Making Plans

Well, it’s official– we have a transfer date for our embryo.

It’s still a tentative one, meaning that there is a small chance it could change slightly based on Becca’s response to the medication, but plans are in motion. Becca texted me one morning last week after she’d received a med protocol from our fertility nurse; I was doing laundry or cleaning up a mess or something equally mundane, and as soon as I saw her text with our projected date, my stomach dropped.

I don’t plan to share the date here, only to say that we are preparing for February. While there have been a number of good things to come from being open throughout these years, one of the hardest parts has been the pressure to immediately share the results– both good and bad— following our embryo transfers. So, for now at least, I’m keeping things a little vague.

In the meantime, I’ve been checking off the last things on our list: completing the order for the transfer meds, which Becca received last Wednesday; finishing the set-up of our escrow account; and purchasing an insurance policy for the cycle (a pretty standard part of surrogacy). We also read through and signed an 18-page document full of scary possibilities, however unlikely, and gave the clinic our consent to move forward.

All that was left on our end was to sign the financial forms, paperwork that my gmail account thoughtfully filtered out of my inbox and into a file labeled “promotions,” where I found it a few days later. I have been extremely fortunate to have the ability to receive treatment over my last two IVF cycles with enormous help from my insurance. That is not the norm in the US, where many don’t even have coverage for the diagnostic testing when it comes to infertility, let alone any actual treatment. But with surrogacy there is no help; everything is paid for out of pocket. My insurance cannot be used for a transfer because even though it’s my embryo, from my body, I am not able to receive it, and Becca’s insurance can’t be used because the procedure is not for her.

I saw the listed cost for the transfer for the first time when I opened the document– and yes, it’s expensive, but I expected that– what shocked me was the extra $2,500 tacked on beneath it simply labeled GC rider. Obviously it was referring to our need for a Gestational Carrier, but nothing about the transfer itself would be different from a normal IVF situation– besides a couple extra people being in the room to watch the ultrasound screen. Becca would be following the same basic schedule and protocol that I would’ve been if I had been able to receive the transfer. I reached out to my financial advisor at the clinic for clarification, hoping that it had been an oversight, or that there was at least a reasonable explanation for it.

The next day I received the following message:

The $2,500 is added on for all patients using a GC due to coordination of the cycle and additional communication/administrative work.

My initial reaction was just pure shock. Then anger. There is absolutely no reason at all for such a steep fee. If it had been an extra $500 I would have been more likely to roll my eyes and accept that this is just the way surrogacy is. But this feels downright exploitative. The “additional communication” essentially boils down to our nurse usually copying me on emails when there is an update. Already, once Becca became involved in the process, communication with me changed. It was a noticeable shift from when I was undergoing treatment before I had matched with a carrier, despite the fact that both of us are hugely invested in the outcome– it is her body, but it is also my baby.

I want to refuse to pay the added fee, purely on principle. For days now the financial consents have sat, unsigned, as part of my own silent protest. But I know that eventually I will sign them– because what choice do I have? My irreplaceable embryos are stuck there in the freezer, my doctor is out of this clinic, and we have already sunk so much into getting here. Even if I chose to move everything to a different clinic, it would cost far more than this $2500 money grab. And so, altogether, the embryo transfer alone will cost more than I paid for my entire IVF cycle, including an actual surgical procedure, anesthesia, insanely expensive hormonal injections, a dozen ultrasounds, and countless blood tests. It adds even more pressure to a situation where the pressure was already unbearable enough.

As far as actually having a date for transfer and making progress, I do feel sparks of excitement and hope… but I am also so scared. I’m afraid of the unknown, the overwhelming risk of loss, the lack of control I have over everything. Every time that excitement rises up– mostly at the thought of that moment when I first see our embryo on the live feed from the lab or can finally hold a photo of it in my hands– fear comes along to extinguish it.

The surrogacy process is all about finishing one battle only to get to the next one. Strung together, these battles form what feels like a never-ending war, and moving forward is often almost as excruciating as not making progress at all. I am feeling terrifyingly battle-weary, but we still have so far to go. The burden of stress and pressure from the legal process that consumed us between August and December seems to have shattered our momentum and taken the wind out of our sails a bit.

And now we are preparing to face the biggest, most emotionally challenging battle yet.

