I admit I cried over this one. Michaela's inability to carry a child to term was my own bit of hell. Like her, I was told I could get pregnant but my body would refuse to maintain it for more than six weeks. Fortunately, the Universe and my beloved son had other ideas. My li'l man is now six years old, and not a moment goes by when I'm not grateful for him.
Michaela is lucky in a different way in that her best friend Jessica has offered herself as a surrogate mother. Still, she's having a hard time accepting her good fortune. Putting myself in her place, I can understand why.
A knocking sound turned Michaela around, and she smiled to see Jessica standing in the nursery’s open doorway. “Hey. Want some help?”
“Come on in. I’m just putting the last of the baby’s clothes away. How are you feeling?”
Jessica waddled in, very un-Empress looking with her belly swollen huge beneath her purple robe. “I’m fine. Your daughter is practicing her kung fu though. She actually kicked Clajak awake last night.”
Michaela shared laughter she didn’t really feel. “Sorry about that. Were yours that active?” She looked at Jessica’s stomach, trying but not quite succeeding in squelching her envy.
“Actually, yes. Noelle was the worst, busy girl that she is.” Jessica plopped down in the rocking chair made especially for Michaela, back when there was still hope she would carry her own child to term and nurse the baby from her breasts.
So many plans. So many disappointments.
Stop it. Just because I couldn’t carry the baby and won’t be able to nurse her doesn’t make me any less her mother. It’s my egg. One of my clan’s sperm. Serena is ours. So stop being such a whiner!
But it wasn’t easy when it was Jessica’s body ballooning big with surrogate motherhood. Nevermind Michaela attended every checkup, got to see the images that showed Serena possessed her nose, the same curve of her lips. It didn’t matter that Michaela would be there when her baby was born and would be the first to hold her.
None of that mitigated the fact Michaela’s body, her freakish abomination of a body, had proved an inadequate shelter for her daughter. She could get pregnant, but she couldn’t carry a child past six weeks.
She knew from Jessica’s two pregnancies that it was common for a mother-to-be to feel unworthy of motherhood, inadequate to the task. But unlike Kalquor’s empress, Michaela had the suspicion it might be true in her case. After all, she wasn’t a real woman, was she?
“Kalquor to Michaela; come in, Michaela.”
She jumped at Jessica’s teasing voice. “Sorry. Mental vacation.”
The empress, her best friend in all the universe, chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s called Mommy Brain. I can’t tell you how absentminded I was getting ready for my kids.”
Michaela smiled dutifully, and Jessica’s gaze sharpened. “Is everything okay, Michaela?”
“Fine. Just excited, I guess. One more week and she’s here.” Michaela looked around the nursery. Most of the items had been purchased four weeks into her first pregnancy, the result of a wild, happy shopping spree that she’d gone on the instant she’d found out she was expecting. A week and a half later, she’d sat sobbing in the middle of the room amid the boxes of things the lost baby would never use or wear.
But I get to have this one, thanks to Jessica.
“I bet you’re looking forward to having your body back.” Your perfect, baby-sustaining body.
“It was my honor to carry your child.” Jessica watched her like a hawk.
“Not the most popular choice you’ve ever made.” Michaela could give her a real grin on that. Both of them enjoyed bucking the overly paternal protectiveness of Kalquorian men. It had caused no end of scandal when Kalquor’s empress had announced she housed Michaela’s embryo in her body.
“They’ll get over it. Besides, what’s one more Imperial disgrace to Kalquor?” Jessica sniggered in delight. The Imperial Clan always seemed to be at odds with the council, and no one loved a fight more than the empress, except perhaps her Dramok clanmate Clajak.
“I know you missed going to the meetings. I’m still not sure why you didn’t continue your duties like you did with your children.”
“I wasn’t taking any chances with Serena.” Jessica put on her mule look, the one that said she was right and no one could tell her different. “You deserve to have this child and if I had lost her through being stubborn I never would have forgiven myself.”
Tears threatened for an instant, and Michaela blinked them back. Jessica waved wildly at her. “Don’t! I’m so hormonal, I’ll cry with you.”
Once she’d recovered enough to talk, Michaela said, “You’re the best. I’ll never be able to repay this.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’d do the same for me in an instant.” Jessica lumbered awkwardly to her feet. “Gotta go, girlfriend. Mom and the in-laws are coming for dinner and I haven’t notified the kitchen yet.”
Michaela stood too, bitter that she could do it so easily. “I’ll pick you up for tomorrow’s doctor’s appointment.”
They hugged as best Michaela’s baby would allow. Jessica released her quickly, knowing from past experience how sensitive Michaela usually was about being embraced, not realizing how desperate her friend was for contact these days.
Unable to carry a baby. And these days, not worth being touched.
That was problem number two in Michaela’s life.