Let’s Do This Thing

It took more than 6 weeks (and, eventually, daily calls to the insurance), but in late March we were finally given a total cost and the go-ahead to move forward with IVF. We now have a small window of opportunity in which to fit a treatment cycle– and the timing isn’t exactly great. Next week Kyle will finish classes for his grad degree, followed by the stress of finals, and then, somehow, graduation. To add even more pressure, by mid-June we will no longer have a place to live, which means we’ve also been completely consumed by the job search and interview process since he was approved to send out his resume in February.

Several months ago I began taking a CoQ10 supplement in hopes of boosting my egg quality after having heard of several infertility-blogger friends doing the same a few years ago. Following a little more research, I worked to alter my diet, and for good measure, limited the use of my normal heat therapy for coping with abdominal pain. Although I know that these changes are unlikely to be the miracle cure we need for viable embryos, I’m willing to try. While being three years older this time around will be an added disadvantage, I was floored last month to hear that my AMH level (an indicator of ovarian reserve) came back with a whopping 2 point improvement from my 2015 results. It was so shocking I listened to the voicemail twice, convinced myself that the results were meant for another patient, and called my nurse back to confirm. But it was true, and misguided or not, I felt a burst of hope.

On Tuesday morning, my big box of meds for this cycle was dropped off at our door. Ross carefully “helped” me carry it into the kitchen and jumped around with the excitement of receiving a package. As I opened the box, he quickly knelt down beside it with an enthusiastic, “Let’s do this thing!” — a phrase that has recently entered his vocabulary from unknown origins and one I’ve taken to repeating.

IMG_8867
This is what a few thousand dollars’ worth of fertility meds looks like.
IMG_0421
Same concept, 2105 box

Our doctor formulated a different protocol which will use my natural cycle for stimulation, so instead of taking birth control pills first (which also helped sync my cycle with Elle’s in preparation for the fresh transfer), I’ll be doing daily lupron injections for the rest of my luteal phase (basically post-ovulation). The general idea behind this is to keep all of my egg follicles growing and ready for retrieval at the same time. We made the trek out to the clinic first thing yesterday morning to sign our final consent forms for treatment and to confirm ovulation through blood work. A few hours later my nurse called me with instructions: 10 units of Lupron injected into my belly each morning.

As Ross would say, let’s do this thing:

IMG_0901

IMG_6425
Not so bad

My stomach did a little flip when I first unpacked my needles the other day, but overall I haven’t felt nervous about beginning injections again. I know now that it gets much harder than this. But, to be extra careful, I read and re-read the instructions before beginning, following each step slowly and giving myself time to get used to it again. Then, just like that, it was done– quick and painless, not like the time I accidentally injected myself with a mixing needle:

IMG_0472
2015: The needle I used on the left (BAD) and the needle I should have used on the right.

After finishing I tossed the syringe in my sharps container, threw out the wrapping and alcohol swabs, and walked back into the kitchen– where I was immediately overcome by extreme nausea and a loud ringing in my ears. A few moments later, I was on the ground blacking out. I called out for help, but since Kyle was in the midst of changing a diaper, Pippa (our Chihuahua) was the first to attend to me. I don’t know what happened really– whether it was a reaction to the medication (has anyone else dealt with this before?), or simply a psychological response, but it was enough to shake me. At first I was going to wait to report it, but Elle encouraged me to tell my nurse. She was pretty concerned, so I’ve since been instructed to call their emergency line if it happens again tomorrow, which is not the way I wanted to start things.

Of course, it’s not the only thing we’re dealing with right now: Kyle left this morning for the weekend for a second interview and to check out the location. I was supposed to go with him but woke up with pain in my back from a pinched nerve, which ruled out sitting in the car for several hours. Ross and I are alone for a bit– which is made a lot harder by my inability to lift, carry, or chase him down to push pajamas over his head due to the pain and diminished mobility. But, the best part of living in the same apartment complex as all of our friends is that we’re never truly on our own: one sweet friend brought me dinner tonight, another took Ross for the afternoon and will be back in the morning to stay with me for the injection– even in the midst of their own life stress and post-grad job searches.

