On Friday, my sister’s children will graduate from high school. That’s pretty amazing, considering their start in life. You see, they are “test tube babies.” Do you remember that term? Do you remember how incredible the idea of babies conceived outside the body was way back in 1978, when the first test tube baby was born?
By the time my niece and nephew came along, the process was known as in vitro fertilization, and it took place in Petri dishes, rather than test tubes. It doesn’t sound as sensational as “test tube babies” but it reflects society’s acceptance of the miracle as simply a medical procedure designed to help infertile women have babies.
My sister was one of those women, of course. I wasn’t around when she and her husband were trying to get pregnant and I wasn’t around when her first pregnancy ended with a blighted ovum. I was in the Philippines dealing with my own issues, having my own baby. By the time I moved back to Arizona, my baby was over a year old. My sister loved having him around, loved taking care of him, always wanted to push the stroller when we were out. Sometimes, her attachment to and possessiveness of my baby even annoyed me. My annoyance was all wrapped up in our past sibling rivalry, which had often been intense and didn’t always seem that far past.
I didn’t get it. I wasn’t aware enough of other people to understand.
One night she and her husband came to my house after I had put my son to bed. They had been to the doctor that day. There was nothing left to try but in vitro fertilization. At first, I was clueless as to what they was asking. Then I was speechless when my sister, with a harshness that I know now was born of desperation, said “We need your eggs.”
All these years later, I am ashamed to say that I didn’t immediately agree. I am ashamed at the selfishness and resentment I felt–it was almost the same feeling I’d had when we were teenagers and she would wear my clothes and look better in them. I was also angry that she was interfering in my plan to have a second child of my own.
I didn’t say all those things, of course. And why I’m saying them here I have no idea–maybe it’s something to do with the anonymity of the Internet and confession being good for the soul. Who knows? My feelings were complicated and are complicated still. I went through the whole long hormonal process so that in August of 1993, six eggs pulled from my ovaries and fertilized in a Petri dish with her husband’s sperm could be implanted in my sister’s uterus. Two of them took.
And in March of 1994, Mikaela and Joshua were born–six weeks early. I looked at them then and I look at them now, and I can never regret making the decision to do what my sister asked me to do. Mikaela is beautiful, interested in theatre and history. She loves to read (like me!) and wants to be an archaeologist.
Joshua is charming, talkative, so athletic. He is into computer programming and wants to write computer games. And the four kids together, my two and her two, are as close as close can be. Cousins, but more. They know the situation; they think it’s cool. When I see how much they all enjoy being together, when I think of what an important part of each other’s lives they all are…
I’ve watched Mikaela and Joshua grow, and wondered sometimes what they would think of me if they knew how I struggled with what their mom asked me to do. But I can say now–with years behind me, with perspective, and after doing some growing of my own–that I wish I could go back and tell my sister “Yes.” I would do it without hesitation this time, unreservedly, from the bottom of my heart.
On Friday, I will watch my sister’s children graduate from high school. I am humbled and grateful that I was allowed to be a part of their lives eighteen years ago.