Just breathe…

New Year, Same Place

Last December I spent the days leading up to Christmas desperately trying to get my third IVF cycle underway before it would interfere with Ross’ birthday at the end of January (it did anyway). I gave myself the first injection on the 27th, and the holidays seemed to get lost in the stress and preparation of treatment. Christmas 2017 was the largely the same, waiting to consult with our new fertility doctor for my upcoming second IVF cycle, beginning the daunting search for a carrier, and researching every fertility loan or grant available. Earlier this year I’d thought we might have something to celebrate by the holidays, but it wasn’t much changed– just other phases of the same process. A conversation I had with a friend over the summer ran through my mind often, “You could be pregnant by Christmas!” she’d said, when we talked about our planned embryo transfer for October.

Christmas felt like all I had to hang on to. It was hard to see the new babies and announcements on Christmas cards and to pass over the little gifts I would’ve bought for our second child if they were here. (I see things everywhere that make me think of you.) But the holiday season also came with distraction and the joy of seeing Ross experience all the magic of this time of year. So I threw myself into it, wanting it to be perfect for him because there was so little else I could control. We didn’t put practical things on his wish list like we usually do, just toys and stuff we knew would make him excited and happy on Christmas morning.

For the most part, we made it through the lead-up unscathed. It didn’t really hit me until Christmas Eve what we had lost.

In the meantime, progress continued on the legal process, albeit slowly. Sometime in November, more than three months in, I realized I had to let go of my expectations. It was hard enough for our lives to be on hold throughout the fall, but repeatedly getting my hopes up and trying to mentally prepare for an upcoming transfer only for it to come crashing down was destroying me. Instead, I let myself go numb and accepted both the accumulating cost and the reality that I could neither change nor control the situation. While it was still stressful and frustrating when we hit each new delay or discovered that our lawyer had yet again failed to follow up on something, it at least allowed me to function again.

Finally, after nearly 18 weeks, our struggle came to a very anti-climatic end. A few days before Christmas we had the final contract signed and notarized, and on Christmas Eve I received a clearance letter from the lawyer to submit to our fertility clinic. Of course, by this point, our coordinator was out of the office until the new year, so official acceptance didn’t come through until this morning. For such an enormous milestone, I expected to feel excitement or at least an overwhelming sense of relief, but instead I just felt kind of angry. Angry that so much time was wasted.

Over this last week, as everyone looked back on their last decade, it was impossible not to think about what these years had been for us. We started the decade as newlyweds, married for just three months and celebrating my mom’s birthday at Disney World with my family. We didn’t know it then, but my healthy 74-year-old grandpa was about to be diagnosed with terminal cancer, and by the time we celebrated another new year, he would be gone.

December 2009; Newlyweds at Disney
December 2009; Epcot with the family to celebrate my mom’s birthday and ring in the New Year 2010
Grandma & Grandpa at Epcot for the New Year; December 2009

I spent the majority of 2010 with my grandparents as he went through brain surgery and aggressive radiation, and for as difficult as it was, that time was also precious to me. I picked Grandpa up from speech therapy and helped him practice his words. I made him ham sandwiches while Grandma ran errands. I ordered flowers in his name and helped him write the card for his wife to celebrate their 57th anniversary, the last one together. I was the one who convinced him to get into the radiation machine despite his extreme claustrophobia and held his hand as they strapped him down. And I anguished over the fact that we were about to start trying for a family and have children he would never meet. I told him that he would soon have a great-grandson named Ross, after him, not realizing how long it would still be. We said goodbye to Grandpa before the end of that first year of the decade. It felt like a huge turning point in my life.

November 2010; Outside with Grandpa for the last time before he passed away a month later.

And then, infertility happened. Looking back now, it’s a shock to realize that 2010 was the only year of this entire decade in which we weren’t actively trying to have a child. It has consumed everything, eaten away at our lives. Seeing it all in hindsight unfolding along a linear path makes me realize just how much time we have lost along the way.

Of course, there have been good times too, amid the overwhelming loss. The best by far being the result of our first surrogacy journey:

It is partly knowing just how worth it all that struggle was that keeps me going now.

Life is always ups and downs. But the many years of ‘downs’ we’ve faced this decade have fundamentally changed me as a person. Ten years ago we were starting out, filled with so much hope and optimism for the future, but infertility is like an open wound left to fester; instead of healing, it grows worse with the passing of time. I don’t know what this next decade will bring, but I hope for the opportunity to eventually rebuild. Assuming we reach the end of this journey sometime in the near future, maybe we will finally be able to begin to heal.

Hope and Despair

Little Alice fell
d
o
w
n
the hOle,
bumped her head
and bruised her soul

– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When Ross was born, we were far away from home with a very long car ride ahead of us. Somewhere on the road during our first day of driving, it finally hit me: the surrogacy process had come to an end. There were no more lawyers, no meetings with the agency or doctors, no fear that we might miss the birth or have our parentage questioned. It was a shock to realize– this experience which had consumed our lives for 574 days (plus the years of infertility before that) was now over, and we had a 3-day-old newborn bundled up in the backseat to show for it. I remember staring out the window, feeling such an enormous weight lift from my shoulders as we drove north that I sobbed with the relief of it.

