To read the previous post in this series, click here:
[Part One] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: The Matching Process
Part Two: Surrogacy During IVF Treatment
Few people understand that working with a gestational carrier (or, from Elle’s side, intended parents) requires a significant commitment of time and energy far beyond the pregnancy. This process has never been about arranging for Elle to show up for an embryo transfer while we went on and hoped for the best. From the very beginning, she became a part of our lives and our family.
Our surrogate agency places a strong emphasis on building relationships long before the transfer. Their hope for us was that by the time all of the medical and legal requirements were completed, we would be comfortable enough with each other to navigate the highly stressful and emotional aspects of treatment. In order to facilitate this, once a match is agreed upon, the agency prescribes weekly Skype calls up until the potential child is delivered. In the year since were were officially matched, Elle and I have spoken almost every day, most often through text. While we aren’t always able to fit a Skype call into our schedules every week, we usually end up talking for about 2-3 hours at a time, no matter how much we intend to keep it short!
Two months after we met, Elle had completed a mock cycle to test her body’s response to the fertility medication and our case-specific contract was signed by both couples. Even though it was fairly easy to negotiate, it spanned more than forty pages and covered detailed guidelines for everything from preterm delivery to the possibility of our embryo splitting into identical twins or triplets. As per the agency’s insistence, it also stipulated that we could not share the name — or even the first initial– of our gestational carrier with family and friends. In addition, we are unable to go more than 4 weeks without speaking over Skype. Should that happen at any point in the process, our entire contract would be considered void. Finally, after obtaining the medical and legal clearance we needed, we were given approval to start planning for an actual treatment cycle.
The IVF Cycle
The first time around, Elle began the injections to thicken her uterine lining for the transfer, but the rest of it was up to me. I was proud and grateful to be able to complete a stim cycle, which would prompt my ovaries to kick into overdrive and produce far more than the usual single-egg-per-cycle. There wasn’t one day that I took this ability for granted, no matter how grueling the injections, drugs, daily ultrasounds, excessive blood draws, and overall process felt. Still being able to have such a significant role in bringing our child into the world was very meaningful to me, even though I would not get to experience delivery.
Throughout the cycle, I savored walking into the fertility clinic as a twosome. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate everything Elle was doing for us, but I enjoyed sitting in the waiting room with the other couples and not appearing any different. It’s pretty common for those undergoing IVF (or even having an IUI) to remark on how strange it is to have so many people in the room when their child is conceived. Fertility treatments are an invasion into your private life; they can even feel like a violation. But, receiving treatment from a third party is one thing– going through treatment with a third party is completely another. All of our decisions affected someone else. All of our successes and failures were tied to someone else. It was a lot of pressure: we wanted to protect her from the heartache and loss of control that infertility brings, and she wanted her body to respond well so we would be able to move on from treatment.
A few days into my injections, a nurse was maneuvering the ultrasound wand around when she remarked that my uterus was starting to look like a good place for an embryo. Caught completely off guard, I managed to stammer out, “Oh… uh, I– I’m not carrying…” in response to the comment and watched as realization dawned on her. I guess she never bothered to look at my chart, I remember thinking. After offering me a weak excuse for the mistake, she quickly measured my follicles and slipped back out of the room with hardly another word. Laying on the table for a few extra moments, my heart sank with the fresh reminder that we could masquerade as a normal couple all we wanted, but unlike the other women sitting in the waiting room, I didn’t even have the hope of getting pregnant at the end of treatment.
Considering that we represent such a tiny population, it’s no longer surprising to me that assumptions about our situation were often made throughout our treatment. Only about 5% of couples receiving fertility treatment have to resort to IVF, and out of that small percentage, very few are pursuing surrogacy. And honestly, many times I didn’t mind the assumptions; it was nice to pretend we were more normal sometimes, but being forced to constantly correct the nurses was painful and frustrating. Unfortunately, simply being in the gestational surrogacy program meant that we ended up traveling between three separate branches of the clinic over the course of two weeks, leading us to encounter many different nurses who didn’t know our story (and were apparently too busy to give my chart the once-over).
Giving Up My Place
In order to be allowed to be in the room for the embryo transfers, we had to get Elle’s permission, which she happily gave us. Prior to the first transfer, I made sure to ask the clinic if it was okay for all four of us to be in the room, and our assigned nurse stated that it wouldn’t be a problem. But that day, when we all stood up to go back, we were informed that only one person would be permitted to accompany Elle. Immediately both of the guys sat back down, but I was torn. Just as badly as I wanted to be there, I wanted Kyle to experience it as well. At that point I was still recovering from my egg retrieval just five days before and trying not to lose my composure. If we had been able to go through treatment on our own, no one would have thought twice about it, but now one of us was going to be denied access to this important moment on top of sacrificing so much already.
When Elle and I made our way back to the changing rooms, I gathered my courage and pushed for the guys to be able to join us. Thankfully, they were given permission, but the three of us crowding around her in pre-op did raise a few eyebrows. I watched as the nurses fussed over Elle ahead of the procedure. They asked how she was feeling and offered her a blanket to keep warm. They put an identifying wristband on her arm and argued over whether I should be given one as well, ultimately deciding it was unnecessary. They even started to address her about the well-being of our embryo before she subtly directed them to me, the mother. Sitting off to the side with the husbands felt a bit humiliating, like I was less of a woman. In that moment, I was completely superfluous. I wondered what it would feel like to be in my rightful place and tried not to let the hurt of missing out keep me from taking in the experience.
Getting through IVF was important, but it was actually only a small part of the surrogacy process, making up about 30-35% of our total efforts. The reality is that it was just one of many challenges we’ve faced and just one of many challenges we have yet to face.
To read the next post in this series, click here:
[Part Three] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: Early Pregnancy