For once I would like to be the easy patient and have the rest of this medical part go smoothly. I’m terrified that another bad reaction to the medication will sideline me for this cycle, and we simply don’t have the time (or emotional energy) for that. The best case scenario is that our plans continue uninterrupted so that, in about a week and a half, I am able to go in for a baseline ultrasound and blood work before getting started with my stim injections and monitoring. It still hasn’t quite felt real yet, but I suppose there is time for that.

Advertisements

Searching for a Surrogate

Looking for a gestational carrier is one of the most stressful, terrifying parts of surrogacy, in part because choosing the right person is the most important decision in the process. I’ve seen some say that searching for a match feels a lot like dating, but it’s so much more than that– kind of like advertising yourselves as a potential parents and hoping that someone finds you to be deserving of a child, that someone likes you enough to want to help.

Working with a good surrogate agency gives you some structure and a bit of a support system. They match surrogates and Intended Parents (IPs) based on the varying state laws and your specific preferences: how many embryos you plan to transfer at a time, how involved you’d like to be, your feelings on termination, etc. When we spoke to our agency for the first time in October 2014, they mentioned right away that Elle seemed like a good match for us. The day after our initial consultation we received a detailed profile that included her backstory, photos of her family, and information about her previous pregnancies. I will never forget opening that email, my heart was beating so fast. We read every word over the several pages that described her life and I cried when it mentioned why she was choosing to be a surrogate. I still have her profile and pictures saved in one of my folders, along with the email from the agency congratulating us when both parties agreed to the match. At the time it felt like things were moving fast– almost too fast– it was terrifying to feel the pressure of making such a life-changing decision when you have no idea what you’re doing, but matching us with Elle was the best thing our agency ever did for us.

Going through this process without an agency can save you a good bit of money, which is why so many people do it, but it also means you don’t have that same structure or support system. I’ve never worried about doing the legwork for all the coordination surrogacy takes– booking travel, scheduling appointments for two people instead of just me, staying on top of medical bills– but matching has always been one of my biggest concerns. An agency presents you with profiles of surrogates who have already been psychologically and medically screened; they’ve had background checks and are invested in the process. When you’re finding someone independently, you’re at a disadvantage– they may not know if their insurance is surrogacy-friendly or the fertility doctor might dismiss them upon seeing one small issue with a past pregnancy or delivery. Most of the screening has yet to be done, and that takes time.

In February I struck out on my own, not fully knowing what I was looking for or where I might find it. I joined a few Facebook groups for surrogates and IPs who were hoping to self-match and began checking a recommended website daily for new “ads.” It felt intimidating and strange, but so did working with an agency once. For a few weeks I watched the daily posts– mostly photos with a brief explanation of what led them to surrogacy and what they were looking for in a match. For the most part everyone was encouraging and supportive, but there was drama at times too. A few weeks into joining, a warning was posted about two women who were attempting to scam IPs by matching with multiple couples.

I didn’t think I would ever be comfortable enough to post, but eventually, as our insurance continued to keep us on hold and we were unable to make progress on the IVF side, I got tired of waiting. My first post was vague– an ad for a website that rarely used photos and didn’t include names. By the next morning, I’d received a couple replies: a woman in South Africa with a fake email address; an agency hoping they could entice us to sign up with them. I posted again, this time in a few different groups with more details and a photo of our family. Again, a couple more replies: a woman with four kids who was interested but also in communication with IPs who already had embryos and were ready to go; another who wanted to know if we were still looking but never responded to my email.

I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. For one, it feels like everyone is already matched. Secondly, being 14-hours away from your carrier is actually relatively close in the surrogacy world. And thirdly, there are so many more IPs than there are surrogates. This is due to a few reasons: not only are there very few women who choose to do something like this but the medical clearances knock many out of the running. In addition, American surrogates are in high demand due to the surrogacy-friendly laws in many of our states. There is enough unbalance that I’ve heard some agencies are placing IPs on waiting lists.