Throughout the process we endured for Ross, we had often talked about whether we would be able to do this a second time. The cost was staggering — physically, financially, and emotionally. There was never a moment when we questioned whether we wanted more children (we’d always dreamed of a big family), but surrogacy had taken such a huge toll on us, both individually and as a couple, that we didn’t know how to pull it off again. The understanding that there was absolutely no way to have a second child without going back down the rabbit hole was devastating. We’d be opening ourselves up to all of the hardships and potential horrors, but this time we wouldn’t be the only ones forced to bear the weight of our decision.

By November 2015 we were ready to try again, determined to restart the process as soon as possible– and Ross hadn’t even been born yet. The plan then had been to begin another round of IVF when he was about 6 months old and transfer an embryo shortly after his first birthday. But Kyle was still in grad school, and even though we had amazing insurance benefits, it took a while longer to be able to meet the rest. Waiting was hard, and by the time Ross was 11 months old I was terrified that the window was closing. No one around us could really understand. Couldn’t we just recognize how lucky we were and be happy with one? And anyway, he was still a baby, we had “plenty of time.”

When we finally had what we needed in place to start the process, Ross was barely 18 months old, but we estimated that even if things kept moving, we wouldn’t have a baby in our arms until late 2019. With the benefit of having better access to care while Kyle was in school, I began seeing a therapist, knowing some of what we faced ahead.

Everything took longer than expected. We weren’t considered officially matched with our gestational carrier until a year and a half later. Insurance repeatedly tried to deny my IVF benefits solely because my body wouldn’t be receiving the embryo we created (*we weren’t asking them to help with a transfer or anything for our carrier, just my treatment, as they would for any other woman under their plan). The financial advisor at our clinic abruptly went on medical leave for 2 months without confirming our cost estimates, but no one would pick up our case because we were part of the “donor program” due to surrogacy. Medical records were sent to the wrong office branch, then got lost for a while. Our coordinator quit (or, I believe, was fired) and we were hastily assigned to someone new in a random office two states away. Our previous psychologist wouldn’t answer calls for weeks so we couldn’t get her clearance to move on. And so on, and so on. Over and over again we have hit nearly every bump, obstacle, and road block.

Now we are stuck on legal. Still. Today makes it 13 weeks, far longer than the 2-3 weeks the lawyer estimated… at least before he received our check (don’t worry, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way). During those weeks he’s left the office for extended periods of time without any warning or progress on our contract, told us that our contract revisions had “not reached [his] inbox,” and now, most recently, he simply got “sidetracked by an urgent matter.” (Too sidetracked to even let us know). At best he’s been difficult to reach and given us almost no counsel at all on one of the most complicated and important aspects of the surrogacy process. Both our escrow company and the fertility clinic have since reached out to put our case on hold due to the circumstances. So far, the delay has cost us almost $1,000 for no real reason at all.

We’re about 812 days into our second journey, and we still haven’t even reached an embryo transfer yet.

For most of this year, we’ve been working toward October for transfer. As the summer came to an end, it was nerve-wracking to know that we were getting ready to risk this hard-won embryo in the hopes of getting lucky a second time. To cope with the stress and fear, I allowed myself to daydream about the photo we’d receive at the procedure, a photo of this embryo that I have waited 18 long months to see. But, as the weeks passed, and then the months, with very little progress on the legal contract and virtually no control over the situation, even that became increasingly painful to think about.

This fall was brutal. After more than two years of fighting through this all-consuming process, I’ve just… hit a wall. What was once difficult and painful has become downright torturous.

In October, when we should have been preparing for a transfer, we waited instead. Ross picked out a small, medium and large pumpkin to represent our family, and I chose two tiny white pumpkins for the frozen embryos who are both a part of our family… and not.

Through November, when we didn’t make plans for Kyle’s time off because we were afraid it could hold up a potential transfer, we waited instead. This December, which had initially been planned as an option for a second embryo transfer in case the first one failed, we will still be waiting. There will be no embryo transfer in 2019.

We wait, and we wait, and we wait.

…And I haven’t even mentioned the massive potential problem with the health insurance for our carrier that is looming over us. One that has a very firm deadline of December 15. One that I have no idea how to solve.

In the meantime, I’ve reached a place where I am so emotionally drained that I don’t feel able to hope anymore. Some days we limp along, some days it feels like someone literally has their hand around my heart, squeezing it as hard as they can. It is a physical pain. For a while now I’ve sat in my therapist’s office each week and cried. When the preschool hosted a Halloween parade for the parents at the end of last month, I went home and cried. When the nurse at my doctor’s office showed me how high my blood pressure reading was during a routine appointment, I cried. Basically, if you’ve seen me recently and it looks as though I’ve been crying, it’s probably because I have.

We’ve invested an immeasurable amount of time, effort, and energy into this second journey, but throughout the last week I have questioned everything, rationally and irrationally, especially myself. I have started to wonder whether I am even deserving having someone who is willing to carry a child for me, or whether I am deserving of hoping for another in the first place.

Reality

A few weeks ago we were getting ready for bed when the email we’d been waiting for came through; attached was the initial draft of the carrier contract from our lawyer. Immediately, I felt my chest tighten. I didn’t want to deal with it, I didn’t want to even think about it right before trying to sleep. I can’t stress enough how much I hate the legal part of the surrogacy process. If I had the option of going through another IVF cycle instead, I would take it every time.

The first draft of our contract is forty-two pages long– forty-two pages of harsh language and serious threats, of stripping away the humanity of surrogacy and making it feel like a transaction, of mental images of stillbirth that have haunted my dreams in the nights since. A thick printed copy floated through our house over the next several days– Kyle would read a few pages and leave it on his nightstand for later; I would pick it up and get through a bit before abandoning it on the table downstairs. We circled errors, crossed things out, and made notes in the margins. It was mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing, and again it hit me just how much we are trusting to another person.

Simply the act of reading through the entire contract proved to be a challenge. For a couple weeks now, Kyle has been out nearly every night for work, and Ross started school after almost a month of inexplicable poor sleep, night terrors, and bad dreams. We hardly had the time and barely had the energy to focus on legal, but eventually we compiled our notes, discussed the revisions, and sent back our changes to the lawyer, working on it until nearly midnight one night just to get it out of our hands.

That was almost two weeks ago. The changes should have been fairly straightforward, but we didn’t receive so much as an acknowledgment from our lawyer. In fact, the only thing we’ve heard back was his opinion that Becca’s representation was charging way too much for a contract review– a lawyer she’d only contacted because it was someone he’d recommended in the first place. The last thing he said was that he could find us representation for less… and then he stopped responding. I finally asked Kyle to call him last Wednesday to follow up, and it turns out he’d left the office until the next Monday with no answers, no warning, and no progress on our contract.

In the meantime, I’ve been struggling to find a decent surrogacy escrow company to handle the medical bill payments during a potential pregnancy. The first two places I dealt with fell through for various reasons; yesterday I finally spoke with the onboarding specialist of a third. During our first journey five years ago, our agency handled everything in house: the financial, the legal, the travel, Elle’s psych support, and all coordination. This is common, though not exactly recommended, and we didn’t know enough then to insist on keeping everything separate. Now I am in charge of all the moving pieces, building our team from scratch while being out of state with almost no recommendations or industry experience to rely on. It’s not necessarily an impossible task, but it has taken over my life.

All year I look forward to this time: pumpkin carving and apple picking and putting together a halloween costume. The fall has always been my favorite season, and all the familiar signs are around me… but this year they seem duller, more hollow somehow. Instead, it feels as if a heavy fog has moved in and settled over us, so thick it’s hard to breathe at times. The stress and frustration, the anxiety and lack of sleep have all contributed to a higher level of physical pain as I’ve tried to hold everything together without much downtime or breaks. My coping skills are shot, and there have been times recently when I have calmed and comforted Ross through a tantrum, feeling as though I am trying to reassure the both of us. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here, and you are okay.

At the heart of it all is the sickening awareness that the only reason we are dealing with this is because of me. I have somehow failed so spectacularly that no amount of medical treatment will give me the ability to carry my baby, and no matter how much I try, I still don’t know how to accept this reality. I just keep coming back to it over and over again. If you think it’s tiring to read about repeatedly, imagine how many millions of times it has bounced around in my head. There are even times, these brief moments, when I forget that it’s truly forever and catch myself hoping that there will be another chance beyond this enormous loss, that I only have to keep fighting through this moment in time. And then it hits me all over again: it’s over.

It’s really over.

Even still, it can shock me to look around and see where we are. Not just for now but for good. Sometimes I’ll come across a picture of my younger self and think, How did this happen? And when?

