“I’m barren.” So begins THE COLORLESS WOMB, author Kimberly Gowdy’s account of her visceral journey toward motherhood. Packed inside the straightforward admission is a complex web mired in loss, failure and despair. That inner turmoil is exacerbated in surprising ways when a chance for fulfillment finally presents for the long-suffering, aspiring mother.
After two late-stage miscarriages and a failed marriage, Kim builds a new life in Atlanta where she meets and marries a physician, David. The pair enjoy an affluent lifestyle, and all seems perfect save for their longing for a family. After two disappointing in-vitro attempts, they pursue parenthood through gestational surrogacy, which requires that another woman carries the couple’s embryo. When a trio of picks fails to measure up health-wise, the weary Gowdys disembark from the in-vitro roller coaster, leaving the remaining two embryos in deep-freeze as they consider adoption as an option. But their lawyer’s gushing testimonial of a potential surrogate convinces the couple to give it another try. There’s just one unexpected issue: the Gowdys are African American and the surrogate is Caucasian.
The experience of infertility is a tough enough topic, but when issues of race are introduced, a prickly subject can turn downright sticky. It’s a timely tale in today’s racially charged climate, adding yet another element to the obstacles created when life is measured in terms of skin color. While those who intimately shared Kim’s many setbacks see no problem with a white surrogate carrying the couple’s biological child, others are either perplexed or vexed by what they view as an unsuitable arrangement. Questions range from the insensitive (Why is a Black surrogate not good enough?) to the laughable (Will the baby look like the surrogate?). Thanks to the author’s personal investment in this story, she has the tools to strike the right balance of tenderness and authority while conveying all the raw anguish of her experiences. This kind of deep dive will especially appeal to couples of all races struggling to achieve parenthood, especially through surrogacy. Gowdy gives hope without glossing over the hurdles that must be cleared by all parties before a surrogacy attempt is ever made, from psychological assessments to legal red tape to medical testing. And that’s not to mention the months of uncertainty inherent in every pregnancy and the added stress experienced by those well-acquainted with loss. In Kim and David’s case, the misguided racial judgements of people on the outside looking in add yet another source of anxiety.
How can a Black woman consent to a white woman giving birth to her baby? Such questions make Kim understandably defensive, though both she and the surrogate believe wholeheartedly in their arrangement. That’s not to say that race has no influence. One of the most profound moments in the story comes when Kim considers the long history of Black women charged with caring for the babies of the white elite. “Now here we were decades later, and strangely, this seemed to be a role reversal. I was the Black woman who now had the financial means to pay a white woman to provide love and care to a child that was not her own,” she marvels. The author not only surmises, but experiences, the truth in the adage, “We are more alike than we are different.” In the end, the question of race and surrogacy bears little ethical weight, shrinking against the magnificent joy born of the connection between good human beings in their time of need.
THE COLORLESS WOMB by Kimberly Gowdy plumbs the depths of the emotional and physical complexities of infertility and how they are unexpectedly intensified by issues of race in a riveting story that will inspire hope in anyone struggling to have children.
~Libby Wiersema for IndieReader