I was just 20 years old, a newlywed. As a young lady from an orthodox Jewish background, dreaming about creating a family is very much the focus of our future. I was pregnant just four months after my marriage. Despite feeling like we needed a little more time to get to know each other better, my husband and I were thrilled about starting a beautiful family.
My name is Elisheva Levitt and this is my Kintsugi story.
During the pregnancy, we were told that my RH was negative blood (AB-), and because my husband was positive the baby would be positive as well. Therefore, I would need a shot of RhoGAM before delivery. Babies and mommies exchange blood at birth and that foreign substance would create antibodies that would fight that blood in the future.
This also meant future pregnancies would be very problematic. For some unknown reason, the shot did not work, and this was confirmed at my six weeks checkup after my baby girl was born. My doctor said that I would be high risk during future pregnancies, which they would need to follow up carefully, but there was no discussion about what the future would bring.
Israel and a New Baby
A couple of years later, we traveled to Israel for one year where my husband was studying for the rabbinate. I was pregnant and being seen by a high-risk doctor. He checked her blood every month and things were going well. I was due in September. By my due date, we would already be back in New York, and so my delivery would be there.
Everything seemed to be okay. Upon arrival in the US, we went to a summer camp where my husband and I would work. I would be traveling from Pennsylvania to NYC to visit my doctor as frequently as needed.
Ten days before the camp was finished, I went to New York and did the blood test but was not told to do a sonogram, which I really regret asking for as we would have known that there was an issue. I went back to camp and received a phone call the next day. The levels of antibodies ordinarily doubled. I had gone from 1 to 8 in the previous test, and now it went from 1 to 500. We were told to return immediately.
At that moment, In my gut, I had a sinking feeling that the baby was gone. I was 32 weeks pregnant, as I was poking my belly, I did not get any responses. I felt a dread that something was very wrong. We stopped at my parents, left my daughter there and went to the doctor, where we got the news. My husband fainted, and they had to deal with him and then with me.
A Labor of Love
It was too late to do anything like a D&C, and I had to deliver the baby. I requested a C-section, but a nurse asked me if I would want that scar for the rest of my life to remind of what had happened. I agreed and started to be induced into labor.
It took two full days. These days passed while I would listen to all the deliveries happening next door. “It’s a boy!” “It’s a girl!” I knew that I would not get a baby at the end.
They offered for me to see the baby. I refused. I was so scared. I was scared of what I would see, and I regret that till today. We named and buried our baby. I was falling apart.
Because I had been away, when I got back to the community where I lived, people didn’t know that I was even pregnant. They acted normally toward me, as nothing had happened. Meanwhile, I was completely broken, in excruciating pain. I told a good friend and told my professor, but it was a very lonely road to recovery.
Two years later, I was ready to try again. I got pregnant, and I was going to doctor appointments regularly. I remember vividly being 16 weeks pregnant and going for a sonogram. The doctor said, “Oh shit.” The baby was gone. I had gone to this ultrasound by myself and had to call my husband to share the news.
This time, I had a D&C because as it was early enough. I felt I couldn’t do this anymore.
At that point, I was already wearing my maternity clothes. I had to remove this clothing off of me as fast as I could when I got home. I was very angry. The D&C happened on the same day of my college graduation, so I missed my graduation, and that only added to my pain.
Time & Healing
I don’t remember how I got the idea of surrogacy, but we started looking into it. We knew that we would not be able to have babies the conventional way. Being a religious Jew, this process is not simple, as there are many rules about what makes a person Jewish and birthing mother needs to be Jewish for the children to be Jewish. Certainly, the kids who are born from a non-Jewish surrogate can be converted, but we were hoping to follow the guidance of our rabbi in this regard.
So, after getting guidance, we needed to find a single Jewish woman who would agree to be a surrogate. We tried while living in New York but soon after buying a home and settling there, my husband got a job offer in Boca Raton, Florida. Since the search hadn’t led us anywhere, we decided to make our move and try looking for new doctors in Florida.
One of the women we met in Boca told us about her miracle baby and shared the name of her doctor in California. He instructed me to do some in-depth blood work. His conclusion was different than prior doctors and recommended we tried again. Once pregnant, I would be given a treatment called IVIG. He believed the treatment would distract the immune system, and I would be able to carry and have a baby.
I had multiple doctors, and I was having regular blood work. At my 16 weeks checkup, my antibodies started going up like crazy. The doctor in California did not know how to react; things were not going as he anticipated and pretty much, he washed his hands of the situation.
I was horrified and angry and upset. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My doctor in Florida decided to give me a five-hour infusion of IVIG.
What else could happen?
I woke up the next day with a horrifying headache. I was rushed to the doctor, who rushed me to the hospital, and they found out I got meningitis from this infusion. The treatment should have been given slowly in stages and not in one treatment. I was in the hospital for two weeks in terrible pain.
I was missing work. I managed to keep the baby throughout this ordeal, but the baby was very anemic. So, a doctor in Miami did an in-uterus baby transfusion. I was also told that I would need to do another transfusion a week later.
By the time we got back to the doctor, the baby was lost. I was 23 weeks pregnant at that time. Again, it was too late for a D&C. I had many friends come immediately to see me, and I am so incredibly grateful to each one of them. I understand it is hard to be near someone which such loss; it is hard to know what to say, but their presence was a huge consolation for me.