After another night of sleep interrupted by screaming from Ross’ bedroom, we woke up one day last week to find that he’d developed his first sickness of the season. Cuddled up on the couch that morning, Toy Story played on the television like it has countless times before. I knew this movie by heart long before Ross was born, Buzz and Woody were a part of my own childhood, and it has become even more special to me now that Ross has fallen in love with it on his own. But as an adult, watching Buzz realize that he’s not a real space ranger is gut-wrenching in a way I couldn’t grasp as a child. I’ve always felt emotional over the scene, but in that moment, I saw myself reflected back more clearly than ever before. And I couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down my face and into Ross’ hair beside me.

All the things I thought I’d be,
All the brave things I’d done
Vanished like a snowflake
With the rising of the sun
Never more to sail my ship,
Where no man has gone before

And I will go sailing no more

The TK Emotional Stages of Rewatching the Original 'Toy Story'
You are a toy, you can’t fly!

The moment in my childhood where I sat in a specialist’s office in Boston and heard for the first time that I may never be able to have children is carved into my soul; it changed everything. I was determined to do whatever was necessary, no matter how torturous, just to be able to carry a child. But as Kyle and I came to find out many years later, it wasn’t enough. I had failed, fallen short, missed the window entirely. There would be no, let’s try again.

This December will mark 20 years of learning to live with pain that will never go away. Everyone seems to think that this time around there is no longer loss for me in surrogacy, but so often I still feel like Buzz, laying on the floor in disbelief and trying to come to terms with reality.

Clearly, I will go sailing no more

The Last Steps

We started the summer by facing our biggest obstacle since matching: the mock cycle. It was the test that would determine final medical clearance, and everything hinged on it. If Becca’s uterine lining didn’t thicken with the help of medication, there could be no embryo transfer down the road, and we’d need to find another carrier. Throughout the prescreening this past year, we’ve known that even the slightest issue could bring everything crashing down, but I was never more afraid than when we began the mock cycle.

A few weeks beforehand, Becca received instructions from our fertility nurse, and on June 26th, she took her first dose of estrace. Thirteen days later, after some blood work and an ultrasound, she began injections. Another ultrasound and an endometrial biopsy– for a brand new procedure– were scheduled for the following week. The Endometrial Receptivity Array (ERA) was so new that our doctor had still only done about a dozen of them when we first spoke of it in January. This advance in treatment analyzes genes from a small sample of the lining to help pinpoint the best window for implantation. Prior to this, everyone generally received the same amount of exposure to progesterone leading up to an embryo transfer… the problem is that as many as 30% of women need either more or less exposure to be fully receptive, and the wrong amount can result in failed transfers and, subsequently, the loss of precious embryos.

Since most women are fine with the normal protocol, and the research is still in its infancy, the choice on whether or not to proceed was ours. But due to the higher cost of surrogacy and the struggle for me to create embryos, our doctor did recommend it. The expense ($600 for the biopsy and $595 for analysis) would be significantly lower than doing multiple transfers or further IVF cycles for new embryos, and if we chose not to do it and our first transfer failed, I knew we’d always wonder, so we felt it was worth doing now. We wanted to give ourselves the best possible chance of success from the beginning.

On July 15th, Becca stopped all medications and a biopsy was taken of her lining to be sent to an outside lab. We’d need to wait a while for those results, but the mock cycle had ended, and I expected to hear from the clinic right away to confirm (or deny) medical clearance. And yet… nothing. It wasn’t until a full week later that we got the call from our coordinator with approval to move on to legal. For something that took so much time and effort, it was said so simply, without gravity or ceremony: we had full medical clearance. 

Getting the biopsy results from the lab took longer. After the second week, on July 30th, our fertility nurse called with the news that Becca actually is one of the women who fall into the 30%, and her body needs a little longer to be receptive to an embryo. Immediately my stomach dropped at the thought that we could have moved forward without that information– and what that could have meant for us. We may have saved ourselves a lot of heartbreak, time, and money, but I’ve often thought of the women who went before us and didn’t have this option… what would be different for them?

With medical behind us, we turned our focus to the very last step: the carrier contract. All of the surrogacy process is difficult as none of it is truly in our hands, but legal is one of the worst parts for me. If ever there is a reminder that this path to parenthood is not normal, this would be it. In 2014, it took us six weeks to draft and sign a contract that spanned more than 40 pages and involved multiple lawyers. While this time around should be slightly less complicated, we will still each have separate representation to avoid conflict of interest, and every possible outcome will be addressed. From stillbirth or life-threatening health issues to our carrier fighting us for parentage, we will have to imagine and plan for each of our worst-case scenarios. Our contract will likely also state that our carrier cannot terminate the pregnancy, but we will sign the papers knowing that that is truly unenforceable– it’s just part of the reality of surrogacy. Even though we trust her completely, these weeks are a cruel and painful exercise in dwelling on our nightmares. 

