The Same Apartment

I went to Wisconsin to work on a new project, and I’m staying in the same apartment we stayed in when we brought our baby home from the hospital last fall.

We didn’t quite bring her HOME home. We brought our days-old baby here, to this apartment.

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This is the apartment above our surrogacy agency. Two days before our baby girl was born, we drove four hours, arrived here, brought our bags upstairs. We set up a pack-n-play, put our baby’s bassinet in it and folded a paper thin receiving blanket with cameras on it, draping it over the side. We hung our clothes in the closet, lit a candle in the living room. We went to the grocery store and bought eggs and coffee and sandwich fixings and put them away in the cupboards and the refrigerator.

I’m here now in the apartment where my husband and I waited through the last couple of nights before our baby was born.

I’m sitting at the table now, imagining the two of us who had just become the three of us, all coming in the front door. In that moments, our girl was sleeping in her carseat for the first time after falling asleep during the first car ride of her life. We listened to Adele on the way home. It was a bright, sunny day, and the light came through the windows and warmed up the living room. We set her down on the couch, put away breast milk and our bags from the hospital.

I can see now the place by the sink where I stood to watch her, so nervous about her breath. Was she breathing? Is she breathing? I looked so closely at the bundle of straps and baby clothes, looking for a rise and fall. I had already become obsessed with her breath, needing proof at all times that she is alive, safe, breathing. And then, breath-assured, I looked at her there, marveled at her.

“Look at the wonderful person!” my cells sang to me, like sirens beckoning me to the ocean that would be the next years of our life together. “Do you see her?” they shouted. “She is here! You only imagined that she could be real. She is real! She is here! Love is here! Look at her! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!”

Charlie was unpacking. I was powerless in front of that resting baby. She was marvelous, there in a little black turban and the wildest, most unpractical sweater dress which I crocheted for her in the weeks before her birth. She was magnificent, head to her side, already sucking on her bottom lip in her sleep.

I’m in the same apartment now. I’m not in the same place. The couches have moved. The pack-n-play is not here. The air-conditioning vents are covered with little paper arches, put there by the French couple who stayed here a couple of weeks ago. They didn’t want direct air blowing down on their brand new baby.

Now my heart is tethered to her, a direct line to whichever place she’s in. While this apartment is so packed with the memories of those first days (Remember Mom watching Dad through the window as he took a package made of our Thanksgiving dinner to the man asleep on the sidewalk below? Remember playing cribbage while Charlie fed the baby? Remember watching the sunrise together, Baby Girl, with you tucked so close to my chest?), while I can remember everything about those days here, my heart is home with my baby and my husband. In the back of my mind is always the direction I need to drive to get back.

Yesterday, I hosted a guest here in the apartment. She was introduced to me by my surrogacy agency, and I was going to interview her for this new project I’m working on. We walked into the apartment together, the two of us and her mom. She immediately started to cry.

She is the surrogate who delivered the baby for the French couple, the parents who put the paper over the air-conditioning vents. She is the woman who carried their baby into the world, who said goodbye to them just weeks ago.

“They were here,” she said through tears. “That’s the coffee maker they bought.” She stood quietly, arms folded, looking around, tears on her face. Then she told me how much she missed them. She told me how amazing their journey had been together, how incredibly beautiful the days were here after the delivery, celebrating this beautiful French family. “We’re actually talking on FaceTime today,” she told me. She beamed the brightest smile, eyes still glistening with tears.

I’m here writing at the table now, thinking of the friend I made yesterday, the couple she carried a child for, the other couples that I know have stayed in this apartment, the brand new babies getting through their very first nights here before cuddling up to their new parent’s chest, waiting for the sun to rise. It doesn’t look like much, but apparently, this is a very, very special apartment.

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