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.

Advertisements

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!

What’s in a Name?

When we transferred Ross as an embryo in May 2015, I was afraid to be hopeful. He was our last remaining embryo, and it would be our second out of three contracted attempts at a successful transfer, meaning that we would only have one more shot before our contract with Elle would be void and we’d need to sign another.

Our fertility clinic was 2 hours from home, but we stayed in the area for an extra night to spend the time with Elle and her husband, and after parting ways the next morning we stopped to pick up some snacks for the drive home. As I went to grab a soda out of the cooler, only one faced me: a bottle with my grandpa’s name on it. It felt like a sign.

11201111_830938321465_1921971407617652508_n
May 9, 2015: The day after our transfer

Names have always been important to me. As a kid I poured over the baby name books, making list after list of my favorites. Over the years my tastes changed, but some names stood the test of time (at 7-years-old I was determined to name my future daughter Fiona, not yet realizing that I’d have a husband with veto power). Family names were at the top of those lists: my grandpa had hoped to have a grandson share his name, and while that was not a possibility for him, I’d always wanted to give him that gift with a great-grandson.

Kyle and I talked about using my grandpa’s middle name for a son from early on in our relationship, but it wasn’t until our first year of marriage that we discussed it more seriously. At the time it was early 2010, and just six months from our wedding day, my healthy, vibrant grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Everything about our daily lives changed when I chose to become one of his caregivers, but I felt that doing so, and spending that time with him, was a privilege.

Back then we were making plans to soon have children, and although those plans would not come to fruition, we came to an official decision sometime that summer to name our first son Ross for my grandpa. We knew our time with him was short and he would likely never meet his namesake, but I wanted him to know that someday he would have a great-grandson bearing his name. So, on Christmas day 2010, I sat on his bed and held his hand as I told him of our plan. He was no longer able to communicate his feelings to us by then, but I will never forget that moment or the look in his eyes. He passed away two days later on December 27, 2010. Seven years ago today.

We held onto the name for a very long time, until it even became painful to hear or say out loud. Five years later in July 2015, we were just a few weeks from finding out whether we were expecting a boy or a girl. Nearly everyone had guessed it would be the latter, especially since our families were already gaining two baby boys that year. We were only a month away from our big move for Kyle to start grad school, and we decided to drive out to see the new apartment in order to determine how much (or how little, rather) we could bring with us from our current house. Coincidentally we stopped at the very same rest stop where I’d received the sign from my grandpa in the form of a Diet Coke label just after our transfer a few months before. This time as I walked up to the case wondering which name would be on my bottle, my heart skipped a beat when I saw it:

IMG_1349
July 2015: The first sign that told me Ross was going to be a boy

Ross. Not a common name here by any means. And my very first thought was: it’s a boy.

My grandpa isn’t the only one with this name in my family. It was a name he loved because he shared it with a grandfather he never met, Roscoe. His mother had become an orphan at a young age, so her parents were no longer alive when she had her children, but Grandpa loved the pictures of his grandparents and always thought he took after his namesake. I happen to think that my Ross takes after his namesake as well, and at times I can see my grandpa as a young boy in him so clearly. I believe Ross has his eye and hair color (not quite blonde, not quite red, not quite brown), and the way he sometimes smiles or holds himself reminds me of the little boy from the late 1930’s that I’ve come to know through worn black-and-white photos.

294894_573030251305_6945880_n
Larry Ross as a toddler
IMG_0741
The original “Ross”: Roscoe Rufus, my grandpa’s namesake and my great-great grandfather
IMG_2801
Grandpa holding me for the first time, on the day I was born in 1987
1934790_525465241965_4206559_n
Our birthdays are 3 days apart, so we celebrated our 22nd & 74th birthdays together in 2009. This was the last birthday celebration before the diagnosis.

There have been mixed reactions to the name we chose; it’s not especially popular here beyond its association with a well-known tv character, but I don’t care. It’s him. He was named almost 6 years before he was born, and I know he could never have been anything different. If possible, I love the name even more today than I did the day it was written on his birth certificate. It’s been a part of our daily vernacular for almost two years now and still I often pause and smile when I hear it.

And for his middle name? We wanted something of equal importance and meaning. It is tradition in my dad’s family that the first son receives his father’s name in the middle spot. Had any of us been boys that would have continued, but my dad had four daughters. So to honor both my dad and my paternal grandfather, we chose the name David, the name they both share. Along with Kyle’s last name, Ross bears the names of all four of the most important men in my life.

IMG_2782
Daddy’s girl
10482253_756186000715_1280767154974999383_o
Cape Cod summers
IMG_2792
Reading with Grand-pop
IMG_2219
The “Davids”: David Walter, Kevin David & Ross David (6 days old)

And that’s how we have our Ross David.

_DSC5685.jpg

Someday

Bridge ending[4]-2

Almost three months ago we marked my 30th birthday. My aversion to the day is nothing new; it’s been several years now since we’ve celebrated. The fact that it happens to be the anniversary of our first early loss from 2012 has changed the way I feel about it, but it’s also painful in that it represents valuable time slipping away. Somehow being dragged into this new decade made August feel even worse than usual.

My age shouldn’t even be an issue yet. I’ve always been on the younger side of infertility patients and we should have years for possible treatments stretching out ahead of us. During our first appointment in the surrogacy process, our doctor even mentioned how young we were to be in this position, pointing out that at just 26 I had some time yet before I reached his cutoff of 52 years of age for an intended parent. In the surrogacy world it’s also common for an intended mother to be older than her gestational carrier, but I am seven years younger than Elle. And while our current circumstances have prevented us from starting the process over for another child, at the very least we should have the time to wait. Except that we don’t. From the beginning, our timeline has always been stuck on fast-forward, and for me, reaching 30 has always represented the beginning of the end.

For almost 20 years, the plan has been to have my final surgery in my early 30’s– as in the surgery, a hysterectomy. The goal over nearly two decades of my life was always to maintain my fertility until I was able to have the family I wanted. After that, my doctors assured me, one last surgery would give me a much more normal life: I’d be pain-free again, my days would no longer revolve around a monthly cycle, and the pressure to do everything possible to save my fertility would be gone. It would all be over, and at last I’d be free.

Living with pain is physically and emotionally wearing, but it has never been my greatest fear. I remember desperately trying to bargain with God at 15 or 16, offering to accept any physical pain if only my ability to have children could be spared. It was a price I was willing to pay, and over the years I clung to this image: being 30-something with three kids and a body that no longer hurt. That was the only thing that kept me going through the very worst of days. In those moments, when all I wanted was to be rid of the pain for good, I’d remind myself that it was worth it to be able to have children someday. I truly believed that there was a purpose to my pain.

Over the years we’ve made a lot of decisions around this deadline for surgery, including meeting with two different doctors Spring and Summer of 2011 to discuss plans for what was likely to be a complicated pregnancy. It has been since that time that we have remained focused on having a family, and as I’ve reached this new decade more than 6 years later, I’ve found that I don’t know how to accept our bitter reality. I am hurtling towards a hysterectomy, but my life would have been infinitely better if I’d simply had my uterus removed from the start– as it turns out, I’ve only ever needed my ovaries to have Ross.

Becoming a mom was always the priority, but doing so through surrogacy didn’t suddenly dissolve the feelings of loss I have over never being pregnant. I wanted to have the experience that is able to unite women in a common bond across every race, culture, and generation; I wanted to have the ability to make my own choices in regards to family planning; and I wanted to have all the little things that came with being able to carry a child: telling my husband he was going to be a father because I was carrying his child, feeling my baby kick from inside me, and going through delivery knowing that my body had done this amazing thing despite its brokenness. I wasn’t so naive as to think that we would never struggle; I knew that as time went on and my disease continued to progress, it was likely we’d need intervention along the way as we became a family of five. But I never imagined that by 24-years-old my window of opportunity was already shut, and that the experience of a full-term pregnancy– even just once– was forever out of reach.