Every day I wait to hear from the lawyer with a draft of the contract for us to review. If all goes as planned we could be signing the final copy within a few weeks, and once that’s complete, our lawyer will petition the clinic for full legal clearance as well. And then we’ll be done… sort of. Actually, it is only then that we’ll really be able to start.

It was last October that Becca offered to carry a child for us, but it has taken almost an entire year to even start thinking about thawing our embryo for transfer. For a year her life has been appointments and testing and injections; for a year she has planned her life around this process. For us, the wait has been even longer. Four years ago, in November 2015, a few months before Ross was even born, we started planning and preparing for a second surrogacy journey. Two years ago, around late Summer 2017, we were able to take our first active steps in the process, and for nearly every day since then we’ve worked and waited. The grief, stress, and fear of the surrogacy process have become the background noise of our lives over these years, a constant IV-drip of pain. We have put so much time and energy into getting here, but the possibility of walking away empty-handed is still very real.

“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.” 

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Not long ago it seemed as though we might never get to this point, but now that our time is coming, I’m terrified. At least during these years we were “safe” in this period of limbo; once we have that transfer day, we will open ourselves up to new risks and the likelihood of more heartache. I know it’s the only way, and I know it’s what we have to do for the chance of something good, but we are scarred and traumatized from loss, and I don’t want to go through more. When I think of our future and what might happen this fall, I don’t feel excited– I just feel sick with dread.

For anyone who is familiar with the Bachelor franchise, Holly & Blake (who met on Bachelor Pad several years ago) recently shared a video on their journey with infertility and surrogacy, and I think it shows so well what it’s like to keep opening yourself up to this process:

Finding a Match

Our first surrogacy journey, while unfathomably difficult at times, went about as smoothly as was possible, and from the very beginning I had always imagined doing a sibling journey with Elle. But, after speaking openly about it with her in January 2018, she wasn’t sure she could commit to the process again for various reasons. Of course, I completely understood, but in that moment I realized that I’d always harbored this image of matching with her for a second time, and to let go of that dream was devastating.

Facing the enormous obstacle of finding a gestational carrier filled me with paralyzing fear. I knew what we had to do, but I had no idea how to go about it. So, in hopes of having the right person stumble upon our story, I created a separate page on this blog about a year and a half ago to say that we were looking for a match. I further shared this information wherever I felt comfortable doing so, even swallowing my pride and posting on moms’ groups full of women from college that I barely knew anymore. Elle gave me the names of websites and social media groups where I might be able to find someone and acted as a sounding board as I attempted to navigate this strange new world. The posts themselves amounted to what was essentially an advertisement for our family: please help us. please choose us. please find us deserving of a child, was the humbled plea behind my words. Over the course of several months, I spoke with a handful of women, but each time we reached a dead end.

When Elle’s circumstances started to change over the summer last year, we began to revisit the possibility of a sibling journey. For a few months we discussed every issue imaginable, including all the things that would eventually be laid out in a contract, wanting to be prepared for the legal part of the process. But, the biggest obstacle we faced in matching was the contract we’d signed with the agency in 2014, which would require us to pay them again if we pursued a sibling journey with her. It was an exorbitant fee, by far the most costly aspect of the entire process, and we didn’t know how we’d be able to meet it. In the meantime, we were in the midst of packing and moving, and Elle was busy with things in her own life. It wasn’t until October that we had enough in place to move forward. I took down the page on the blog stating that we were seeking a carrier and contacted the agency to submit my application to become an Intended Parent with them for the second time, on October 9, 2018.

Less than 48 hours later, I walked downstairs to get breakfast ready and start the day. Already awake with a cup of coffee, Kyle looked up from his phone to tell me we’d gotten an email from a friend, Becca*. She’s offering to carry a child for us, was all he said. I was so shocked, I couldn’t think of anything to say. I’m not sure I even reacted other than continuing the task in front of me as I tried to process his words. Hearing him read her email in full didn’t make it feel any more real, the words just bounced off my brain.

It seemed like a bit of a long shot. She had a non-recurring issue with her first pregnancy that could eliminate her right away, and we had no idea how much she understood about the process (did she know there would be injections and invasive procedures? would she change her mind when she saw the litany of steps we’d need to take?) or whether we would agree on the important issues that could arise in the process. We also hadn’t really seen each other since we’d moved to begin Kyle’s degree a few years ago. This— having a friend or family member willing and able to carry for us– was exactly what we had hoped and prayed for over the last seven years, but I had long ago let go of that dream. Now that it had happened, I didn’t know how to proceed.

