I was raised in a split level ranch-style home in Kansas City. I have five brothers and sisters. My father was a surgeon, Chief of Staff, and married to a mentally ill wife who spent most of her time in bed. My father was my hero when I was younger because I felt although he was all that I had. I paid close attention to him. I wanted to be like him. I listened when he spoke and believed what he said. He had many interesting beliefs; some of which were from his life experiences and some passed down from generations. A few of his beliefs were; black people are lazy and don’t work, gay people choose that lifestyle, and abortion is murder. He had his reasons for these beliefs and when he shared them with me, I took them as my own.
I set out from his home and into the world, well the stepping stone to the world, college. I carried with me these three beliefs; like balloons of truth tethered to my belt. Until one day at college I spied the hottest guy I had ever seen across campus and he was black. We dated on and off for 10 years and in that time, not only did this loving relationship prove my father wrong because Joe was a hard worker and working with great intent on becoming who he wanted to be, but I was also welcomed into his culture with open arms and experienced great love and kindness. When I learned this for myself, I untied that belief balloon tethered to my belt and let it go. With my other balloons still securely fastened, I headed to Los Angeles and almost instantly befriended a gay man named, Steven. One night while he and I were partying at his house I said, “I can’t believe you chose to be gay.” He stopped what he was doing, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Do you think I would choose something that would cause my father to never speak to me again? Do you think I would choose something where I would get beaten up after school? Do you think I would choose something where my religion detested me?” As tears ran down my cheeks and I held his stare I said, “No, I don’t think that you would choose that.” I put my arms around him and felt that judgement balloon loosen and release from my belt.
I was still in my parting ways and running wild in Los Angeles until, by the grace of God, I met my beloved husband, David. We were engaged nine months later and married nine months after that. We got pregnant just after our honeymoon with our son, Charlie. At thirty five weeks I started hemorrhaging. After 3 hours on the operating table and 7 pints of blood transfused, the doctor removed my uterus. Although I was grateful I had a son, there was a heavy sadness. I was mourning all of the kids I would never have. I was from a family of six and so was my husband. I just assumed we would have a big family. I was also mourning no longer feeling like a woman. I couldn’t provide children for my husband. After about a year of healing both physically and mentally, we were ready for another baby and started looking into adoption. Our doctor reminded us she left my ovaries so we could create embryos and incubate them in someone else’s body. Twenty years ago only Joan Lunden had used a surrogate and although my husband was an out of work actor at the time, we decided to give it a shot anyway.
We took out a second mortgage to do in vitro fertilization and gestational surrogacy. We created embryos and put three fresh into our surrogate. One took and my daughter Margot was born! My husband said, “We have a boy and a girl. Yay, we are done!” I said, “No we aren’t, we have eight frozen embryos left.” He said, “So?” I said, “I feel like we are supposed to go through all of them.” A four years later I said, “Dave, can we do surrogacy again?” He replied, “Only one more time because it’s so expensive.” We thawed four frozen embryos, three survived, and put those into a new surrogate and had twins; a boy named Sargent and a girl named Audrey. David said, “Yay, we are done! We have two boys and two girls.” I said, “No we’re not honey, we have four frozen embryos left.” He said, “Please stop.” I said, “I just feel like we’re supposed to go through all of them.” He replied, “Let’s give it a year with twins and see how you feel then.” On the twins first birthday I said, “Honey can we try the last four embryos?” He said, “Leigh, seriously? Let’s talk about it next year.”
Three years later I said we need to have a heart to heart about the final four embryos. I’m turning forty five next year and if we’re going to try these last four, we need to try them now. If we’re not, I need to let go of this idea that I have to.” Dave shared, “If I get a pilot and it goes to series we can do it.” Dave was up for two pilots for ABC. I knew there was going to be a bidding war and he would book one of the shows.
