We’re Having a…

It’s been a couple weeks since we packed a bag for the day and took our first trip out of state since the pandemic to be present for the 20-week ultrasound. It felt so strange and exciting to have somewhere to be, and even Pippa came along, now that she is no longer used to being left at home alone for any period of time. After arriving in the town we used to call home, we picked up lunch from my old favorite restaurant and went to meet my mom and grandma for an outdoor, socially-distanced meal. It was the first time we had seen any family for months– it was the first time we had really gotten together with anyone outside of our household for months.

A short while later we met Becca outside the office. Now at the halfway point in the pregnancy, she was just starting to show a little bit. I was the only one allowed inside with her– both of us were masked and had our temperatures taken by the door while Kyle waited outside with Ross. Initially we were told we wouldn’t be allowed to FaceTime them, but they did let me call during the confirmation that we are having a…

…girl!

Hearing that he was going to have a little sister must have made the whole situation feel more real to Ross because his reaction was to laugh and say, “Wait a second… we already have a kid– me!!” Although he’d had his heart set on naming Buttercup after Batman (on the condition that she looks like Bruce Wayne, which I agreed to at the time because, er… I am not expecting her to), Ross has decided that perhaps Wonder Woman would be a better fit.

Being there in-person for the ultrasound made things suddenly feel much more real for me as well. As I sat next to Becca and watched Buttercup on the screen, I felt some of the walls I’d built up to protect myself from heartbreak come crumbling down. This ultrasound was the growth and development scan, so we saw everything: her tiny stomach, her kidneys, her heart, even her brain. Seeing how much she has grown and changed from the tiny embryo carrying all of our hopes, and the gratitude I felt in being able to finally be there in person, was an overwhelming experience; the silent tears slid down into my mask with no way for me to wipe them away.

In all honesty, we had pretty much expected this news because, unlike when we waited to find out Ross’ gender five years ago, the embryos from our 2018 cycle had been biopsied and tested before being frozen. In a phone conversation with our nurse on the morning of May 24, 2018, we found out it was a girl– something I felt instinctively as soon as she broke the news that we were down to just one embryo from the remaining four. All I know about the other three I found out this March when our nurse forwarded our files to Becca as the clinic shut down: just one other embryo had a gender listed next to it– another girl, but one we will not hold in our arms in this life.

Knowing the gender so early did make it feel different. Instead of a vague picture of a potential baby, I daydreamed about a daughter, a little sister. As we went about our lives over the next two years, I saw things I wanted to buy her (but didn’t) and imagined how she might fit into our family– while still feeling the need to keep myself from getting too attached. Although Buttercup had received the highest possible grading from the embryologist, a positive result was certainly never a guarantee. Then, as the process went far beyond what we had prepared for, the thought of what “could be” became intensely painful. The if or maybe hanging over our family started to feel like too much to bear; I just needed to know if we’d be forced to grieve the loss of her or not. In the meantime, seeing other growing families and other little girls, was one more reminder in a cycle of endless days full of countless reminders. All this time she was real to me, but it was like knowing someone no one else could see and missing someone I couldn’t reach.

We did tell Becca the gender before the transfer, and she has been confidently using girl-pronouns with us all along, but we wanted to be absolutely sure before sharing with friends and family since there is always a slim chance for error. Until we had the confirmation, it was ours to keep, which was difficult at times! During many conversations I came so close to saying something, but now the secret we’ve held for more than two years is out.

During the pregnancy with Ross, Elle had already felt his movement around the start of the second trimester, and by the time we flew out for the gender scan at 17 weeks, he was strong enough that we could feel his small kicks through her belly. I will never forget running an errand with Elle after the appointment when she suddenly stopped still and quickly waved me over. We stood there in the middle of the aisle, both hardly breathing as we waited for the next little jab. Even now we still joke about how active he was through the pregnancy, and I tell Ross about how he danced in his Aunt Elle’s belly to the beat of her morning alarm and how he once conspired with her to give his uncle a good kick. On the other hand, Buttercup, unlike her brother (and I still can’t believe that I get to use that word to describe Ross), seems to be quieter — which, if it’s any indication of the future, I definitely won’t mind after the busy activity of Ross’ toddler years! Becca first felt kicking around 17 weeks, but even when we were there for the 20 week ultrasound last month, it was still too soft to be felt from the outside. However, in the weeks since, she’s been able to send us the tiniest bits of movement on video. Now that our state’s case numbers have come down significantly, we are hoping to get our families together and experience them too.

