I have recently returned to a yoga phase of my life. I’ve always gone in and out of practice over the past 15 years and right now I’m enjoying an “in” phase - I’ve been practicing steadily for about 6 months now and at least for the time being, I’m filled with the desire to keep at it.
One of the main reasons I’m back doing yoga now is that it definitely helps with all the physical changes that go along with midlife (“Who, me, midlife?!?” I often ask myself. “No way!” says my brain. But “Yes way!” screams my body each morning when I get out of bed.) Yoga definitely helps manage all the new creaks and aches and indignities being sprung on me in this phase of life.
Yoga is said to benefit the body, mind and spirit and the yoga studio I go to is fully dedicated to that. Every instructor opens each class with his or her own unique invocation – an original thought-provoking talk about a current event (from a humanist perspective) or maybe something personal he or she has experienced.
Last week I took a class with Maryam, the owner of the yoga studio. Maryam is a gorgeous woman in body and spirit, someone who just seems to float in a cloud of peace and light that envelops you too as you share her space. Her class invocation touched on understanding what’s real in our lives, and how our concept of reality changes over time – year to year, month to month, day to day, even minute to minute. She expanded her talk to include the idea that we can not change someone else’s reality – we can only embrace our own or seek to change our own if need be. We cannot change the way someone else experiences their own reality.
Listening to her relate this simple, yet profound statement struck me that day and has stayed with me since, especially as the day my first surrogate twins turn 13 was approaching.
That surrogacy was a mixed experience for me – I had a great pregnancy, two healthy babies, and a full recovery after a physically traumatic birth. Emotionally I was thrilled and proud of myself for giving those girls the best first nine months of life possible.
I was disappointed, stung, even crushed though at how the parents would not embrace the experience for what I thought it was – a chance to write a love story together. They kept me at arm’s length throughout the pregnancy, at more than a body’s length during the birth, and in the distant shadows after we all left the hospital.
I’ve carried this hurt with me for thirteen years now, but something small and slight shifted last week as I listened to Maryam’s message about understanding what’s real. It felt as if a door leading out from my darkened heart was finally cracked open and a hazy but brilliant sunshine began to filter in.
Reflecting on her words, I was able to see the events from 13 years ago from a different perspective. A perspective that said yes, together we undertook this project of making them parents – it was undoubtedly a group effort with her eggs, his sperm, and my life force.
And although we were all on the same team and we all had the same goal, we did not all share the same reality.
My reality was that I loved those babies (and I still do) and saw my love as a key part of the process. I did not see my love being turned away once they left my physical care.
The parents’ reality was that I was a transactional component in the process of them becoming a mother and a father. I was a means to an end, not a facet in their vision of the future.
I do not write this to criticize them. Yes, I wish the experience had been different because what is real for me is that I went into surrogacy looking for a long term relationship.
But what is real for them is that they were not.
I wish that we had been able to identify this disconnect before we started.
Or more pointedly, I wished that I’d honored the doubts and misgivings I’d had from the beginning about working with them.
Experience is the best teacher though, and now I know. I’ve enjoyed six mutually rewarding, loving surrogacies since then, thanks to what I learned the first time.
But today, 13 years since that day in July when their birth brought such joy and such pain, the disappointment is finally starting to wane.
I cannot change what happened, and truth be told, I’m not sure that I would if I could. Reality - bumps, bruises, cuts and all – is always more rewarding than fantasy. I would not choose perfection for my past, because it is the imperfection that makes me more fully human today.
I birthed those children in love and I still hold them closely in my heart. A heart, hardened by the experience, but now starting to soften.
I hear that phrase a lot in yoga – “Soften your heart,” the instructor will say when calling out a series of difficult motions. She urges us to breathe, relax, and flow naturally into the pose.
I only had a vague idea of what that phrase meant, until now.
It wasn’t until I was able to soften my heart enough to let the hazy, glittery sunlight break through the darkness that I understood.
And now I understand that what was real for them during the year our lives intersected was not what was real for me, and there is emotional liberation in that.
Their actions were not about me, they never were. They honored what was real to them at the time, as did I. So I can I blame them no more than I can blame myself.
Yes, my feelings fell into the schism between us but that does not negate what was real to them at the time. And now, finally, I can honor that.
It’s no coincidence that the phrase we often use to conclude our yoga practice is this:
“The light in me honors the light in you. Namaste.”
And so today, on the twins’ 13th birthday, I send them joyful wishes and it's with a light and loved-filled heart that I offer their parents Namaste.