I texted Elle later that day to keep her informed, and she was very gracious in telling me that she wanted whatever was best for us, as well as assuring me that if something fell through during the prescreening, she would still be willing to help. After dinner, I brought up Becca’s profile on facebook, and as I looked at her picture, I just cried.

Following several weeks of correspondence with Becca to discuss some of the bigger issues, I reached out to my surrogacy coordinator at the fertility clinic to have her medical records sent to Dr. K. He had complete veto power, and getting his approval would be the first phase of many in prescreening. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication and errors on the part of the clinic, this step stretched out to last more than three months. It wasn’t until January 23rd, the day I took the trigger shot for my 3rd IVF cycle, that I received his call approving Becca as a candidate for surrogacy.

Although things start to slow down after an IVF cycle is complete, the surrogacy process never truly stops. As our surrogacy timeline shows, we are working toward this nearly every day. While being without an agency will save us tens of thousands of dollars overall, I have taken on a vast majority of the legwork in its place, and the experience has been both incredibly stressful and extremely overwhelming. In November 2018, while also attempting to deal with numerous insurance issues for my latest treatment cycle, I pictured the surrogacy process stretching out in front of me like an endless journey through the desert. After a few particularly frustrating phone calls, it hit me that I was well and truly alone in figuring all of this out. There wasn’t really anyone on my side that I could trust and no one to ask for advice or call for help in trying to untangle some of the mess. That night I cried to Kyle, telling him that it seemed unlikely to ever come together, and in the many months since then, I have often felt the same.

Alice looked round her in great surprise. ‘Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!’

‘Of course it is,’ said the Queen, ‘what would you have it?’

‘Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’

‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

– Lewis Caroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It wasn’t until February, when we submitted the $2,800 payment (for the physical side of prescreening) that we were considered officially matched by the clinic. Still, there was a long way to go. Becca was required to have an HSG test (to view her uterus and fallopian tubes), a mock cycle (to determine whether her uterine lining would thicken enough for an embryo transfer after a few weeks of injections), a mock transfer (to ensure everything goes smoothly for the real thing), a consult with Dr. K, and whole lot of blood work (plus her husband would need to be tested too). In addition, psychological screening was required as well: she would need to pass a personality assessment; she and her husband would need to meet with a social worker individually; Kyle and I would need to meet with a social worker individually; and we would need to complete a group session all together. We would also need to hire someone to meticulously go through her insurance benefits and determine whether she would be denied coverage for prenatal care if the baby she’s carrying is part of a surrogacy arrangement. Finally, lawyers representing each side would need to be involved in drawing up and signing a carrier contract. Only after all of that was completed would we be eligible to move forward with an embryo transfer.

Needless to say, we are still working through the list. In March, Becca passed her personality inventory, but we were also suddenly informed that our coordinator was no longer employed by the clinic, which further slowed us down. In April, Becca’s HSG came back normal. This month each couple completed their individual sessions with the social worker, and on Friday Ross missed school as we traveled to their area to attend the group session. Despite knowing them already (we didn’t meet Elle in person until the group session in 2014) and knowing what to expect, I couldn’t shake my nerves that morning. It was more than a little surreal to find ourselves in such a similar position nearly 5 years after doing this the first time.

By the end of May, Becca will have had her mock transfer, blood work, and consult with Dr. K, as well as (hopefully) a start date for the mock cycle, which will be the last and most precarious step of the physical prescreening. From the start I have been very cautiously optimistic, only allowing my heart to become slightly more invested as each step is behind us. The remaining fear of continued loss and heartbreak is something we will never truly get over. Even now, I am aware that there is no guarantee of moving forward to an embryo transfer, much less having a child. I have known arrangements to completely fall apart at this stage due to unforeseen issues, and that is something we simply do not have control over. Furthermore, her insurance may not pass verification, or, under the best of circumstances, we still have several weeks of legal issues to sort out ahead of us. It has been a long seven months already, with several more months of this to come.

On Saturday, after receiving approval from the social worker to continue moving forward, we got together outside of the medical scope of this process and introduced our young kids to each other. For their part, they are completely unaware of this incredible undertaking and the ways in which we might someday find our families connected; they are unlikely to even know anything about it for a long while yet. But, as I watched them run around and interact with each other, free of the heaviness that their parents are shouldering, something felt like it clicked into place.

That afternoon when we got home and looked at some of the pictures we’d taken, Ross pointed to the photo of all three kids sticking their faces through the holes of a sign painted to make them appear as farm animals. There were four spots– two occupied by Becca’s children and another for Ross, with one opening left next to him.

