“Tell me again,” Nadav says. My six-year-old lays curled into my side as I rest my back in bed. Well, I explain. Ima’s back was broken, and the doctors said I couldn’t carry you in my tummy for such a long time because you would be too heavy. So we took a little bit of Ima, a little bit of Abba, a little bit from Hashem and put it all in to Jenn.
Nadav continues in his singsongy voice, “And Jenn took care of me and Ilan until we were ready to come out of her tummy, and come home with you!”
“That’s right,” I confirmed. “And we named you Nadav, which is Hebrew for nedivut, generosity. Because Hashem was so generous, he gave us not just one little boy to bring home, but two, all at once!”
Every child has their birth story. And it is uniquely theirs. Some babies arrive in water and some on land, some at home and others in an operating room. And each, of course, in their own time. My eldest has a story that involves belly pics, routine trips to the midwife, acupuncture during a citywide blackout and a harried induction that culminated in my darling husband crying out, “Oh my god, it’s a baby!” To this day we aren’t sure if perhaps he was expecting a puppy?
Nadav and Ilan, my twins, have a more unique birth story than most, given that I wasn’t the one who birthed them. We had a gestational carrier, or in lay terms, a surrogate. And as either of the twins can tell you, she took care of them when I could not.
I will never forget the day when my doctor told me I shouldn’t carry any more children. Gavriel, my oldest, was 18 months old. I’d had an MRI on my back, since it had gone out six months before and still hadn’t healed. The doctor walked into the examining room with a sad face. You are my worst kind of patient, he said. I went in to medicine to help people, and you are among the few I really can’t help. Turns out I had degenerative disc disease not just in one disc, as is common, but up my entire spine. No surgery, no good prognosis. I had the back of an eighty-year-old at 26. More children, I asked? He looked sadly at me and told me I should be satisfied with the one I have. He’s a beautiful little boy, he said. He didn’t even charge me for the appointment.
He was right; my son was and is still a beautiful child. But it was never in our plans for him to be an only child. In our Modern Orthodox neighborhood, four children is easily the average, and certainly what we envisioned for ourselves.
I went through all the stages of grief. First, I was angry with the specialist, who in one blasé moment could change my family’s future. Then I tried bargaining with my general practitioner. Six more months of physical therapy and then we get to try for another child. Okay, another six months, and another. Finally, I accepted that I would not get to be pregnant again. Except in my case it wasn’t an acceptance that we were meant to have only one child, just that we were meant to push harder to have the family we wanted. A year after this final decision, we welcomed our twins.
We weren’t there when the twins were born because they arrived by emergency cesarean section. Our flight out of Newark to meet them was delayed. By midnight, we were speeding toward them in a rental car. We don’t have pictures of their cords being cut, nor of their first few minutes on earth. I met my sons at 3 am when they were 15 hours old. That’s when we took our first pictures.
People ask me, aren’t you worried, that the twins will think you don’t love them as much because you didn’t carry them? You didn’t get to carry them and you weren’t even there for the birth! To those questions I merely smile and repeat what I tell my boys, we wanted them so badly, we were willing do anything to get them. And that is their story.
Shana Schochet Lowell studied Psychology and Jewish History at Bar Ilan University, and holds a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University. She also learned at Midreshet HaRova for several years while living in Jerusalem. She is passionate about biblical history and birthing rights, and hopes to return to clinical work when her health allows it. She currently resides in Hillside, NJ with her husband and three young boys.