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

Missing You at Christmas

It’s been more than four years since I started writing here. Enough time that I can look back to what our lives were like the first time around, before we were in the car headed home with a newborn.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a post I wrote around Christmas 2014 and how much of what I wrote then still applies to our lives now, despite everything that has changed in that time:

In general, holidays are hard for those who have lost a loved one or are grieving, but for some reason most people seem surprised that it would be the same for those with infertility. Although we have not lost a loved one in the usual sense, there is a similar void in our lives that is impossible to ignore throughout the surrounding celebrations. But instead of time ‘healing all wounds,’ this pain has cut deeper with every year that passes, and each Christmas hurts more than the last.

The holiday season is full of painful reminders that we are infertile in a fertile world. Every December Christmas cards pour into our mailboxes with photos of happy families and updates of new babies or pregnancies. The majority of Christmas traditions that I love so much all revolve around children. Then, at the center of all the celebrations, we focus on the birth of a baby. The words behind nearly every seasonal hymn– or sometimes just the sight of a quiet nativity scene– feel like a punch to the stomach. Getting through the holiday season is now more an act of survival than reflection, peace, gratefulness, or enjoyment…

We passed this Christmas by being dragged through the motions by our families, while inwardly we focused on the surrogacy process in order to avoid hurting too badly. We’re hoping that this past Christmas was the last one that we’ll celebrate without having a child of our own, but this is not the first time we have held onto that hope… nor is it the second, or even the third. Christmas 2011 was meant to be our last just-the-two-of-us Christmas, and now every one that follows serves as another reminder of how incomplete our family of two feels and just how much time has passed since we first felt that way.

December 28, 2014

A year ago, Ross helped me pick out a small polar bear, which I’ve been carrying with me, just like I carried a Paddington Bear while we waited for Ross. It’s been with us for all of our fertility appointments, every weekend away, and each holiday– a physical reminder of our embryo and the potential of the baby we are currently fighting for.

Knowing the gender of our embryo has made the wait harder in many ways. We’re better able to imagine that child and our life with them– but we remain barred from both. This Christmas there is someone out there who is missing from our family, a void that we’ve lived with since first getting the call. But it’s not as easy as scheduling an embryo transfer in order to give that child a chance at life, and the reality is that we don’t know if this child is “for keeps” yet. We will carry it in our hearts for all this time and still the chance of a failed transfer is high– maybe as much or more than 40%.

A new ornament as we wait and hope.

Tomorrow morning I am scheduled for my next blood draw, the beginning of my third IVF cycle. If the results confirm ovulation, I can start 2 weeks of daily Lupron injections before adding in my stimulation injections and ending with an egg retrieval in the latter part of January. Last week I spent nearly an hour scheduling the delivery of all the needles, alcohol swabs, and medication I’ll need over the next month. The only hurdle left was to run everything through insurance to determine whether any of it would be covered. Saturday we expected to receive everything, but instead, nothing showed up. It was never sent, and the fertility pharmacy never called to inform me or tell me why. Without that box, I will not be able to start my injections, and because of the timing of Christmas, this cycle will likely be canceled– again.

Coming to that realization, now the sixth time we’ve had to cancel a cycle, was devastating. Defeated and fighting back tears on Sunday morning, I started to process yet another delay, wondering whether this is a sign that I will never hold that child in my arms in this life. That maybe we’re meant to give up and start the process of acceptance so we can heal in whatever way possible, rather than continuing to leave this wound open. We keep pushing on and keep hitting road block after road block: at the clinic, with the surrogacy process, from our insurance. The obstacles feel endless. I’m heartbroken, and I’m angry. I don’t know how to keep finding the strength to do this.

The last few months have been especially difficult, even without the grief of infertility and stress of the surrogacy process. For as much as I think I can shield Ross from the effects, he is often far more perceptive than I give him credit for. Recently he surprised me one morning when he paused while eating breakfast and asked, “This is a hard time, huh?” And it is. Every day is so hard, but I don’t want him to carry that too.

In the meantime, despite the pain of this season, I am so grateful for the distraction of watching Ross experience the wonders of the holiday. We didn’t have that before and it changes everything. Throughout December, we have been opening daily windows of his Paw Patrol advent calendar from my mom. Every window reveals a new little toy– sometimes one of the dogs or another animal, sometimes a tiny tree or snowman. It’s the first thing he wanted to do each morning when he woke up as we counted down to Christmas. Then, on Sunday, the day I was faced with the possibility of canceling our cycle, he opened the last gift before the final one on Christmas Eve: a polar bear.

There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of you and wish you were here.

The Second

I want to have another child. 

For so long I’ve wanted to write those words. This post has been an internal struggle for months– maybe even a year now– but each time I start to fill up another blank page, I find myself pressing ‘delete.’ I am forcing myself to keep going this time, if only to be rid of this feeling that these words are trapped inside me and I’m the only one who knows the pain they cause.

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For most couples, having a second child is an expected part of life. But, when your first child was the miracle, it seems as though you’re not allowed to ask for another. Only if the first came easily is it acceptable to hurt over the absence of a second. But long before Ross was born I ached over this child too. All along I have carried the hope of having another, each day it weighs down my thoughts, but I never feel the freedom to express it. I know what the general reaction will be because I’ve already started to receive it– that I am being ungrateful, maybe even selfish. That I should consider my family already complete. That I should just accept this additional loss as the fate of my own infertility and move on. That I am asking too much.

