NIAW: Resolve to Know More About Surrogacy

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week and here I am posting at the end of it (non-conformist!). I struggled with wanting to post but having no topic and then having a topic but no time. The resulting post may seem useful or not. Happy or not. So here are a few thoughts I have about surrogacy.

  • You will realize the degree to which our stories about motherhood revolve around the physical: morning sickness, weight gain, stretch marks, contractions, labor, tearing, healing, nursing, leaking, hormones. Despite having a baby, the end result, there will still be times in which you find yourself mute and still unable to participate in conversations.  Articles, stories and conversations about the first few weeks of motherhood almost always revolve around the physical transformation and realities of being a new mother.  I get it – the majority of women who become mothers will experience pregnancy, labor and delivery. But it stings for those of us in the minority – will we always be on the fringes?
  • You will need to develop a thick skin as pundits, trolls, ethicists, attorneys, anyone with an Internet connection and half a brain (or less) debate the ethics of the method you chose to build your family and declare that you bought your child, took advantage of an economically disadvantaged woman and are pretty much a human trafficker.  You try to ignore these comments and opinions because they know nothing of your life and what it is like to live this. To actually make these decisions. While these comments rage on, you look at your little boy playing on the floor in the kitchen and feel incredibly blessed for the gift of him.
  • You will cringe as articles that could do serious harm to the already complex reality and confusing perception of surrogacy gain wide-spread media attention.  The latest is, of course, the rise of social surrogacy and whether it’s OK for women to choose surrogacy in order to avoid pregnancy or avoid harming their careers or if they are selfish beasts who don’t deserve to parent the children they wish to pursue. I have mixed feelings about social surrogacy, but it makes me wonder if it reinforces a belief some may secretly hold that I and other women who went the surrogacy route are selfish and didn’t try hard enough. At the very least, it hurts surrogacy’s perception and causes tongues to cluck.
  • As scientists publish about epigenetics and the role the uterine environment plays in subsequent generations, you will have heartburn and anxiety, wondering if your inability to conceive and carry a genetically-related child will end up changing the genetics of that child and future generations. At the very least, let’s just say guilt over whether you are being a good parent starts very, very early. 8 cells early.
  • You feel exhausted thinking about trying to have a second child because that means finding another gestational carrier, starting the process over again and spending a lot of money. You will wonder if going through the process is fair to your first child and if he deserves the resources and time you would spend more. You will again envy people who have second and third children easily, even if it includes popping down to the clinic for embryo transfer. And you aren’t proud of that envy.

But then you realize how your child has pervaded every area of your life. His art is on the refrigerator. You spend more on his clothes than your own. You obsess over his diet and agonize over school choices. You wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without a plan for his nightly routine. His smile & sunny mornings set your day. Frowns & tantrums make you want to hide.

But he is here and he is wonderful. I thank god or whoever for science Every. Single. Day. I am immensely grateful for the technology that allowed me to overcome my severe infertility. I’m forever indebted to the scientists who pioneered and perfected IVF because without them, we would not have our son. And we are forever grateful and humbled by our amazing gestational carrier who went on to carry a 3rd surro baby.

I am in awe of science and stunned, thrilled that it made me a mother. My experience is why, frankly, science can do little wrong IMO.

Surrogacy is unusual. I get that. But you never know what you are willing to do & accept until you are in that position.

I guess my message for NIAW is that surrogacy isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

I wouldn’t have my son otherwise, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Bring on your comments and debates. I welcome them.

Because you don’t know until you are in that position & that is something we would all do well to understand.

Our Surrogacy: Featured on BlogHer and Elsewhere!

Last week, she published the post and pictures on BabyZone.  Then a few other friends mentioned that they saw me on Yahoo Shine because the article had been cross-posted there (the comments are interesting – maybe the title could have been different, but I think overall they missed the point. And thanks to the people who said I shouldn’t have been included since I didn’t give birth.).

Then, on Tuesday I received an email from BlogHer saying they were going to feature “It Takes a Village,” the post I wrote on the site 2 years ago and the post linked in Tracy’s picture of me in her post!  Did all of that makes sense?  Unfortunately, I have been stuck in meetings, so I’m only now able to post about it.  I appreciate every opportunity to present a positive, non-sensational perspective on surrogacy, so a huge thank you to Tracy and to BlogHer for including me!

