Cousins, uncles, sisters and more gathering from near and far. The aroma of roasting turkey wafting from the oven. A noisy throng crowding the TV, cheering or booing each football exploit. The table fairly groaning under the weight of serving dishes and platters. And then come the choices: White or dark. Mashed or sweet. Pumpkin or apple.

Ah, the traditional all-American Thanksgiving scene. Just the kind of warm, comforting images that come to life on a Norman Rockwell canvas. As for my own holiday experiences? Well, they’ve been more suited to Norman Lear .

For starters: Growing up we seldom spent the holiday at home. My small family was scattered all over Oregon, so we gathered to celebrate in the middle of the state. “Over the hills and through the woods to Grandma’s house… ” was replaced by exit  174 on Interstate 5 for the Village Green Motor Hotel, where we were about the only guests. Substitute the grandparents’ table and fine china with eating our meal in a nearly deserted dining room, and you get the idea.

I’m not complaining, mind you. You can have your same-ol, same-ol long-standing traditions, thank you. Every one of my holidays has been unique and memorable in its own way. Like the year a momma cat and a batch of her kittens found refuge under the bed in one of our room. Or the year my drunken uncle kept calling our room in the middle of the night, trying to continue a silly family word game.

Fast forward to today and Turkey days are still far from the norm. As the only family members on both sides who live in the east, we exchange holiday greetings via cell phones, trying to match up the time zones and dinner times. 

One year I tried to light a seldom-used fireplace to bring a little warmth into the dining room — and proceeded to fill the house with billowing smoke. By the time the fire alarms had turned off the food was ice cold and the story of our  “Year of the Smoked Turkey’ was born.

Then there was the Thanksgiving dining at a historic Inn on the Delaware River. Three of us enjoyed an incredible meal….while I spent the next 12 hours learning the ins and outs of food poisoning. Mostly out, FYI.

All of this is just a long lead in to describe this year’s observance. Because in some ways it was more Rockwell and much less Lear. Unexpectedly, we enjoyed one of the warmest, family-oriented Thanksgiving I’ve ever spent. And in the company of near-strangers to boot.

As you’ve probably guessed, we spent the evening with Barb and Michelle, the IPs, and their family. I won’t go into a lot of detail about who, where and more out of respect for their privacy. But I don’t think they’ll mind me sharing our reactions and feeling before, during and after.

Honestly I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Michelle has had a lot more contact with the IPs during this process. I’m not sure this is a blessing or a curse but: My wife has the ability to establish and forge friendships quickly and easily. Her warm, open and friendly manner seems to almost attract like-minded people.

And I’m quite the opposite. (See the Ted Kaczynski reference earlier in this blog!)  Keeping my guard up is my default. I don’t open up and even feel comfortable around new folks. So this holiday invite was going to be a stretch for me.

Yet it was an assignment  that was looking forward to. Because, honestly, I’m still so very curious about our new friends — their history, their choices and their lives today.  Hopefully I’ll learn for the purposes of sharing more in this blog — but that’s their call, and in their timeframe.

Really it’s more about my own personal understanding of their world. I’ve been wrestling with an often-revised GuestWomb draft entry on my feelings about this unconventional arrangement.  A lot of my long held viewpoints are really breaking down from this self examination. I have a hard time explaining how I came to own these old attitudes and beliefs. My own lack of knowledge, experience and understanding to this lifestyle choice is quite telling. And yet I find myself more open — dare I say, more liberal — in my outlook these days. (Sorry, Dad.)

But Thanksgiving isn’t the time or place for a probing interviews, so I put my list of questions away.  Yet in a few short hours, I learned so much by just quietly observing and soaking up the atmosphere in Barb and Michelle’s new home.

End of Part 1

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I’m not sure what Michelle was really expecting when it came to the intended parents. Who did she picture? A young couple struggling to conceive a child for years and finally taking another route? Perhaps an older couple who had beat back a challenge such as cancer but were left infertile.

They could have white, black, asian, latino or a mix thereof. I know that didn’t matter to Michelle. Perhaps they would be local. Or someone from another state where surrogacy laws are more restrictive.

I’m guessing she didn’t forsee a couple like M and B. And once she did, things only got better.  Here’s Michelle:

It interesting now to recall my first reaction to finding out that the couple wasnt a man and wife, but a wife and wife:

It was a possibility I had been made aware of from the Melissa Brissman Agency early in the process. So I had known may happen and my head was understanding of the possibility. But in my heart I hoped it would not happen.

Why? It’s not a simple explanation. It was nothing against a same sex couple — not in the least. It was more about what I could do. Think of it this way: A same sex couple doesn’t enter into their relationship with the expectaion or even the hope of creating their own children. Of course they can adapt and have the same opportunities of a family unit, but it is not a pure biological connection.

But a man and wife…at least many of them…become joined with the expectation of creating a family together, their own flesh and blood extended.

I imagined myself working with a man and wife who had experienced years of frustration and sadness, trying so hard to conceive. And being in the position of preserving their chance for children of their own.

I suppose I was being naive thinking that this was the most usual call for surrogates, especially in this day and age. 

And then, very soon after I had been accepted into this program I got a call from the Brissman agency informing me that they found a couple for me. I was stunned, because this had happened so soon.  I guess I thought that this process would take months not days.

The agency was so insistant that this couple was most deserving because they had worked with them not once but twice before and knew them very well.

And then of course they told me about B and M. I had to go forward and read the two page letter of introduction…..

This couple has a beautiful family, were hard working professionals who deserved this last chance to be parents once again.

Right then and there I thought: Who was I to be placing my own judgement on the why’s and the what-for’s upon their decision. And more importantly, who was I to judge who should and shouldn’t have the chance to have another child. 

So the agency asked: Did I want to go forward with a phone interview with B and M?

Yes, of course…..if only to see how we would hit it off. And to keep an open mind.

We did and slowly moved forward. We exchanged emails, letters and phone calls. Openly talking through everything that we would go through together as a team. We just took this day by day, very slowly, crossing every t and dotting every i. Just to be sure.

Well now… I couldn’t imagine doing this for anyone else but B and M. And not just because of the two lovely people they are.

No, it has everything to do with feeling pressure. After learning — and experiencing so much — I didn’t realize the kind of expectations that would be placed on me. Imagine if I was carrying the only two embryos that could be produced by this desperate couple that I described above. What if, God forbids, something goes wrong? I would be absolutely devastated and feel so responsible.

Now it’s not to mean I don’t feel responsibility for carrying B and M’s baby(s). But as I’ve learned, they’ve already experienced the joy of having children themselves. If the worst happens and something happens with this pregnancy, of course we would all be sad. But I wouldn’t feel as if I’ve ruined their hopes and dreams for children.