We may also not be as high priority this time around– some women are only looking to carry for gay couples who might not have the options a straight couple does when it comes to adoption. Others only want to work with couples who don’t have children yet so they can give them the opportunity to experience parenthood. I understand this and do struggle with it as well– what if we match with someone who could have helped another couple have their first child when we have already been blessed in that way? There are so many heartbreaking posts from IPs that it is hard to close down Facebook and forget them.

Surrogacy, which is already a long and difficult process, definitely seems to be even more so for those hoping to find someone without the help of an agency.

While We Wait

For more than 5 weeks now we’ve been waiting anxiously to hear back from our insurance so we can have an idea of what treatment will cost. Our current coverage is through Kyle’s graduate school and despite paying an obscene amount each year for it, past experience has taught us not to expect much from them. But, if our financial counselor is right, this time we might actually receive some help. Unfortunately, that also means that we have very little time to fit in treatment before graduation in May (and perhaps they know this, which is why they’ve kept us stalled for over a month now). The latest news is that our case was sent for review yesterday and it could take yet another week before we hear back. I’m hoping we don’t waste another cycle waiting.

Aside from the insurance hassle, there’s a lot we have to do before my first injection. After sitting down with the new doctor, we had almost a month before I could schedule my next diagnostic blood work and ultrasound, giving us time to tackle as much of the “surrogacy checklist” as possible– something we need to repeat prior to each and every treatment cycle. No matter how much time you have to devote to the process, it’s overwhelming at best and still doesn’t include any of the agency, matching, or legal aspects of surrogacy. For the most part we’re having a lot of blood work and screening done to prove that we don’t have any communicable diseases that could be passed on to a gestational carrier through our embryo(s), as well as an assessment of risk factors. Eventually we will move on to involve lawyers and a social worker so we can do an embryo transfer, but for now we’re able leave out some of the more time-consuming steps.

There were a few things we were able to skip this time around– most notably, we did not have to gain acceptance into the gestational surrogacy program at the clinic again. I’ve talked about this experience in another post, but a few years ago we had to prove medical necessity (because you can’t just decide to do surrogacy) before our case was presented to a panel of about 32 doctors who agreed on our acceptance. This time it was much easier: we simply got to meet with the doctor for a normal consultation.

With more than two years of trying to get started on our second journey behind us, it feels like we should be further along than we are, but every time I start to feel like we’re finally getting somewhere, I am reminded of how very long the road is in front of us. All it takes is a few years to pass to forget how many steps there are, even though I did my best to keep track of everything at the time.

IMG_1180

In the surrogacy world, it feels like we have already fallen behind; it’s not unusual to begin the process for a second child while your first is still a few months old. Everything just takes so long that some Intended Parents don’t even wait for their first to be born to start again. For Jimmy Fallon to have two daughters born via surrogacy within 18 months of each other (July 2013 & December 2014), they would’ve had to start the process right after they initially became parents at the very latest. Sibling journeys especially (gestational surrogacy with the same carrier for more than one pregnancy) are almost always done close together, in part due to the fact that everyone’s lives are kind of on hold throughout the process.

I’ve gotten used to being stuck in this place where no one gets to simply decide to have a child. It has actually become weird to think that most people don’t need intervention to get pregnant, but it’s almost impossible to forget that we are the outliers even among those undergoing IVF. For one, we are sorted out from the other patients into a part of the donor program with our clinic, along with everyone needing donor eggs, sperm, or surrogacy to achieve a pregnancy. There are so few of us that there isn’t even separate paperwork for us to fill out prior to consultation, which means that several of the questions either don’t apply to us or are impossible to answer without further explanation. It’s a silly thing– a minor inconvenience in the scheme of things– but still a stinging reminder that I am not expecting (or even hoping) to be pregnant at the end of treatment. In addition, when meeting new staff there is always the assumption that you are part of the majority, and worse, the necessary correction. As in, Oh no, I’m actually not able to carry the baby. Rinse, repeat.

It’s been four years since we started the surrogacy process for a child and two years since that child was born. Still, I never stop wishing that we were able to go through IVF like a normal couple. Every time we sit in the waiting room with couples who have that option, I am envious of how much easier they have it– and they don’t even know. I try to remember that the women who are working towards surrogacy and also need to use donor eggs likely feel the same way about me, someone who still has the ability to use my own eggs however problematic they may be. I try not to lose perspective… but it will never stop being painful that the ability to carry my child is gone.

