Surrogacy

Friday, January 17th, 2014

While driving to the vet, with Cybil throwing up in the backseat, Ethan nearly caused me to get in a wreck. He wouldn't stop freaking out about our German Shepherd, who was whining in the back, vomiting on the seats, and I almost pulled over onto some idiot cruising in my blind spot. After the other drivers had pounded on their horns, and made rude gestures at me as they passed, Ethan shook his head in frustration.

"Jesus Christ, Megan," Ethan said, twisting around in the passenger's seat so he could cater to Cybil. "Pay attention."

I glared at him, blowing air out of my nostrils in fury. "Maybe if you would shut up for a minute, I could actually concentrate on the road." I executed a sharp turn, and Cybil vomited onto the backseat again.

"Oh, great," said Ethan. He stretched his arm out until it was directly in front of her black nose, and she nuzzled her head into his palm. "You all right, girl?"

Coming to a stop at a red light, Cybil clawed her way into the front, climbing on top of Ethan and attempting to sit in his lap, despite his shocked protests.

"I don't know why you're so obsessed with taking her to the vet anyway. She's fine," he said, clutching a squirming Cybil in his arms, and patting her sides. "The car ride is what makes her sick."

"Do you want her to get rabies or something?" I asked, eyeing him and clutching the wheel with both hands. "Dogs have to have shots, Ethan."

"Honey, I don't even go to the doctor for check-ups. Why in the hell would a dog?"

"Look, it's fine," I replied, with a deep sigh. "We're almost there. We'll get her shots, we'll go home, we're done."

"Just pay attention."  He glanced in the backseat, grimacing at the puddle of vomit Cybil had left. I loved Ethan, but sometimes he could be such an idiot. Watching him at times like these, whispering comforting words into Cybil's ear, was when I realized it the most.

I had bought Cybil as a puppy three years ago, right after we stopped trying to get pregnant. The stress of our infertility had really taken a toll on Ethan, and I thought the dog might cheer him up, so I delivered the mewling pup to our bed one morning, with a red bow on its collar. He absolutely loved the dog. He had always wanted a German Shepherd, and picked the name Cybil as a joke, so, if he chose to, he could call her "Cybil Shepherd." I never told him Cybil's namesake spelled it with two L's; it seemed unnecessary. But still, even though he adored the dog and played with her every day, it was like he had better things to do than keep her healthy. Didn't he see that I just wanted her to be around for as long as possible, so he would be happy? Stupid.

We never tried to figure out our fertility problems; I didn't see the point. I didn't want either of us to have to feel guilty for ruining our future plans, and, besides, I wasn't about to become some science project, injected with hormones every night; or worse, another man's sperm. Ethan wanted to see some specialists, but once I voiced my objections he didn't push any further; he knew, because I told him, that if we followed that path, it would just serve to cause resentment between us. Plus, I already knew it was Ethan's fault we couldn't have children. I never told him because I was embarrassed, but I had gotten pregnant at fifteen, by some piece of trash who claimed to love me, and who I found in bed with a mutual friend when I was six weeks pregnant. Thankfully, my parents were fine with abortion, and gave me the money to get it dealt with. I'm glad I did, too. I couldn't imagine myself raising a child then.

So, I never told Ethan that it was him and not me, it seemed too cruel. But, for some reason, he kept bringing up the subject of children lately; it was like an itch he had to consistently scratch. I wanted children too, sure I did, but it just wasn't going to happen for us, and I didn't understand why he couldn't let it go. He suggested adoption, but I didn't have the energy, time, or patience, to deal with that stress. You'd think a dog would be enough.

As I pulled into a parking spot at the vet, Cybil started frantically scratching at the passenger's side window, until Ethan could unbuckle his seat belt and open the door, allowing the dog to jump free and sniff around the small patch of grass outside the building. Ethan put on Cybil's leash and shooed her, uncooperatively, inside, where other dogs sat, wide-eyed, near their owners. We sat in the corner, near gargantuan bags of dog food, which Cybil inspected thoughtfully, tail wagging. Ethan barely spoke a word, and I assumed that he was mad at me for almost crashing our car, and then snapping at him. A young woman opened the door that lead to the examination rooms and checked the file in her hand.

"Cybil?" She called. Like it was up to Cybil whether she wanted to respond or just walk out the door; like her owners wouldn't have to coax her, and, eventually, practically drag her into the exam room. The woman measured and weighed, poked and prodded, looked at teeth and into ears, before pronouncing Cybil healthy. Ethan was sitting down, with his arms crossed, and I heard him snort sarcastically. I accidently stepped on his foot.

"Ok, we're almost done," the woman said, handing me Cybil's leash. "I'll get her boosters ready and be back in just a minute."

"What's your problem?" I asked, turning on him as the door swung shut behind the woman.

"Nothing." He didn't look me in the eye.

"Are you still mad that I brought the dog in for a check-up?" He didn't reply. "I'm just trying to keep her healthy. I don't know what you'd do if something happened to her."

"It's not about the goddamn dog, alright," Ethan said, dragging a hand through his hair. Inhaling deeply, he cradled his face in his hands. Seriously worried now, I approached him and placed a soft hand on his shoulder; when that wasn't shrugged off, I crouched down until I was slightly below his chair, looking up at his downturned, covered, face. Cybil sat in the corner, stretching her leash - looped around my wrist - as far away as it could go.

"Hey," I said, gently prying his hands away until his face was visible. "What's the matter?" He balled his hands into fists and ground them into thighs, his knuckles turning red against the denim.

"I'm so sorry, Megan."

"It's ok," I replied, rising up from my crouched position. "Just tell me what happened." I took his hand in one of mine, but he still averted his gaze, looking, instead, at Cybil's curled form in the corner. He looked sick, his entire body hunched over onto itself, like it was hoping to disappear. "Just tell me," I said, closing my eyes in preparation of some blow. It felt like a lifetime before any sound reached my ears.

"I went to a fertility specialist last week, and had some tests done," Ethan said, sliding his hand from my grasp and rubbing his temples. Cybil started scratching herself. "I know you didn't want us to, but I just needed to know what the problem was, to see if it was even possible to fix. I thought if I came back clean, then maybe I could convince you to see the specialist." He chuckled grimly, shaking his head.

"I guess I don't need to convince you, though. It's me," he said, rubbing his teeth along his bottom lip. He looked close to tears. "It's my fault."

"Oh, honey, come here," I replied, smiling at him to let him know I wasn't upset. He hugged me tightly, enveloping me in his arms, and I rested my chin on his shoulder. I was secretly relieved that it wasn't something more serious. "Everything is fine. We'll be fine."

Part of me felt bad for not being completely honest with him, but it's not like I was lying to him. Telling him I already knew he was infertile would only hurt his pride more.

"There might be some other things we can try, though," Ethan said, sighing. He kissed the top of my head and pulled away.

"Oh, really?" I cocked my head and raised my eyebrows. My voice had risen several octaves and Ethan squinted at me, puzzled.

The young woman, with a syringe in one hand and a bone-shaped biscuit in the other, strolled back into the room. "Who's ready for a treat?"

After the appointment was over, we put an oddly subdued Cybil in the car, where she promptly fell asleep on the backseat, being careful to avoid the vomit still pooled there. I made Ethan drive home, claiming fatigue. He was awkwardly silent through most of the ride, occasionally stealing worried glances at me.

"That really wore Cyb out. Look at her, she's passed out," Ethan said cheerfully. "Good thing, too. Now she won't get sick from the car ride." I shifted around in my seat, looking back at the sleeping dog.

"Yeah."

"Are you mad?" he asked.

I waited while he performed a smooth turn, before replying, "Why would I be mad?"

"I knew you'd be like this." He gestured in the air with one of his hands, like a knife coming down.

"Like what? You're the one with an attitude." I crossed my arms and placed my feet on the dashboard.

"I knew you'd be mad that I went to the doctor. You said we shouldn't worry about it, it would just make us resent each other, and that's exactly what happened; you're mad that I went, and you're mad because it's my fault we can't have kids."

"You're right," I said, nodding my head in a bitter fury. "I'm mad at you for going to the doctor, because I knew this was going to happen. But do you really think I'm mad at you because you can't have kids? Do you really think I'm that shallow? You're a dick."

"Why wouldn't you be mad at me?" he said, slapping the wheel. "I'm mad at me. I'm what's stopping us from having kids."

I didn't respond and we spent the rest of the trip in silence. Maybe I shouldn't have been angry with him, but I was. I had told him to just let it go. Stupid. Why couldn't he just be content; why was he always reaching for something?

When we pulled into our driveway and parked, Ethan opened the back door, letting a sleepy Cybil out, and she found the nearest spot of shade.

"You need to clean the backseat," I told him, and walked inside.

