Reality

A few weeks ago we were getting ready for bed when the email we’d been waiting for came through; attached was the initial draft of the carrier contract from our lawyer. Immediately, I felt my chest tighten. I didn’t want to deal with it, I didn’t want to even think about it right before trying to sleep. I can’t stress enough how much I hate the legal part of the surrogacy process. If I had the option of going through another IVF cycle instead, I would take it every time.

The first draft of our contract is forty-two pages long– forty-two pages of harsh language and serious threats, of stripping away the humanity of surrogacy and making it feel like a transaction, of mental images of stillbirth that have haunted my dreams in the nights since. A thick printed copy floated through our house over the next several days– Kyle would read a few pages and leave it on his nightstand for later; I would pick it up and get through a bit before abandoning it on the table downstairs. We circled errors, crossed things out, and made notes in the margins. It was mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing, and again it hit me just how much we are trusting to another person.

Simply the act of reading through the entire contract proved to be a challenge. For a couple weeks now, Kyle has been out nearly every night for work, and Ross started school after almost a month of inexplicable poor sleep, night terrors, and bad dreams. We hardly had the time and barely had the energy to focus on legal, but eventually we compiled our notes, discussed the revisions, and sent back our changes to the lawyer, working on it until nearly midnight one night just to get it out of our hands.

That was almost two weeks ago. The changes should have been fairly straightforward, but we didn’t receive so much as an acknowledgment from our lawyer. In fact, the only thing we’ve heard back was his opinion that Becca’s representation was charging way too much for a contract review– a lawyer she’d only contacted because it was someone he’d recommended in the first place. The last thing he said was that he could find us representation for less… and then he stopped responding. I finally asked Kyle to call him last Wednesday to follow up, and it turns out he’d left the office until the next Monday with no answers, no warning, and no progress on our contract.

In the meantime, I’ve been struggling to find a decent surrogacy escrow company to handle the medical bill payments during a potential pregnancy. The first two places I dealt with fell through for various reasons; yesterday I finally spoke with the onboarding specialist of a third. During our first journey five years ago, our agency handled everything in house: the financial, the legal, the travel, Elle’s psych support, and all coordination. This is common, though not exactly recommended, and we didn’t know enough then to insist on keeping everything separate. Now I am in charge of all the moving pieces, building our team from scratch while being out of state with almost no recommendations or industry experience to rely on. It’s not necessarily an impossible task, but it has taken over my life.

All year I look forward to this time: pumpkin carving and apple picking and putting together a halloween costume. The fall has always been my favorite season, and all the familiar signs are around me… but this year they seem duller, more hollow somehow. Instead, it feels as if a heavy fog has moved in and settled over us, so thick it’s hard to breathe at times. The stress and frustration, the anxiety and lack of sleep have all contributed to a higher level of physical pain as I’ve tried to hold everything together without much downtime or breaks. My coping skills are shot, and there have been times recently when I have calmed and comforted Ross through a tantrum, feeling as though I am trying to reassure the both of us. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here, and you are okay.

At the heart of it all is the sickening awareness that the only reason we are dealing with this is because of me. I have somehow failed so spectacularly that no amount of medical treatment will give me the ability to carry my baby, and no matter how much I try, I still don’t know how to accept this reality. I just keep coming back to it over and over again. If you think it’s tiring to read about repeatedly, imagine how many millions of times it has bounced around in my head. There are even times, these brief moments, when I forget that it’s truly forever and catch myself hoping that there will be another chance beyond this enormous loss, that I only have to keep fighting through this moment in time. And then it hits me all over again: it’s over.

It’s really over.

Even still, it can shock me to look around and see where we are. Not just for now but for good. Sometimes I’ll come across a picture of my younger self and think, How did this happen? And when?

After another night of sleep interrupted by screaming from Ross’ bedroom, we woke up one day last week to find that he’d developed his first sickness of the season. Cuddled up on the couch that morning, Toy Story played on the television like it has countless times before. I knew this movie by heart long before Ross was born, Buzz and Woody were a part of my own childhood, and it has become even more special to me now that Ross has fallen in love with it on his own. But as an adult, watching Buzz realize that he’s not a real space ranger is gut-wrenching in a way I couldn’t grasp as a child. I’ve always felt emotional over the scene, but in that moment, I saw myself reflected back more clearly than ever before. And I couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down my face and into Ross’ hair beside me.

All the things I thought I’d be,
All the brave things I’d done
Vanished like a snowflake
With the rising of the sun
Never more to sail my ship,
Where no man has gone before

And I will go sailing no more

The TK Emotional Stages of Rewatching the Original 'Toy Story'
You are a toy, you can’t fly!

The moment in my childhood where I sat in a specialist’s office in Boston and heard for the first time that I may never be able to have children is carved into my soul; it changed everything. I was determined to do whatever was necessary, no matter how torturous, just to be able to carry a child. But as Kyle and I came to find out many years later, it wasn’t enough. I had failed, fallen short, missed the window entirely. There would be no, let’s try again.

This December will mark 20 years of learning to live with pain that will never go away. Everyone seems to think that this time around there is no longer loss for me in surrogacy, but so often I still feel like Buzz, laying on the floor in disbelief and trying to come to terms with reality.

Clearly, I will go sailing no more

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.