Here We Go, Again

We’re doing this.

It’s so strange to say that. After so much time spent waiting, hoping, planning, and hitting roadblock after roadblock to get this far again, it’s hard to believe that I’m actually writing those words: we’re doing this. Again.

When we found out in the fall that our doctor had retired, I felt closer to quitting than ever before. It all just felt like too much, too many dead ends. For a long time we wrestled with the difficult decision facing us: if we already needed a new doctor, should we wait until Kyle finished his degree to find a new clinic wherever we ended up? Or should we attempt to complete an IVF cycle before the move? After many conversations, we chose to forge ahead and stay with our clinic, even if it meant traveling for future embryo transfers.

It took a while to get things together in preparation, but about a month ago we finally reached our appointment with the new doctor at the clinic, not really knowing what to expect. Although sometimes hard to understand, we’d come to love our old doctor and his quiet demeanor. I will never forget sitting next to Elle ahead of Ross’ transfer and the way he came to shake her hand and thank her for what she was doing. It made me feel like he shared a stake in the process with us, like we were somehow less alone. From the moment we’d met him I knew he was the right one, and I was afraid I wouldn’t feel the same way with this doctor.

In contrast to what we were used to, Dr. K was fairly brusque and straightforward, pointing out the failures and shortcomings of my body without even attempting to soften the blows. He was of the opinion that every month was wasted time for me, confirming what I had already known to be true as we struggled for the last two years to pull together the resources we needed for another try. None of it was entirely unexpected, but thankfully he didn’t feel as though we had missed our window entirely yet, and before we had even arrived to the clinic that day, he’d formulated a plan to help combat my egg quality and blastocyst issues. He had also already spoken to his colleagues about our specific situation, wanting to get as much input on the potential protocol as possible. For this I was immensely grateful, and slowly a treatment plan started to come together.

We met with our assigned nurse and financial counselor following the initial consultation, both of whom had worked with us the first time around. They were excited to see us again and asked for pictures and updates on Ross. It was an odd sort of homecoming, and talking with them about how far we had come put me at ease. We left the clinic hand-in-hand, ready to face this new challenge together, and I felt hope– real hope– swell inside of me unbidden.

Since then we’ve spent our days working towards an IVF cycle. Yesterday I had Day 3 blood work to check my FSH and AMH levels, and the results will help determine my response to the medication. A baseline ultrasound showed an abundance of egg follicles as is standard for me, but the quality of those eggs will remain unknown until after my retrieval, and that is the biggest issue we face. It’s been almost exactly three years since my last procedure and things really only get worse with time, so we need to do this now. Due to the surrogacy aspect there are a number of extra steps in this process for us, and our ability to complete them is what will decide whether I begin my injections next month or as early as the next few weeks. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner the better.

IMG_7806
Now there’s a familiar sight.

In so many ways it feels like deja vu. Before our consultation, I pulled out my old binder and sorted through the paperwork from our journey with Ross to compare. Very little has changed in the worlds of IVF and surrogacy in the last four years. There is comfort in that kind of familiarity and knowing what to expect this time around… but there is also dread. What we had to go through to bring our child into the world took a piece of me that I will never get back and left behind damage and permanent scars that still haven’t fully healed. It was hard enough to do it once. And I am simultaneously heartbroken and angry that we have no choice but to go through it again to have another child. Haven’t we already paid our dues? Shouldn’t we get a turn to experience it the easy way now?

But, it’s different this time too. Perhaps the biggest change is that we now need a babysitter while we’re at appointments. Scheduling is much more difficult because of this, especially since we are driving an hour each way to the clinic. Even still, there is so much privilege in doing this for a second child. I don’t forget that when we are sitting in the waiting room with other anxious couples who are in the midst of the struggle for their first. No matter how much I am hurting when we come home, there is child who falls into my arms when we walk through the door and he reminds me of what we’re working towards.