Over the last 18 months, I have carefully packed away each outgrown baby item, knowing that no child of mine is likely to use them again, yet still praying with everything in me that I am somehow wrong. The odds are stacked so highly against us, but I can’t bring myself to let go of this last tiny ember of hope. I can’t imagine selling or giving anything away, so the baby stuff piles up in storage instead, untouched and gathering dust.

As Ross continues to grow, strangers seem to feel more entitled in asking when we are having a second child. The first time it happened Ross was barely 4-months-old and not even sitting up on his own yet. Now that he’s an active toddler we are being questioned with increasing frequency, and each time it hits me like a very familiar punch to the stomach. “You have to give him a little brother or sister. You just have to give him a sibling!” insisted a woman at the baggage check-in no less than three times as we traveled home from Thanksgiving. “And he’ll become spoiled without one anyway, you know,” she added with a smile. We get questions often enough now that I know there is never an easy answer, but the few times I’ve dared to be honest I am generally encouraged to “just adopt” (we can’t) before finally receiving the unsolicited advice that I should just be happy with one. Any response other than a fake smile makes everyone uncomfortable, and so again, I remain silent.

For the record, I am happy. Ross has taught me how to enjoy life again, something that once seemed like such an impossibility. He has shown me the beauty in a million little things, and I love seeing the world fresh through his eyes. Wanting another child doesn’t take away how grateful I am for him. This is a pain that is completely separate; it involves the piece that is still missing from our lives and our family, not the piece we were able to find. I know that there is meant to be another child and my fear is that I will never know that person. After all, who would be missing from your family if there was only ever one child?

Yet, even in the best of circumstances, I am always aware that there is still only one road left for us to travel– and the cost is exorbitant, the risks high. Frankly, I was far more naive when we started the surrogacy process for Ross in June 2014 than I am now, and it terrifies me to know what could be ahead of us. Having been down this road before means nothing in terms of what we can expect; each time is so different. And even if we had the ability to begin tomorrow, the soonest we’d be able to have a child is at least two years away. Two years of invasive testing, endless appointments, expensive lawyers, confusing contracts, and the pain of knowing that we are missing out on experiences we can never get back.

Again, we find ourselves at a strange standstill as we watch other families who had babies around the time Ross was born already expecting another or having welcomed a younger sibling. Everyone else seems to be making plans or feels content in knowing their family is complete. In contrast, we can do nothing. In place of options and choices, we are staring at a dead end.

I wish we had wanted to stop at one; it would be so much easier. We’d be done, I’d have surgery to get rid of it all, and I could finally move on from this phase of my life that so often revolves around my reproductive organs. It has been so many years that I don’t even remember what it was like not to think about my fertility, and I am tired of fighting for it.

But it’s that tiny —what if?— that haunts me.

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What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: Early Pregnancy [Part 3]

To read the previous posts in this series, click here:
[Part One] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: The Matching Process
[Part Two] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: Surrogacy During IVF



Part Three: Surrogacy in the First Trimester

Finding Out

Before we started our IVF cycle, Elle decided on her own that she wanted us to be the first to know if we were expecting following each of the embryo transfers. She chose not to take any at-home pregnancy tests before the official blood draw and personally asked that she not be contacted with the news until after we were informed. I knew a lot of gestational carriers/surrogates tended to take tests on their own but hadn’t wanted to ask her to wait, so I was touched that she’d already thought through how painful it was for us not to have the option of finding out at home together like a normal couple.

When we finally got the good news, I felt an immediate shift in the relationship we’d built over the six months we’d known Elle. Our lives were now linked together with hers by a baby the size of a tiny poppy seed– and that changed everything. Suddenly we had reached brand-new territory in the surrogacy process and were tasked with continuing to build our relationship while simultaneously navigating through the abnormality of the situation. None of us had been through anything like this before, so we did our best to figure it out as we went along. It was surreal, not just because we hoped to finally be on our way to becoming parents, but also because this moment we’d been waiting for didn’t just involve the two of us and our unborn child. With surrogacy, there is this strange feeling of someone always being in the periphery, and then you realize that it’s actually the other way around– you’re the one standing on the sidelines in the pregnancy of your own child.

The day we got the positive test results, Elle sent me a smiling photo of herself with flushed cheeks, writing, “Your Sweet Pea is giving me hot flashes! :),” and I will never forget the way it felt to receive it. From then on, “Sweet Pea” is how the baby was almost exclusively known until the day he was born, and I still use it every day. I can say now that Elle’s text was indicative of the way she handled everything in the pregnancy: she kept us updated and involved, she was always careful to never complain about the pregnancy symptoms I wanted to be feeling, and she went out of her way to refer to the baby as ours, never once asserting any kind of ownership.

