying back to LA again, in order to personally bring the eggs back to their waiting surrogate. The weekend before the harvest procedure, Rob and I were house hunting, viewing one we expected to be empty, only to find a half-naked drunk guy, totally passed out on a small couch, the only remaining piece of furniture, save for a small television perched on a milk crate, blaring out whatever the NFL was showing that day. Fresh marks in the carpet suggested his partner had left quite recently, leaving him (literally) with what we could see and, we were just grateful he never woke up during the time we were there.
Our real estate agent was so mortified, he took us to see another property that wasn't scheduled to go on the market for a few more days. Naturally, we fell in love with it at once and made an offer right then and there. I'll never forget talking excitedly with Leslie on the phone, my ass cheek on fire, as I pulled myself up the stairs to check out the second floor one more time. In general, the injections I needed for egg donation were quite small and easily poked into my thigh, though I will confess, that very first one took about 30 minutes before I was able to stick the teeny tiny needle into my leg. I'm squeamish, what can I say? The final injection before an egg harvest however, is a Very Different Story. It has to go into your tush muscle, rather than the hip or thigh and the needle is A Lot Bigger. Suffice to say, checking out this house was taking my all my energy and, since I knew she was calling to see how I was doing before the procedure the following day, I didn't want to make her worry by not answering.
Under normal circumstances, there was no way we were going to qualify for this house. In LA, even a crappy property can create a bidding war, ending somewhere around a half-million, or even more. Thankfully, the older couple who owned it were eager to sell and get back to retired life, somewhere in the mid-west. Plus, they liked the idea of selling to a young family and, by the time I woke up from the harvest procedure the next afternoon, the house was ours! Thank You Drunk Guy and Thank You Universe!! Nine months later, twin boys were born to Leslie and her husband, who couldn't have been more delighted. Six months after that Dylan was born and both families were complete, along with Every Other Couple among our friends group, who had been struggling to conceive!! My mission had been a total success and the Universe showed up for everyone on my list, including me!
We had Eli. We had Dylan. We had a great house and, for sixteen years, often around Thanksgiving, Leslie sent cards and letters and pictures so I could watch their boys grow up! Each year, at the holidays, my most favorite gift was always a letter from Leslie. My heart filled with joy each time she remembered, and chose to share her boys with me. And while I don't know how much her boys know about me or my family, we all know exactly who they are and many of her pictures sit in frames around my home.
Through the years, it always fascinated me how much her boys, at one time or another, looked so much like Dylan and I often wondered if they shared any traits or had things in common? If they ever met, would they be friends or have some kind of connection? In this age of social media, it shouldn't really be a surprise to hear I've found them online and do, on occasion, check out their Facebook or Instagram, just to see what they're up to. You can't imagine my surprise when, just recently I learned that one of the boys is now a student at the University of Rochester, my very own alma mater...
Eli and Dylan seem to have come into this world knowing they were meant to play soccer... Dylan loves all the vinegary things Robert loves, which Eli and I can't stand... They love heavy metal music... Ok, that one may really be nurture and, the discussion of nature vs nurture has always fascinated me. And it's things like this that really make me wonder. I mean honestly, out of all the schools in the nation, what are the odds he'd choose the place I'd chosen for myself? Perhaps one day I can ask him myself.