Another big difference is that we’re doing things backwards: last time we started treatment with Elle already prepared to go with us, but this time we are going it alone. We will only be able to freeze embryos for the foreseeable future. In truth, we don’t yet know how the surrogacy part will come together– or when. We haven’t figured out whether we will go through an agency or attempt an “indy” arrangement. Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we will go about finding a gestational carrier. I’ve written a post on what we’re looking for (which I’ve been too afraid to share), apprehensively joined a few Facebook groups for intended parents and surrogates to meet, and scrolled through the profiles of women hoping to find people like us who need help. All of it makes me feel terrifyingly vulnerable and like I am in way over my head. For as painful as IVF can be, it’s the easy part of this equation. I’d rather give myself a million injections than be tasked with finding someone to trust with everything we have.

At our most optimistic, we are starting this process for a second child hoping that by late 2019 or early 2020, we will be lucky enough to become a family of four. In the meantime we are doing everything in our power to make that a possibility.

And so here we are, again, putting everything on the line– because it is far more painful to think of giving up.

Siblings

Every year we celebrate our anniversary with a weekend getaway. We don’t give each other cards or gifts for our birthdays, Christmas, or anything in between, so that time in late September is special. This past year, our eighth, we needed to stay fairly close to home and chose to spend the weekend in the city where our fertility clinic is located. We decided to book a room at the same hotel we stayed in for each of our embryo transfers and felt a bit like things were coming full-circle.

It was supposed to be a sort of celebratory experience, taking Ross back to this place from our past where we spent so much time hoping for him. Perhaps it was naive, but I didn’t expect to be hit with so much emotion when we walked into the lobby. And yet, all I could think of was sitting on those same couches next to Elle as I told her through tears that the doctor had just called to say we had lost 15 embryos overnight against all expectations.

Despite our lives having changed dramatically in the time since we’d last been there, everything felt strangely the same as when we had last left it, and for a moment it was like being transported back to 2015, back to a time when I was terrified that I’d never know what it was like to be called Mom. Now as I walked into the lobby, a little hand gripped my own, but the stark reminder of just how close we’d come to only holding emptiness in its place was haunting.

After checking in to our room, we buckled Ross into the car and made the short trip to our clinic down the street. The last time we’d stood in front of the building was 2.5 years earlier on the day we transferred Ross, a microscopic 5-day-old embryo who had spent the last few months in the freezer, waiting for us to come back for him while we hoped for his sibling to implant.

He had grown into a rambunctious toddler since then, and we persuaded him to stay still long enough for a quick picture by the clinic’s large sign before I held him up in front of the building for another, trying to position us as close as I could to the embryology lab that was his first home. At a little over 18-months-old, he couldn’t understand the significance, but some day he will come to know the story.

IMG_4029
In front of the building where Ross spent a few months in the freezer as an embryo.

As I watched him run around outside the building where we saw his image for the very first time, it struck me again that his wasn’t the only story that started there.

He wasn’t alone in that petri dish.

IMG_0585 (1)
The first embryo

Even though surrogacy eventually became our only path left to having a baby, choosing to pursue it was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. After a while you begin to feel like nothing will work simply because nothing has, and I was downright cynical when we started the process. Then something changed after my egg retrieval. I’d produced an exceptional number of eggs (27), and even more importantly, had a great fertilization rate (62%), especially considering how many embryos that gave us. Day after day the embryologist called to say that all 17 were thriving. It was only then that I started to hope. I began to believe that I wouldn’t get to hold just one of those babies in my arms over the coming years; I believed there were siblings in there too.

Of course, it wouldn’t work out that way.

It’s somehow nearly three years later, and I still think of those “what ifs” every once in a while. Things could so easily have been different for us. But the truth is that as I held him up in front of his first home and thought about the others who shared that space with him, I wondered if it would be the closest Ross will ever come to having siblings in this life.

