Ep 7 | The Letter
Ep 7 | The Letter
It’s all been leading up to this: Dalia has made her decision. Mohsin and Dalia prepare for the life-changing reveal.
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RUTH (HOST): Hi, it’s Ruth here, producer on Tiny Huge Decisions. And we’re now reaching the end of our series which means if you’re starting here, you’re in the wrong place. Go back to Episode 1, follow the journey from the beginning. Trust me, it’s worth it.
This is Tiny Huge Decisions Episode 7: The Letter.
In the weeks after their conversation at the dining table about the sperm, the eggs, the surrogacy agreement and the move to New York… Mohsin and Dalia have gotten on with their lives. But Dalia has a decision to make. All the conversations, the research, the video calls… it all comes down to this: will she carry a baby for her best friend?
With this decision looming over her, here’s Dalia, without Mohsin, reflecting on the journey she’s gone through.
DALIA: There was something in those initial kind of conversations that felt very exciting in a kind of-- you know, it was just this kind of thing that was put out there, and I suggested it, and I think that was something that took us both by surprise. And so it felt a bit odd. And I suppose in some ways that has changed not because it's become any less exciting but over doing this kind of process of talking about it so much and kind of exploring and finding out much more about surrogacy and what that would entail, I guess it's now almost kicked in and become like this quite real, quite important, quite significant decision. And some of that kind of naivety has maybe gone.
Surrogacy is not just about the pregnancy, and it's not just about the moment of kind of…birth. It's about creating this life that changes everybody's lives in the long term. And it's a whole kind of journey that’s so much longer than all of these things that I've been fixating on I think, or had been fixating on and worrying about and thinking about how-- what's the impact going to be of nine months of pregnancy? What's the impact going to be of immediately kind of feeling… I don't know what, sadness or even joy when this baby is born, because actually, it's something that will only be the very start of a whole kind of set of relationships and a whole kind of life.
And I think it's been really nice to talk to people and to kind of appreciate that, that actually at the end, hopefully, if everything goes right, and goes okay, there's a whole new set of relationships that will stretch out into a lifetime. And that, that's actually what surrogacy is about. It's not really just about those few months where you're carrying a baby.
I don't feel any sense of pressure, but I feel like it was me that instigated this conversation. And so what I do feel is a responsibility, rather than any kind of pressure, to think about it carefully and to think about it fully, and to put everything into making this decision. Because it is a really significant decision, whichever way it goes. So it's not so much that I don't feel that I can’t say no, it's more that I feel like I have to put as much as I can into making a decision that will do the least damage to both of us or to all of us. There's more than two of us in this situation.
RUTH: One day in June 2022, Mohsin gets the fateful message. Dalia has made up her mind, and now all that’s left is to tell him, face-to-face. We checked in with Mohsin ahead of this life-changing moment.
MOHSIN: How am I feeling? A little bit overwhelmed, If I'm honest. We saw-- You know, the thing about Dalia and I is, we are really, we really are very close friends. And I saw her at the weekend with her husband and her daughter. And every time I have doubts about having kids, it's because I haven't seen, I haven't been around kids for a little while. And then we were around her daughter and Matthew and I are the godparents to her daughter. And it just reminded me how important it is to me. And then, honestly, it's slightly stressful to have to think about the logistics of like, having kids and the fact that there's a two year timeframe.
And you know, even if Dalia were to say yes, there's all these kind of administrative bits involved, and biological bits involved. So it's a complicated thing. Like I'm excited, but I'm also nervous. And I'm sure that almost regardless of what the outcome is, there is still a long road ahead of us. And that is a little bit disheartening.
If she says no, the first thought that will go through my mind is “How do I react so that she doesn't feel bad.” And I will say that, you know, “Please, I don't want you to feel guilty,” I can imagine exactly what I'll say. And it is important to me that she doesn't, but…Without her being able to listen to this before she makes the decision, I'll be gutted. I will be gutted.
And I was reluctant even to say this out loud, because I don't want her to hear this even afterwards. Because I don't want her to feel guilty. And…but it's kind of obvious, she'll know I'll be gutted. So you know by, by pretending that everything's fine, it's not going to change the fact that she knows me so well.
I know that if she says yes, and we do this thing together that I will spend the whole time thinking, “Oh fuck, I can't believe she's actually doing this for us!” And I know that that's going to be like a weird mixture of emotions, but I will have to get over the guilt because it will have to be that she's made this decision and she's decided to do it and I will have to respect that. So I will be elated and excited about this new chapter in life and in my relationship with her.
RUTH: Mohsin and Dalia arrange to meet on a Friday afternoon. He turns up late, flustered from running around all day, sorting out his New York move. They sit down in a room in Mohsin’s office-- a neutral, safe location to talk.
The producer mics them up and leaves the room. Now it’s just two best friends and the decision.
DALIA: How are you feeling today?
MOHSIN: What do you mean, about all of this?
DALIA: Yeah! [LAUGHTER]
DALIA: That question seemed to take you by surprise!
MOHSIN: I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to talk about it! [LAUGHTER] I don't know why, I just feel a little bit like… I don't know. I just, I don't know because I never get awkward around you.
DALIA: I've never seen you like this!
MOHSIN: I know, it's really weird. I never get awkward around you, and I think it's because I haven't really thought about it like, I've tried not to think about it. And the thing is, because we hang out all the time, and we just don't talk about it. And so… I try really not to think about it too much. How are you feeling?
DALIA: I think I was feeling a bit weird because I didn't really know how this conversation should be.
DALIA: And so what I decided, like a couple of days ago to do is to write you a letter. So that's what I've been working on for the last like, two days.
MOHSIN: Wow, really?
DALIA: Yeah. Because I didn't know how else to like--
MOHSIN: Explain it?
DALIA: Explain it. And also, I know we were supposed to come here and have like some kind of preamble--
DALIA: --and like chat, but that just felt really weird.
MOHSIN: It did feel weird.
DALIA: It does actually feel quite weird.
MOHSIN: Yeah, it does.
DALIA: So like, I think I just wanted to put everything that I wanted to say down so that you could just like listen to it.
MOHSIN: Oh, that's, that's really lovely!
DALIA: [LAUGHTER] Why?
MOHSIN: I don't know, I just think it's so-- you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of when I came out to my dad. And I remember writing the letter because it meant so much. And because I didn't want any of my emotions to get lost in the message. So I totally get why you did that, actually.
DALIA: Dear Mohsin,
I think back to the 18 year old versions of us and can't help but smile. Sitting in my university bedroom, late at night, tea in hand, the warm glow of those red fairy lights I used to have shining down upon us. Talking into the small hours about the two things that we like to talk about the most: love and the future.
Time seemed to stretch out before us then. It felt like the future was something that we owned, that we had some sort of control over. But it was also replete with so much possibility and uncertainty. Its parameters seemed limitless and difficult to grasp. All we could do was guess at what role, if any, love was going to play for both of us.
An incredible 19 years have passed, and we are now in that future. It seems inconceivable that so much has happened as, in many ways, nothing has happened at all. One of the great joys and privileges in my life is that a constant in all of this time has been you. It really doesn't seem to matter that there have been undulating periods of intensity or quietness in our relationship. We have both done a lot, seen a lot, experienced a lot and sometimes our paths have run close together. And sometimes they have diverged.
Regardless, a bond has been forged between us that keeps bringing us back together-- a bond forged out of love. We talk, sometimes we do manage a little silence, we laugh, we cry, we tell each other off, we hold each other to account, we lift each other up and we support each other. Our relationship is what relationships are supposed to be, I think. It is nurturing. So in many ways, I don't think of you as my friend but as my kin, something that is vital to me, we are family.
I suppose then that though we have never talked about it, though it was never in one of our teenage scenarios, it's not so strange or surprising that here we are all these years later making a decision together about how to extend our family. It is perhaps more surprising that this suggestion came from me. A year on from having my own child, it was me, not you, who threw the idea out there, that maybe I could carry a child for you and your husband. A wild idea because the thought of being pregnant filled me with horror at that point. But there it was, the words trickled out of my mouth. I think the suggestion also came out of love, the love that I felt for my daughter, still a relatively new feeling in my life, but also the love that I felt for you, that meant that my happiness was somehow tinged with a sadness, knowing as I did, that this was the sort of love that you also wanted in your life, that you could provide back in bucket loads, but was also something that was going to be more difficult for you to attain than it had been for me.
I think back to that conversation that seemed to take us both by surprise, and I think there was a kind of nervous excitement about it for us both. The thrill of the possibility of a new kind of future. But there was also a lot of trepidation on my part. As soon as those words left my lips, I felt out of control. I had no desire to be pregnant. But most of all, I really didn't know much about surrogacy beyond having read a few academic articles or media stories. I'm embarrassed to say that I knew next to nothing about what I was pledging to consider. Pretty soon, thrill turned to fear. Why had I blurted out this suggestion? Was this really something that I or you or we could actually do? And how on earth were we going to navigate making this decision?
And so this podcast has been just that, a way of navigating what has been uncharted territory for both of us. And I have to say I have kind of loved it. At times I admit it has been difficult to meet, to muster up the energy to talk about this big topic between work meetings, or at the end of an exhausting week. But after every conversation I have taken something positive away, even if yet more questions and points to consider also emerged. This is an important decision and it needed careful thought and discussion, and then more thought and then more discussion. And often in life we do not give ourselves, or more likely, we just aren't afforded the luxury of time and space to deal with such complexity.
So thank you, thank you for going on this journey with me. I think I needed to do it, I think we both needed to do it. And now I can't imagine how else we would have done it other than to talk and talk and talk for hours as we sat in our bedrooms, living rooms, offices, recording studios, even in our cupboards, surrounded by old coats and duvets, recording what we were learning and how we both felt.
Doing this has cemented some things for me. It has strengthened how wonderful I think you and Matthew are, and what loving, generous and careful parents I know you will be if you have a child. It cemented my feelings that being a surrogate for you and Matthew would be exciting, it would be fun, it would be rewarding and life changing in lots of good ways. I feel confident that all of the inevitable uncertainty, disappointment and even pain involved in something like this would be taken on together. And we would find a way through whatever happens collectively.
For me and my husband, I think it has made us more certain or as certain as we can be that right now we do not want another child. That is not the way we want to add to our family. So I feel certain as I have said to you before that if I try and be pregnant again, it will be for you and Matthew and no one else. It would be an incredible experience to be part of your family in such a unique and special way.
But doing this has also changed some things for me. I started off unable to comprehend why some people felt they could be surrogates. I couldn't get out of thinking about my own experience of pregnancy and birth. And truthfully, I think I was just fixated on these elements of the whole experience. I felt unable to really understand why someone would choose to go through all that and potentially so much more for someone else. What tipped them over the edge to make them say “Yes, I can be a surrogate,” I kept asking myself and everyone that I encountered.
And to my surprise, talking to people who had done this didn't actually help me answer this question at all. After all, everyone I spoke to had different and sometimes overlapping, even competing reasons why they would, but also equally, why they wouldn't be a surrogate. It wasn't a question of weighing one reason against another to see which one carried more weight overall. I realized pretty soon that asking why was only going to get me so far. It wasn't the right question.
Instead, the right question seemed to be “How do people decide that they can be a surrogate?” From talking to people, I learned that making this kind of decision is all about preparation, and preparation comes in many forms. What has been so nice about doing this podcast is that we have had the opportunity to document our journey, preparing together. All the physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual preparation we have done through reading, talking, thinking, laughing, crying, and just feeling, have all been here. As with any decision, we haven't done it alone, or even just together but with multiple other people from our partners and friends and family, to counselors and doctors, and even perfect strangers who have also been on this road with us, helping us to prepare.
I have learned that this is therefore not my decision alone. How can it be? Yes, my life is implicated but so is yours and Matthew's, and my husband and my daughter's, and most of all, that of a potential new person at the center of all of this. In some ways, this has been a lot of responsibility to carry, but in other ways it has freed me from worrying so much that I am at the center of this. I am just one small part of it, just one of the trajectories in forming your family. The decision before us is not just mine, it is many people's and it is the culmination of many circumstances that have come together at this time in this place as we sit here together in this room.
So where do things culminate? If the question had been, can I be your surrogate, in an abstract way, then my answer of course would be a resounding yes for all the reasons that I have mentioned above. But we are not in the abstract. We are in the here and now. And it perhaps sounds obvious, but it has only been by grounding things in such concrete terms that I've been able to tip those scales finally one way. And so in answer to the question, “Can I be your surrogate right now?” I think the answer is no. I don't think I can be.
So to you and Matthew I am truly sorry. Let me try to explain why. I do not feel that I am at my best. My life is full of joy and largely so because I have a child but it has also not been very easy.