Half an hour later, while I sipped a cup of green tea, Ethan strode in, looking sheepish and sad. I could tell he had been preparing an apology, just from the expression on his face - like he had broken my favorite vase. I was sitting at the kitchen table, on a barstool, and he leaned against the pantry doors.

"Look, I just wanted to apologize," he began. "I shouldn't have gotten mad at you; I was just frustrated with everything. I was embarrassed and angry, and I wanted you to hate me as much as I hated myself. But that's stupid, I know," he paused, gathering his thoughts. "I was irrational. I was just looking at the bad, and not at all the other stuff that we can do."

When I didn't interrupt, he continued, with more vigor. "I know you don't want to adopt, but there's other stuff we can try. Surrogacy, artificial insemination. There's something wrong with my sperm - I don't know, something about the shape - so we'd have to get a sperm donor, but those aren't hard to find. They have banks."

He waited for me to say something. He was excited that I hadn't shut him down already. I took a deep breath and put my hands together, pushing them against my chest like I was praying; praying for what, I don't know.

"What do you think?" Ethan asked, finally, while his hands fidgeted by his sides.

"Honey, look, I don't think I can have a surrogate," I said, breathing through my mouth to steady my emotions. "I've dreamt my whole life of carrying a child, and it would just be too hard to watch someone else do it for me." He nodded in understanding.

"What about artificial insemination? You could carry the baby then."

"Well," I paused. "I really don't think I could do that."

"Why?" he asked, still trying to be sympathetic, but with desperation creeping in.

"I can't imagine myself being pregnant with anyone but you. To have someone I don't even know be the father of our child." I shook my head, tears welling in my eyes. "I love you, and want us to have a baby. Together. If that isn't possible, then I can't see us being parents." He came over quickly and embraced me, stroking my hair.

"It's ok, it's ok," he said, speaking into my hair. "Everything's going to be fine."

"I'm so sorry, Ethan." I nuzzled into his shoulder and cried. I really felt terrible.

"There's nothing you need to apologize for," he said, taking my face between his hands and looking into my watery eyes. "You hear me? Nothing." He kissed me on the forehead.

Ethan comforted me for a long time, until my eyes started to get that terrible dry, burning feeling that comes when you cry too much, and then I pushed him away.

"I'm ok now," I said, sniffling. I knew that if I looked in the mirror, my eyes would be swollen and raw.

"It's been a long day. Why don't you go get some rest?"

I nodded, wiping my nose on my shirt. "Aren't you coming?"

"I'll be there in a minute, I'm just going to feed Cybil," Ethan said, steering me into the bedroom. He pulled back the comforter so I could slip underneath, and tucked me in, turning the light off as he left. I heard him scrounging around in the kitchen, pouring dog food into a bowl, and that made me cry. I hoped he wouldn't come back in and see me, because I wanted to wallow in my guilt and shame.

Sometime during the night, I felt Ethan creep in beside me, my half-awake self barely acknowledging the change, except to wrap the blankets around my body even tighter. Afterwards, the morning sun tried to rouse me, shining through curtains, but I hid my face under a pillow. I knew Ethan was already awake, because I could feel the cold emptiness of the other side of the bed, but I didn't give it more than a passing thought. I was too concerned with how I felt.

Sometime later - a sleepy glance at the clock told me it was 11:30 - a soft knock came at the door.

"Honey, are you awake?" Ethan called. I could hear excitement in his voice.

"Yeah," I replied, rolling over and sitting up in bed. "Yeah, I'm awake."

He pushed the door open, with an enormous grin on his face, and a puppy squirming in his hands. It looked just like Cybil, when she was a puppy, right down to the red bow on the collar. Ethan placed it on the bed and it ventured forth awkwardly, tripping over the down comforter on its way to me. I petted it and it licked my fingers.

"Do you like her?" Ethan asked. The puppy climbed onto my lap and snuggled into the folds of the blankets.

"She's so cute," I replied, running my fingers through the soft fur. "Where'd you get her?"

"The same place you got Cybil. I thought about it last night and went out this morning to get her." He sat on the edge of the bed and put his hand out for the puppy to lick.

"I love her."

"I'm glad. I know Cybil was just the thing I needed last time," he said, sadness creeping into his voice. "I thought we might call her CJ," he continued, perking up. "You know: Cybil Junior?"

I chuckled and addressed the puppy. "CJ? Is that your name?" She stuck her tongue out with a panting smile, which we took for conformation.

"Sounds good. CJ it is," I said.

And it did sound good. It all sounded good. Ethan was good, and the dogs were good, and our life would be good; but I couldn't help thinking - here we go again.