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: