New parents on campus: Erin Levin reflects on baby Lizzie

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Renee Ge

It was the last final of first semester when Erin Levin got the call that the baby was coming five weeks early. She, her husband and her mother flew out to Idaho to meet Elizabeth Rose Levin, delivered via surrogate on Dec. 19, for the first time.

“When I first saw Lizzie, she was in what’s called an isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the hospital,” Levin said. “It was amazing and overwhelming to see her for the first time like that, but it’s not how you usually picture seeing your baby for the first time.”

Since Lizzie was born early, she had to stay in the hospital for 10 days. In that time, the nursing staff at the NICU taught Levin and her husband how to feed, burp and swaddle Lizzie, and keep her healthy. Right now, Lizzie can lift her head up, put weight on her legs and react to voices, and she is almost able to smile and recognize faces.

Levin has been open with her students about having a baby via surrogate since the first day of school, because she thought it was important to share her journey with them. Her experience with her surrogate and her family has been miraculous. Although it was difficult being away from her daughter while she was growing in a different state, Levin believed that this was the best way to keep the baby safe. The surrogate and her family have been incredibly supportive, and shared Christmas with Levin and her family in Idaho. They are also planning a reunion before summer.

“We get to have Lizzie because of how far modern reproductive science has come; 20 years ago this really would not have been possible for us,” Levin said. “So being a mother for me feels like I’m part of a new frontier of the lucky few who, despite facing major obstacles, get to have biological children in this amazing new way.”

Now, the biggest challenge for Levin is taking out time for herself. Showering, eating and using the bathroom are more difficult, but she loves how snuggly Lizzie is. Levin is grateful for the support from her parents and her in-laws, who have helped them around the clock, and her friends, who have sent food and gifts and kept the family company. With their help, both Levin and her husband have been able to maintain their identity before becoming parents, which is important to them.

“I don’t know how people do this without having that much support — it really does take a village,” Levin said.

Her students are also supportive of Levin, though they miss the positive energy that she brings to class. Jane Gilmore, the long-term substitute teacher, and Levin are collaborating on the new remote learning curriculum.

“[Levin] has been one of the best teachers I’ve had so far,” said senior Prashanthi Rayapati, who has had Levin as a teacher for two years. “She’s so engaging with her activities, and every Friday above the door there will be a really funny meme.”

Levin looks forward to coming to class and bringing her newfound experiences from parenthood with her. After becoming a mother, she says she has an even deeper sense of responsibility and care for her students.

“I’ve always believed that each student is important, interesting and vital to our community,” Levin said. “Now I get to understand what that means as a parent.”

Not only is Levin excited to see her students again, but she also looks forward to watching Lizzie grow up and learning more about what kind of person she becomes. 

“I hope [my husband and I] can teach Lizzie about the things we love, like our favorite music, being a deep thinker, valuing creativity, that sort of stuff,” Levin said. “I hope that she grows up to be kind and confident and understanding of others’ needs. I hope she always knows how loved and valuable she is.”

In the future, Levin hopes to be a mother who can have fun with her child. She wants her daughter to be confident and full of laughter. She wants her family to learn new things together, to travel and to enjoy each other’s company. For herself, she wants to never forget what it took to get here.

“Lizzie is who we worked and hoped so hard for,” Levin said. “I think remembering that will help me not take things for granted and stay in the moment to squeeze as much joy out of it as I can.”