I can remember the night he got the phone call from his manager with the news. We were at the dinner table he was looking at me while he was speaking on the phone. Dave’s face suddenly dropped and he shook his head no. He hung up the phone and said, “Sorry Honey, I didn’t get either job.” I stood up, walked to my closet, closed the door and wept for about 20 minutes. Then I took a breath and said a prayer, “God allow me to let go of this idea that I need to go through these embryos and let me be grateful for what I have. Let me look around and see all of the blessing in front of me.” I walked out of my closet where my husband was waiting and he asked if I was ok. I said, “Yes, I am going to be okay.”
Two weeks later we went on a couples retreat because I like to keep things fresh. When we got home there was a small surprise party for my birthday with my brother, sister, and kids. As we drank margaritas the doorbell rang, I opened it, and I saw my surrogate (the same one that had the twins). We had been talking how we both wanted to do it one more time and I could not believe my husband invited her to my birthday celebration where I would have to tell her that we were not going to do it again!
She handed me an envelope where I could see some chicken scratch writing. I thought it was a handmade card from her son. I did not want to read it and fake that I was grateful when I was feeling so overwhelmed, so instead I set it down and told her I’d read it in a bit. My husband looked and me like I was being rude and should pick up the letter (Partners have a way of doing that with no words, don’t they?) I went back, picked up the note, and opened it. It read, “Happy birthday, Leigh. Congratulations. Dave said Yes!” It was the best card I have ever received.
Three weeks later we thawed out the last four embryos and one survived! We put that one embryo into our surrogate and got pregnant with a little girl! One strong and determined little girl that had been frozen for 10 years!
At one of the first doctor appointments they told us that something was wrong with the baby. They said that she had an infectious disease and we needed to go see the infectious disease doctor. We did and he said, “Yes, your baby does have an infectious disease, but this is the least of your worries. Your baby has a hole in her heart and fluid around her heart. You need to go see the heart surgeon.” We did and she said “Yes, your baby does have a fluid around her heart and a hole in her heart, but this is the least of your worries. Your baby has a neurological disorder and you need to go see the neonatal neurological specialist. They confirmed the neurological disorder and sent us to yet one more doctor, a neonatal skeletal specialist. She told us that our baby’s brain had stopped growing and went on to explain how the head is just like a balloon; as the brain grows the head grows with it. Our babies brain was not measuring on the neonatal growth charts for her gestational age. I said, “So she won’t even have the mentality of a one day old? She said, “Correct. She will also be a little person because her bones are not measuring on the charts; her fingers and toes are in neurological distress position; she has an echogenic bowl, as well as an infectious disease and of course, the hole in her heart. This baby will most likely have to have open heart surgery when she is three days old.” “How will I comfort her if she won’t even know I’m there?” I thought. David and I were in tears with feelings of utter devastation, sadness, and overwhelm. The doctor suggested termination. I objected. The only reason I was having this baby was because I couldn’t throw away, give away or allow my embryos to expire. Now the professionals are telling me to terminate her life?
The doctor suggested that I put aside all of my past thoughts and beliefs and look at this moment with fresh eyes. I remember her saying something like, “Think about the children you already have. They need you. You are going to have to give all of your attention to this child for her medical needs. An occupational therapist will be needed to come in six days a week to move her arms and legs so she doesn’t atrophy. This will drain your marriage, your finances, and your relationship with your current children. Everything and everyone will suffer, including your baby girl.”
I hadn’t considered others before regarding my lifelong judgement on abortion. I just held my father’s belief that abortion was murder. I started to think about my marriage, our finances, and how much my other children needed me. I went home and spoke with my nanny who stated proudly that she was married to Jesus. I told her the situation and she said, “Let the baby go to God. Why make her suffer?” I called our minister who came over and after we filled him in and prayed, he said, “Leigh, God knows your heart. Modern medicine is miraculous. God is going to welcome your daughter whether she comes now or in fifteen years from the wheelchair.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! All of the people I called in to give me roadblocks, didn’t give me roadblocks. Dave and I called our surrogate to discuss the option of termination with her. We brought up the doctor’s advice, the genetic counselor’s advice, and our concerns about our family. Our surrogate said, “I will not terminate the baby. I will leave her on the doorstep of a fire station, but I will not terminate the baby.”