. . . . .

Some of you reading this may realize that you know who Becca is. Please remember not to use her real name either on the blog or on social media if you comment.

Pregnant by Proxy in a Pandemic

On March 3, the day after we received our first positive beta results, Kyle’s grandpa passed away somewhat suddenly. We were six days from getting on a plane to visit him, making the loss all that much harder. Our planned vacation to be with family would now become a time of mourning. Signs of the pandemic were starting to pop up around us almost overnight: toilet paper, disinfectant spray, and hand sanitizer had completely disappeared from every store. Two cases of coronavirus had been confirmed near Kyle’s family in Florida, and I questioned whether we should be traveling. On March 4 we received our second beta numbers– they were high enough to schedule an ultrasound to check for a heartbeat. That same day, the virus was confirmed to be in our state.

Perhaps foolishly, we moved forward with our travel plans, not wanting to miss being with the family at this time. After some back and forth, we decided not to postpone the ultrasound until we could be there. Instead we’d hold it over video chat, as we had for so many of Ross’ ultrasounds; we wanted to know that everything was okay as soon as possible and knew that there would be several more scans we’d be able to attend in person.

A few days into our time away, things took a turn back home. Cases were multiplying all over the state at an alarming speed and grocery stores began to empty. Kyle spent much of the week in communication with work, dealing with constantly changing information and decisions, while I tried to gauge whether we’d be able to get food when we returned. One by one, schools and universities shut down, and we received word that Ross would be at home through Easter– what would we even do with all that time? In contrast, Florida felt like being in another world entirely; they still seemed fairly relaxed and unchanged, aside from maybe the difficulty of finding toilet paper. Even disinfectant was still available in their stores. As the week went on it became clear that life would be different when we got back home, and I started to wonder if we’d even be able to land at the airport.

In the meantime, we still had an ultrasound at 6 weeks, two days after the WHO declared the outbreak a global pandemic. And while FaceTime wasn’t working, we had pictures of a tiny baby Buttercup (at less than half a centimeter long) and confirmation of a heartbeat. One more hurdle down. Our next ultrasound would be at 8 weeks.

I began to worry about how the pandemic would affect Becca and her family, especially so early in the pregnancy. Current reports didn’t indicate increased risk, but covid was so new that there had been no studies on how it could affect the first trimester. At the very least, we knew that any high fever at this time could be dangerous, potentially leading to issues for the baby like spina bifida or anencephaly. Both Becca and her husband were able to continue working full time from home, which I was grateful for, but their kids were also home from school, and taking care of another little one was the last thing she should have been worried about. Wracked with guilt that the pregnancy could make her immune system more susceptible to contracting the virus, I berated myself for having gone through with the embryo transfer in mid-February, when the virus was already confirmed to be in the country. Why had we gone on as if we were invulnerable? I began to wish that we had waited to transfer– our embryo had been safe in the freezer, but now there was very little we could do to protect it– and prayed that if one of us was going to contract the virus, it would be me.

There were other complications as well: this pregnancy wasn’t normal yet, and as such, Becca was still giving herself daily injections. The baby would not survive without them until at least 10 weeks along. I laid awake at night worrying about having access to the necessary medication, and at our fertility nurse’s recommendation, we quickly placed an order to get us through. We were also concerned about the next ultrasound, which would be taking place in a hospital in connection with our clinic. It was the last thing they would oversee before we would graduate to care the care of an obgyn. As badly as I wanted the reassurance that Buttercup was still thriving, Becca and I decided it was safer for her to stay out of the hospital, and our nurse supported the decision. Within days, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine issued a statement calling for a suspension of all treatment cycles across the country and our clinic effectively shut down. It had been exactly one month from our transfer.

We were still meant to be under the care of our fertility doctor, but our nurse became increasingly difficult to reach. Located in a major city on the east coast, she was no longer caring for fertility patients and instead was on the front lines of the virus. As a result, we graduated ahead of schedule, which felt a bit like being pushed out of the nest, and moved forward on our own. I was nervous to proceed, armed with just a date in early April for stopping the injections, but overall we felt capable of putting the other pieces in place. Despite the fear, I knew we were still among the lucky ones– many Intended Parents in my Facebook group were suffering from the health crisis, and desperate posts had filled my newsfeed: international moms and dads were barred from entering the country and their newborns were stuck across borders alone; parents were barred from the hospitals, missing the birth of their children and sometimes the first 48 hours of their babies’ lives; others lost carriers who were terrified by the uncertainty, even after spending thousands of dollars to get through medical and psychological screenings; several had received notice from their clinics of canceled treatments or embryo transfers, some them after having already begun injections in preparation. Everything was suspended indefinitely.