It seems people expect me to have accepted infertility by now, especially after a successful surrogacy journey, and there is a lot I have accepted. I am at peace with Ross’ story and I am grateful to have Elle and her family in our lives. Truthfully, it’s not the infertility that I find so unbearable to accept, it’s the permanence of our situation. This is not a phase for us, it feels like an ending. All along we’ve been fighting a war– and I’ve been fighting long before Kyle ever came into my life. We lost many battles together, more than I have shared in the three years I’ve been writing here. And then the tides turned and we came out victorious one day. Nothing can take away the joy we’ve experienced, but that hasn’t changed the fact that we are still stuck in this war that has consumed our lives. It’s tiring and painful and worst of all, I know how this goes; we’ve been here before.

I honestly don’t know how to accept that we may never have another child because surrogacy is by far the most expensive, most intense kind of intervention you can possibly need– or that 18 years of living my life in chronic pain have been for absolutely nothing. The final blow is that, because of complications, living pain-free again someday is now no longer an option, no matter what organs I have removed. Accepting this reality feels like I’d be saying that everything I’ve suffered is okay, but it’s not. I’m angry and heartbroken, and I want my life back.

This isn’t how the story was supposed to end.

Do you ever feel like you’re living the wrong life? There are moments when I think about how over the last few years I’ve become the poster child for surrogacy among family and friends and I just want to say, That’s not me! That was someone else! Somewhere out there we are living a different life: Ross is a second child and we’re getting ready to have a third when Kyle finishes his degree in May. Our first-born child, the one that we were meant to have, is turning 5-years-old. And while my upcoming hysterectomy still won’t fix everything, it will at least bring relief from some of the pain, and I will be at peace knowing that I did not spend my life suffering in vain.

But that’s not a life I will ever know.

The Second

I want to have another child. 

For so long I’ve wanted to write those words. This post has been an internal struggle for months– maybe even a year now– but each time I start to fill up another blank page, I find myself pressing ‘delete.’ I am forcing myself to keep going this time, if only to be rid of this feeling that these words are trapped inside me and I’m the only one who knows the pain they cause.

the-missing-piece-2-1162255-1280x960
For most couples, having a second child is an expected part of life. But, when your first child was the miracle, it seems as though you’re not allowed to ask for another. Only if the first came easily is it acceptable to hurt over the absence of a second. But long before Ross was born I ached over this child too. All along I have carried the hope of having another, each day it weighs down my thoughts, but I never feel the freedom to express it. I know what the general reaction will be because I’ve already started to receive it– that I am being ungrateful, maybe even selfish. That I should consider my family already complete. That I should just accept this additional loss as the fate of my own infertility and move on. That I am asking too much.

Over the last 18 months, I have carefully packed away each outgrown baby item, knowing that no child of mine is likely to use them again, yet still praying with everything in me that I am somehow wrong. The odds are stacked so highly against us, but I can’t bring myself to let go of this last tiny ember of hope. I can’t imagine selling or giving anything away, so the baby stuff piles up in storage instead, untouched and gathering dust.

As Ross continues to grow, strangers seem to feel more entitled in asking when we are having a second child. The first time it happened Ross was barely 4-months-old and not even sitting up on his own yet. Now that he’s an active toddler we are being questioned with increasing frequency, and each time it hits me like a very familiar punch to the stomach. “You have to give him a little brother or sister. You just have to give him a sibling!” insisted a woman at the baggage check-in no less than three times as we traveled home from Thanksgiving. “And he’ll become spoiled without one anyway, you know,” she added with a smile. We get questions often enough now that I know there is never an easy answer, but the few times I’ve dared to be honest I am generally encouraged to “just adopt” (we can’t) before finally receiving the unsolicited advice that I should just be happy with one. Any response other than a fake smile makes everyone uncomfortable, and so again, I remain silent.

