Parent holding newborn baby's hand.


My Sister Is Having My Baby

Oct 4, 2017


This was my only thought when I saw my daughter for the first time. I was busy holding back one of my sister’s legs (her husband holding the other) and trying to conceal my growing panic.

But everything leading to that moment had left me ill-prepared for success and, as a result, slightly unhinged.

I wanted to scream, "EXCUSE ME, I THINK SHE’S STUCK IN THERE" at the nurse, at our obstetrician, even at my sister lying on the bed with her knees to her ears and eyes squeezed shut. But no one else seemed concerned that only my daughter’s head was free, so I considered maybe I shouldn’t be concerned either. It was like when you hit turbulence and your heart races and you think, “We’re going down!” But then the flight attendant asks if want lemon in your tomato juice and you understand it might be time to dial things back.

The idea that I had identified a birth emergency before trained professionals (or my sister, who had delivered two of her own children) is preposterous. It smacks of someone who struggles with, er, control issues — one destined to become a helicopter parent, cutting her child’s grapes into quarters well into her teen years.

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I laugh when I tell this story now. (Of course she was never stuck.) But everything leading to that moment had left me ill-prepared for success and, as a result, slightly unhinged. Our path to parenthood had been filled with long shots and bad news, starting five years earlier when cancer robbed me of my ability to have a child naturally. The good news was my husband and I had a hockey team's worth of frozen embryos; the bad news was radiation had damaged my uterus, leaving it permanently shuttered. We accepted surrogacy was our best option, and my sister selflessly offered us her picture-perfect uterus. But through it all I felt a marked lack of control over the process, which culminated into that panicked moment when I considered that after everything, SHE WAS NOT COMING OUT, and I would not, after all, be a mother.

But she did come out, flawless well beyond her ten fingers and ten toes. Just before my sister gave her last push someone told me to get up on the bed with her, so I was ready for the first skin-to-skin moment. Quivering with adrenaline and anticipation, I perched my behind on the edge of the bed and our OB said, “Just how long do you think that umbilical cord is?” I laughed with everyone else (I had no idea how long an umbilical cord was), then shimmied closer to my sister, ready to hold my child for the first time.

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Moments later they placed her warm, beautifully messy body on my bare chest. The three of us — my daughter, my sister and me — linked in a way that took my breath away. Tears falling, I whispered to my sister, “Thank you.” My husband cut the cord and I breastfed our little girl, revelling in my body’s ability to create milk thanks to pre-birth pumping and medication. My sister looked relaxed for the first time in twenty-four hours and my brother-in-law, who was the best birthing coach, pulled out his camera and captured all of it.

Afterwards, my sister and I shared a room, lamenting hospital food and taking turns bursting into tears (hers due to hormones and lack of sleep, mine from the unfamiliar but welcome weight of love and responsibility). It would end up being the only birth I witnessed, the only child we would have. But it was enough, because she made me a mother.

Article Author Karma Brown
Karma Brown

Karma Brown is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. In addition to her novels, Karma's writing has appeared in publications such as SELF, Today’s Parent, Canadian Living and Chatelaine. She lives outside Toronto with her family and when not writing can usually be found baking yet another batch of banana muffins, running, or working on her downward dog. Connect with Karma on her website, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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