Remembering the Other

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  In years past, I would have a moment of silence for my friends and anyone else who had reason to observe this day. It never occurred to me until this year that I was one of them.  Our surrogate pregnancy with Daniel started out as a twin pregnancy.  Our first ultrasound was at around 9 weeks, and we were able to see clearly two sacs and two embryos but only one heartbeat.

I don’t know why I never considered that we had lost a pregnancy.  Maybe it was because we never had the opportunity to think of our pregnancy as a twin pregnancy; by the time we had the ultrasound, the other embryo had died.  Maybe because I preferred to focus on the huge positive that we still had a wriggling embryo who became a wriggling and active baby and now little boy.  After all, that was one more wriggling, thriving embryo than we had ever had before.

The truth is, though, I’m still haunted by the vanished twin.  The other sac and embryo is present in our ultrasound pictures from weeks 9-12.  My excitement at being able to show Daniel his first “baby” pictures is tempered by the fact that I’ll have to explain what is so clearly visible next to him.  I didn’t expect to feel so gutted that day when I saw the the lifeless embryo.  When I find out someone is having twins, I feel slightly envious.  It’s like a sore that has never quite healed all the way.

I suppose on a practical level, it would have been nice to have twins in order to have our parenting journey reach a neat, tidy end. It’s something I think about a lot lately as Daniel grows older and I wonder if our family building efforts will peter out quietly, the victim of circumstance, finances, age and time, despite having 5 embryos on ice.  Having another child requires us to make a lot of decisions, decisions that will force us to weigh the needs and potential of our existing child against what it will take to bring a potential child into being.  And as many of us in the ALI community know too well, what worked once may not work a second time, may never work again.

It may be that what I mourn with the loss of our twin is the belief that for a few weeks, the decision of having two children had been made for us.  No need to try to roll the dice again. No need to long for a second child, yet feel guilty and worry that the longing means that Daniel is not enough. No need to try to justify the financial hardship to achieve a “spare,” no matter how desired.

When we were about two years into our infertility journey, I was in a dark and desperate place.  There was someone in an online forum to which I belonged who was psychic and would perform readings.  I paid her and asked my question: unsurprisingly, it was “will I have a child?” Her answer was that she saw twins or maybe one very active, strong-willed child with a lot of personality.

I might be reading too much into it, but I think her answer describes Daniel perfectly.  I never asked about a second child and if given the chance, I’m not sure I would.  I’m afraid to.

So tonight, I’ll light a candle for us too.

Stupid is as Stupid Does: Another Rant on Surrogacy in the News

I generally think that media coverage of infertility and surrogacy is a good thing,  helping to raise awareness of infertility and the process of surrogacy, but sometimes I read something that is so infuriating and just wrong that I can’t let it go.  Usually this reaction is triggered by the comment section, but this time it’s the articles themselves.

Over the weekend, CNN featured a story on James and Natalie Lucich, and James’ sister Tiffany Burke who is carrying their twin boys.  At first blush, the story seems so sweet: a sister generously carrying twins for her brother and sister-in-law after Natalie had an emergency hysterectomy.  Awwww.  But there’s this comment from Tiffany on her reaction to James and Natalie telling her they were considering gestational surrogacy:

“I was pissed!” [Tiffany] Burke recalled. She was worried: What if the surrogate drank or smoked or did something to harm herself? She didn’t want the Luciches to take that chance.

That’s right.  Because every woman who carries a child for another couple is an unstable crack whore motivated only by money.  Tiffany’s comment invokes the stereotypical view of the amazing women who generously disrupt their family’s life in order to give a couple the most priceless gift in the world.  Comments like hers are so frustrating because no matter how much coverage surrogacy gets, the gestational carriers always come off as lower-class, uneducated women of dubious character who must be watched very closely.  This impression is why people think that surrogacy is exploitative; if the gestational carrier is so ignorant and poor that she cannot be trusted to take care of herself and any baby she carries for another, clearly she doesn’t know what she has gotten herself into.

Edited to Add:  I’ve received some comments stating that the above quote was made two years ago and that Tiffany feels differently now and is collaborating on a documentary with her sister-in-law in order to help people understand surrogacy.  I think that’s awesome and that documentary will fill a much-needed void.  However, if I knew nothing else about Tiffany, didn’t read her blog, didn’t dig deeper etc., I would have only that quote to go on to draw conclusions about how she perceived surrogates in general.

And then there is this gem from the Huffington Post’s coverage of the Lucich/Burke story:

Burke is troubled by online speculation that her pregnancy is a form of incest because James is her brother. As Burke explained, the twins are Natalie and James’ 100 percent genetically and were conceived before they were placed in Tiffany Burke’s uterus. It has also been noted that James and sister Tiffany were both adopted and have no biological bond.

Are you serious?  People are so ignorant of biology that they honestly think that Burke’s pregnancy is a form of incest?  OMFG.  I can’t believe Burke has had to clarify that she is not related by blood to James.  When I read shit like that, I really fear for this country and its educational standards.  It’s worse than I thought.

And then there’s the coverage in The Stir that led me to this story in the first place: Woman Pregnant with Her Brother’s Twins Must Make His Wife Feel Guilty. My interest was piqued because I wondered if it was going to be some salacious tale of a horrible gestational carrier (just as with every situation, there can be a few bad apples) who is going out of her way to torment her sister-in-law.  What I read was actually worse.  First of all, it’s poorly written.  Secondly, it’s pure speculation.  Writer Mary Fischer muses that James’ wife Natalie must feel enormous guilt for the disruption in Tiffany’s life and the extreme nausea Tiffany has been experiencing during the pregnancy:

While she’s no doubt eternally grateful to her for being willing to give her and James the gift of more children, I can’t help but wonder if she has days when digging out from under the guilt is almost unbearable. She must feel so indebted to Tiffany for the rest of her life, because there’s just no way you can ever repay something like that.

I cannot speak for all Intended Mothers, but when I think of our gestational surrogate, I feel grateful to her and in awe of her. And no, there is no way we can ever repay her in any meaningful way that matches the significance of what she has given us, but Fischer’s notion of Nicole’s indebtedness seems slavish and overwhelming. As if the twins will be always be a bittersweet reminder of her sister-in-law’s noble sacrifice.

And last but certainly not least, Fischer throws Natalie a bone:

And as much as people will applaud Tiffany for carrying these babies for her brother and sister-in-law, Natalie’s strength should be noted as well. Not many women would be able to handle a journey like this without falling apart.

Excuse me?  Why wouldn’t a woman be able to handle a gestational surrogacy journey without falling apart?  Clearly Fischer knows nothing about infertility because by the time you have decided to pursue surrogacy as a means of family building, it is imperative that you have come to terms with your inability to carry children.  Based on my experience and the women I have talked to and read about, yes, you might feel a pang as you watch another woman’s belly swell with your child, but frankly, you’re kind of over it by that point.  The focus has shifted from pregnancy to parenting.

I also detect a bit of condescension that Fischer believes Natalie is lesser than her sister-in-law because she no longer has the ability to carry children and that not being able to do so must be damaging to her perception of herself as a woman that most women could not handle watching another do it for them.  One of the first reactions to discovering you can’t have children is often to feel like less of a woman: if your body can’t have children, why are you a woman?  One positive (ha ha) from infertility is that I was forced to confront cultural and societal perceptions and expectations of women and work through them.  I am a woman and a woman of worth in spite of my inability to carry a child.  Of course I have days when I struggle with this; I’m not that enlightened, but infertility has broadened my understanding of what it means to be a woman beyond reproductive abilities.

And then we come to NBC’s The New Normal.  I’ve griped about the show in previous posts, but I don’t think I’ve laid out my concerns.  In case you don’t know, it’s a comedy about a gay couple who decide to have a child through surrogacy.  Let me be clear: I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with gay couples having children and/or using surrogacy as their route to parenthood.  I support their ability to do so.  My issue is that I wish that the show were about an infertile couple pursuing surrogacy.

There are differences in the experience of a gay couple pursuing surrogacy versus that of an infertile couple: coming to terms with infertility; the relationship of the mother to the surrogate; the IVF process; stupid comments about who the mother is.  There are some similarities: stupid comments about who the mother is, misconceptions about what a surrogate is like and legal issues.  I’m not saying The New Normal is a bad show; I guess I just wished it told the story of what it’s like for a normal couple to experience infertility and pursue surrogacy, to act as an antidote to the stereotypes perpetuated in most media coverage.  I worry that people who watch the show will think they understand surrogacy and more importantly, what it is like to go through it or really, what it was like for us to go through it.

Rant over, I guess. I just wonder if it’s fruitless to keep railing against articles like these and how surrogacy is portrayed on television in the same way we can’t seem to get reporters to stop using “implant” for “transfer.” I have to keep trying, though, because articles like these and network TV capture the public’s attention and are the ones that color their perception of infertility and surrogacy.  They color their perception of my very personal story and how that little blond boy playing with legos at day care came to be.

What one thing do you wish the media would get right about infertility?

Friday Foolishness: Succubus

I cannot believe it is Friday, but oh, how glad I am it is. This week has been intense. If it were a person, I’d call it a succubus. A soul-killing, brain-stealing succubus.

My Week

  • We went out of town to visit my mother last weekend. A 24-hour visit necessitated packing like were going to be away for 24 days and managed to get all of us off our routines all week. No one slept well. Naps were boycotted. Meltdowns ensued. The suitcase has not been unpacked, and we haven’t gone to the grocery store all week.
  • I pitched a hissy fit at work on Monday.
  • I woke up with a scratchy throat yesterday that I hoped was due to allergies but I think is actually a cold. After falling asleep last night at 9pm (I party hard), I woke up at 1:30 AM. Willing myself back to sleep didn’t work, so I used the time profitably to plan my spring/summer wardrobe on eBay.
  • I’ve been slowly creeping out of my shell and meeting some awesome people. I had a lunch date 2 weeks ago, one next week, a play date next weekend and another lunch date in the works. Today I attended a Femfessionals connection lunch and met more people after finding out about it from Brandy. More to come on these efforts!
  • I’ve read only 40 pages this week.

Interesting Reads

  • NPR aired a 4-part series on surrogacy this week that was refreshingly free of sensation and well done: Making Babies: 21st Century Families
  • In the wee hours of the morning after I had planned my wardrobe, I came across this post on Twitter: 20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes. I have to admit that I was pretty humbled by some of the mistakes included because I have been guilty of making them without realizing it. What a blow to my English major ego!
  • Forget the Factories: Slate‘s article suggests that the government stop its silly focus on rebuilding the manufacturing sector. Given where I work, you can guess that I disagree vehemently with Mr. Yglesias. I include the article because it illustrates the common misconception that R&D can be effectively separated from manufacturing and that our ability to innovate is what provides our competitive edge. He’s wrong. Innovation and manufacturing go hand in hand. As well, not all companies are created equal when it comes to community impact. A manufacturing facility creates jobs in the community beyond those in the facility. An Amazon does not.
  • Law Momma posted a seven-part series on the break up of her marriage. It was raw, brutal and riveting, and I am in awe of her strength to be able to post something so personal as well as how she accepted her part of the break up.
  • So, you’ve heard of BDSM sensation Fifty Shades of Grey, right? Well, Katie Roiphe wrote “Working Women’s Fantasies” in Newsweek about how its success speaks to the current popularity of sexual domination. I read a few articles critical of Roiphe’s article and tweeted one of them. A professional dominatrix (!) replied to me and told me Roiphe’s piece was correct. This is why I love Twitter!
  • I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Mrs. Lusher yet, but the food she posts on her blog is amazing. She had a simple post about sauvignon blanc yesterday, and I smiled as I read it. I feel the same way about white wine and I, too, am glad white wine season is here.

I hope your week was free from drama and hissy fits!

My Journey to Motherhood…Two Years Later

A few weeks ago, Fadra tweeted me with the link to Ricki Lake’s BlogHer contest about your Journey to Motherhood and suggested I should participate.  I thought it sounded like fun, so I composed a post and submitted it.

The winner was announced today and unfortunately I didn’t win (the winning submission was very good so no sour grapes here).  Obviously I posted about our unique journey to parenthood via gestational surrogacy.  I posted the detailed version of Daniel’s birth story   and the next day on this blog after he was born, but for the contest, I needed to shorten it.

It was a fun exercise since it had been over two years since that day, and it was interesting to explore our feelings and memories of that day now as compared to the actual day it happened. Some parts of that day are still very raw.

If you have a moment, you might enjoy my post on my journey to motherhood.

Surrogacy Lawyer Theresa Erickson Sentenced

On Friday, a judge sentenced Erickson to 5 months in prison, 9 months of home confinement and to pay a $70,000 fine for her role in masterminding a scheme to create babies and sell them (for more than $100,000 each) to couples after falsely telling them that the original parents had backed out for whatever reason.

I’ve written about Erickson and her baby-selling case here and here, and I am still disgusted and dismayed by her behavior.  As one loathsome phrase in the article pointed out, Erickson and her cohorts

used numerous surrogate mothers to create an inventory of unborn babies that they would sell for more than $100,000 each

When I first read about her arrest and the unfolding story, I was shocked and disgusted.  Now, I’m angry.  Surrogacy is defined and treated legally differently in different states.  Case law, as  you can imagine, has not kept up with reproductive law when one can biologically be mother to a child through pregnancy but not be genetically related to that child.  Such a situation becomes even more complicated when neither member of a couple is genetically related to a child they create and carry through a surrogacy arrangement.  What a lot of courts end up falling back on is intent: who intends to parent the resulting child(ren)?  Thinking of the situation in these terms often allows judges to assign legal rights to the parents who intend to parent the child regardless of genetic relationship.

Erickson’s crime, however, perverts this intention for she intentionally created children for no other reason than profit.  The embryos she created and transferred to a gestational carrier have neither mothers nor fathers.  They had no parents who intended for them to be, and for that, Erickson should be punished.  Though those children may be loved purely and fully by their new families, it is painful to imagine their reaction when one day they are told that they were the result of not lust, not love, not intention or desire but profit.

And it is that for which Erickson must be punished and shunned.

First Sentencing in Baby-Selling Case

Hilary Neiman has become the first defendant to be sentenced in the Theresa Erickson/Hilary Neiman baby-selling case.  I wrote about it last summer from the perspective of a former Intended Parent, but here’s a quick refresher: the attorneys (Erickson and Neiman) created embryos from egg and sperm donors, hired gestational carriers to carry the embryos and then told prospective parents that the original surrogacy arrangement had fallen apart and for a large fee, created documents that alleged that the new parents had entered into a pre-pregnancy agreement with the gestational carrier, allowing the parents’ names to be on the birth certificate.

In other words, baby selling.

Neiman has been sentenced to 5 months in prison, to seven months of home detention, to forfeit $133,000 in profits and to set aside $20,000 for restitution.  Erickson and Chambers will be sentenced in 2012.

I have no legal training, so I don’t know if the sentence is appropriate, especially when it comes to baby selling and human trafficking.  I am glad to see that Neiman will receive prison time.  Even though it’s only a few months, the crime seems to warrant incarceration to send a message.

I also wonder if the sentence is enough to make up for all the damage that she and Erickson have caused the surrogacy and infertility community.  Thanks to them, the stereotype of desperate infertiles, hungry for a baby at any cost has been upheld.  Thanks to them, gestational carriers are portrayed as money-hungry.  And thanks to them, the practice of surrogacy again appears far outside the mainstream and of dubious ethics.

Perhaps I’m not giving the public the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their ability to understand the nuances of this case but based on what I read every time an article comes about infertility or surrogacy, I don’t think my assumptions are off track.

Thanks, ladies.  I can’t wait for the inevitable Lifetime movie.

Deep Freeze

This was a banner week for fun stuff arriving in the mail. In addition to my diploma, another piece of paper arrived this week:

Very important communication from our clinic

Time to make the annual decision about what we do with our 5 frozen embryos!  It turns out that storing embryos is sort of like a magazine subscription or Costco membership: you have to renew annually.  We were offered a few choices: store them for another year, donate them or destroy them.

Unlike renewing a magazine subscription or membership, however, our decision required a witness.  Guess decisions involving human tissue require a little more effort.  If it were an online form, I bet we would see screens like “Are you sure?” Yes. “Are you really, really sure?” Yes. “Are you absolutely, positively sure?” followed with “This action cannot be undone.”

We chose to store them for another year (it wasn’t ever up for debate). 

Stay cool, totsicles.  Hopefully we can use you eventually.

Special Day in September

September is a special month in our family due to birthdays and meetings: my birthday is 9/9; J’s is 9/25; we met on 9/22.  It’s also a special month because in 2008, we had our surrogacy cycle.  It was a brutal cycle.  I had egg retrieval after a horrific cycle the day after my 31st birthday.  Happily, September 27 signifies the day that we discovered that our cycle worked and after 3 years of infertility, we finally had a positive beta. That beta led to our Daniel, who is the best thing ever.

So tonight, we celebrate our family, and we toast those who are still trying.  Never give up.  You will have your family.  It may not happen the way you envision or plan, but it will happen.

Happy, happy day, Doodlebug.