From his earliest moments, I have worried that I won’t be able to relate to him in his experience as an only child. In contrast, I’ve been a big sister for longer than I can remember: my sister was born before I even turned two, and my parents have often told the story of the time they asked me if I wanted a brother or sister (I told them I wanted french fries). Being a sister, especially one of four, has had a profound effect on my life. I talk to at least one of my sisters on any given day. All three of them stood beside me on the day that Kyle became my husband. They are the keepers of my childhood, the only people on this earth who experienced the life we shared as the only kids along that worn road a quarter-mile from the ocean. I changed (some of) their diapers and let them climb in bed with me when they couldn’t sleep at night. They hogged the bathroom while I ran late for school and held me as I cried in the days after my first break-up. I can’t imagine my life, or who I would be, without them. As a twin, Kyle is perhaps even less qualified to understand the life of an only child than I am– he was sharing everything from before he was even born.

3106_522168289085_7595807_n

I want that for Ross. I want him to experience all of it: the way a sibling can push your buttons like truly no one else can and that feeling of having someone who understands every single reference from your childhood. He is fortunate to have cousins just 9- and 4-months-apart from him respectively, as well as good friends close in age who have grown up alongside him. He loves them like they are his siblings, but they will have siblings of their own. It will be different.

I have already started to dread the day Ross comes home from school to tell me that another one of his friends will have a new sibling soon and wonders why can’t he have a little brother or sister too. I don’t want the day to come that he realizes he’s the only person he knows who was born via surrogacy.

Surrogacy, The Second Time Around

We’ve been making plans to try for a second child for more than two years now– starting from before Ross was even born. Realistically, with a deadline for a hysterectomy only a few years away, we knew we would never have time to sit back and wait. There was a time that I was hopeful things would come together and we would find a way, but as the months– now years– have passed and we have hit repeated dead-ends, the hope I once felt has started to dwindle.

We began the surrogacy process in June 2014, a couple years after trying and failing to have a baby the traditional way. As part of the process we went through diagnostic testing for a second time, and it was then that we were told there were problems with my ovary function. Although it’s just one of many issues we have, this is especially concerning for me: my ovaries are the least-damaged organs in my reproductive system. They are all I have left to contribute to bringing a child into the world, and I desperately need them to continue functioning.

With knowledge of this added complication, we made plans at the end of 2015 (with Ross well on the way) to undergo IVF for a second child the following summer. Ross would be 6 months old by then, allowing us time to enjoy the newborn phase with him before getting bogged down in the process all over again. It would also give us the best chance of producing viable eggs, and we hoped to freeze a few embryos for a transfer that could take place shortly after his first birthday. By Spring 2018 we wanted to be preparing for the imminent arrival of a second miracle baby.

Except that things didn’t go that way for us, and our plans were derailed. We once thought we might be within reach of having a second child by now, but we are no closer than we were when Ross was born.

When the first plan fell through we picked up the pieces and tried to figure out another course of action. We would have to wait longer than we wanted this time, but we anticipated doing a round of IVF during Summer 2017 for an eventual transfer later in the year.

Again, it fell through.

Suddenly, more than ever before, we felt the pressure of time slipping away and knew if we still had a chance to try for another child, it likely wouldn’t be for long. So, after many difficult, tearful conversations this past fall, we agreed that we needed to do an egg retrieval in January 2018, if only so we didn’t lose our opportunity. But, like the two times before it, January is now coming to a close, and we were unable to start a cycle.

FullSizeRender 4

In October, more bad news: the doctor who handled our case at the clinic had retired, and with that we lost all of his ideas for a more successful egg retrieval the next time around. Since IVF treatment is so subjective and relies on case-specific tailoring, finding the right doctor is imperative. We had come to trust this doctor– he is the one who successfully transferred Ross as an embryo– but now we will be forced to start over. I’ll be shuffled to someone new, someone who isn’t familiar with our case or the way my body works. When we missed those chances in 2016 and 2017, we didn’t even realize how big of a loss it was.

Starting from scratch is far easier said than done. For one, we still don’t have the most important piece of the puzzle: someone to carry a child for us. It seems like just about everyone going through infertility has a friend or family member who is willing and able to be a gestational carrier, but we have never had that. At one point I thought it would be fairly simple to find someone, but over the years I’ve come to realize that it truly takes a calling to do something like this.