On March 15, we arrived home from the airport and immediately took off everything we’d been wearing to be put in the washer. My parents had delivered us enough groceries to get through the next two weeks, and we started quarantine without structure, aimlessly wandering through the days. In many ways, it was an enormous relief. I was able to get more of the physical rest I needed without feeling guilty for the events I’d be missing, and we enjoyed having Kyle at home. The last couple years had been busy, and it was nice to having him physically present again, not rushing off after dinner for a meeting and missing so many bedtime goodnights. Ross became exceptionally good at games on his tablet, and we stayed in touch with his friends and cousins by watching movies in tandem over FaceTime or playing in front of the camera. We followed the news in horror of what was happening outside of our home, hearing more and more stories of people we knew who were being affected. Our area was considered a major hot spot, caught within the reach of the global epicenter that was New York City. It wasn’t long before we realized that we would have to adapt to a new way of life for a while, and I refocused my energy on homeschooling.

At the end of March, I was up late one night putting together some resources for our new school adventure when Becca texted to say that she’d had some bleeding. It was what I had been waiting for, the other shoe that felt like it was always ready to drop. We had told almost no one of our news by that point– first planning to say something shortly after our results and then getting lost between the passing of Kyle’s grandpa and the pandemic. We were so afraid of something going wrong that we didn’t even talk about the pregnancy between ourselves. I knew that bleeding sometimes happened, but we were still so early, and being between care of the clinic and the obgyn made me feel especially vulnerable. To make things worse, it was late at night and there was no where to go. It felt safer for Becca to get some rest and call someone in the morning than to head to a hospital where her risk of exposure would be high, so ultimately we decided to wait, and the next morning she was placed on pelvic rest until the upcoming appointment with her obgyn.

A few days into the new month, we FaceTimed for a 9-week ultrasound during our first obgyn appointment. It was a familiar experience for us, but not one that I’d expected this time around. In the past, we had been unable to be present for most of Ross’ ultrasounds due to the 14-hour drive, and while I was grateful that Skype had allowed us to attend in some way, missing out on those experiences was painful. This time we were just 2 hours away and had been so relieved to know that we would finally be able to be there. The pandemic changed all that. Even before the doctor’s office stopped allowing visitors in to appointments, we decided not to risk potentially exposing Becca, especially since her area wasn’t experiencing the virus with the same intensity as ours. It was a huge loss in a situation that was already full of sacrifice and loss, and it was one we had not prepared for. The only thing we could hold on to was that both Buttercup and Becca were okay, and that maybe in the future, if we continued to do our part, we could be there in person someday.

At the end of the month we had an unofficial ultrasound during an appointment at 12 weeks. We scrambled to set up a Zoom call, and it crossed my mind how strange it was that we were keeping in touch with literally everyone in our lives through a screen, including Buttercup.

Our first time seeing Buttercup moving and hearing the heartbeat at 12 weeks

The reopening of our parks gave us new life in early May. For the first time in a month we could be outside beyond our neighborhood and Ross finally had space to run around. But we still had a long way to go, and life was anything but normal.

Running through a field of buttercups
First time flying a kite

Since the start of the pandemic, June has been my focus. Our 20 week ultrasound was scheduled for mid-month, and we’ve been waiting for the last several weeks to find out whether we’d be allowed to attend the final official ultrasound. At the beginning of the month we reached a significant milestone when Becca started feeling Buttercup’s movement, and as much as I wish it was me, I love getting those updates. Then, a few days ago, the doctor’s office amended their policy: one of us could be there as a support person. It’s bittersweet. On the one hand, I’m so grateful that I will be allowed in. But, knowing that Kyle won’t be there and that he will miss every single ultrasound has been difficult to accept. Once again, it’s the surrogacy that will hold us back; if we were a normal couple, both parents would have the ability to attend.

Today is the day we’ve been waiting for. We are 20 weeks along now and halfway through the pregnancy. This would also have been Kyle’s mom’s 60th birthday, and it feels meaningful that it fell on this day. She has been gone nearly 5 years now, and we had Ross’ 20-week ultrasound just four days after she passed.