I decided this time I wanted to see the baby because I really regretted not seeing the first loss. My baby girl was tiny, but she was not scary looking as I had feared. They covered her face and took her away, and I went home broken in a way I thought at that time was beyond repair. I was a mess psychologically, emotionally, and mentally--in every way possible.
I was having panic attacks, and my daughter was having a very hard time. She and I were fighting constantly. We named this baby Emunah, which in Hebrew means faith because I needed this reminder that I needed faith even in hard times.
Reviving the Dream
After some time to recover from our loss, we realized that to fulfill our dream of a larger family we would have to go back to the idea of surrogacy. Having exhausted all other medical options we were ready. We searched online for surrogacy lawyers in Boca. I found two, and I chose the first one. We met with her and explained to her our need to find a Jewish single woman to be our surrogate.
She immediately started advertising. She did so for a full year with no responses. We were about to give up on the requirement of being Jewish. It was recommended to try a few more weeks and then open up the search.
A Lawyer’s Dream Makes Ours a Reality
Our lawyer called us to say that one of her surrogate mothers just gave birth to twins a week ago. She had a dream that she was Jewish, and she knew that she was single and promised to look into it.
The birth mother, Linda, confirmed she is Jewish, and she was indeed single. She would love to help us make our dream a reality.
Linda was 39. She was in a long-term relationship with an older man who did not want any children. Linda had a 12-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, but she loved giving this gift. She is fit, she is healthy, and she is the kindest soul I had met.
The house we had purchased in NJ before moving to Florida was sold. This paid for the surrogacy. We had to go through IVF. As exciting as it was, it was also very sad. It was very final; we were not going to have our kids the normal way and I was grieving that dream.
We had two embryos and both took. As we knew the doctor who had done the retrieval, she allowed us to see the embryos in the petri dish and that was an amazing experience. Linda got pregnant and both babies took. We decided to find out the sex as soon as we could, and we were thrilled to find out we were having a boy and a girl.
Linda was super calm, super at helping me cope through the process. When she had a bleed, I was devastated but she calmed me down that she had experienced it in the previous surrogacy, and everything was okay. She was so sensitive to us, to our religion. One day she called and asked if we would prefer if she didn’t eat pork, as it is not allowed in Jewish law. I hadn’t even thought of asking that, but she offered, and we were happy to accept.
613 is a special number in Jewish law. It is the number of rules we have to follow that guide us and on June 13th, Linda went into labor. Both my husband and I were in the room, and I chose to watch the C-section from up close. It was graphic, but I wanted to see my babies right away.
They were born, and we were in complete and utter shock that it all worked out.
The babies stayed in the hospital for three days, and the hospital allowed me to sleep in one of the doctor’s rooms. I put on my alarm and woke up every three hours to feed my babies. I wanted to bond with them. I feared it would be different than after a regular delivery, but this was not the case.
It was Friday when I brought my babies home. Linda recovered very fast; we had an unreal welcome by our close-knit community. The strength they gave me at this very needed time was something I will never forget. I was so worried I would be judged, but this has not happened at all.
At the circumcision, my husband, who is an incredible writer, read the letter he wrote the kids explaining to them all the miracles and special people involved in bringing them into this world, and there was not a dry eye in the room.
Linda is Part of Us
We wanted to stay in touch with Linda. We have so much gratitude towards her. I was worried to discover how she would react to the babies, but she had no issues giving them to us.
She asked to visit them, and she was so kind on how she approached the whole thing.
Six months later when she came to visit, she held one of the babies in a bit of an awkward way, and at that point, I knew they were really mine. I was really the mom.
There is no doubt in our minds that Linda is such a holy person, her honesty and integrity has no bounds. She loves getting updates, and last year she came to my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
Telling the Kids
At 11 years old, the kids didn’t know yet the circumstances of their birth. We had moved, and I was concerned that if we didn’t tell them they may find out another way. They were old enough to understand, and it was time to tell them.
My son is very inquisitive. He has many philosophical questions, and I was concerned about how he would feel about it and what he would ask. We told them about their birth in a very story-like way, appropriate for 11-year-olds. When I was done, my son asked me, “Why did you only tell us this now?” I explained that we wanted them to be old enough to understand it. His reply was, "Okay" and "Ah, and now we understand who Linda is.
Linda spoke at my daughter’s bat mitzvah. She said delivering them was a privilege, all the while we felt that the privileged was ours. Linda was also wearing a bracelet with the name of all five babies that she had delivered for others. She recently got married, and her husband sent my son his collection of 3D airplanes.
Linda calls or texts me every Mother’s Day. She is just amazing.
Since the twins were born, I have helped many other parents who wanted to have kids through surrogacy. Many, who live in way more strict communities, keep this fact hidden. Each person has their way of coping. I didn’t speak about it for so many years. Now that I see my kids happy and healthy, they look like us, speak like us, they have the same mannerisms, they are ours in every way, we are so happy: how can I not share this story?
My kids’ names are Rina and Simcha. In Hebrew, they both mean Joy. It is our Joy, but it was also the community’s joy.
Today, the kids are all very close. It was hard for my eldest, in the beginning, to adjust after eight years of being a single child, but to see all the kids love each other so much is pure joy.
My name is Elisheva and I am Kintsugi.
Center Photo: Twins with Linda the Surrogate
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