More than anything, we would love to do a “sibling journey” with Elle. It was always what I had imagined as the best case scenario throughout our pregnancy with Ross, but when she ended up with severe pain from a possible rib fracture in the third trimester, she tearfully told me that she was afraid to pursue surrogacy again for fear of experiencing something similar. I took that to heart and did not blame her at all; I had seen her suffering and felt so helpless in the situation. I could do nothing to stop Ross from kicking her ribs, and she could not take the medication she needed for fear of hurting him.

It wasn’t until a year later, in November 2016, when Ross was 10-months old, that we talked about the possibility again. But for as close as we are, it’s an awkward conversation to have openly. For one, everyone has to be completely on-board and ready at the same time, which includes the agreement of four people instead of the normal two. Due to the emotional nature of the subject, there is also an enormous amount of pressure because no one wants to hurt the other person or couple. Elle told me then that although she wasn’t ready to start right away, surrogacy was something she wanted to experience again and that they’d prefer to go through it with us. Since the process requires a huge commitment in terms of energy and emotion, Kyle also felt like he needed a little more time to focus on his master’s program, so we agreed to revisit it within a few months.

That was more than a year ago now. In all honesty, we have only danced around the subject because there is yet another big obstacle that stands in our way: the financial burden.

dolar

When we signed up with the surrogate agency in 2014, our contract prohibited us from doing a second journey with our carrier unless we went through the agency again. Unfortunately, the agency’s fee is by far the most significant expense of the entire process. It makes simply doing IVF look downright cheap. And while insurance, financial aid, and payment plans are available for IVF couples, there are no comparable options for those who need help being matched with a gestational carrier.

If you don’t have someone you know willing to carry a child for you and you can’t pay the exorbitant price of an agency, there are very few options left. One of them is to go through an agency abroad in a country that would be far less expensive. Surrogacy in a place like this can be exploitative; the women may feel it is necessary to do for the money (whereas through our agency, all the carriers have to meet a certain income level) in order to aid their own survival or that of their family. Intended parents are generally not present for much– you can forget being there for the birth of your child– and I’ve read of many cases where the communication was sparse at best throughout the pregnancy, in part due to the language barrier. In addition, the reality of obtaining a passport and traveling back home overseas with a newborn seems staggering– a 14-hour car ride in our own country was hard enough. To complicate things further, the law in certain countries would support a gestational carrier in her choice to keep the child, even if she has no biological claim. That is simply a risk you take.

After researching this option years ago, we felt uncomfortable with a number of the details and decided it was not for us, though I understand the desperation that might lead someone to feel this is their only hope. All that’s really left after that is to find a carrier through websites or Facebook groups. Many people do this, essentially cutting out the middle man and avoiding the extra cost. The issue with this is that there is little to no pre-screening done prior to being matched and no one in a position to mediate if a problem arises. In comparison, our agency only accepted about 1-2% of the women who applied to be carriers following a number of psychological tests and a full medical review.  They also provided counseling, support groups, and a liaison who was assigned to handle any issues with our specific case. There are absolutely many successful surrogacy journeys completed without the help of an agency (they’re termed “indy” arrangements, short for independent), but the risks are much greater than when matching through an agency or with a family member/friend.

Although having one successful journey behind us has given me an idea of what we can expect, it has also raised my expectations for what surrogacy can be. Having done this before doesn’t make me any less afraid to do it again because each new journey is its own separate entity. Trusting someone to care for your child when you have lost the ability to do so will always be brutally hard, and the thought of going through this with someone we don’t know still terrifies me. With Elle we have developed a strong relationship, we know her family and have stayed in her home several times, and we’ve already agreed on how we want to handle all the aspects of surrogacy– both big and small.

I worry constantly about having another child with a carrier who does not end up being a great fit– what if Ross comes away from the surrogacy process with a loving aunt and uncle who are an active part of his life while our second child loses contact with the woman who made life possible for him/her? What if the second carrier seems to change partway through, failing to stay in communication with us and making it difficult to feel involved with the pregnancy? What if she were to decide last minute that she doesn’t want us there for the delivery? I have so many fears that I couldn’t even list all of them here. In retrospect, ending up with someone like Elle feels like sheer dumb luck. What if we aren’t so lucky next time? Our first journey was so amazing that I would be heartbroken not to have a similar experience. It’s difficult enough to have a child this way; I don’t want to add to the stress and the loss.

