A Sister's Gift

Love takes many forms.

12,000 words
July 31, 2021

"Have you ever thought of using a surrogate?" I asked my sister Katelynn. After three miscarriages, she had received devastating news from her doctor.

"No," she replied.

"Didn't the doctors say it might be a good choice for you?"

Blake, my sister's husband, said, "Yes, Eileen, they did. But that would get someone else involved, someone we don't know. And it's very expensive."

I discounted both his objections. "No more expensive than having a baby yourself. The biological mother's health insurance would cover the cost." I waited a moment, aware of my sister's vulnerable state. "I could do it."

My sister drew back, still in shock from the doctor's visit. "Eileen, I don't think that's funny."

"I'm not joking," I said. "I know you wanted to give birth to a baby, but don't you think my solution is the next best thing?"

Tests after Katelynn's last miscarriage had shown she had a malformation of the uterus. She could get pregnant, but she would never be able to carry a baby to term.

Katelynn shook her head. "I can't allow you to do that. I can't ask you to have a baby for me."

"You're not asking. I'm offering to do it. You're my sister and I love you. What's the problem? It would still be your biological child. I would just be the body for the baby to grow in."

Katelynn shook her head. "Eileen, you'd better go home and think this over. This is not the kind of offer that should be made lightly." She shook her head again as if to push away the thought.

"Oh, I'll go home and think it over, but I won't change my mind," I said.

I went home to my apartment and went to bed. I fell asleep right away, but woke up in the middle of the night. I had meant what I'd said, but it was a big responsibility. It could lead to the start of a new life. Not a baby for me, of course, but I would still have to carry a growing thing inside me for nine months and then give birth. I lay there, tossing and turning, thinking it over, but I always came back to the same conclusion: I wanted to give my sister a child.

After the deaths of our parents, Katelynn became the only family I had. I wanted to help my sister. And I wanted our parents' genes to be passed on to another generation. I was single and not likely to get married soon. Helping Katelynn was the best alternative.

I called Katelynn from work the next day during my morning break. She sounded as though she'd been crying.

"Katelynn, how are you doing today?" I asked.

"Eileen, I appreciate your offer, but I can't let you go through with this idea."

"I don't understand. What have you got to lose? The doctor said you should use a surrogate mother if you want to have a biological child. What's wrong with using me? Don't you think I can do it?"

"Well, we both know you can get pregnant," she snapped.

I gasped. "That was mean."

"You're right. I'm sorry. Look, I'm still getting used to what the doctor said. I just can't deal with anything else right now." She hung up.

We didn't speak for two weeks.

Blake was the one to break the silence. "Come over for dinner Saturday night."

"Are you sure? I don't want any fireworks."

"It's okay. Katelynn is still processing what the doctor said, but she loves you and she misses you. Just give her some space, yeah?"

"I'll try."

"I'll barbeque teriyaki chicken." Blake loved to barbeque and his teriyaki chicken was the best.

"I can't pass that up."

"Good. See you Saturday."

Saturday came while I was still telling myself to chill out, play it cool. Nothing needed to be decided right away. I promised myself I wouldn't bring up the subject.

Katelynn met me at the door and gave me a big hug. "Thanks for coming."

"Of course."

We got through dinner, the conversation polite and stilted. After dinner, I helped Katelynn put the dishes in the sink. "Just leave them," she said. "We need to talk."

We sat down on the couch in the living room. I could see Blake outside on the patio, busy cleaning the barbeque when he normally would leave it alone and join us.

Katelynn clasped her hands together as if to keep them from touching me. "Eileen, you know I've always looked after you. I've always been the responsible one." Her voice was shaking.

I bit my lip and looked at her. Tears brimmed in her eyes. I said,"And now it's my turn to help you for a change."

"But can't you see that's why you can't help me this way," Katelynn said. "It would be like using you to benefit Blake and me."

"So you'd rather go to a stranger? I can do this for you, Katelynn. Let me have your baby."

Katelynn frowned. She always frowned when she didn't know what to say. It was one of the things I loved to tease her about. But I knew I couldn't tease her this time.

We sat in silence while she tried not to cry. "I'll talk to Blake," she finally said. "And I'll think about it, too."

Monday came and I was back at work. I worked in a law firm as a paralegal. The work was interesting and I loved the challenges my job offered and I liked everyone I worked with.

During the day, I found myself thinking about having a baby from time to time. I was still holding out for a special someone in my life. I thought I'd found him once, but it hadn't worked out. Still, I felt I was ready to grow a baby inside my body: to give birth, to experience the miracle of a new life. Especially since my parents were gone, I worried about family ties. If neither Katelynn nor I had children, the part of our parents that lived on in us would not live on in the future.

Our parents had been killed in an automobile accident. At the time, I was seventeen; Katelynn was twenty-two. She became my parent overnight. She made sure I did my homework, she cooked dinner every night and cried with me when I missed our mom and dad. She went to back-to-school nights and she was there when I graduated high school. In addition to all of that, she worked full-time, too, as a receptionist. She even helped me financially through college. In the years since my parents died, I often wished I could repay her for everything she had done for me during that terrible time.

At work, my friend Mia and I liked to have lunch together. I mentioned the offer I'd made to my sister.

"Are you serious?" she asked.

"Sure," I said. "I'd like to have a baby and I'd like to help my sister. It seems very natural."

"So you and Blake are going to . . . you know."

"What? No! Not like that! It would be Katelynn's egg, not mine! The doctors would harvest her eggs and use Blake's sperm to fertilize them. Then my body would be used to grow their baby."

"Oh. That's more complicated."

"Well, yes. I guess it is."

"But you'd have to give the baby away," Mia said.

"It's not like I'd never see the child," I reminded her. "I'd be the baby's aunt." I sighed. "I know it sounds like a sudden decision, but I've really thought it through."

"Since when?" Mia took a bite of her tuna sandwich.

"I guess I started thinking about it when Katelynn had her first miscarriage. I started worrying that she might not be able to have a baby. And I remembered reading about a woman who became a surrogate mother. She had four children of her own and she wanted to give birth again. She liked being pregnant and giving birth."

"But you've never had a baby before."

"I know it's different with me. If someone else were telling me they were going to do this, I would think they were crazy." I didn't add that inside my heart I knew I was doing the right thing.

Mia put down her sandwich. She looked pale and queasy all of a sudden.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"My stomach's a little upset," Mia said. "It must be all this talk of pregnancy."

"I'm sorry."

Mia wrapped up the rest of the tuna. "I think I'll just finish my soda." She wrapped up the sandwich and tucked it into her lunch container. She went back to our original conversation. "If that's what you want, I hope it works out for you."

"I think it will." I finished my peanut butter and jelly and my cola. I realized if I were to become pregnant, I'd have to start drinking milk.

Katelynn called at the end of the day. "Listen, can you come by later this evening?"


After dinner, I stopped by Katelynn's house. Blake answered the door.