For the first time since the embryo transfer in February we’ll see Becca again, though this time we’ll be wearing masks. I will have the privilege of being with her and FaceTiming Kyle and Ross from inside the room. By the time we’re back home to quarantine-life tonight, we’ll have confirmation on whether Ross is getting a brother or a sister

…he has suggested that we name the baby after Batman if it looks like the superhero.

Cheer Up, Buttercup

Yesterday marked five years from the day I held a piece of paper in my hands and wondered if it was the closest I would ever come to being a mother. On that paper was a photo of embryo #17, the first photo ever taken of Ross. Five years ago he was taken out of the freezer and thawed for transfer, and we have celebrated the anniversary ever since.

May 8, 2015

In 2018, we’d found ourselves back at the clinic on another May 8th, exactly three years to the day from Ross’ transfer. In that time he had grown into a busy toddler (almost 2.5 years old!), and he sat on Kyle’s lap as the fertility doctor painstakingly measured each of my egg follicles as part of another IVF cycle. Normally we’d drop Ross off with a friend before appointments, but this time no one had been available, and after discovering the clinic to be uncharacteristically empty, all three of us went back to the ultrasound room together. It felt sentimental for Ross to be there, to be reminded that we had once been fighting the same battle for him and to have him be a part of this new cycle. That monitoring appointment would end up being my last, and I was instructed to give myself a trigger shot before bed, bringing our second treatment cycle to a close. It felt fitting to have another milestone fall on that day. Two days later, we had nine embryos in our name– one of which survived to be transferred to Becca this February.

February 2020

At the time of my last post I never expected it to be so long before I shared an update with our results from that transfer. But in the (nearly) 10 weeks since then, life as we know it has flipped upside-down for everyone. For us, life has changed even beyond the current pandemic… because on March 2nd, we received the call that our beta test was positive!

We transferred our frozen embryo on February 17th. Our clinic generally waits 12 days following the procedure to test– longer than most– but because of the weekend, it was extended to a full 14 days. March seemed forever away, like it would never come, and those two weeks felt torturous. I think it might have been the worst post-transfer wait we’ve experienced yet.

In the past we’d started the process the other way around: finding a gestational carrier before creating our embryos. The journey to that point was long and arduous as well, but once we’d completed our first IVF cycle, we were able to transfer the embryos right away. Even with a failed transfer, both were transferred within the span of two months. This time around, the financial burden, the struggle to find a carrier, and the difficulty of completing this process without an agency had meant holding on to this embryo for almost two full years. After all this time, the reality that it could slip through our fingers in a matter of days made a potential negative result seem even worse somehow.

On the morning of our beta test, Becca texted early to let me know she’d had her blood drawn and sent a sweet ‘good luck’ message. Every hour we waited dragged on. Then, just after lunch, my phone started buzzing and “UNKNOWN” flashed on the screen. I’d told Ross that I was expecting a call from the doctor about our “snowflake,” so after a quick check to make sure he had everything he needed, I took the stairs two at a time and answered the call with a shaky voice.

All I needed to hear was, “Hi, it’s A” — and I knew. Over the last six years I have received countless calls from our fertility nurse. In that time she has relayed both good news and bad– she was the one who told me that Ross was coming, who gave me my final embryo counts each time, who told me when a transfer had failed or embryos had been lost. But this was one of the times she brought good news: “We’re pregnant,” she said with a smile in her voice.

Exhale.

It shocks me, even now, that this was our result. It’s just so lucky to have been successful on our first transfer this time around. But the thing about infertility and treatment is that it doesn’t just end with a test. The scars that form after so many years of failure and heartache become a part of you; you start believing that good things only happen to other people… because for a long time, that’s true. While we were grateful to have gotten past the first hurdle, we knew we had many more ahead. And though we felt cautiously optimistic, we kept it simple by only telling Ross that the snowflake was “okay.”

Two hours later my heart dropped into my stomach when I received a second call from the clinic. I was sure that they were reaching out to say that it had been a mistake, that the positive result belonged to someone else. Again, I ran up the stairs, barely breathing and not wanting to answer the phone or hear the pity in her voice. In reality it was just Dr. K calling to personally congratulate us– a huge relief, though the fear that it could all be snatched away again would remain, as it probably always will. I hung up the phone and slumped down to the floor, my heart still thudding in my chest long after the call had ended.

We cleared another hurdle when our second beta showed continued progress with our numbers staying on track by doubling within 48 hours. I hadn’t let myself think any further than that, so it was almost shocking that we were suddenly working with Becca on scheduling a 6-week ultrasound to check for a heartbeat. She would continue injections for several more weeks, and as a “high risk pregnancy,” we were meant to be under care of the clinic until after the 8-week ultrasound. Of course, the pandemic changed the course of all our plans, as it has for everyone, but that is for another post.

Currently we are 14 weeks along, and I never thought we’d get to have this semi-secret for so long. Just after my egg retrieval in May 2018, we spent the weekend with some friends to celebrate Kyle’s imminent graduation. I was still swollen and recovering from treatment, and while it was nice to be away, it was also hard to focus on anything beyond the hope of our growing embryos. We had been out one morning, walking down to the water, when Ross bent down to pluck a small buttercup flower and hand it to me. I had recently taught him the “trick” I’d learned during my own childhood– holding the flower up to your chin to see if the yellow reflection meant you liked butter– and he was enthusiastic about trying each one we found. With our embryos on my mind, I decided then that we would use “Buttercup” as a temporary name through pregnancy, in the same way Ross was known as “Sweet Pea” for so many months. I kept the original flower with me until it dried out and started to fade, and in the last two years, I’ve collected several others from special days or places. I hoped that they would show that I am always thinking of you.

For some of you, it’s likely you will recognize Becca by her real name soon– the next time you see her, she may even be starting to show. All we ask is that if you refer to her on here or on social media, you continue to use her pseudonym for privacy reasons!

I Want You More: Frozen Embryo Transfer

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

– Anaïs Nin

The embryo transfer is behind us and we’ve started the countdown.

The morning of the procedure was one of the hardest so far for me. I woke up feeling sick with dread and fear, terrified that we would arrive at the clinic to hear that it was already over for our embryo, that it hadn’t survived the thaw. We had no control in the situation– not even the pretense of it. As I walked down the stairs with a pit in my stomach that morning, something caught my eye outside the window: snowflakes. Just a few of them, swirling around our front yard with the sun as a backdrop; the rest of the day was perfectly clear.

A few nights before, I told Ross that we would soon be having an appointment to see our “snowflake,” and that Gram would be spending the day with him. Immediately he wanted to know if he could come too; he wanted to see the snowflake that Elsa had frozen for us. When I explained that kids weren’t allowed to be there he took a moment to process the rejection and scowled, saying, “That is not very nice.”

We didn’t talk about it again after that, but not long before we left for the clinic, Ross wondered aloud if the snowflake would be ready to come home to us. Painfully I tried to find a way to tell him that although we were seeing the snowflake and would finally have a picture to hang on the fridge, it would still be going home with Becca and her family for now. It was then that he came over to slip his hand in mine and pleadingly whisper, “Mama… I really want a brother. I really, really want a brother, Mama.” It shocked me to hear that he’d made this connection in his mind despite us talking about it in the vaguest of terms. All I could do was hold his hand and nod my understanding through tears. “I know you do, buddy. I’m trying,” I whispered back. But it was like a single moment of clarity in his busy toddler mind because after that, even when I showed him the picture of the embryo, he never mentioned it again.

It has been almost five years since our last embryo transfer, and so much has changed in that time– we have changed so much. Even though we walked into the same waiting area, it felt strange. For one, waiting beside another couple only served to underscore just how different our situation was. The clinic had also done some rearranging: the small area of lockers had been replaced by a reception desk, and instead of changing in the adjoining bathroom, we were directed to the small “rooms” closed off by curtains where I’d recovered from my retrievals.

They took Becca back first, and once she was settled, we were led to her room. Here we were expected to cram into a small space and change next to her recliner– awkwardly pulling full-body paper jumpsuits on over our street clothes, as well as a hairnet and disposable booties over our shoes. There wasn’t really enough room for the three of us– because the area was designed for a normal couple going through IVF, not a surrogacy situation. I tried to tamp down my hurt and irritation with the clinic’s oversight, and we jammed our coats, scarves, and bags into the single locker provided, along with Becca’s things.

To my dismay, our doctor wasn’t performing the embryo transfers that day; instead, they were being done by a doctor I’d only met once when she did my third egg retrieval in January 2019. I trusted Dr. K but I barely knew this other doctor, and it made me nervous to hand over complete control to her. She pulled back the curtain and perfunctorily went over the paperwork, which we signed and dated, and within a few minutes, we were being led back to the surgical room.

