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.

4 thoughts on “Pregnant by Proxy in a Pandemic

  1. This had been an exceptionally trying time for everyone. I cannot imagine how it feels for you. You and your family and Becca and her family are in my đź’“ and prayers. God bless all of you and keep His shield of protection around you.

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  2. Wow, what an update. I can’t imagine how much complexity the pandemic has added to an already complex situation. I really feel for you and am sorry that Kyle can’t attend Buttercup’s ultrasound, but really glad that you can. Thinking of you all. And look forward to finding out if you’re having a son or a daughter! 💕

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  3. ❤ Thinking of you… what a stressful time to be going through what is already a stressful situation. Fingers crossed the rest of the pregnancy goes by smooth and uneventful. Looking forward to the next update.

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