We’ve had countless discussions on what sacrifices we will make for the opportunity to try for another child. Over the last two years it has come up over many dinners, while pushing Ross in the stroller on our evening walks, during long car rides or short trips to Target. I am constantly trying to work out this impossible puzzle, trying and failing to fit the pieces together. Are we willing to take out loans and how much? Are we willing to put off buying a house, possibly indefinitely, in order to have another shot? Can we put everything on the line knowing that we are not guaranteed a child, no matter how much we spend? Do we have the strength to do this all over again? Above all, one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with is that this will not just affect us anymore. The money we spend and the loans we take out will change what we can do for other things, like Ross’ college fund. We are making a choice for him, and we have no idea if it would even result in a sibling.

There are times I just think: no, we can’t do this. It’s too crazy, it’s too hard. But then I think about what we would have missed out on if all of that had discouraged us the first time around. And I wonder who we might be missing out on if we don’t at least try. I imagine myself 10, 20, 30 years down the road when all of this is long since in our past. Will I wish that I had done everything possible to make this happen? Or will I regret being so reckless with our lives?

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
                                       Rudyard Kipling

Since You Came Along

A few days after receiving the call that our embryo transfer was successful and Ross was on the way, I remember sitting at a stoplight on the way home from Target and thinking about how beautiful the world was. It was such a strange thought to have, not just because I happened to be surrounded by industrial buildings and ugly roadways, but because it made me realize how long it had been since I’d felt that way.

Sharing my thoughts here over the last 3 1/2 years has meant attempting to describe some of the most thrilling highs and the most devastating lows I’ve ever experienced. There have been hours, days, weeks, even months at a time that I’ve sat staring at the same computer screen, trying to fit words together like pieces in a puzzle, hoping to convey a thought, a look, a feeling to someone else behind another screen.

Of course, the experiences I most want to share are often the ones I find the hardest to get right. So when someone asked me what it felt like to finally get the call we’d been waiting for, I hesitated at first. My world had gone dark sometime in 2012. It didn’t happen all at once, but eventually I struggled to find even a splinter of light in the darkness. In the following years as my health drained away in tandem with my hope, I felt my body and mind become consumed by the pain. Climbing back towards the light was an uphill battle that required every ounce of strength I possessed and then some; it’s a battle I am still fighting to this day. As I searched for a reply that might somehow bring justice to that struggle, I remembered the moment at the stoplight, seeing all the same things I’d been seeing– just differently.

“It was like having the scales fall from my eyes,” I answered.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two years ago today, when Ross was born and placed against my chest for the first time, again I fumbled for the words to bring to life the feeling of being reunited with him after so much separation and loss. This was a far more intense experience even than being on the other end of the phone call that changed our lives, and it beggared description. It was only much later that I could come close to relating it: that as I watched him take his first gasps of air, it felt as if I’d begun to breathe again too.

golden_sunlight_2-wallpaper-960x600

You know how there are those times that you look back on and realize were golden? Not that there weren’t bad days or difficulties, but that overall you were just happy. Rarely are you aware of it in the moment; it simply feels as though life will always go on feeling this way. It’s only when that time has passed and life has changed again that you can truly see it for what it was. This time, right now, is golden for me. Of course, we are not without our struggles, some of which are significant, but I know that all my life I will look back on these years and see the way that happiness settled over them.

I’ve heard people say that being a mom is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but I can’t relate to that sentiment. There is just so much light in motherhood that it far outweighs any darkness. This experience– with all its colic and sleep deprivation and sacrifice– is far easier than the life I lived before it. I have laughed and smiled more than I have in a very long time, and everything around me feels new again. I love sharing the world with Ross and witnessing again the magic of childhood, this time through his eyes. My only complaint is that the moments slip by far too quickly.

Last year for his first birthday, I put together a video with clips from throughout the year. I wasn’t planning to do it again this year, but when I heard this song I knew it was too perfect not to use.

And here is last year’s video in case you missed it:

Happy 2nd Birthday, Sweet Pea!