I’ve thought about our previous embryo transfers many times over the years, and often wondered what it would be like to experience one again, but there is really no way to prepare. Like the times before, it felt strange and surreal and incredible and crazy and completely overwhelming. As we waited for the embryologist to show us the physical evidence of this embryo, I thought of being in that same room during each experience we’d had there over the years: the times I was put under anesthesia in hopes of producing enough eggs for the embryos we needed and my very first retrieval at 27, the first time we sat next to Elle for a transfer when none of us had any idea of what to expect, the first time someone handed me a photo of our very own embryo, and the exact moment we first saw Ross on the screen when he was just a microscopic group of cells– our final embryo and last hope.

As the feed from the embryology lab switched on the screen, we saw a petri dish with my name and patient number labeled on the side. Somewhere in my mind it registered that if the transfer was successful, it would be the last time my name would be on anything for this child until the birth certificate. The embryologist adjusted the camera and zoomed in until suddenly– there it was.

I don’t think I breathed normally through the entire procedure. It happens so fast that it’s almost a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of thing, but we all watched the ultrasound monitor, and saw the catheter, and just like that a tiny bubble of fluid appeared with the embryo inside– a little blip on a screen. For more than 600 long days since this embryo came into existence on May 10, 2018, I have carried the hope of it with me and been desperate to have this photo, to see what it looked like.

Thank you to Elsa for freezing another one of our embryos into a snowflake and saving it for us!

Although the clinic doesn’t give printouts of the photos anymore, we received a digital copy shortly after, which we printed out that night to hang on the fridge just like before. When Ross was born I had his embryo photo made into a magnet because I never wanted to forget how lucky we are to have him, and it’s his magnet that is holding up the new picture, along with some of his preschool artwork.

Following the transfer, we pulled off our jumpsuits, gathered our things, and walked back out into the sunshine. It was bright and mild, the kind of February day that makes you feel like maybe spring isn’t so far away after all. Becca gave me a sweet little crocheted snowflake she’d made that morning, which is now next to the polar bear I’ve carried with me through this process; they’re sitting on my nightstand, where Ross’ Paddington Bear once waited for him.

Our embryo has been frozen for nearly two years, but it is a snowflake no longer, and there is no going back. I feel more attached than ever now, and I’m terrified of the potential loss and what it will mean for us.

February has been a brutal month overall. Ross and I became very sick, and he missed about two weeks of school as he battled back from it. My sickness turned into bronchitis that settled deep into my body and seemed like it would never leave. Even as we have recovered, I feel like I’ve been left at a low ebb. The stress and fear from the impending result where our future and our child hang in the balance is paralyzing at times; even the hours feel slow. I try to remind myself that if this embryo is lost, it will not be the end for us. We still have one more snowflake left, an embryo I also don’t want to leave behind, and I am already mentally preparing to undergo another IVF cycle in the coming months if that’s what it takes.

But for now, for this embryo, we have come as far as we can, and all we can do is wait and pray and hope.

Feeling so incomplete,
Wonder will we ever meet?
And would you know it right away
How hard I tried to see your face?
A little screen, a photograph, mine to take

And now, somehow I just want you more

– More; Halsey

*Please, please don’t ask us the results before we’ve shared them here, which we will do in the next couple weeks after receiving the results. Good or bad news, we want a chance to process and tell our families. This is by far the hardest part of being open, but we’ve wanted to be honest about what this experience is like. Thank you for all your love and support.*

Into the Unknown

It’s finally February, our transfer month, but the last several weeks have been anything but smooth.

In January I started experiencing severe abdominal pain, which is normal for me— except this time some of the circumstances were a little off. At times the pain was somewhat manageable, but overall, day after day was a struggle to function, working to hold everything together and trying to disrupt our family as little as possible. At night I laid in bed, curled up in a ball, trying to focus on anything other than the fact that it felt like something was tearing through my stomach. For most people it would make sense to be seen right away, but the cost of healthcare is too high for me to be seen every time my pain isn’t quite right, especially when so often it comes back to the usual culprits and no real treatment options. Instead I tried to wait it out and hoped the pain would go back to normal.

Finally, on day 10 with no relief in sight, it felt like I needed to make sure nothing else was happening. One of the most likely concerns was a twisting ovary, something I’d dealt with about 10 years ago and had been warned could happen again. If it needed to be removed by surgery, it seemed probable that I’d have a full hysterectomy rather than splitting it up into two procedures… but I didn’t feel ready. It would be a lot of added pressure for our upcoming transfer, and it would shutter the option for any future IVF cycles if needed.

