Now that “surrogate motherhood” is being discussed in European countries and raising considerable controversy (only this week the President of the Republic of Portugal vetoed the draft law regulating it in Portugal, considering there had not been enough discussion and ethical questions had not been clarified), I found myself thinking about this very complicated subject, in my opinion, and some stories that I know about people wanting to have children and finding it difficult or even impossible.
I know what this feels like as for some time I tried to get pregnant without success, and had to go through many tests and a nasty treatment in order to have a child. In my case there were, not one, but two happy endings, and I had two children. But for some time we thought it would not happen, and we considered adopting.
I don’t agree with people who say that adopting is an altruistic attitude. Most of the time it is the opposite: you adopt a child to satisfy your need to have children, when you finally accept the fact that you won’t have them the biological way. However, I see it as a truly altruistic gesture when, having children of your own, you “rescue” a child from a life of hardship and bring it into your family. In that case you are really thinking about the child, not yourself.
I know some cases of adopted children that have not been easy, mostly if they were not told that from the beginning. A cousin of mine who lived in South Africa only discovered she was adopted at six, and it was a huge shock. For years she was in revolt against her parents for not having told her before. And when she grew older she looked for her biological mother, who proved to be a huge disappointment – and this is most common, unfortunately. And then, after her rebellious youth, she was reconciled with her adoptive parents and all was well. Because they loved her so very much they had understood her need to discover her roots, always being there for her.
From Eastern Europe to Spain
Another impressive story is that of a Spanish colleague and her husband who, after years of unsuccessful treatments, could not hope to adopt in Spain as there were almost no children available for adoption. Finally they enrolled in a list for adoption in Eastern European countries ( totally legal) as there were legions of abandoned children in orphanages and the countries were just coming out of the long period of the Iron Curtain and facing many difficulties.
It was a long and hard process, and they patiently and purposefully went through all the steps, until one day they received the much awaited call : they should travel at once to the capital city of one of these countries, where there was a child waiting for them.
When they returned, with their much longed for baby in their arms, my colleague told me she and her husband had lived through very difficult moments over there.
From the beginning, they were prepared to stay for a couple of weeks as they would have to visit the child a few times before it was given into their care. When they arrived at the orphanage for the first meeting they were horrified at the existing conditions – she almost broke down crying as she looked at the children there. All was squalid, grey, with a palpable feeling of unhappiness everywhere they looked. They had never been to a place like that – maybe they had seen it in horror movies, they later told me.
When they finally saw their child he was all they had dreamed of – a boy, brown haired and brown eyed (for all they saw he could be Spanish!) with big, inquisitive but sad eyes. He took to them immediately and when they left that day without him they were anguished to leave him there. But they kept coming back and filling all the necessary formalities and one happy day they finally boarded a plane back to Madrid with him.
There were some strange things though: the little boy – already 18 months old- would not drink milk. It seemed he was not used to it as he spit it every time they tried to feed him a bottle. They later discovered that at the orphanage they kept the milk for smaller babies, as it was too expensive. When children began to eat they would stop giving them milk and instead gave them some sort of tea.
At home they had everything ready for their son, a lovely bedroom in soft colours and toys, everything a child could wish for. But the little boy had no interest in toys, and they could now understand he had probably never seen one in his life. Again, when one day they put him in his car seat and tried to strap him he began screaming violently and was in such a state of panic they had to abandon the idea! It took quite some time for him to accept to be strapped to his seat and they wondered what might have been done to him in his early days for him to have such a terrified reaction.
After a few years I saw him and gone was the little Eastern Europe boy with a frightened look who at 18 months old could not articulate a single word. In his place was this handsome, well cared for, bright child who was clearly the light of his parents’ life – and one could see they were a happy family.
Last week I met his mother in Madrid – we hadn’t seen each other for years, the last time having been when I had travelled with my own boys to Madrid when they were about eight and four I think – and my younger boy and their son were about the same age so they had played together. It was a joy when we saw each other and we immediately produced our iPhones with photos of our children. And when I saw the photo of a handsome, tall, confident young man, I could not help but think that this child was given the opportunity for a whole new life. Even if he has a very comfortable life with his parents, and will have every opportunity to take a degree and have a bright future, I’m certain the most important part of it all is the love his parents have for him. As we say in Portugal (a very old saying, certainly from pre-epidural times when childbirth was associated with terrible pain): “You give birth to a child in pain, but you raise him – or her – it with love”. Adopted children are not children of our body, but children of our heart.
And as my mind again wonders to the controversial subject of surrogate motherhood and I wonder how to explain to a child that he (or she) in reality has two mothers: the biological, whose DNA he has inherited, and the other one, who has carried him in her womb during nine months and whose heartbeat he heard during all that time? That he might never see again but who might also be (as in high profile cases) his own biological grandmother?! This must be somewhat confusing – to say the least.
And, as much as I think the human race has to move forward and technology is essential to help us overcome so many hardships, I feel that, before embarking in such complicated paths such as that of surrogate motherhood, people should perhaps think of all the motherless and fatherless children living in terrible conditions and without any expectations, just waiting for someone to love them and give them a family. And when I’m told that people have the right to have “their own” child, one who looks like them, I tell that that my dear boys whom I gave birth to, do not resemble me at all. They could well be adopted, for what little resemblance they bear to me. And I’m certain that, had they been adopted, I would love them exactly the same, with the same unconditional love. Because our children may be of our body or of our heart – but in our heart they will remain after they come into our lives, one way or the other. Forever.