Every year around this time, as millions of bright-eyed and sometimes wary children prepare for their first day of school, I reflect on the work I do every day helping people -- couples or single men and women -- have the children they've always wanted.
As a fertility doctor I have helped thousands of people conceive children over the last two decades. For weeks and months I work with hopeful parents navigating the tricky paths of surrogacy and fertility. My job ends when their newborns enter this world to meet her smiling and often teary-eyed parents. They may think to send me a birth announcement, sometimes a photo of their beautiful baby. Yet after those very early days I rarely get to follow this precious life I had some small part in creating.
This time of year, with so many families doting on their kids and Facebook teeming with photos of "the first day of school," I get hit by jolts of joy and the occasional whisper of wistful longing for that greater connection.
This past June I received a special, rare treat.
In June I heard from a young woman. She was graduating from high school, and her parents sent me a notice of her accomplishment. It had been almost 18 years since I last saw them in my office, suddenly expectant parents after having tried fruitlessly to have a child for so long.
"Dr. Ringler," the note began, "You probably don't remember us, but we remember you. Thanks again for helping make our dreams come true."
The gesture brought me tears. Every time I help someone conceive a child, I take a great sense of pride. On top of the years of school, practice and continuing education mandatory for my job, I put a lot of heart into my work and my craft. More often than not that translates into a beating heart, a birth, a first day of school, graduation, wedding and beyond. That this couple's beautiful daughter turned out to be the valedictorian of her high school class was icing on the graduation cake.
Despite never having met many of them, I do think about these children. Sometimes without knowing their names, I'm proud of them. It's funny that the couple's note started off with "you probably don't remember us," because I do remember the expecting parents I work with and wonder about the children they have raised.
When choosing my medical field I wanted to help bring new lives into this world. While my interest in being a parent myself has faded with age, I have never been more dedicated to fulfilling that need for others. I'm not these kids' parents, but I still feel some connection to the lives I've had a part in creating.
As the new school year gets under way, millions of kids and their families have been bustling in the stores buying new clothes and notebooks, readying for the next exciting chapter in their lives. Yet I rarely get to hear from these parents and kids as they embark on these great adventures in their lives. While I spend my life helping build families -- through surrogacy, egg & sperm donations and IVF -- I so often don't get to follow the lives of these kids as they grow up, get ready for school and celebrate birthdays.
To the family who brightened my June with the graduation notice, thank you so much for the reminder that with parents like you, the work I do turns into beautiful, productive members of society. I look forward to hearing how Juliet does in college.