The Unknown

We knew that the first trimester would be difficult– there was such a long way to go and we had way more to lose now. With so much that had gone wrong for us in the past, it was hard to have faith that this would be the time things worked out. Beyond the fear of loss that gripped me every day, it made me anxious that if something did go wrong, I wouldn’t know about it. There would be no warning signs because my body would go on as normal, completely oblivious until I received word secondhand. For months, the sound of every text message or call was enough to make my stomach drop with the fear of hearing from Elle that everything was over.

I wondered what we would do if we did lose the pregnancy. I didn’t want to be stuck 12 hours away while it happened as if it didn’t affect me, as if I wasn’t the mother of the baby. I wanted to be there, to share in the burden and experience, but should we get on a plane even if there was no role for us to play? The only other option was to leave Elle to deal with the physical and emotional pain on her own, and I hated the thought of that. The guilt that any loss of ours would be putting her in such a difficult position weighed heavily on me.

Accepting the extreme lack of control was also excruciating. I’d heard of a gestational carrier who simply grew tired of giving herself progesterone shots (which help sustain an IVF pregnancy until around the end of the first trimester) and chose to stop treatment after a few weeks. The Intended Parents were never informed, and when the pregnancy ended, they lost their child. Although I trusted Elle completely and knew she would never do something so reckless and cruel, I didn’t like being so reliant on someone else and desperately wished I had the ability to take the shots myself.

Babymoon

Seven weeks into the pregnancy we packed up for a trip to Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island, which was originally booked because I felt like I needed to be able to get away from home and what was happening around us if we failed another embryo transfer. Since Kyle was planning to start his master’s degree within a few months, we decided to call the trip a babymoon and enjoy the time together before the stress of a major life change.

A few times throughout our travel it came up that we were parents-to-be, and I reveled in the ability to say “I’m pregnant” without having to clarify that it was via proxy. People were genuinely happy for us and treated me differently than they did when they heard the surrounding story. It was refreshing to feel so normal, and I had a hard time leaving that behind with the end of our trip.

The First Appointment

Once we returned and completed the 8-week ultrasound through Elle’s hospital, our fertility clinic gave the okay to transfer care to a regular OBGYN. The first appointment was low-key compared to everything we’d been through to get there, basically just checking the heartbeat and relaying information. Elle explained the situation to the office ahead of time, and it was agreed that I could be present via speaker phone to ask or answer any questions.

The nurse practitioner who conducted the appointment was very matter-of-fact in her dealings with us, focusing on Elle while I awkwardly paced on the other end of the call. Even though we’d been told there would be no ultrasound, she decided to pull up a quick image of the baby along with the heartbeat; unfortunately, since we weren’t prepared to Skype, I was unable to see it. Instead, I studied a mark on the wall nearby while I listened to the nurse point out the baby’s features to Elle and tried not to think about what was happening– it had been important to me that I not miss any of the ultrasounds. Thankfully Elle was at least able to snap a few quick pictures on her phone to send later.

When the non-invasive prenatal testing was inevitably brought up, I asked for confirmation that it came without any risk to the baby. “Nope, it’s just a blood test for Mom,” the nurse replied, before giving Elle information on when she should plan to have it done. For Mom. I stopped pacing and stood still. It was the first time I heard someone refer to Elle as the mother of my child, but it wouldn’t be the last.

After that, I never sat in on speaker phone for a regular check-up again.

Reactions

We quickly discovered that it was much more difficult to tell people we were expecting when they didn’t already know our situation. There were quite a few awkward reactions and insensitive remarks, occasionally even looks of pity. But towards the end of the first trimester we experienced one of the most uncomfortable reactions yet while at a social gathering with both friends and strangers. A new father (whom we’d just met) overheard a mutual friend asking about our latest ultrasound when he loudly called across the room, “Oh, you’re pregnant?!” Taken aback, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Everyone in the vicinity had already turned to look at me for the answer, but I was afraid that if I simply said yes, I’d be called out by someone who knew better, or that the truth would somehow come out later, making the situation even more awkward. “Um… well, yeah…. kind of. We’re expecting via surrogacy,” I replied, flustered at being put on the spot while I was still trying to figure out how to best handle this kind of situation. But, instead of acknowledging what I’d said, he acted as if I’d never responded and awkwardly turned around to walk away and find another conversation.

Throughout the entire pregnancy, there was only one truly positive reaction from a stranger. Usually there was never so much as a ‘Congratulations!’ or even a smile; people just didn’t know what to do with it. When we’d started this process, I had no idea how much of a stigma surrogacy still carried, and eventually I avoided mentioning that we were expecting a baby at all to make it easier on everybody.

My Best Friend

I stopped posting regularly after describing our 5-day, 14-hour trip home from the hospital for a few reasons. Eventually I hope to cover more of them, but one of the biggest was this post. I wasn’t ready to write it for a long time and it’s still hard to get out now, but before I could move forward, this was something I had to do. It’s a lengthy one and it’s okay if you don’t read it; I just felt like I had to acknowledge it.

When we got home, Ross was a week old and everything was so wonderful, so new. That first morning in our own home I woke up to the sound of his cry and practically floated on clouds as I walked over to the pack n’ play. I will never forget how blissful it felt to lean over and pick up my son before carrying him back to bed to cuddle with him while he ate. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest.