For the record, I am happy. Ross has taught me how to enjoy life again, something that once seemed like such an impossibility. He has shown me the beauty in a million little things, and I love seeing the world fresh through his eyes. Wanting another child doesn’t take away how grateful I am for him. This is a pain that is completely separate; it involves the piece that is still missing from our lives and our family, not the piece we were able to find. I know that there is meant to be another child and my fear is that I will never know that person. After all, who would be missing from your family if there was only ever one child?

Yet, even in the best of circumstances, I am always aware that there is still only one road left for us to travel– and the cost is exorbitant, the risks high. Frankly, I was far more naive when we started the surrogacy process for Ross in June 2014 than I am now, and it terrifies me to know what could be ahead of us. Having been down this road before means nothing in terms of what we can expect; each time is so different. And even if we had the ability to begin tomorrow, the soonest we’d be able to have a child is at least two years away. Two years of invasive testing, endless appointments, expensive lawyers, confusing contracts, and the pain of knowing that we are missing out on experiences we can never get back.

Again, we find ourselves at a strange standstill as we watch other families who had babies around the time Ross was born already expecting another or having welcomed a younger sibling. Everyone else seems to be making plans or feels content in knowing their family is complete. In contrast, we can do nothing. In place of options and choices, we are staring at a dead end.

I wish we had wanted to stop at one; it would be so much easier. We’d be done, I’d have surgery to get rid of it all, and I could finally move on from this phase of my life that so often revolves around my reproductive organs. It has been so many years that I don’t even remember what it was like not to think about my fertility, and I am tired of fighting for it.

But it’s that tiny —what if?— that haunts me.

familypic

What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: Early Pregnancy [Part 3]

To read the previous posts in this series, click here:
[Part One] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: The Matching Process
[Part Two] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: Surrogacy During IVF



Part Three: Surrogacy in the First Trimester

Finding Out

Before we started our IVF cycle, Elle decided on her own that she wanted us to be the first to know if we were expecting following each of the embryo transfers. She chose not to take any at-home pregnancy tests before the official blood draw and personally asked that she not be contacted with the news until after we were informed. I knew a lot of gestational carriers/surrogates tended to take tests on their own but hadn’t wanted to ask her to wait, so I was touched that she’d already thought through how painful it was for us not to have the option of finding out at home together like a normal couple.

When we finally got the good news, I felt an immediate shift in the relationship we’d built over the six months we’d known Elle. Our lives were now linked together with hers by a baby the size of a tiny poppy seed– and that changed everything. Suddenly we had reached brand-new territory in the surrogacy process and were tasked with continuing to build our relationship while simultaneously navigating through the abnormality of the situation. None of us had been through anything like this before, so we did our best to figure it out as we went along. It was surreal, not just because we hoped to finally be on our way to becoming parents, but also because this moment we’d been waiting for didn’t just involve the two of us and our unborn child. With surrogacy, there is this strange feeling of someone always being in the periphery, and then you realize that it’s actually the other way around– you’re the one standing on the sidelines in the pregnancy of your own child.

The day we got the positive test results, Elle sent me a smiling photo of herself with flushed cheeks, writing, “Your Sweet Pea is giving me hot flashes! :),” and I will never forget the way it felt to receive it. From then on, “Sweet Pea” is how the baby was almost exclusively known until the day he was born, and I still use it every day. I can say now that Elle’s text was indicative of the way she handled everything in the pregnancy: she kept us updated and involved, she was always careful to never complain about the pregnancy symptoms I wanted to be feeling, and she went out of her way to refer to the baby as ours, never once asserting any kind of ownership.

The Unknown

We knew that the first trimester would be difficult– there was such a long way to go and we had way more to lose now. With so much that had gone wrong for us in the past, it was hard to have faith that this would be the time things worked out. Beyond the fear of loss that gripped me every day, it made me anxious that if something did go wrong, I wouldn’t know about it. There would be no warning signs because my body would go on as normal, completely oblivious until I received word secondhand. For months, the sound of every text message or call was enough to make my stomach drop with the fear of hearing from Elle that everything was over.

