With our surrogate, Kyrie, just a few weeks away from what we hope will be the safe delivery of our son, I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between this possible new baby and the twins we lost a little more than two years ago. Of course, this new child can't be a literal replacement for the twins. But there's less to distinguish them than one might think.
Part of that is simply the mechanics of IVF. One afternoon in April 2006, on the third floor of a big hospital in the Northeast, ten embryos were coaxed into being. Curled in their petri dishes, cells dividing, the embryos, from my point of view, were interchangeable. I hoped that at least one of them would grow to be my child, but I didn't care which one and I didn't give much thought to what would happen to the others.
The doctors chose two embryos -- call them A and B -- to transfer and froze the rest. A and B became the twins and we all know how that turned out. So, in April 2008, they unfroze embryo C, which is now, at least theoretically, the baby due at the beginning of January.
Although the selection of which embryos to transfer wasn't entirely random, chance clearly played the guiding role. Right now, I could just as easily be mourning the loss of embryos D and E or cautiously celebrating the impending arrival of F. And that cascade of contingencies make it that much harder to attach significance to the individual identity of any of them.
Moreover, over time, the twins themselves have become mostly an abstraction. I have almost no actual memories of them -- a positive pregnancy test, a dozen increasingly ominous ultrasounds, a month or two or flutters and kicks. What memories I do have are really about myself, my hopes, my wishes, my painting an imaginary future in pastel shades of pink and blue. And, though much more hesitantly, I find myself now thinking almost the identical thoughts, transferring the old dreams to this new child and wondering whether I can see this child -- at least in some non-literal way -- as one of the twins returned to me.
Because I tend to think in metaphors, and extended and heavy-handed ones at that, let me put it this way. Imagine you're looking into a series of lighted kitchen windows at dinnertime. In one lucky house, all the chairs at the table are filled with cheerful family members. In the house next door, there are chairs with no-one sitting in them, but you notice that they're drawn close to the table, still part of the family circle. In yet another house, the table at first seems full, but if you look in the next room, you'll find the unused chairs carefully, lovingly stored away.
And then, in the house I hope one day to live in, there's a chair that, in the manner of Schrödinger's cat is simultaneously occupied and empty. And in it sits a little boy who is at once here and, well, absolutely elsewhere.
Your thoughts on the concept of the replacement child? A dangerous or unfair idea? An understandable rationalization? Something in between?
What does your dinner table look like?