But even in the midst of the joy, there was pain. When we had stopped at my parents’ house on our journey home, we discovered that our dog, Orion, was not well. They had mentioned a vet trip during a phone call about a week or so prior as we waited for Ross’s arrival, but nothing had prepared me for… this. As soon as I saw him, I knew it was over. Within a split second, my emotions went from the elation of putting Ross in my grandma’s arms for the first time to the complete and utter devastation of knowing I was about to lose my best friend. The shock of it took my breath away and my legs collapsed underneath me.

Kyle and I went upstairs with Orion to make the decision I had been dreading since the day I brought him home as a puppy, and I missed seeing my dad and grandma meet my son. We both cried as we took turns gently holding Orion’s tiny, broken body. I could barely breathe from the pain. The decision was clear– he wouldn’t even be able to handle the 2 1/2 hour drive home the next day. It was one of the worst moments of my life.

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And then by the morning, he perked up. He wasn’t back to normal, but we started to hope that maybe this wasn’t the end, maybe we’d get to have a little time as a family of four after all. We stayed an extra night with my parents before completing the last leg of our trip.

Those first days with Ross finally at home felt blissful in so many ways– but not carefree. Inside I felt as though I was walking on eggshells, terrified that the smallest movement would bring everything crashing down. I was acutely aware that time was short. The clock was ticking; I just didn’t know when it would stop.

Three days after getting home, Orion quietly turned 15 years old. I had wanted to make a thing of it, but now the circumstances didn’t feel right. Instead, I gave him a few of his favorite treats and spent the day cuddling with my two babies. I loved seeing them together– it was something I had pictured so many times throughout my life. Orion was always going to be the first dog my children knew. He was meant to be there, keeping watch by their highchairs for stray bits of food and scurrying out of the way as they took their first wobbly steps. I knew he wouldn’t live forever, but he should have had several years as a ‘family dog’ by the time we had to say goodbye to him. I just never thought it would take so long to have a family.

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Ross with his big brother, Orion, on the morning of his 15th birthday

Two days after Orion’s birthday he took another sharp turn for the worse: now he couldn’t easily move or lay down without crying out in horrible pain. Watching him suffer was agonizing, and we decided to find a vet near our new place and book an appointment first thing in the morning. My mom came up to watch Ross so Kyle and I could both go to the vet, even though we had originally wanted some space to bond with our baby alone for the very first time in his existence (we didn’t have the advantage of having him “baked in-house,” as my friend Arwen would say). Knowing we would likely come back without Orion, I asked her to take the first and last picture of us as a family of four.

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Holding our boys, each wrapped in their blankets

To my relief, the vet was hopeful that trying something new might buy us a little more time since it was difficult to determine the underlying cause. And, desperate for any other option, we jumped at the chance. He prescribed us a new medication, wished us luck, and told us to call him if anything changed.

But the next three days were horrible. Orion’s pain never let up, and he needed someone to hold him still every moment of the day and night. He could barely eat or drink. He couldn’t sleep. Kyle was trying to focus on catching up on the classes he’d missed as we traveled home following Ross’s birth, so my mom and I alternated between taking round-the-clock care of Orion and Ross, the far easier of the two. Although Kyle had spent the last 10 years with Orion, he was mine first. The final, horrible decision was mine to make. And while I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, there was no way I could continue to let him suffer. I called the vet back in defeat and made an appointment for the following evening while tears streamed down my face. We had one last night together.

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Holding both of my babies

Tuesday, February 9th, Ross was just 16 days old when we left him with my mom as we bundled Orion into his favorite blanket and out into the cold night air. For months now as we anticipated Ross’s impending arrival, I had been reassuring Orion that he would always be my first baby, and that is what I whispered to him again as we walked to the car through the falling snow. Every step I took felt against my will.

Holding Orion in the vet’s office and waiting for the inevitable was even worse than I had imagined. They gave him a sedative to help calm him and then left us alone for several minutes to say goodbye. As I carried Orion back to the chair next to Kyle for those last moments together, the room started to tilt around me and for a moment, I thought the floor was going to fly up and hit me in the face. My ears rang and I felt sick to my stomach. We talked to him as his eyes began to close, telling him what a good dog he had been and how much we loved him, promising him that my Grandpa would be waiting for him on the other side. I held him close as his body eventually went limp against me and his raspy breathing became slow and steady. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt; he was there and yet not there. It seemed like a horrible betrayal, bringing him there for something he could not understand. Briefly I let myself imagine wrapping him back up in his blanket and running out into the night. It hasn’t happened yet, part of my brain reasoned, I can still change my mind. Instead I forced myself to stay seated and go through with it, wondering how it was possible to hope that the vet would both hurry up and also that he would forget about us.

Orion has been in my life since before he was even born. While I was in 8th grade, my best friend’s dogs were expecting puppies, their last litter. Early in the morning on February 3, 2001, the call came that the puppies had been born. Alisha had been spending the night at my house, so my mom drove us back to her house for our first look. There were three of them: two boys and a girl, and they were so tiny! Each one was just a few inches long, maybe a couple ounces in weight, and still completely pink with hardly any hair. I was in awe of them, never dreaming that one of them would become my best friend as they huddled together with their eyes still closed, .

I loved watching the puppies grow over the next weeks when I went over to Alisha’s house. I’d laugh as they skittered all over the hardwood floors in the kitchen and peek out at us from underneath the table. The girl was claimed first, and then one of the boys. Only the runt was left, and I saw an opportunity. I promised my dad that I would pick up after him in the backyard and feed him every single day. “Are you sure you want to take care of this dog until you’re 30 years old?” he asked me. At 13 that seemed like a lifetime away, but I was sure.

The first night he came home, I slept nearby him on the kitchen floor with a sleeping bag and a tap light (remember those?), but once he was housebroken he ended up in my bed, a habit that lasted for the rest of his life.

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Orion sleeping on the kitchen floor in his new home

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Orion at 2 months old

Sometimes I’m still surprised that my parents agreed to have Orion join our family (as perhaps was expected, my dad ended up picking up the yard after all). But, they had watched my life change just a year before when severe chronic pain became part of my life and a surgery confirmed my endometriosis. I think they recognized companionship and stability for me in him, and he was just what I needed. Over the years as my health worsened and the surgeries and diagnoses continued to stack up, Orion was always there. He never minded spending the bad days cuddling next to me in bed; in fact, he preferred it that way.

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Experimenting with a new hairdo; 2 months old

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Out in the backyard after school (thanks to my little sister for cutting my head off in this photo); 4 months old

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2001; Orion kept me company as I was still recovering from my ruptured appendix (those are knee socks from my school uniform, by the way)

Leaving him with my parents when I went to college was painful. For my first year away, I sent him a package of treats to make up for missing his birthday. On summer and holiday breaks, we’d fall right back into our routine: Orion would lay down by my knees while I read before bed, and as soon as I put down my book, he’d sit up, wait for me to settle again, and then curl up next to my stomach to sleep. Before I’d leave to go back to school, I’d often find him sitting on top of my bags in hopes of keeping me home. The first time Kyle came back with me he was mostly amused at meeting Orion, who was protective despite his size and not quite ready to accept someone new into our lives. Eventually they grew to love each other too.

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Little bed buddy

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Stowaway

Memory Card 2 128
2006

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2007

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Birthday boy; 2008

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2010

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Kyle & Orion; 2011

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Anderson Family; 2011

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Halloween 2012

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2013

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2014

When I look back on so many hardships, milestones, and events in my life, Orion is always there. He was there for me during my first break up and all through the rough days of high school, when my tears would soak into his fur. He was waiting for me to come home from the hospital after every surgery besides the very first. For every move to a new place, he sat on my lap in the car. He celebrated with me when I graduated from middle school, high school, and college. He was next to me when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 for the first time in 86 years. He was there when I got ready for dinner the night Kyle and I became engaged and while I did my makeup for our wedding. When my grandpa was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2010, Orion stayed faithfully by his side as he recovered from brain surgery. The last words my grandpa said to me just before he died were about him: “nice fellow,” he breathed, when I held Orion up to his bedside. And the hell of infertility, Orion was there for that too.

We were peas in a pod, the two of us. I could read his every expression and understand his every bark. We grew up together.

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College Graduation

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Post-wedding Photos; 2009

Orion
August 2015

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December 2015

I know that no amount of wishing would have kept him alive forever. He had lived a long life and our story was always going to end with goodbye. But I hate that it came so close on the heels of Ross’s birth. After so many years full of loss, that was supposed to be our time of celebration. Instead, a fresh loss brought new grief that seeped into everything. I was torn between relief that they’d had the chance to meet and guilt that I’d left Orion for almost three weeks as we waited for Ross’s arrival. I wondered if he gave up on life because he believed I was never coming home or if he had felt replaced during the last days we had with him.

My inability to deal well with grief is one of my biggest personal weaknesses. I haven’t managed to figure out the balance between letting the pain consume me and trying to avoid as much of it as possible by hiding my feelings away. I didn’t know how to process the mix of extreme emotions in February, so after a day or two of crying at the sight of his things and struggling to sleep without him curled up next to me, I let myself pretend like it never happened just to get through. Instead of dealing with it, I put away his sweaters, his blanket, his bed. I let myself imagine that he was staying somewhere else. And then somehow almost six months passed without him, and here we are. I miss him.

The First Half

Enjoy every moment; they grow up so fast.

It’s a statement I’ve heard regularly since Ross arrived, and still, I could never have prepared myself for the breakneck speed with which a squirmy, 7-pound newborn can become an active, curious 6-month-old. Time has never moved as quickly as it does now, just as it had never before inched by as slowly as it did while we struggled to bring him into the world. The juxtaposition of these extreme perceptions has made the last several months feel even more surreal. Now half a year has somehow passed us by and all I did was blink.

We’ve had more than our share of bumps in the road since we brought our tiny baby home at the end of January (which I will write about another time), but he made it easy to transition to life as a family of three. There was never an adjustment period; it just felt like we’d found the missing piece to our puzzle. They say that you are never really ready to have your first child, but the day he was born I knew without a doubt that I could not have felt more ready. Being his mom felt natural to me, maybe because I had been dreaming of it for so long.

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I just wish it wouldn’t go by so fast. By the time Ross was a month old, I was already struggling with how quickly he was changing. I love watching him grow and discover the world, but the beginning of each exciting, new stage is often bittersweet because it also means the end of another one. Every photo or video clip we’ve taken of him represents a moment that has already slipped through our fingers into the past, and the pain of knowing that we are unlikely to have a second child makes the endings that much harder to accept. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that we only have a matter of days to enjoy a phase before he’s moving on to something new; if I am constantly looking backwards, I will miss all of it, and I don’t want to spend his babyhood that way. Instead, I am doing my best to focus on today while looking forward to tomorrow and appreciating yesterday. We have had so many wonderful moments these last six months and I know there are so many more still to come!

I never stop feeling grateful for our miracle. It still hits me at random times just how lucky we are, and I feel overwhelmed all over again. I can be doing something completely mundane like folding his laundry or buying a box of diapers, and all of a sudden I will think, I can’t believe this is my life! I can’t believe I get to do this now! The grief and loss of the last several years have made me take for granted less and appreciate more during this time. I believe that the hard moments have been easier and the good moments even better because I know all too well what life is like without him and that everything– no matter how maddening or tiring or monotonous it feels at the time– is a privilege. Everything.

January:

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February:

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March:

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April:

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May:

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June:

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July:

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Our Paddington Bear

 

 

 

Why Us?

A year ago today we saw Ross as an embryo for the first time via a live video feed from the adjacent embryology lab. Moments later he was loaded into a catheter and we held our collective breath as he was ceremoniously carried into the room for transfer. In the past twelve months, the photo of him as a microscopic ball of cells has only left our fridge temporarily between moves and an appliance upgrade. Sometimes I hold him up in front of that photo of himself and tell him how special he is, how most babies are completely unknown prior to their implantation whereas he was already so deeply loved. Sometimes I still stop to stare at it and reflect on how such a big miracle sprang from such a tiny beginning.

Why us?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself countless times over the last several years. Why did we have to suffer from infertility? Why did we have to endure so much loss? Why did we have to fight so hard for what comes naturally to everyone else?

Once Ross was here I thought I’d stop asking that question, but I haven’t. The same query still runs through my mind, but now the reasons are different: why did we get to have a child? Why was our treatment successful? Why did we get to move on when there are others who have waited longer, lost more? I still don’t have any answers, but I know that it was not because we were the most deserving. I’m sure there are many couples who are more deserving than us. We also weren’t the ones who prayed the most, cried the most, or hoped the most. We weren’t the ones who made the best choices or worked the hardest. For some reason I don’t understand, we just got lucky. And for some reason I don’t understand, others are still suffering.

Last year our embryo transfer happened to fall two days before Mother’s Day. That Sunday became part of our two week wait, and for the first time ever I felt able to make my excuses and spend the holiday struggling privately at home instead of publicly in a restaurant. For so long it had been one of the most painful days of the year, one I began to dread as the failed months and then years stacked up against us and I learned that my body would never be capable of carrying a child. Year after year I’d close my eyes before walking by the pink card aisles at Target, I’d change the channel at each emotional commercial, I’d avoid Facebook at all costs with its endless stream of mom-and-baby photos. Year after year I felt lost in the fray and forgotten in my pain.

As we waited and wondered whether we would ever be given the privilege of having a child, I promised myself I would never forget that not everyone is celebrating on this day. I would never forget that simply being a mother is an incredible gift.

This year my life is different, but I haven’t forgotten that there are so many still hurting. Maybe they are battling infertility or have lost their child(ren); maybe they have had to say goodbye to their own mothers, as Kyle has this past year. I’ve thought about each of you today. You haven’t been forgotten.

And Wait…

During our very first conversation with Elle, before we had even agreed to be matched, she wanted to know how involved we would like to be throughout the pregnancy. The knowledge that this one conversation could lead to either the opportunity of having a child or yet another dead end left me terrified to say the wrong thing, but, ever the one to make jokes, Kyle immediately replied that we were planning to move in with them. Now, close to a year and a half later, we have essentially ended up doing just that.

It has been almost two weeks since I carefully packed up Sweet Pea’s clothing in his own little travel bag while Kyle loaded down the car with everything we’d need to get through a road trip. It was completely surreal to be taking the steps we had planned out long before my first injection, and I was finally feeling the first sparks of excitement that I had waited so long to feel.

By this point I was sure we would be back on the road and heading home to our brand new lives. And yet, Sweet Pea’s bag has remained all packed up. Yes, there was a chance we’d get stuck waiting for him to arrive, but because Elle had always given birth so early, it wasn’t much more than a passing concern. I had mentally prepared myself to get through to early or maybe mid-January without Sweet Pea in my arms… but those days have already passed us by, and we are still waiting with no end in sight.

It’s tough. Much harder than I ever could have imagined it would be. And as we wake up each morning not knowing whether we are two days from meeting him or ten, the relief I felt upon making it here in time for the birth has started to evaporate. In its place is an ever-increasing pressure.

For one, it is getting harder to be away from home. I miss Orion and being in my own bed. I feel terrible for imposing on Elle and her family after they have been gracious enough to open their home to us while we are here. In addition, my mom has also been staying in a hotel by the hospital for over a week now, and I feel horribly guilty that we have all been here for so long. Unfortunately, even after Sweet Pea arrives we’ll still be about a week away from walking through our door.

We are also on bit of a deadline: Kyle’s grad classes start up again for the new semester in a matter of days. Unless Sweet Pea is born now, Kyle will miss more for each day we’re here. This has been very hard for me to accept. If things had gone to plan, we would have had a couple of quiet days at home together– just the three of us for the very first time since hearing our embryo transfer was successful. Now as soon as we get back, he will be thrown into playing catch up for his full-time class schedule and two jobs. Kyle has already confessed that he is afraid of missing out on the baby’s early life while he is completing his degree program, and as this is likely to be the only child we are ever able to have, it breaks my heart to know that he has already lost those few special days we’ve been counting on. To add to the stress, we have no income throughout the weeks we’ll spend here since Kyle no longer has paid time off. We were prepared to go 2-3 weeks without, but it’s going to get a lot more difficult.

Yet, all of that pales in comparison to being without Sweet Pea. I think part of me has always waited for the moment when he was finally, finally placed in my arms to believe that this isn’t just “too good to be true.” Not being able to carry him myself has placed a barrier between us, and I am ready to be with my baby. I want to be able to bond with him; I want to get to know his little quirks and habits for myself instead of hearing them secondhand. I am ready to really feel like he is mine. I am ready to go from being an ‘expectant mother via surrogacy’ to just a mom. Just a mom, like everyone else. I’m ready to stop being defined by the surrogacy. It’s not something I expect everyone to understand. In fact, maybe it’s not something you can understand unless you’ve lived it.

So unless you know what it’s like to find out at 12-years-old that you may never have children; unless you’ve spent 16 years fighting through treatments and surgeries and excruciating pain; unless you’ve had to look your husband in the eye and know that the only reason he is not a father is because you aren’t able to give him a child; unless you have had to sacrifice being pregnant even after spending more than half of your life trying to preserve your fertility; unless you have felt the bittersweet pain of watching another woman nurture and care for your baby for 9 months while your body remained empty and useless… please don’t judge me. Please don’t tell me you get it. Please don’t tell me that it will happen, that I need to just be a little more patient, that I need to hold on just a little longer. I have experienced so much loss, so much pain, so much disappointment, so much fear, so much stress… and still I’ve kept fighting through it all.

I am ready to stop fighting now. I am ready for it to be my turn.

 

In Over My Head

Since the day we lost Kyle’s mom, we have tried our best to help fill the void. We flew back and forth to Florida twice in the first weeks after her passing to make arrangements, plan the funeral, unpack the new house, sort through her things, deal with the finances, and make sense of the monthly bills. Picking up the pieces has been such an enormous job that even now, more than six weeks later, there is still a never-ending list of calls to make, bills to figure out, and issues to untangle. Having never lost a parent before, each step I have taken throughout this process has been done blindly. I want to be able to support Kyle through this horrific time, but I am so far in over my head that I no longer know what to do. Add in to the mix that we were already exhausted and stretched beyond our limits before any of this happened, and I don’t know how we’ve managed to limp along this far.

Obviously, thanks to various chronic illnesses, my body is unreliable at best. Yet, somehow I pushed through those first harrowing weeks, taking on as much as possible so Kyle didn’t fall too far behind in his graduate classes. I don’t know where the strength or energy came from, but it has left me now, and in its place I am fighting an increasing amount of pain and fatigue. The progress I had made with my health this summer has drained away again, and I have found myself continuing to struggle to function. I feel as though I am being dragged back into a hole that I had just climbed out of. Most days I try to accept that my every waking moment will be spent in pain, but then there are days that I just feel so angry that I want to break something. The frustration of not being able to live even a shadow of a life right now has become truly unbearable.

We held the funeral for Connie on September 25, the day before our 6th wedding anniversary. Memories of her from our rehearsal dinner and wedding day flashed through my mind as we sat, dressed in black, in the first pew and went through the motions of saying goodbye. The little Paddington Bear we’ve carried throughout this journey came along and sat in my lap through the service, a physical representation of Sweet Pea. Had I been able to get pregnant myself, our son would have been present at his grandmother’s funeral instead of being many, many miles away from me.

The last six years have been the worst of my life, but that has nothing to do with Kyle or our marriage. Instead, we have been living with grief and loss as constant companions since shortly after our wedding in 2009. From my grandpa’s diagnosis of terminal brain cancer that first year to his passing in December 2010, I have never really recovered from what we went through or the loss of him, a best friend and role model. Unlike most newlyweds who enjoy a honeymoon phase after getting married, our lives soon revolved around radiation treatments, doctor’s appointments, and the fear of what it would be like to live without him. I spent every possible moment with my grandparents during those months, gave them everything I had to give, and I would gladly do it all again in a heartbeat. That time we had together where we didn’t take even a moment for granted was precious in the midst of the pain, but there was no way to come out of that experience unscathed. I once thought that 2010 would remain the worst year of my life until I experienced the first one without him.