"Hey, little sister," he said.

"Hi, guy," I responded, punching him lightly on the arm.

"Do you want some coffee?"


Katelynn was waiting in the kitchen.

Blake said, "Coffee all around."

We sat down at the kitchen table.

Blake said, "Katelynn and I have been discussing your offer. We don't think you realize how different your life will be if you have a baby."

Here we go again, I thought. We're arguing in circles. "But I won't keep the baby," I insisted. "It will be biologically yours and you'll get the 2 AM feedings."

"You'll still have to be pregnant and give birth," Katelynn said. "That's quite a commitment."

"I promise you, I know what I'm doing," I said.

"Even if we agree, you'll still have to meet with a committee at the clinic. There's a surrogate mother examination, you know."

I laughed. "Will this exam have chemistry on it?"

Blake laughed, too. "Probably not. But there are psychological tests you would have to pass."

"Well, I'm not crazy, so the idea of testing doesn't bother me."

"If we use you as a surrogate mother, we would want you to give up alcohol and caffeine," Katelynn said. "That means no cola, too."

Oh, man, she really knew my weaknesses. I sighed. "I realize that. I've watched you switch to decaf and refuse wine with dinners ever since you began trying to get pregnant."

"And you'd really be willing to do that? I'm sorry, I just don't understand why. You'd be giving up so much."

I smiled. "Only for nine months," I reminded her. "You'd be getting a child forever."

Katelynn bit her lip. "That would be the greatest gift you could ever give me," she whispered.

Blake frowned. "I don't think the screening process with be easy."

"I'm not worried," I told him. Looking from Blake to Katelynn, I said, "So have we made our decision? Shall we go to the clinic together?"

"I'd like that very much," Katelynn said through her tears. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek when we said good night.

The following week, we all met at the fertility clinic. Blake had arranged to take the day off from work. As we sat in the waiting room, I felt a sense of excitement. We were going to make it happen!

The first person we spoke to was Nurse Renata. She explained they didn't usually allow women who had never given birth to be surrogates. "We like our surrogates to have a track record of full term pregnancies and also, preferably to have a child at home. That makes it more certain there won't be any problems after the baby is born."

Blake said, "We'd prefer to keep it within the family. And Eileen is the only family my wife has."

"I'm not saying it can't be done," the nurse said. "It's just a bit unusual for our company. I'll consult with some of the doctors in the clinic. Why don't you call me tomorrow?" She handed business cards to Katelynn, Blake and me.

"Thank you, we'll do that," Katelynn said as the nurse ushered us out of the office.

We huddled together in the hallway, confused. Katelynn looked despondent.

Blake put his arm around Katelynn's waist and gave her a gentle hug. "Don't worry, Katie, it will be okay," he soothed her.

"I hope so," Katelynn said in a small voice.

"Excuse me," a very pregnant woman said as she waited for us to clear a passage to the clinic door.

"Sorry," I said. We all watched her as she opened the door.

She turned to us. "Good luck," she said before she disappeared into the waiting room.

"I think we'll need it," Katelynn said.

The next day, Katelynn called me at work. Her voice was as animated as I'd ever heard. "I talked with the nurse. They've given us the go-ahead to proceed. You have to call them and arrange for testing."

"That's wonderful! I'll call and get an appointment right away."

Nurse Renata was apologetic when I spoke with her on the phone. "It's just that we've never had a situation like this before," she explained. "But some of the doctors and the staff have heard of this happening at other clinics and they've had good outcomes."

"I understand. What kind of tests will you be doing?"

"Mostly standard ones. Blood tests to see if you're anemic or if you have contracted any sexually transmitted diseases."

My face reddened. "I don't think there will be any problem with sexually transmitted diseases," I mumbled.

"Oh, you'd be surprised at what we discover," she said.

I went to the clinic for a thorough checkup including a gynecological exam.

The nurse took vials and vials of blood.

"Why do you need so much blood?" I asked.

"Beyond the standard tests, we also need to know what your hormone levels are. If everything checks out, you'll have to take some medications to help your body be ready for the embryos we implant," she explained.

"You mean I could have twins?"

"We use more than one embryo to increase the chance of a good outcome."

"That sounds complicated," I said.

"It is, but there's no need for you to worry. We've done this hundreds of times." Nurse Renata smiled.

Katelynn had many of the same tests. Everything came back fine. Nurse Renata set up an appointment with the clinic psychologist. That meeting, however, was a little more complicated. Dr. Meyer was old enough to be my father.

"Tell me, how are you feeling today?" he asked.

"A little nervous."

"Why are you nervous?"

I squirmed under his steady gaze. "I've never seen a psychologist before."

He smiled to reassure me. "Some people have the misguided conception that the only people who see psychologists are those who are mentally ill. That's not true. So tell me, Eileen, why are you here today?"

"As I understand it, you're supposed to evaluate my ‘mental state' and make sure I'm a good candidate to be a surrogate," I said.

"Yes, that's my job. Let's start by having you tell me why you are interested in becoming a surrogate mother." He sat back in his chair and waited for my response.

"Well, I suppose it's mostly because my sister is having trouble carrying a child to term. Our parents are dead and I want to help my sister in any way I can."

"Tell me about your parents." His kind voice put me at ease.

"They were killed in an automobile accident."

"How long ago was this?"

"Seven years."

"How did you feel about them? Did you get along?"

"They were great parents. My dad took us fishing on his boat. They took us camping on vacations. I loved them both very much." Tears welled in my eyes.

"Then they died."

"Yes," I said. "I could hardly speak about them at first."

"You must have felt terribly abandoned."

"I was shocked that they died. It was awful, but I think it was harder for my sister. She took on the burden of caring for me. She even worked two jobs for awhile to help me through college. I'll always be grateful to her."

"And that's why you want to help her now."

"That's part of it," I said.

"What's the other part, Eileen?" he asked.

I shook my head, not ready to share my more difficult feelings. Discussing my childhood was fine, but I knew we would have to discuss Darren. It was still hard for me to admit that the man I had thought was the love of my life had treated me so badly.

"I understand you've been pregnant before," Dr. Meyer said.

Here it comes, I thought. "Yes. Three years ago. It wasn't planned. A problem with the condom, I guess. My boyfriend didn't want the baby, so I had an abortion."

"How did you feel about that?"

"I would have preferred to marry my boyfriend and have the baby. Instead, he said he would take care of the arrangements for the procedure. He said one of his former girlfriends had done the same thing when she got pregnant by him. I had the abortion, but I never felt the same way about him again. So we broke up."

"And you ended up with no boyfriend and no baby."

"That's about it."

"You must have felt hurt."

"I was. Katelynn was great, though. She listened to me cry even when I called in the middle of the night. It must be hard for her now, knowing I gave up a chance to have what she wants so much."

"But I'm curious, Eileen. Are you wanting another baby to take the place of the one you didn't have?"

