The Compulsion to Create

Today we share a guest blog post from Susan Fuller. Susan has been a longtime surrogate and you can learn more about her journey on her website, Twitter or reading her book Successful Surrogacy: An Intended Parents’ Guide to a Rewarding Relationship With Their Surrogate Mother. Thanks for sharing your story Susan!


I’ve always wondered if there’s something significant about my compulsion to send handmade gifts to the families I’ve carried babies for. And not just any handmade gifts, they have to be gifts that I’ve made myself. Like maybe there’s some kind of subconscious message I’m trying to convey –

“Hey – I created everything that is most precious to you – your child – and although that project has long since passed, look! I will still keep creating for you!”

The earliest memory I have of making something surrogacy-related is a handmade card for my first intended mother. I was mostly into paper arts at the time – card making and scrapbooking – because my kids were still very young and it was easy to manage in tiny stops and starts.

I accompanied my intended mother to her egg retrieval and wanted to give her a little something to mark the fact that our surrogacy experience was finally underway after a few months of stops and starts. I rubber stamped a card with a long row of flowers on tall stems, and added the phrase “lift your face to the sun” to it, hoping that she felt the same way I did about what we were about to undertake together – a joy so deep and penetrating that it felt like flowers in bloom under the blazing mid-August sky.

I made several other thing for her during my pregnancy with her twins, cards mostly, hoping that by acknowledging the significance of the events we shared together it would help her come around to they way I viewed the surrogacy – as something I wanted to share with her rather than do for her.

It never did work out that way.

And so after a sad and unfulfilling conclusion to that pregnancy and delivery, I set about trying to process my raw emotions in the only way I knew how – once again, by making things by hand. This time it was a scrapbook I poured myself into for months, showing the progression of the babies, inside and out, through monthly photos of my growing belly and detailed ultrasound shots. The challenge, of course, was to illustrate my difficult experience with authenticity while also not taking anything away from the birth of two innocent, beautiful baby girls.

Cover of the scrapbook.

Cover of the scrapbook.

I don’t think I ever achieved that balance. I know this because once I finished the scrapbook and I showed it to friends, the most common question I got was “Are you going to give this to the babies’ family?” which always felt like a punch to the gut. It was an unintended punch of course, but still, the question stung every time I got it. This big, beautiful, bursting-at-the binding scrapbook was all I had left to show for the surrogacy, and I was not about to give it away. Someone even had the nerve to suggest I make a duplicate book for the babies’ family.

Saying goodbye to the babies was tearful, not because I felt like I was losing them, but because of what I’d already lost with their parents. The babies I never wanted to keep. I did, however, want to keep them in my life through updates and periodic contact and visits, which I knew was never an option as I kissed them goodbye for the last time.

An image of the embryo transfer that Susan displayed in the scrapbook.

An image of the embryo transfer that Susan displayed in the scrapbook.

When I undertook my next surrogacy journey – the one I call my love story – I knew I’d met my match.

My intended mother Robyn was anything but crafty herself, but what she lacked in handmade skill she more than made up for in appreciation.

She marveled at each card I sent and gushed over the artistry – even the simplest of designs. For her, the thought and sentiment behind anything I made was deeply meaningful, and of course I found her appreciation to be addictive. The more I made for her, the more she gushed, and so the more I made.

Once I’d confirmed that I was in fact pregnant with her baby (we didn’t yet know that I was carrying twins), I asked the nurse to keep the results a secret for an extra day. That night I set about making a special gift for her that would announce to her that she was about to become a mother. Still into paper arts at the time, I used decorative paper, rubber stamps, clear plastic disks, and a metal jewelry form to fashion a bracelet for her that had our due date on it. I was proud of my work, of course, and she immediately dissolved into happy tears when I gave it to her. Mission accomplished.

What I didn’t bargain for, however, was a nine-month-long recurring repair job.

To say that she loved the bracelet is an understatement. She loved it so much in fact that she rarely took it off – only to shower, she said. She tried to move it out of the way every time she washed her hands, but more than once it ended up getting soaked, which weakened it. While my craftsmanship was fine enough for a souvenir gift, the bracelet was never meant for day-in, day-out wear. It was more of a decorative memento rather than a sturdy accessory meant to withstand daily use.

I told her this, but she would not be deterred. Despite me giving her my heartfelt permission to take it off from time to time, she refused. It was thoughtful and sweet, and most certainly gratifying to know how much the bracelet meant to her, and only slightly infuriating as well.

I made frequent repair jobs on her treasured bracelet – she’d tell me ahead of time what was wrong this time and I’d bring all the right supplies along with me to our doctor’s appointments or ultrasounds and fix it while we waited for our exam to start.

She wore the bracelet through the delivery of her twin boys and it was shortly after, probably in the recovery room at the hospital, that I implored her to please, please, for the love of all that is holy because I can’t fix this for you anymore, please take off the bracelet, and she finally did. Her babies now safely filled her arms and she no longer needed the bracelet wrapped around her wrist to feel close to them.

I had every intention of putting together a scrapbook about this surrogacy, just as I had done in my previous one. I had stacks of photos organized and ready – pictures of me showing off my belly every few weeks, carefully marked on the back with how far into the pregnancy I was. I had photos of Robyn and Chris, photos of our get togethers with my kids, photos with their family, and stacks of photos from the birth.

I had piles of pregnancy souvenirs as well – cards from flowers I’d received, napkins and decorations from Robyn’s baby showers that I’d attended, and more ultrasound pictures than I knew what to do with. I’d been collecting baby boy-themed scrapbooking supplies for months, stashing them away for after the delivery, when I could piece everything back together into an album that attempted to capture the love that we’d grown along with the babies.

But curiously, the album never happened.

Was it lack of time that prevented me from tackling it? Possibly, as I recall I was finishing my own kids’ first-year photo albums around that same time and maybe I was feeling a little burned out. But I don’t think that was really it.

The truth is that I really had no reason to make an elaborate memory album for myself because I knew that our first year together – the time we spent as a team, bringing the twin boys into the world – was not a finite journey as it had been in my first surrogacy. Instead, it was just the beginning of a shared lifetime together.

And I had no frayed nerves, no latent anger, no unresolved feelings of confusion and isolation once I’d delivered Robyn and Chris’s babies – in fact it was the contrary. They were constantly in touch with me, at first calling me every few days, then gradually tapering off, yet we still saw each other at least once a month for nearly a year. I would make the 2-hour drive to their house and spend the day with Robyn and the boys, holding them, feeding them, rocking them, until Chris would come home from work with dinner and we’d all eat together just like we did during the pregnancy.

This, the periodic and entirely natural inclusion in the everyday events of their lives, catching up month-to-month, watching the boys grow before my very eyes, was the true resolution to the pregnancy. The capstone was our lives moving forward and unfolding together, instead of the fixed memorial by way of scrapbooking the time our paths crossed. For in fact our paths did not cross, rather, they converged.