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.

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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.

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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
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2 thoughts on “Surrogacy, The Second Time Around

  1. This might seem terribly creepy but I’ve been following your journey for quite some time. It was one of the blogs that helped me decide to become a surrogate. I would love to talk with you more privately through email, perhaps.
    You can also go see my blog if you’d want to check it out.

    Like

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