"No." How could I explain to a man that there was no going back and reliving that experience. I could have had Darren's baby and I didn't. That chance was gone forever.

Dr. Meyer broke the silence. "Do you feel that helping her is your responsibility?"

I looked him straight in the eye. "It isn't my responsibility. It's my hope."

When we were finished, Dr. Meyer rose and shook my hand.

"If I do recommend you as a good candidate and you get pregnant, I will give you a word of advice. Hormones can make your feelings like you're on a roller coaster. You'll have to remember not to get overwhelmed. Good luck."

"Thank you for your time, doctor."

I left, feeling good about the visit. Two weeks went by before I heard from Nurse Renata that I had been approved. I called Katelynn.

"Terrific! Blake is going to be so happy, too. You know, I wasn't sold on the idea at first, but now I'm really excited."

Another set of blood tests were all fine and we were ready for the next step of the process. I started taking hormones that would shut down my cycle but still prepare my uterus to accept the embryos. Katelynn took fertility drugs to produce lots of eggs. Between the two of us, there were a lot of tears as our bodies went into overdrive.

Katelynn had to be under anesthetic to have the eggs harvested.

I was restless on the day when Katelynn and Blake went in for the in-vitro fertilization. It was strange knowing the baby I would be carrying was going to be conceived and I had nothing to do with it.

"Eileen, what is the matter with you today? You've copied the same documents three times," Mia observed.

"Did I?" Sure enough, one set was in my hand and two sets were on my desk. I leaned over to her and whispered, "Today's the big day."

"So they're going to do it in right in the doctor's office?" Mia teased.

I laughed. "Blake does have to give a sperm sample."

"Do they really make babies in a test tube?"

"No, they don't. They have these shallow glass containers called petri dishes with special gelatin in the bottom. They put the eggs and sperm in it and see what develops."


"Ideally some of the eggs are fertilized. The doctors let them grow in an incubator and then when they're ready, they are implanted inside me."

"You could end up having quadruplets!" she said.

"Shh!" I surveyed the office to see if we were being watched. "Even if they all take, they won't implant that many."

Mia's eyes widened. "Girl, I don't think you have the slightest idea what you're getting into. This thing is going to be more complicated than you ever dreamed of."

"No, I don't think so. I have a feeling it's all going to work out well," I assured her.

"I hope so, for your sake." Mia didn't look convinced.

Our conversation was getting out of hand. "What are you and Trey doing tonight?"

"We have a big bowling tournament tonight. I thought I'd told you about it."

"Oh, of course you did. I guess I forgot it was this evening."

"Our team is going for first place," Mia said.

"That's great," I said. "Good luck."

"Thanks. It should be fun. I wish I felt more energetic, though. Lately I seem to be so tired all the time." She did look exhausted.

"Try vitamins," I suggested.

Mia laughed and went back to her work.

Blake and Katelynn came over to my apartment for dinner that night. I'd prepared a special meal for them of coq au vin.

"How did everything go?" I asked Katelynn.

"They got six eggs, but I don't know how many will be fertilized," she said.

Blake laughed. "All six!"

I laughed. "You think you're such a stud."

"Well, we never had trouble getting pregnant."

Katelynn frowned. "Blake, please."

"I'm sorry, Katie," he said. "I know this whole thing is hard for you. I'm just trying to lighten the mood."

"What happens if there are more embryos than they can use?"

Blake said, "They'll freeze the extras."

"Really? It sounds like a science fiction story."

Blake said, "I know, it does. But we're living it."

Katelynn shrugged. "This is the only way we can have a baby of our own. Blake and discussed adoption. If this doesn't work out, we could adopt a child. But it's so hard to get a baby these days. Hey, is this chicken cooked in wine?"

"Don't worry, I've cooked it for hours. There's no alcohol left."

"Are you sure?" "Yes, Katelynn, I'm sure. Besides, I'm not pregnant yet." I poured us all glasses of red wine. "I propose a toast to the newest addition of our family, whether a girl or a boy or girls or boys, we welcome you in advance." It was to be my last glass of wine for a long time.

The obstetrician, Dr. Williams, called Katelynn to tell her four fertilized eggs were growing. She recommended two of the eggs be implanted and the other two frozen. The implanting and freezing would occur in several days, after they had a chance to grow a little more. She told Katelynn to have me come in after work on Friday.

I was annoyed. "Why didn't she call me directly?"

"I don't know. I guess she assumed this way she'd only have to make one phone call. She knows I talk to you all the time."

On Friday, I showed up as I was told.

Dr. Williams was all smiles. "We have two embryos ready," she said. "We find the chance of a successful procedure increases if we do the implantation in the evening." Dr. Williams inserted a tube through my cervix to the uterus that was the most uncomfortable part and then inserted the embryos.

After the procedure, I felt restless. Dr. Williams told me to go home and go to bed. She said we wouldn't know for awhile if either of the embryos had made me pregnant.

The weekend was boring. I tried to concentrate on a new novel, but even that was difficult.

At work on Monday, Mia was sympathetic and tried to help me with work. "Eileen, if you're this nervous now, what are you going to be like if you are pregnant?"

"I'll calm down, Mia. I'm sure I will. It's strange, though. I never thought of it before, but having a baby is like changing the world. There will be a new person, a new life, coming from me."

Our boss saw us with our heads together and gave us a dark look.

"We'd better get back to work," Mia whispered.

I nodded and picked up the phone to return a call.

At home that evening, I ate by myself. I had started drinking a lot of milk and eating a lot of protein. The prenatal vitamins made me sick to my stomach, but Doctor Williams assured me I would get used to them.

I found myself wondering what the baby (or babies!) would look like if I was really pregnant.

It's not my baby, I told myself sternly. This baby belongs to Katelynn and Blake. They are the biological parents. There was also the possibility the embryos wouldn't implant. But I didn't want to think about that.

We had discussed what Katelynn and Blake would tell the baby about the birth. Katelynn wanted to be totally honest, but Blake wasn't so sure.

"Don't you think it will be confusing to the baby? Besides, it's our business. Nobody has to know."

"Blake, we live here. All our friends will know. Somebody is bound to say something to the baby. I'd rather the baby hear it from us," Katelynn said.

Blake sighed. "I guess I still wish we could have a baby the regular way," he confessed.

"I'm sorry," Katelynn cried. "I can't help it that my uterus won't cooperate!"

Blake said, "No, I apologize. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

"I know." Katelynn hugged him. "It's okay, Blake. I understand. I wish that, too."

I felt like an intruder. But I was part of the whole thing, too. I couldn't think of myself as the baby's mother, but in a way, I was. I had a vested interest in it all. So, I spoke up.

"Blake, I have to agree with Katelynn," I said. "Besides, think of me. Unless we're honest and open about my pregnancy, people will think I'm planning to become a single parent. What happens after the baby is born and I have no baby?"

"And what if they know the truth? People can be very judgmental," Blake argued.

"Are you worried about your parents?" Katelynn asked.

"Yes, I guess I am."

"Blake, they're going to have to know," Katelynn said. "Really, I think honesty is the best policy. Besides, it isn't fair to Eileen to pretend she isn't involved."

"Okay, okay, you're right. It's just going to be hard," Blake said.

"Let's hope everything goes well and we'll need to make an announcement. Katelynn's face was so hopeful, it filled my heart with joy.

Two weeks later, it was official We were pregnant!

Katelynn and I met in the doctor's office. After Dr. Williams told us the good news, she added, "You are really fortunate. Sometimes a woman has to go through several procedures before a pregnancy is achieved. Congratulations!"

After we'd met with the doctor we set up an appointment for my first prenatal visit. As we left, we hugged each other and then skipped down the hall holding hands like we used to do as children.

"I'm so excited," Katelynn said. "How are you feeling? Maybe you should rest or something."

"Don't be silly," Eileen said. "I feel great. I should get back to work."

"All right," Katelynn said. "But promise me you'll be careful."

Her comment was annoying. "I'm always careful."

"But now you're being careful for two. Or three!" Katelynn reminded me.

I laughed. "Yes, you're right. I'll be extra careful."

Mia was excited for me when I told her the good news at work. "Well, I have my doubts about the whole thing, but if that's what you want, I'm happy for you."

"Yes, I think it's going to work out fine for everybody," I said. "How are things with you and Trey? You haven't mentioned him since you won that bowling tournament."

Mia laughed. "Oh, Trey is fine. He doesn't want to make a commitment, though. It's getting tiresome. But what else is new?"

"He'll come around eventually," I predicted.

"Or maybe he won't," Mia said. "Oh, look. The boss is watching us again."

"Talk to you later," I whispered.

I spent the day working, but I really wanted to talk. Mia and I were so busy, we didn't have time, so I called Katelynn the moment I got home.

"Blake and I are so excited," Katelynn said. "This is such a dream come true."

"Isn't it, though? I wonder if the babies will look like Mom or Dad?"

"I don't know. Would it bother you if they look like Blake?"

"Of course not. He's the father. Or they could look like you. After all, you're their mother. I won't forget that," I promised.

"I can't thank you enough, Katelynn said, her voice full of emotion. "Truly."

"I'm so happy I can help you," I told her honestly.

My first visit to the doctor went well. I wasn't even having morning sickness. I was surprised to see Mia in the hallway outside the clinic, though.

"Hey, what are you doing here?" I asked.

"My doctor is next door. He's just a regular gynecologist, not a specialist like yours."

"Is everything okay? You're looking pale again."

"Just a little stressed," she explained.

"Let me know if I can do anything to help." We took the elevator to the ground floor and walked out to the parking lot.

"Tell the boss I'll be in a little late," Mia said. "I need to talk with Trey. This is not the sort of thing I can tell him over the phone."

"Oh, I can't believe it! You're pregnant, too!" The words slipped out of my mouth.

"I don't know what I'm going to do!" Mia cried. "It isn't only my decision. That's why I have to talk with Trey."

"Of course," I said. I gave her a quick hug, then watched her drive away.

I felt so sorry for her. She and Trey had some hard decisions to make. I remembered what I had done in her situation and I didn't envy her or the decision she would have to make.

Mia found me at lunchtime. She sat down at the table across from me and unwrapped her sandwich. "You'll never guess what happened."


"Trey is ecstatic about the baby. I couldn't believe it. He's never wanted to commit, but when I told him I was pregnant, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him."

"How wonderful for you!"

Mia's eyes danced. "Part of me wants to believe this and the other part feels this can't possibly be true." Her face got serious and she sighed. "Plus, I didn't want it to happen this way. I don't want him to feel trapped."

"It doesn't sound like he's feeling trapped," I said.

"No, he doesn't." Mia grinned. "I can't believe I've spent the last six years trying to get him to commit and, now all of a sudden, he can't wait to get married."

"It doesn't always happen that way," I said. I almost added, it didn't happen for me. But I'd kept that secret for years from everyone except my sister. It wasn't the right time to be talking about my past.

"Trey says we'll be married as soon as he can make the arrangements. We'll probably go to a justice of the peace. But I still want you to be my maid of honor."

"Tell me when and where and I'll show up," I promised.

"You're the best," Mia said. "You know, I didn't go to the doctor right away. I didn't realize what was happening. I must have slipped up with the birth control before the bowling championship when I had too many beers. And then sometimes I had a little spotting, so I thought I couldn't be pregnant. Anyway, we're pregnant together. Isn't that exciting?"

"It's great," I agreed. "But remember, it's not my baby."

"I remember. I just hope it's not too hard for you to give up the baby. I know it sounds silly, but I feel so connected to my child."

"You are connected!"

"I don't mean just physically. I have a lot of hopes and dreams for this new little one."

"I understand. I have a lot of hopes and dreams for my niece or nephew, too." And I did. I wanted a life full of joy for the precious baby (or babies) I carried.

"I think what you're doing is very courageous. I don't think I would have the strength to give up my baby," Mia said.

"But I never think of it as my baby. It's Katelynn and Blake's baby."

"Well, I still think it's wonderful. And I think you're wonderful, too. I am so happy, although this isn't exactly the way I imagined it. I always thought I would have a big white church wedding. You know, the kind you plan for two years in advance. But now that the time is here, I'm so excited. Just being Trey's wife and having his baby is good enough."

I smiled weakly. I was happy for Mia, but I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for myself. If things had been different for me and Darren . . . but there was no point in rehashing it. Mia and Trey were happy. They would have a good life together and a baby they could call their own.

Preparations for the wedding were made in a whirlwind of activity. The wedding would take place at a justice of the peace's office on a Friday in the late afternoon. Just the families, the maid of honor and the best man would attend. And, of course, the judge who would preside over the ceremony.

I wore a peach silk dress. Mia wore white lace and Trey wore a black suit. Mia pointed out to me the best man, Pierre.

"Pierre is an old friend of Trey's from high school," she said.

Pierre was gorgeous! Tall, dark and handsome, he ticked all the boxes. And he had curly hair, too.

"Where have you been hiding him?" I whispered to Mia.

"Don't you remember? He's the one I wanted to set you up with on a blind date after you broke up with Darren."

"Oh, gosh, I remember now. I didn't want to see any men at all then, much less date one. Now I know what I've been missing." I couldn't believe how attractive he was.

"I don't think this is the best time for me to start a new relationship," I said. "I'd have to explain about the baby.

"It wouldn't hurt to try," Mia grinned.

The wedding was beautiful. Mia and Trey looked so happy. I found myself wishing I had a man in my life like Mia did.

After the ceremony, we all went to a seafood restaurant. Trey had rented a small banquet room for dinner and dancing.

Mia placed me next to Pierre. I felt panicked. What if he asked me about the baby? Mia might have told him and I wouldn't know what to say.

"Excuse me, Eileen, was it something I said?" Pierre asked, his eyes twinkling. "You've been ignoring me ever since we got to the restaurant."

"I'm so sorry," I apologized. "I don't mean to be rude. I just feel a little self-conscious."

"It can be hard to meet new people," Pierre said.

"I'm not really into the dating scene," I said.

"This isn't exactly a date," Pierre remarked.

"That's true."

"Some champagne?" Pierre asked as a waiter passed by with a bottle and some glasses.

"None for me, thank you."

"Don't you like champagne?" Pierre asked. He motioned to the waiter. "I'll have some."

"Normally, yes, but not right now."

Another waiter approached us. "Some sparkling cider for the lady?"

"Is there alcohol in it?" I asked.

"No, ma'am," the waiter replied.

"Then I would like some, thank you."

Pierre said, "That's what Mia is drinking, too. But, of course, she's pregnant."

"You know about that?"

"Yes, Trey told me. He's such a funny guy. You know, he was always afraid to get married until Mia told him she was pregnant. Now he's her husband and he can't wait to be a father."

"She's very lucky," I said. Then I concentrated on my fruit cup appetizer. We made small talk through the rest of the dinner. I learned Pierre's family came from Martinique and he still had relatives there. When dinner was over, we watched Trey and Mia cut the cake and feed each other. Then it was time for their dance.

I watched from the table as the newlyweds danced, then Mia's father danced with her and Trey danced with his mother. Then the floor was opened for everyone.

Pierre stood up and stood behind my chair. He leaned over and whispered in my ear. "We're expected to dance together, you know."

I knew and I'd been dreading it. I'd never been a good dancer. Darren had convinced me I could learn and we had spent many evenings together while he tried to teach me and I had stepped on his toes. Dancing reminded me of Darren and I didn't want to remember anything about him.

The band played a slow dance as Pierre led me to the floor. Being in Pierre's arms felt wonderful, but it was hard for me to relax.

Mia caught my eye and winked at me. "Way to go, girl," she said as we passed each other.

I giggled in spite of myself.

Pierre said, "You have a beautiful smile. You should use it more often."

Oh, Pierre, where were you a few years ago? I wanted to ask.

I wished I had met Pierre instead of Darren. But then, Darren had seemed so nice when we first met. But I wasn't a single person anymore. I had to think about the baby or babies. A man would never be able to understand what I was doing, so there was no point in getting involved with anyone. Still, Pierre was tempting.

The dance ended and I did my best to avoid dancing with Pierre again. Mia tossed her bridal bouquet straight to me. "You're next," she crowed when I caught it. I blushed.

After I caught the bouquet, Mia cornered me. "So, what do you think of Pierre?"

"He is gorgeous," I said. "But I can't get involved right now."

"Why not?" Mia acted confused.

"You know why not."

"Because of the baby?"

"Shh! Obviously, because of the baby," I whispered impatiently.

"Pierre is pretty liberal. He might not have a problem with that."

"Maybe I have enough to think about without throwing a man into the mix. Listen, it's your wedding day. I forbid you to think about me."

Mia laughed. "This is my dream come true."

"I know! I'm so happy for you. You have a wonderful husband and soon you'll have a beautiful baby."

"Someday it will be like that for you," Mia promised.

"I hope so."

After we had seen Mia and Trey leave for their weekend honeymoon, Pierre said goodnight and asked me for my phone number.

"I'm so sorry, I'm not dating right now," I explained with a sad smile.

"Oh, that's too bad," he said. "Mia knows how to reach me if you change your mind."

"Thanks for understanding," I said. As I watched him walk away, I was filled with regret. I went back to my quiet apartment and cried. Not only was I jealous, but I felt guilty about my envy as well.

The next morning, though, I felt better. Katelynn called me while I was finishing breakfast.

"How was the wedding?" she asked.


"Blake and I are going swimming at the beach today. Do you want to come?"

"I don't really feel up to it," I said.

"Are you okay? Are you having trouble with morning sickness?"

"No, I'm fine, honestly. I'm just a little tired." Actually, I was exhausted although I'd had a good night's sleep.

"Too much partying last night, huh? You didn't drink any champagne, did you?"

"Of course I didn't drink any champagne!" I barked at her.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you." She sounded truly apologetic.

"Well, you did. Go on to the beach with your husband. Don't include me in your plans." The instant the words popped out of my mouth I regretted them.

"Eileen, you're my sister. You're my family. You can always be included in my plans."

I sighed. "It's my turn to say I'm sorry. Look, I just don't feel up to going to the beach today."

"What will you do, then?"

"I'll just take it easy this morning."

After I hung up the phone, I decided to go back to sleep, but I couldn't. I got up and wandered around the apartment. I glanced through a few magazines, then picked through some paperback novels Mia had lent me. It was no good. Nothing was of interest.

I got dressed and decided to go to the mall. I didn't have the heart to look at maternity clothes yet, though, and buying regular clothes seemed stupid. I found myself in the baby section of the department store, looking at tiny infant clothing.

Oh, what's the point of torturing myself? It isnot my baby. It isn't a new life for me. I have no husband, no newly-minted family.

A voice behind me asked, "Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?"

"What?" I turned to find Pierre watching me. "Pierre! What are you doing here?"

"I'm looking for a gift . My sister just had a baby and I wanted something special. I guess you're looking for something for Mia's baby, yes?"

I caught my breath. "Yes, I am. And you're right, I am getting ahead of myself. I am looking forward to meeting her baby, though."

"Well, my nephew is a month old and I still haven't gotten him something to wear. Could you help me pick an outfit? I'm hopeless when it comes to baby clothes."

"Sure, I can do that. What did you have in mind?"

"I don't know. Something practical that looks nice." Pierre said.

I pulled out several outfits and Pierre chose a soft blue sweater set. "It looks cozy. Are you going to get something for Mia's baby?"

"No, I think I'll wait."

After he paid for his purchase, he said, "I'd like to repay you for you help. How about some coffee?"

"Oh, I really shouldn't," I told him.

"Hey, it's not a date, just a thank you. No commitments." He smiled and waved his hand as if banishing commitment thoughts.

"Well, okay, as long as it's decaf." I couldn't help but smile back at him.

"You're a real health nut," he said.

You have no idea, I thought. This is such a big mistake. Now I'm going to have to make conversation.

Over coffee, Pierre asked me about my life. I told him Mia and I worked together, which he already knew. Pierre told me Trey had been his best friend throughout high school and although Pierre had gone on to college and Trey hadn't, they still kept in touch. "Mia and Trey seem so right for each other," Pierre said. "It's hard not to be jealous."

Oh, so a man can feel jealous of couples, too, I thought. I said, "But you're a good-looking guy, you must have plenty of women in your life."

Pierre stared out the window. "I know a lot of women, but they just don't seem right for me," he confessed.

I can say the same thing about men, I thought.

Pierre smiled. "What are you thinking, Eileen? You seem so far away."

I shook my head. "It's nothing."

"Mia said you're not seeing anyone." Pierre raised his eyebrows, as if to say, how about me?

"That may be true, but I'm not exactly free."

"Are you separated or something like that?"

It was the moment of truth. And I couldn't tell him. I felt very foolish and stupid. "Thank you for the coffee, but I really have to go now." I picked up my purse and started to rise.

He covered my hand with his. "Look, I'd like to see you again." Pierre's voice was sweet and sincere that it broke my heart to have to refuse him.

"I'm sorry, I just can't," I said. I walked away, wishing that when I had decided to become a surrogate mother, I would have realized how complicated my feelings would become.

Later that day, Pierre called my cell phone.

"Where did you get my number?"

"Mia gave it to me before the wedding. She's been trying to set us up for months. At the risk of sounding like a stalker, I need to tell you I'd like to see you again." He certainly was persistent.

"Pierre, you have no idea what you're getting into." And I'm not going to tell you. I hung up, annoyed.

When I saw Mia at work on Monday, I blew up at her. "What are you doing?" I slammed a big envelope of papers on my desk. "Don't go playing Cupid on me." I lowered my voice. "In case you've forgotten, I'm having a baby. There's no room in my life for a man right now. And don't give me a story about you having a man and a baby. You know very well our situations are different. I want you to stop rubbing my nose in it."

"Oh!" Mia said, surprised. "You're jealous."

"Of course, I'm jealous," I told her. "You have everything I want and I can't even keep my baby." I covered my mouth with my hand, but the words had already escaped.

"So now it's your baby," Mia said. It sounded like an accusation.

I dissolved into tears and ran to the ladies room. I stood by the sink and sobbed.

The door opened and Mia's arms were around me. "I didn't mean to make you cry. I'm sorry." She handed me a wad of tissues.

I blew my nose and wiped my eyes.

"I don't know what's wrong with me. All of a sudden at the wedding it hit me that I have nobody and, even though I'm pregnant, this isn't my baby. You have with Trey what I wanted to have with Darren."

"Darren? You mean that guy you dated last summer? The one who lived at the beach?"

I wiped my eyes again, then nodded. "I can't believe what a fool I was. I thought he was my true love so it was okay to sleep with him. When I got pregnant, I really thought he would marry me. When I told him about the baby, he said he would make all the arrangements. I was so blind, it wasn't until he told me about a doctor's appointment that I realized we weren't getting married. He even said their was nothing to the procedure because his previous girlfriend had no complications." I sobbed again.

"And you never told anyone? Not even Katelynn?"

"She knew. She and Blake had just started trying to have a baby. But she was great. And I told the psychologist when I was being considered as a surrogate." I laughed ruefully. "He said it might be harder for me to give up a baby because I don't have one. I told him it wouldn't be a problem because Katelynn is my sister. And I truly believed it until I watched you marry Trey. And met Pierre. Now I have all these jealous feelings and I don't know what to do with them. And I hate myself because you're my friend. I do feel happy for you, but I feel miserable for me."

"I don't want to be flip, but maybe some of what you're feeling is so overwhelming because of hormones. I know it's that way for me, too. Right now, everything is intense!"

"Maybe. I don't know. What a mess!"

Mia hugged me again. "Eileen, you know I'm always here for you."

I sniffled. "Thank you. That means a lot. We'd better get back or the boss will be steaming."

When I got home that evening, I ate dinner and went straight to bed. I kept think about Katelynn, Blake and the baby (or babies!) and how I'd really messed up my life. The phone rang.

"Are you all right?" Katelynn asked. "I thought you were coming over to eat."

"Oh, I forgot. I was so tired, I came straight home."

"Have you eaten dinner? You know how important it is to get your nutrition."

I wanted to slap her. I mentally counted to ten before saying anything to keep calm. "This is not going to work if you keep checking up on me. I am a responsible adult, remember."

"I'm just concerned, that's all," Katelynn insisted.

I could hear the words she didn't voice. She wanted to tell me that it was her baby and I should never forget it. To her credit, she didn't say it.

"I need to rest now," I told her abruptly. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Again I had difficulty sleeping. My brain kept going over the choices I'd made in my life. The choices that led to my current situation. I had been so hurt by Darren's decision and so sure I hadn't wanted to raise the baby by myself that I'd numbly agreed to the abortion. Darren had taken me to the clinic and dropped me off, saying he'd be back in a couple of hours. The medical procedure hadn't hurt much, but I was left with a sense of disappointment and loss. I was filled with disappointment in myself, disappointment with Darren and disappointment that I would never give birth to our baby. I lost a piece of my heart forever.

That was the end of my relationship with Darren. I let him take me home and then I avoided him. Knowing he'd done this to another women, I couldn't respect him anymore.

Suddenly, I was pregnant again. And frightened I couldn't give up the baby.

For months I kept contact with my sister to a minimum. I was so confused. I was also concerned about Mia. She'd missed a lot of work. She wouldn't talk to me about it, but I knew she was scared. Darren said she'd started bleeding and was confined to bed rest. When I called, she wouldn't talk to me.

One night, about four months into the pregnancy, I was lying in bed thinking. Suddenly, I felt an odd fluttering sensation as if a butterfly was beating tiny wings inside me.

It must be the baby moving!

I reached for the phone to call Katelynn. Then I put the phone down.

Realizing the dark side of one's nature is never attractive. I knew I'd been incredibly selfish to Katelynn, cutting her out from the experience of carrying a baby. I lay in the dark, feeling the delicate touches of new life within my body.

Finally, I understood that I could never keep this baby for myself. I'd had my chance when I was pregnant before. And maybe someday I would have another chance for a baby of my own. But the baby inside of me belonged to Katelynn and Blake. I loved it too much to deny it the right to know its biological parents.

Once I had made my decision, things seemed to happen quickly. An ultrasound confirmed there were twins. I tried to enjoy every day I got to nurture two lives. I knew all too soon my part in their lives would be over. Then I called Katelynn and told her about the baby moving. I apologized for how badly I'd behaved over the past months. I never told her I had toyed with the idea of keeping the babies. Even among sisters, that would be giving too much information.

Katelynn was my birthing coach. Mia and Blake were taking the same class. Her bleeding had stopped and she looked better. Mia and I laughed as we compared stomachs. At work they called us the "baby buddies."

Most people, I was certain, must have thought me crazy to be giving birth for my sister. Strangers were easier to deal with. They would see my bump and notice no wedding ring so I let them assume I was planning to be a single parent. But the people I worked with and especially Blake's parents had to be told the truth. Once I'd decided I was doing the right thing, other people's comments didn't bother me.

Everything was going smoothly until Mia didn't show up for work one day. I called her apartment during my break.

"I couldn't sleep all night," Mia said. "I kept having contractions that kept me awake."

"What did your doctor say?" I asked.

"I didn't call him. I didn't want to bother him during the night." She sounded embarrassed. "I was going to wait until the office got done with their morning rush."

"That's ridiculous! It's after 10 AM and you're paying good money for his advice. Call him now and then call me back."

Mia called me about five minutes later. "The doctor said go straight to the hospital. Trey took the car to work and he's out on a call. The firehouse said they'd get in touch with him, but I don't know how long it will take." I heard Mia's voice catch as she tried to hold back a sob. "I'm scared."

"Hold on. I'll be right there and drive you to the hospital."

I told my boss I had to leave. On the way to Mia's, I called the station and told them Mia and I would meet him at the hospital. When we got there, we overheard jokes from patients in the ER waiting room about pregnant women traveling in pairs.

Mia's face contorted in pain and the nurse suddenly turned solemn.

"When is she due?" the nurse asked.

"I think three in months," I said.

"It's too soon!" Mia cried.

"We'll take you to an examining room and then we'll know what's going on." Her calm manner helped calm both of us. She had me stay with the admitting clerk to fill out the necessary paperwork. I was still filling out forms when Trey arrived.

"Where is she?" he asked me.

"They took her to an examining room."

The clerk told Trey to wait, that he needed to sign the forms as the responsible party, but Trey took off in the direction I pointed. I did the best I could with the forms, then followed Trey. I got there just as Mia was disappearing down a hall as Trey watched.

I touched his shoulder and he turned. "They said she's having the baby now. They're giving her something to slow the contractions, but it doesn't seem to be working."

"Oh, Trey, I'm so sorry." I didn't know what else to say.

"They won't even let me go in with her."

"I'll wait with you."

We went out to the ER waiting room and sat down on some chairs. There was a lot of activity, then finally Mia's doctor appeared.

"How is she?" Trey asked.

"Mia's doing fine. The baby is a boy, but he's very small. He did cry a little on his own when he was born. That's a good sign. But with babies his size, the lungs are not very developed. He's in the neonatal intensive care unit and he's on a ventilator to help him breathe. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

Everything had happened so quickly. Trey looked like he'd been hit with a two-by-four. Last night he and Mia had been expecting the pregnancy to last almost three more months and now they had a baby who was fighting for his life.

"What are his chances?" Trey asked.

"You can be sure everything that can be done for the baby is being done," the doctor said. "The first twenty-four hours are crucial. If he makes it through the first day, he has a good chance of survival."

"Okay. Thank you."

We both understood the subtext. The baby was in trouble.

After the birth, Mia had bleeding problems and was confined to a bed in the Obstetrics Ward. Trey and I watched through the window of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. We could hardly see a baby through the mass of wires and tubes connecting him to the machines keeping him alive. Nurses massaged him as he struggled to breathe. I couldn't think of anything to do or say to help. We both stood, tears running down our faces. Eventually, the nurses shook their heads, disconnected the monitors and gently covered the baby with a blanket. He had only lived for two hours.

One of the neonatal doctors came out to talk to us in the hallway.

"I'm very sorry," he said. "If the baby had been just a little older, he would have had a better chance. But at twenty-eight weeks . . . ." He shook his head. "Would you like me to tell your wife?"

"No, thank you. I'll tell her myself," Trey said.

The doctor disappeared down the hall.

Trey said, "We knew when Mia was spotting that she might lose the baby. But we were hoping that the farther along she got, it would be okay." He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his face. "I'd better talk to Mia."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

"No, it's my job," Trey said. "You'd better go home and get some rest. It's been a difficult day for you, too."

My heart was touched that in his deepest sorrow, he could think of me. "Let me know if there is anything I can do for you or Mia." I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. "Courage, Trey."

I went home, ate lunch and collapsed in bed. The babies kicked and I felt lucky to still have them. I waited a few days and tried to call Mia. Trey answered the phone.

I said, "How are you holding up?"

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "It's tough. Mia's desolate. I've never seen her so unhappy."

"Do the doctors know why the baby was born so early?"

"They said they don't know. Sometimes it just happens."

"That isn't very comforting."

"Tell me about it."

"Can I speak with Mia?"

Trey hesitated. "Don't take this the wrong way, but it's hard for her right now. You're still pregnant and frankly, she's jealous."

"Oh, Trey! Believe me, I do understand. If our situations were reversed, I'm sure I'd feel the same way. She's my best friend. I wish I could make it better for her."

"Me, too. Give her time."

"Of course."

Mia came back to work a week later. She looked like she hadn't slept that week and she moved slowly as if she were wearing a lead coverall. We spent the morning being cautious with each other, careful not to make eye contact. I feared my very presence hurt her. Instead of going to lunch together, she went off to get something by herself. I sat in the break room and ate my chicken sandwich, then headed to the restroom before going back to work.

I heard Mia sobbing from one of the stalls. "Are you okay?" I called.

"Yes, I'm fine." Her voice was full of resentment.

"Mia, I'm so sorry. Truly."

"I know. I can't help it. Seeing you still pregnant. It hurts."

"Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Please leave so I can come out."

"I wish I could hug you."

"You with your big baby bump? No, thanks."

I left the bathroom and went back to my desk. Mia followed a few minutes later. We sat near each other, being careful not to interact. I hated it, but if that's what would make Mia feel better, that's what I would do.

Katelynn and I started birthing classes. I thought of it as a sister project, something we could do together. One night a week, we got on the floor and practiced relaxed breathing. Getting up off the floor was harder and harder as I got bigger and bigger. About a month before my due date, we were practicing in class and I felt my whole stomach tighten and harden, like a fist that clenched. "Whoa, I think that was the real thing," I gasped.

The contractions didn't let up. By the end of the class, they were coming ten minutes apart. The teacher told us to go to the hospital. We pulled up to the ER and Katelynn helped me in.

"My sister's having a baby," she told the admitting clerk.

All of a sudden I wasn't ready. I forgot everything we had gone over in birthing class. I panicked, gasping for breath each time a contraction hit.

A nurse appeared with a wheelchair and helped me into it. "Breathe through your mouth," she commanded. She told Katelynn to fill out the paperwork for admission to the hospital.

"But I'm the birthing coach," Katelynn objected.

"She's not going to have the baby right this minute," the nurse said as she wheeled me away.

"Okay, okay, I can do this," I said as I tried to slow my breathing. But I didn't feel like I could manage.

"How far along are you, honey?" the nurse asked.

"Thirty-six weeks."

"Four weeks early, then."

"Twins," I gasped.

The nurse wheeled me into the labor room and hooked me up to all kinds of monitors. When it seemed I couldn't take any more contractions, Katelynn came into the room. She took charge.

"Come on, Eileen, breathe! Focus!" she ordered.

Grateful that Katelynn was there, I calmed down and started my slow breathing like we'd practiced in class. The breathing didn't take away all the discomfort, but the pain seemed more manageable. Before I knew it, we were going into the delivery room.

"Push," the doctor instructed. Katelynn held up my shoulders so I could push more effectively. I felt the baby move out of me and I heard a cry.

"It's a girl," the doctor said. "Ten fingers, ten toes."

Tears ran down my face. I was filled with joy for a perfect baby.

"Okay. We're not done here. We've got another baby coming."

I bore down again and soon there was another cry. "It's a boy."

"I can't believe it," Katelynn said. "A boy and a girl. A perfect family in one day."

Blake showed up in the delivery room, dressed in a hospital gown. "I got here as fast as I could."

The nurse took the babies and cleaned them off, then offered the girl to me. I shook my head and motioned to my sister. "She's Katelynn's baby."

The nurse place the bundle in Katelynn's arms. The look of luminous joy on my sister's face was indescribable.

"My little girl. I can't believe it," Katelynn whispered. "You're really here. I'd almost given up hope." Katelynn held the baby toward me. I touched the baby's feathery soft cheek.

"Would you like to hold her?" she asked.

"It's Blake's turn next. There will be plenty of time for her Aunt Eileen to hold her later."

The nurse said, "Don't forget the boy." She held out another bundle.

Katelynn gingerly handed the girl to Blake, then took her son from the nurse.

The three of us laughed and cried together, so happy everything had gone well.

I said, "I'm saying this once and for all. You've got your girl, you've got your boy. The next baby I have is for me."

"Of course," Katelynn said. She looked at me with her face filled with love. "I can never thank you enough. Someday I'll tell them how special you are to them. And to us."

Then the nurse whisked the twins off to the newborn nursery.

Later in my hospital room I felt more tired than I'd ever felt before in my life. I thought about Mia and her baby. All Mia had wanted was to have her baby live and that was the one thing she couldn't have. She might have another child in the future, but that didn't negate the pain she felt now.

I thought, too, about my parents. I knew they would be proud of me and proud of their new grandchildren. I was sad they weren't here to greet them.

My life had changed forever. I had given birth, but I was not a mother. The babies were not genetically mine. I couldn't take credit for the miracle of their lives, but I could be proud of the part I'd played. I fell asleep thinking of the twins and what a special part of our family they were.

The next morning, I felt more energetic, although every muscle in my body complained that it had been overworked the day before. Katelynn and Blake brought the babies in to me. I held the girl as I had held her all those months inside of me.

"Beautiful little girl," I murmured. "Have you thought of names?" I asked.

Blake said shyly, "If it's all right with you, we'd like to name her Hannah Eileen."

"Hannah Eileen. Named for her grandmother and her aunt. A beautiful name for a beautiful baby." I kissed her on the forehead. "Your aunt loves you very much, little Hannah Eileen." Katelynn took Hannah and Blake handed me the boy. "And what will you name your son?"

"We were thinking James Henry, after both his grandfathers."

"That's lovely," I said. "James Henry, welcome to the family."

About a monthcf after I got out of the hospital, I went to see Mia. We walked to the park. The pond was full of ducks and geese and the sun was warm, with a nip of cold wind in the air. Children ran around the water, inching their toes ever closer and closer until their mothers pulled them back from the edge.

We sat down on a park bench and watched the fountain spray. Birds flew away and returned, splashing as they settled back into the water.

"How are you feeling?" I asked Mia.

"Some days are better than others," Mia said. She stifled a sob. "Eileen, I miss him so much. I look and you and think, How could she do it? How could she give up her baby?"

"Mia, you know I'm sorry your baby died. But for me, it's different. I went into the preganancy knowing I'd have to give up the babies. And I'll see them as often as I want, as their aunt. I'd admit I had my doubts about the whole thing, but I'm happy with the decision I made. It was my choice to do what I did."

"Well, it wasn't my choice my baby died," Mia said flatly.

"I know." I shook my head. "No one would choose that."

"You did," Mia accused. "You aborted Darren's baby.

I was silent for a long time, watching the birds and the children. "Yes, I did," I finally said. I have no excuses. I did what I felt I had to do at the time."

"It was wrong," Mia said coldly.

"Right or wrong, I'm not going to debate with you. What's done is done."

"Well, I didn't deserve to have my baby die," Mia said bitterly. "If either of us had to have a baby die, it should have been you. You had one and you threw it away and then you had two and gave them away."

I wanted to get up and leave, but I told myself that it was Mia's pain that had made her speak so harshly. "Life doesn't work that way. Does it make sense that my parents are dead? They were the nicest people I've ever known. They didn't deserve to die in a car accident, but they did."

"I'm sorry. I didn't know about your parents. You never told me."

"I don't talk about it much. It's too painful."

Mia sighed. "Look, I'm not trying to blame you, really. I know I'm not making much sense right now. It's terrible, but I want to hurt someone else because I hurt so much. It's awful. I can't help myself. I can understand why couples get divorced after the death of a child. You prepare for a baby, trying to decide how you're life is going to change and then, suddenly, everything is upended and there is no more baby. That dream is gone."

"I felt so angry after my parents died. And sometimes I still am. But mostly it's an ache that's always there."

"You're not going to tell me I can always have another baby, are you? If I hear that one more time, I'll explode!"

"No, I wouldn't say that to you. I know I don't understand exactly what you're going through, but you're my friend and I want to help you in whatever way I can. I don't know much about religion or philosophy, but I know this: Life is a gift. That gift comes from God. We don't do anything to deserve it. It just is."

I cleared my throat and continued, "When I was a little girl, my grandmother died and I asked my father what Grandma had done wrong. My father said, ‘She didn't do anything wrong. It's as though someone has given you a wonderful gift, but there's one condition you have to give that gift back when you're asked for it. It was time for Grandma to give back the gift.'"

Mia frowned. "The life my baby lived doesn't seem like a wonderful gift to me. All my baby knew of this life was that he struggled to breathe because his lungs weren't properly developed. What kind of a gift is that?"

I wish I had the answer, Mia, but I don't. God's ways are not our ways. I'm sorry, but that's all I know."

"That's not a satisfactory answer. At least you're not telling me ‘God wanted a little angel in heaven' and that's why He took my baby.' Or ‘Time will heal your wounds.' Or ‘You'll have another baby' when it's the baby who died that I'm missing. The baby who was literally a big part of me."

"We're a pair, aren't we? Two women who have given birth and don't have the babies to show for it."

"We should start a club." Mia said. A thin smile crept over her face.

"It's good to see you smile," I said.

"Yeah, I'm a terrible person. My baby is dead, but I can smile."

"You're not a terrible person," I reassured her. "You're a survivor."

"By the way," Mia said. "You remember Pierre, the best man at the wedding?"

"Whoa! Who could forget?"

"He was asking about you. He broke up with the woman he was dating. He wondered if you were ready to see him."

I smiled. "Maybe," I said.

I knew in my heart I was ready to see Pierre. I was ready to embrace life and live each day to the fullest. God had given us two gifts in Hannah and James. I was thankful to him for the miracle of their lives. And I was ready for all the joy and wonder life had to offer.

Copyright July 31, 2021

© Copyright 2021, Bonnie Ferron