MOHSIN: Don't cry--
MOHSIN: [WHISPERS] --I'm just gonna give you a hug. You don't have to cry, Dalia. It's okay.
DALIA: As you know, having our daughter coincided with lots of difficult things for me, my husband and our families. Being pregnant, giving birth and then having a baby turned out nothing like I thought it would be, because none of those things happened in the abstract. They happened in a context that also contained some difficulty. From demanding jobs and family illness and death, to a cyst the size of a football and a global pandemic. Even though there has been so much happiness, fun, laughter and love the first couple of years of my daughter's life, including all those moments that she was inside me have also been characterized by pain, stress, struggle, and solitude.
Things have got much better. And maybe I do not talk about this enough or a lot. But there is still a lot that I do not find easy. In fact, I find many things in life to be quite hard. And a real sadness that I carry is that my daughter is the one who will suffer most, by me not being at my best.
So I've started to let go of some of the recent darker times and the guilt that I've been feeling about how it's affected my relationship with pregnancy, and with motherhood. And doing this podcast has actually really helped me process some of this. But I still want to do and be better, and I can do and be better. I can be a better mother, a better wife, daughter, sister, colleague, and of course, a friend. But I don't think I can do these things if I take on something as big and demanding, as important as being your surrogate.
So as much as I would love to do that, and be part of that, it just isn't the right time now, I am not ready. Despite all we have done, I don't feel sufficiently prepared to take this on physically, mentally, and emotionally. I think I would struggle and I would never want this to be a struggle.
A big part of feeling unprepared is that in a few weeks time, you are also moving to the other side of the world. I know that we have talked about how surrogacy could still work, but in all honesty, this scenario scares me. I can't imagine trying to do this together with so much distance between us. It isn't just the thought that you wouldn't be here to support me, it's more the thought that you and Matthew wouldn't be there for all of the big, but also all of the small, tiny, incremental moments that happen when you're trying to have a baby, and are pregnant, that come together to prepare you for being parents. In the here and now I find it difficult to work with that version of how our surrogacy journey would unfold with the Atlantic between us.
I know what it is like to struggle through creating a life. And I don't ever want to do that again. Not with something so beautiful and precious at stake. It wouldn't be right for me and my family, nor you and your family to go into this situation, knowing that from the offset I cannot give it my all.
So I want you to have a child so much. But I also want the circumstances under which you do so to be as good as they possibly can be. And right now, in my heart of hearts, I know that I can't deliver that. It's not because doing this process has made me learn a new piece of information about you, or me, or surrogacy, that has made the decision go this way rather than the other. It's just that a lifetime of circumstances have culminated in such a way to mean that I don't feel sufficiently ready for this particular challenge. And that is ultimately the risk that I am not prepared to take on.
So truly to you and Matthew, I am sorry. I know how disappointing this will be, and the thing that makes me sad the most is not that this somehow ends your journey to having a child, or even the possibility that I will be involved in that. You are just the start of all of that. I'm just sad because as your friend, I know that this is another thing in your life, that's not going to be easy. That it's something else that you have to figure out, fight for and struggle through. And more than anything, perhaps this has actually been my motivation behind considering surrogacy. I want desperately to alleviate some of your struggle in life, and so as your friend I know that this is the particular way that I have let you down.
I truly, truly believe that there are many, many routes to happiness in life. And that often the most fruitful ones are shrouded from our view. The future is still before us, and honestly I don't know where you and I will be in another 19 years time. I don't know what we will look like, where we'll be living, what we will be doing and if we will be happy, or what our families will be and how we would have got to wherever we are.
I do know though, that I love you and so I hope that our paths will continue to run alongside each other, to criss-cross and to mingle. And that even though it's not through surrogacy, we do remain family.
With love and to the future, the other Mohsin.
RUTH: Next time, in the final episode of Tiny Huge Decisions: the aftermath.
[END CREDITS MUSIC]
Tiny Huge Decisions is a Chalk and Blade production for APM Studios. At Chalk and Blade, the executive producer is Ruth Barnes, the showrunner and story editor is Louise Mountain, and the producer and sound designer is Matt Nielsen, with original music by Ian Chambers. Special thanks to Jason Phipps. At APM, the executive producer is Erica Kraus, the senior production manager is Nick Ryan, and the executives in charge are Joanne Griffith, Alex Schaffert, and Chandra Kavati. With thanks to Dahlia, Mohsin, and Matthew.