Sometime in the fall, after we'd made our decision to move forward with Donor Egg IVF, I found myself in the gluten free aisle at Wegmans, our fabulous grocery store here in Rochester. I find myself in the gluten free aisle frequently as an individual with Celiac disease, but this time was different. I stood there, eyes welling up, and the wheat/barley/rye-free items on the shelves went in and out of focus like in an arty horror movie. It was like my Vertigo moment, only instead of neverending, dizzying stairways, I saw quinoa pasta and baking mixes waxing and waning in the periphery. I felt overwhelmed and incredibly sad.
Why? Why did foods that make my body happy and not an evil, roiling, intestinal-lining-destroying mess make me so sad?
Because I realized: when we have our wonderful miracle babies, I will be alone in this aisle. Forever. I will be the only gluten-free eater by necessity in our household. (Y'all are screwed because you eat what I eat, but you won't have to eat it.) I saw pizza nights where Daddy and sweet kiddos are chowing down on Chester Cab pizza, delicious and horribly missed Chester Cab pizza, and Mommy is stuck eating the much appreciated but just-not-the-same cracker-crust gluten free pizza from another establishment. Because Celiac is genetic. And it's not my genetics anymore.
Now, you may be wondering, What the eff is wrong with this crazy lady? Who wishes Celiac on their children? What kind of a monster ARE you? and you'd be somewhat right. I don't wish Celiac on my children. Or asthma. Or crappy joints or debilitating migraines. But these things are part of me, albeit not the most desirable parts of me, and I won't pass them on. I won't have to worry about bringing in gluten free cupcakes to my kids' school birthday parties. Not a bad thing for sure, as they are EXPENSIVE and my kids would then be the ones that the teachers have to keep other treats on hand for because they can't have any of the birthday treats the other kids bring in. It sucks having Celiac when it comes to eating at other peoples' homes and restaurants, because in the best case scenario you freak out the person cooking for you and the worst case scenario they don't realize that malt is gluten and it's in something that was otherwise gluten free and you completely decimate their toilet and feel like you've ingested Drano instead of something that normally would be delicious. I don't want this for my children. I want them to go to sleepovers and not worry about what foods are safe and what foods aren't. But I also kind of wanted to be a team, and commiserate about the carefulness with food and rejoice in delicious gluten free foods that are new. I know it's possible to have a parent with Celiac and a child who doesn't have it. But the fact that this is pretty much 100% an impossibility now, for some reason, made me very sad.
It's like when Bryce compliments me on my eyes and I can't stop myself before saying "Well, enjoy them here because they end with me." What's up with that? Is that helpful? It's like something I adapted from another teacher for my students to follow--"Before you say something, ask yourself--is it kind? Is it useful? Does it add to the productivity of class?" I was not kind to myself with that comment. Nor was I kind when Bryce made fun of my freaky feet (they are awfully freaky--I have a long big toe, a long second toe, and then three baby toes. My feet are spadelike and have a ridiculous arch and a frustratingly narrow heel that makes finding well-fitting shoes challenging), and my response was, "Well, at least I won't be passing THOSE on!" It's true--I probably won't, and that's again, not so much a bad thing because my feet are very strange and will likely give me problems later on. But they're my feet and I won't be looking at my daughter or son's feet to see if they also have been given ManyBabyToe-itis. Because the feet gene doesn't come from me.
I struggled with this--I came to mourning this loss late in our decision making process. Bryce mourned it immediately. He would get sad because, as he said, he married me, and he loves all the things about me, and from a purely biological standpoint you tend to marry people whose traits you want to pass on in your offspring. And we've circumvented that, because apparently my genes weren't meant to be passed on. And really, what comes from the egg? Here's something interesting that you may not know. I was told early on about epigenetics, where the blood transfer and growing process of the carrier influences the genetics of the baby. I didn't totally buy it. But a blogger friend posted a few weeks ago about a study she'd found, with horses and ponies. Pony embryos were transferred both to a horse and a pony. The horse-gestated embryos resulted in ponies that were bigger and acted more horse-like than ponylike. The genes came from the pony, but the instruction on how to carry those genes out came from the horse that carried it. So, while hopefully I won't pass on Celiac to my baby, I could possibly have a baby with eyes like mine. Especially since our donor's eye, hair, and skin coloring are similar to mine. And really, while there are people who birth little mini-mes, a lot of times we search for features to mimic our own family traits. Some of this is unmistakable--a certain nose shape or chin structure, a hairline. But then there are people who have both their genetics in the mix, and the baby doesn't look like anyone. Or looks exactly like one parent and not at all like the other. It doesn't mean that I don't flinch when I am on Facebook and people are posting pictures of their babies juxtaposed with their own pictures and offering a comparison--who does he/she look most like? Or family conversations where people talk about so-and-so's nose or hair texture and how that is a spitting image of Grandpa's nose or whatever. I feel left out when this happens.
But then...people start talking about their child's propensity for music. Or artistic streak. Or preternatural fascination with electrical stuff. Things that, in my opinion, don't come from the genes themselves. They may be adjusted based on the prenatal environment, or, more likely, the environment-environment. It's exposure -- or not. My husband plays the guitar, but his parents don't play an instrument at all. Am I a green thumb in the garden because my great-grandma was an avid gardener, or because I learned from my best friend and countless magazines and books and have an eye for that sort of thing? Who knows? It is a mystery. Maybe propensities exist but what you nurture makes the difference, like the horses and the ponies.
These are the heavy questions you wrestle with when you have moved to this point, when you are embroiled in third-party reproduction. When you have come to grips with a new reality of how your family is being built. It's hard. It's a loss. But it's also exciting. I can't wait to see how my influence grows this tiny human. I can't wait to see how our influences as parents and nerds and bookworms and gardeners and musicians and outdoorsy people shape our child. Or how he/she shapes him/herself. Because really, children and their unique personalities and quirks are a mystery. How many times have people wondered, "Now where did she get THAT?" Maybe I think too much about this, when really, genetics are interesting and unreliable and children will be who they are, regardless of who their parents are. Regardless of whose eggs and whose sperm and whose belly they grew in. I can't wait to see our miracle and all the traits that come together to form this perfect little person who is so loved and wanted, even before all the ingredients come together in me.