By Virginia Wettlaufer Tomenson
Eight years ago, newly in love, healthy, successful, and just 31 years old, my concerns about pregnancy focused mainly on avoiding it. I knew I wanted to be a mother eventually, but the details were yet to be determined.
A Pilates class changed my life. My top slightly shifted as I moved and revealed something in my breast I hadn’t felt before. That lump on my breast turned out to be triple positive Stage III breast cancer. I had the best doctors in the world, and my team and I crafted a plan to attack my cancer: a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and a medication taken daily for the next ten years.
I also learned that due to the hormone-sensitive nature of my cancer and my chosen course of treatment, I would never be able to carry a baby. The chemo would cause irreversible damage to my eggs and the 10 years of Tamofixen would make carrying a pregnancy impossible. The news was devastating.
Even at these darkest moments, I was luckier than many women in the same position. I was able to afford to preserve my fertility and I never had to choose between life-saving treatments and my future family.
Three years after treatment, when my husband Walter and I decided to start a family, we quickly learned that gestational surrogacy was not legal in New York State. As if enduring a multi-year battle with cancer wasn’t enough, I would need to navigate the legality and logistics of having a baby out of state. How many more barriers would we face on the path to creating a family?
When we met our surrogate, we were instantly put at ease. She and her husband were so warm and loving. Seeing the selflessness of surrogates up close renewed our faith in the inherent goodness of people.
Walter and I were there for the birth of our daughter on November 7, 2015 in snowy Colorado. Our names were on the birth certificate of our child – which is an added worry for intended parents in some states – and in the months and years following the birth, we are all still in touch with our surrogate and her family. We are friends on social media, exchange gifts at Christmas and my daughter proudly tells anyone who will listen that she was born in the great Rocky Mountain State.
When it came time to expand our family, we reached back out to our carrier in Colorado. The timing wasn’t right for her – and while we were saddened, we understood. It is a carrier’s choice to embark on this journey. Walter and I were now faced with another terrifying question – would we ever find someone as perfect as our first surrogate to help us again?
Lightning struck twice for us, and our agency connected us with a family in Georgia who once again put our hearts and minds at ease. The immediate similarities between our Colorado and Georgia carriers were kindness, love of family, and pride in their ability to help families like ours.
Twice in our lives, strangers have stepped up to help us have the family we always wanted. However, in both instances, we were forced to leave our home state of New York to find these wonderful people.
We were lucky that we could overcome the obstacles – financial, legal and logistical – to have our family. But for so many in our situation, that isn’t possible. It’s time for that to change, and that means ending our state’s outdated ban on surrogacy. It’s time for New York to stop making it harder on women who have already endured so much.
I carry my physical and mental scars with me every day, but my experience has made me confident that other families deserve the same opportunity that we have had. The New York State Senate and Assembly can give them that chance by passing the Child-Parent Security Act.
Virginia Wettlaufer Tomenson of New York City was born and raised in Buffalo.