I wondered what we would do if we did lose the pregnancy. I didn’t want to be stuck 12 hours away while it happened as if it didn’t affect me, as if I wasn’t the mother of the baby. I wanted to be there, to share in the burden and experience, but should we get on a plane even if there was no role for us to play? The only other option was to leave Elle to deal with the physical and emotional pain on her own, and I hated the thought of that. The guilt that any loss of ours would be putting her in such a difficult position weighed heavily on me.

Accepting the extreme lack of control was also excruciating. I’d heard of a gestational carrier who simply grew tired of giving herself progesterone shots (which help sustain an IVF pregnancy until around the end of the first trimester) and chose to stop treatment after a few weeks. The Intended Parents were never informed, and when the pregnancy ended, they lost their child. Although I trusted Elle completely and knew she would never do something so reckless and cruel, I didn’t like being so reliant on someone else and desperately wished I had the ability to take the shots myself.

Babymoon

Seven weeks into the pregnancy we packed up for a trip to Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island, which was originally booked because I felt like I needed to be able to get away from home and what was happening around us if we failed another embryo transfer. Since Kyle was planning to start his master’s degree within a few months, we decided to call the trip a babymoon and enjoy the time together before the stress of a major life change.

A few times throughout our travel it came up that we were parents-to-be, and I reveled in the ability to say “I’m pregnant” without having to clarify that it was via proxy. People were genuinely happy for us and treated me differently than they did when they heard the surrounding story. It was refreshing to feel so normal, and I had a hard time leaving that behind with the end of our trip.

The First Appointment

Once we returned and completed the 8-week ultrasound through Elle’s hospital, our fertility clinic gave the okay to transfer care to a regular OBGYN. The first appointment was low-key compared to everything we’d been through to get there, basically just checking the heartbeat and relaying information. Elle explained the situation to the office ahead of time, and it was agreed that I could be present via speaker phone to ask or answer any questions.

The nurse practitioner who conducted the appointment was very matter-of-fact in her dealings with us, focusing on Elle while I awkwardly paced on the other end of the call. Even though we’d been told there would be no ultrasound, she decided to pull up a quick image of the baby along with the heartbeat; unfortunately, since we weren’t prepared to Skype, I was unable to see it. Instead, I studied a mark on the wall nearby while I listened to the nurse point out the baby’s features to Elle and tried not to think about what was happening– it had been important to me that I not miss any of the ultrasounds. Thankfully Elle was at least able to snap a few quick pictures on her phone to send later.

When the non-invasive prenatal testing was inevitably brought up, I asked for confirmation that it came without any risk to the baby. “Nope, it’s just a blood test for Mom,” the nurse replied, before giving Elle information on when she should plan to have it done. For Mom. I stopped pacing and stood still. It was the first time I heard someone refer to Elle as the mother of my child, but it wouldn’t be the last.

After that, I never sat in on speaker phone for a regular check-up again.

Reactions

We quickly discovered that it was much more difficult to tell people we were expecting when they didn’t already know our situation. There were quite a few awkward reactions and insensitive remarks, occasionally even looks of pity. But towards the end of the first trimester we experienced one of the most uncomfortable reactions yet while at a social gathering with both friends and strangers. A new father (whom we’d just met) overheard a mutual friend asking about our latest ultrasound when he loudly called across the room, “Oh, you’re pregnant?!” Taken aback, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Everyone in the vicinity had already turned to look at me for the answer, but I was afraid that if I simply said yes, I’d be called out by someone who knew better, or that the truth would somehow come out later, making the situation even more awkward. “Um… well, yeah…. kind of. We’re expecting via surrogacy,” I replied, flustered at being put on the spot while I was still trying to figure out how to best handle this kind of situation. But, instead of acknowledging what I’d said, he acted as if I’d never responded and awkwardly turned around to walk away and find another conversation.

Throughout the entire pregnancy, there was only one truly positive reaction from a stranger. Usually there was never so much as a ‘Congratulations!’ or even a smile; people just didn’t know what to do with it. When we’d started this process, I had no idea how much of a stigma surrogacy still carried, and eventually I avoided mentioning that we were expecting a baby at all to make it easier on everybody.