(A little back story on said surrogate…eight years before I picked this surrogate because she was the only one at the agency that would not terminate under any circumstance. I felt so strongly about this, I removed the clause from the contract allowing my husband and I to make the final decision about my baby’s well-being. My attorney told me this was insanity. I assured him I didn’t need it because I would never terminate. The second time we worked with this surrogate and he was drawing up contracts, once again he said it was absurd to leave out the option letting Dave and I have the final say in our child’s well-being. “You don’t leave the future of your child, your family, your life up to the surrogate.” I smiled, “No thank you, I’m good. I know what I’m doing here.”)
David and I hung up the phone and fell back on our bed. We both wept. I’m not sure if I was crying because I was mad at my surrogate or if I was crying because I was relieved. After we laid there for some time David said, “Her name is Eve.” I said, “What? Why in the heck is her name Eve? That has never been on any of our baby name lists?” He said, “Because Eve was the first from God. And this is our first.” I laid there for a moment then said, “Yes, her name is Eve and she will have the most bedazzled wheelchair than any kid on this planet.”
I got busy researching doctors, wheelchairs, and the pulling together a support system / medical team. Three weeks later we went to the doctor’s office for a checkup. The doctor didn’t like to speak until she was done examining the baby, so we sat silent for 20 minutes. Very thick silence I should say being this was the first time the surrogate, Dave and I were all in the same room together since the phone call. After looking at the baby the doctor said, “Oh my God.” (Now everything was wrong with my baby from head to toe so I thought what the hell could she be shocked about at this point?) My baby’s arm had been twisted up behind her back, so I said, “Did her arm fall off?” The doctor said, “No, there’s been a miraculous turnaround.” I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means. Miraculous? Like a miracle?” She said, “Yes. Your baby’s brain is at 2%. Her bones are measuring one week behind.” I said, “I can’t hear you.” You see, I had created this armor suit preparing for what was to come, so this little comment just ricocheted right off my armor. She said, “Come back in two weeks.”
We went back in two weeks and my baby‘s brain was at 20%. Her fingers were in normal fetal position as well as her toes. The echogenic bowl had cleared. The hole in her heart was mended and the fluid was gone. My doctor said, “If I didn’t know any better, I would say you’re going to have a perfectly healthy baby girl.” After a long pause she continued, “I’ve been obsessing about this case. I found (she set down a very large pile of papers) one case 50 some years ago where a fetus had the same infectious disease as your baby and it was so severe, it mimicked a neurological disorder. When the disease passed, the baby caught up to where it should be, but that baby was born blind. I said, “That’s not what happened to my baby. She will be born completely healthy.” I remembered she used the word miraculous. I knew Eve was going to be that miracle. In that moment I told God that if Eve was born healthy, I would proclaim her a modern-day miracle for all to hear.
Eve was born healthy and I proclaimed her a modern-day miracle. As a matter of fact, when I took her to church and the minister welcomed her into the congregation, I asked if I could say something and stood up. In a booming voice, I’ve never heard come out of my body before, I proclaimed, “Eve is a modern-day miracle!” Then smiled apologetically and sat down.” My minister looked at me like, “Are you OK?” I shrugged my shoulders. For the next year every time I introduced Eve I would say, “This is Eve, she’s a modern-day miracle.” As another year or two passed, it had gone from an announcement to a whisper. This is Eve, she’s a modern-day miracle. When she turned 3, I asked God if it was OK if I stop saying it. I felt a sense of peace, so I took that as a yes.
Although I was grateful for her health, I have to tell you what the real miracle of Eve. I was put into a situation where abortion was a feasible option. All of the judgments I had been holding around the thought of it and around other people who had chosen abortion left that day. I released my last tethered childhood judgment balloon. In that moment, I experienced true freedom because of Eve’s life.
This is not a story about abortion, although people who thrive in divisiveness may want to make it so. For me this story is about judgment, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. I forgive myself for judging others for what they choose. Their path is none of my business. I am liberated and I am free.
Thank you Eve for your life that keeps giving. Thank you for setting me up to choose freedom. I love you to the moon and back.