When we began the process of trying to start a family not long after my grandpa was gone, I finally had hope and a reason to look to the future– and then we fell headfirst into a devastating battle against infertility, losing so much of my health along the way. I spent more than two years of that time almost completely bedridden due to complications from coming off my medication in the hopes of getting pregnant, but still we kept fighting. Then came treatments, testing, and surgery, but there was never any progress, and the fact that I could no longer function became an increasing concern. Before the first doctor ever had a chance to bring it up, we started to realize that even if I was able to miraculously become pregnant, it would be extremely dangerous for both me and the child. The tidal waves of grief hit us over and over again throughout those years: first it was the loss of being able to get pregnant without intervention… then the failure of the intervention… and eventually there was the loss of not being able to carry a child at all, even after everything I’d endured to try to save my fertility since I was 12 years old. The self-loathing I felt at not being able to do something that comes naturally to everyone else consumed me.

Even now as our story has begun to change, the surrogacy process and the years leading up to it have taken a huge toll on us. Some days I wonder if we will ever be able to heal from the damage. And, by the time we felt as though we were beginning to reach the other side, we got the call that Connie was gone and have been plunged into darkness all over again.

Getting through this latest tragedy-on-top-of-tragedy-on-top-of-tragedy requires a very long, painful journey of grieving that I do not have the energy for. If Sweet Pea was already here to bring us joy and distract us from the pain of loss, I believe this time would be easier to get through. I would give anything even just to be able to rest my hand on my belly and feel his reassuring movement. He is in our lives, but he is not a part of them; there is a huge difference. Right now we are orbiting in different circles, sometimes coming in closer contact, but never fully touching. I feel the weight of our separation from him even more now that we are grieving the loss of Kyle’s mom, and if you think that it shouldn’t hurt, please try sending your child away from you for 9 months with only second-hand updates to get you through. Perhaps this pain won’t last forever, but neither does the pain from a broken leg. The difference is that I am constantly told that this time should not be painful for me since someday it will end. No one says that to someone who has just broken a part of their body, however temporary the break.

Not Just Pink

Beyond the pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness activities that tend to pop up in abundance at this time of the year, October has another significance that is discussed far less often: Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month.

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One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. That isn’t just a statistic, it’s your sister, your grandmother, your cousin, your college roommate, your high school friend, your co-worker.

If someone you know has opened up to you about their experience with a miscarriage, stillbirth, or the loss of their infant, do not say…

“At least you know you can get pregnant.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be pregnant again soon.” (One pregnancy does not replace another. Each pregnancy lost is a specific child who will not be born.)

“Oh, but that is so common. It happens to a lot of people.”

“Be grateful for what you have already.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Although they may be well-intended, these are not acceptable things to say to someone who is grieving the loss of their child. It can be very hard to learn of someone else’s pain and not know what you can say to make it better. If you’re in this position, tell that person how sorry you are for their loss and remind them that you are there for them. The best thing you can give someone else is your love and support. Listen to them if they want to talk, sit in silence with them if they don’t. Be available if they need something. Grieve with them. Don’t expect them to feel better right away; everyone experiences grief differently and should be allowed to take the necessary time to heal. Remember that there will also be days in the future that are more likely to be painful, especially holidays, Mother’s Day & Father’s Day, birthdays, pregnancy milestones or due dates, and the anniversaries of the loss.

You don’t have to fix it. It can’t be fixed. It just is.

As part of a wonderful blog community, I have come in contact with countless women who have experienced loss. And yet, this is not just something that occurs among a small group of individuals brought together online by their circumstances. Miscarriage affects a significant number of those around us but is often dealt with privately, so you may not even know whom among your own family and friends has suffered through this devastating experience. Unless we break the silence surrounding this issue, how can we provide the necessary support to those who desperately need it?

Help to spread awareness and speak up about pregnancy and infant loss. If you have experienced one or more losses, please consider sharing your story to remind others that they are not alone in their pain.

I’d also like to ask that you keep the following friends in your thoughts and prayers:

  • A friend who experienced a loss in July at 8 weeks following IVF. Her little one was affectionately nicknamed PB for “Pizza Baby,” and she will be undergoing another IVF cycle in a few weeks.
  • A friend who experienced the loss of her little Ellie at 12 weeks in July following IVF. She will be undergoing another IVF cycle this month.
  • A friend who experienced a terrifying ordeal with an ectopic pregnancy last month following IVF. She is currently healing and plans to attempt another round of IVF closer to Christmas.

And for some non-blog friends as well:

  • A friend who experienced a loss at 9 weeks several months ago and is now pregnant again. Although they are excited for this new life, they are still wrestling with the overwhelming fear of losing another pregnancy.
  • A friend who experienced a loss at 6 weeks in April and has been pursuing fertility treatments over the last few months.
  • A friend who is experiencing a loss at 8 weeks after a long battle with infertility and treatment. This is very recent. Please pray for their peace and comfort right now.

And there are so, so many more.

For the six little ones I mentioned above, and the one I believe was lost on my 25th birthday, August 11, 2012. The only one who ever found its way to my womb.
For the six little ones I mentioned above, and the one lost on my 25th birthday, August 11, 2012. The only one who ever found its way to my womb.

Resources

For those facing loss:

compassionatefriends.org
throughtheheart.org
nationalshare.org
stillbirthday.com
firstcandle.org

For men facing loss:

grievingdads.com

For those who want to help a loved one through loss:

americanpregnancy.org
miscarriagesupport.org