“Who goes there?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I answered, wondering the same thing.




*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

A Year, Frozen in Time

For the last few months, I’ve watched as the days tick by, drawing closer to today, May 10th. Somehow it’s been a year since having my second egg retrieval and gaining nine new embryos in a line of seventeen. Of the nine there was just one that survived, and the last one standing was you

Over the summer, in the weeks following treatment, we lived life. We picked blueberries and let Ross stay up late to catch fireflies and see his first fireworks. We sailed toy boats in the middle of Central Park and dedicated two months to raising several dozen monarch butterflies. We splashed in the waves on the beach and dismantled the nursery to begin a new chapter of our lives. With boxes still waiting to be unpacked in our new house, we picked out a door jamb and drew the first of many lines to mark Ross’ ever-changing height. When the weather turned colder, we filled a small backpack with essentials and held Ross’ hand as we introduced him to his new preschool class and teachers. We picked apples and pumpkins and enjoyed sugary apple cider donuts outside on picnic tables. We visited his auntie at the zoo to meet her favorite penguins and marched in the hometown Halloween parade. Fall gave way to an early winter snowfall. As is tradition, we made our annual visit to see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and walked through twinkling Christmas lights until our hands and feet were numb from cold. We got on a plane to see family in Florida and wore Mickey ears for our first trip to “Mickey Mouse’s house.” We waited for Santa to come and we put birthday candles on another cake, this time with a Toy Story theme.

And now, it’s spring again. In the last few weeks, we’ve painted Easter eggs and shared a picnic lunch with friends, soaking in the warmth of the spring sunshine. It is all these moments and more that have kept me afloat because, despite all of the smiles and happy memories, this has actually been a really difficult year. Throughout all the changes in season, we have spent quite a lot of time struggling to accept painful realities and feeling weak in the face of our obstacles. We’ve cried many tears and grieved significant loss. We’ve questioned this second surrogacy journey and anguished over the aching void in our family. There are no photos to commemorate those moments, but we carry the burden of them just the same. So much can change in the span of 12 months, but not always in the ways we hope.

In a normal situation, I would have received an embryo transfer myself shortly after the retrieval last May. If we were successful, this baby would already be in my arms. Ross would already have a sibling who’d be a few months old. Even when we completed that second treatment cycle a year ago, we believed we’d be doing an embryo transfer during the spring of 2019, but that possibility was lost to the endlessness of the surrogacy process, and we are still so far from where we need to be. Any day now I will open up the mailbox to a new bill for $600, the price of keeping our embryo on ice for another year.

There is never a day when I am not reminded of what could have been. In this year I have attended more baby showers and bought more gifts for second (or third) children than any other year of my life. Ross has watched as almost every single one of his friends has welcomed a new baby at home. The words brother and sister were added to his vocabulary, despite my reluctance to explain them to him. Pictures of toddlers holding their newborn siblings pop up on social media with frequency and feel like a punch to the stomach. And, above all, one of the hardest environments to be in this year has been the preschool community, where pregnancy, babies, and postpartum issues are bonding experiences. They are such normal topics of conversation that there is never an event that goes by when those subjects aren’t discussed.

At church, people are increasingly quick to point out that we don’t yet have a second child. They want to know why? And when? And, do we know that it’s past time already? Recently at a young families group I stood outside a circle of no less than five pregnant women. Isn’t it wonderful, all these babies? someone nearby remarked. Among the remaining women, each one had given birth within the year except for one, whose youngest child was still just 18 months. And then there is me: forever standing on the outside, even for the months that I was expecting. The most that I can ever hope for is to masquerade as a member of their exclusive group.

The truth is that the “baby life” seems to be very far away from where we are today. Over this last year we exchanged the crib for a toddler bed, purchased our last box of diapers, and packed away the final remnants of babyhood scattered throughout the cabinets and drawers of our house. Every time I open the storage closet, I’m confronted with relics of another life, and I wonder what the circumstances will be when I unpack them again– will I be preparing them for a child of mine? Or will I be doing what I perhaps should have done all along— giving things away to someone who can use them? Having everything so close, ready and waiting, often feels like tempting fate.

This part of me, the part that still turns down the wrong aisle to avoid walking by a pregnant woman in Target, is messy and ugly, but it also feels forgotten and invisible from the outside. It’s something the photos will never reflect, and it’s too inconvenient or uncomfortable to acknowledge, so it gets lost as life goes on.

It’s been a whole year with you now, but a whole year without you, too.