Adding to the stress, a voicemail from the fertility clinic came in that afternoon. I listened to the message from our nurse in shock: they claimed my payment had never been received and were threatening to cancel our upcoming embryo transfer. And while I’d felt taken advantage of by the arbitrary fees they charged for having a gestational carrier, we’d paid it in full nearly a week prior. Of course, I wasn’t able to get ahold of our nurse or the front desk to figure out what was going on. Sheer panic shot through me at the thought of the possible repercussions for us, for our carrier and her family. I was terrified by what they would tell Becca, who had already started injections to prep her uterine lining, and texted her immediately, not wanting her to be confused or upset if they instructed her to stop medications on the basis of our lack of payment. Kyle was able to confirm that the charge went through on our credit card, but I realized then that the clinic had not sent me a single receipt or confirmation of payment as proof. I didn’t feel capable of dealing with it in the midst of the pain; all I felt capable of doing was crying.

I finally received a call back from the woman at the front desk a couple hours later, asking again for my payment details despite all my frantic messages that I had already paid. She was eventually able to locate my previous payment but offered no explanation for why I’d just been unnecessarily put through the emotional wringer. A quick email from my fertility nurse came through a while later to confirm we were back on, simply saying, “Never mind thanks,” (the lack of any punctuation making it worse somehow). I hung up the phone with the clinic a few minutes before walking in to see the doctor.

That evening I sat in the hospital waiting room with my mom and Ross, questioning whether two embryos would be enough if this latest issue led to unplanned surgery and feeling like I’d lost all control over my body, a feeling that is all too familiar. Ross, who was still traumatized by the flu shot he’d gotten for school a month prior, was most concerned that I might be receiving a shot of my own. He seemed skeptical when I reassured him that shots do not scare me, and I wondered what he’d think of the dozens and dozens of shots that Elle and I endured just to bring him into the world. 

The testing concluded no need for immediate surgery— it just drove home the fact that undergoing three IVF cycles in under four years has likely increased the growth and spread of my endometriosis far beyond what it had been before. Aside from taking everything out, which will eventually be my reality, there isn’t much I can do. The pain continued for a while longer and then very slowly began to decrease by the day. Ultimately, I lost more than two weeks of my life to it this time.

With everything else going on, the transfer has ended up feeling like one more out-of-control situation in an already out-of-control time. We did receive news that it will not happen on the day we originally planned; it will be delayed. While that happens sometimes, it was disappointing and difficult to bear. This new date doesn’t quite feel like ours yet, maybe because we’ve held onto the first one for so long. Work schedules had already been maneuvered around, and things like travel and childcare had already been sorted. There are seven of us between the two families who are directly affected in this crazy arrangement, and that makes everything so much more complicated.

To further complicate things, as we reached February, I suddenly realized we need to start talking to Ross about what is happening. In 2018 as I was injecting myself with an obscene amount of hormones, I mostly talked about it in a retrospective way– as in, this is what we did to have you. He was two years old then and didn’t put together what this treatment was meant to lead to, nor did I want him to think about it. In 2019 at age three, I talked to him about the process in terms I thought he might understand– as in, there are eggs growing inside my belly and the doctor is going to look at them today. On the way to one appointment, I remember him asking me when my eggs were “hatching,” and it made me laugh to picture the image he had of tiny eggs (and baby chicks?) cracking open inside my belly, but that’s what made sense to him at the time.

Now– at four years old and while we prepare for an actual transfer– it feels different. If we were going through this privately, I might not say anything to him at all. I don’t want him to experience the grief that comes with a negative transfer and the ending of a dream. But we have opted to share everything, and that means that he could possibly overhear something in the coming weeks. I would hope no one would say the words brothersister, or baby to him– we almost never use these words, even to ourselves, because they are not a guarantee– but I don’t know.

For the most part, we talk about the frozen embryos as our snowflakes, something he is familiar with because we have told him that, before he was a baby, Elsa froze him into a snowflake until we were ready for him. We even have a picture that Kyle made for me in 2015 of Elsa with him as an embryo that he loves to look at, and she has become one of his heroes.

Ross knows that Elsa has helped us again by keeping our snowflakes on ice until we are ready for them… but now, like Elsa, we head into the unknown.

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: