Surrogacy

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.

Getting Over My Fear of the Internet Shut-Up

Mel at Stirrup Queens had a great post on what she calls the “Internet Shut-Up,” a comment on a post, status update or Tweet whose sole purpose is to tell you that you have no right to feel the way you are feeling and please stop writing about it and wonders how those comments contribute to how we express ourselves.

I’ve never received an Internet Shut-Up though I have sort of received a gentle  Twitter “be quiet” and a Facebook “I see your status update and raise you mine b/c my life is harder.”   Mel’s post really resonated with me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my blogging identity – maybe my social media identity in general.   I haven’t gotten to the point of needing to worry about receiving an actual Internet Shut-Up, but I’m afraid of a passive Internet Shut-Up in that no one wants to know what I have to say or think period.

I love blogging even though I haven’t been very consistent with it.  I’ve always been a diarist in some way or shape and needed to write to clear my brain and figure out things. My life the last 5 years has been pretty hectic thanks to grad school, working full time, infertility diagnosis and treatment, new parenthood and now I feel like I have a tiny bit of free time since I have graduated (though I’m still waiting on my diploma, UNC!) and now that Daniel is older.

So now I’m coming out of a cave and looking around and wondering where I go and who I am and what I write about.  I am infertile.  I had a child via surrogacy.  I still feel very connected to the IF community and feel like I belong (despite having a child, I am still very much infertile), but that’s not all I am.    I am a mommy, but when I try to read other mom bloggers, I don’t feel like I fit in. I feel like a fraud despite being a mother too.  I follow a lot of NC bloggers but in comparison to what they are doing, I feel like such a newbie.  I  used to have a book blog, but I still don’t have much time to read.

I think what I’m trying to say is that I’m afraid of the Internet Shut-Up.  I’m afraid.  I worry about whether I’m posting too much on surrogacy or boring posts about my son that are of no interest to anyone but our family.  I worry about the need to think and write something profound; as a result, I seem to be constantly editing myself.

I think part of my self-censoring is that when I started blogging in 2007, I was blogging under a pseudonym b/c I was blogging about our infertility, and my blog was a place for me to rant and say all the dark, bitter thoughts I had.  I had no desire to be public, and I think as a rule, IF bloggers tend to use more pseudonyms or nom de plumes because when your body or your partner’s body is broken, that isn’t something you necessarily want your coworkers to know about from your blog.  Things have changed in the blogosphere since 2007, and I’m struggling with putting back together all those pieces of myself that I sliced off before. 

On the other hand, I’ve always worried about what others thought.  Too much most likely.  It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but that anxiety likely carries over to my social media interactions.

I don’t want to edit myself.  This is my blog, my space.  I need to stop fearing the Internet Shut-Up and post what I want whether I have 1 reader or thousands.  My thoughts and feelings are valid, and I have every right to express them.  If you don’t like what I say, then I guess it’s up to you whether you want to continue reading or move on. 

And that’s ok. Really.

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.

Telling Him How He Came to Be

I’m not shy when it comes to talking about surrogacy and our experience, the ins and outs, etc. as two of my coworkers could attest after a recent trip.  It’s not like I have “We used a surrogate” tattooed across my forehead or anything, but I don’t see any reason not to talk about it if asked or it comes up.  It’s a part of my family’s history.

We’ve been asked a few times if we will tell Daniel and what we will tell him about how he came to be.  Earlier this week, Amy Blumenfeld wrote about this very thing in the New York Times’ Motherlode blog: Whose Belly Did I Come From.

I really liked her analogy of baking and faulty ovens.  I haven’t given much thought to what we will tell Daniel when he’s old enough, but we will tell him.  He doesn’t know yet, and at 2, I don’t think he’s ready to know.  We don’t show him pictures of F and tell him who she is and that he didn’t grow in my tummy.  But at what age should we tell him?  I don’t want it to be some After School Special or Very Special Episode experience.  I want our explanation of it to be natural and not a big deal.

But maybe we should be talking about it now so that it is something he has always known before he even realizes what it means. How old is too old to prevent shock and possibly fear on his part? 5?

While I would never keep this information from him, I don’t have the option of not telling him.  There are no pictures of me pregnant.  I didn’t fake pregnancy.  Too many people know we used surrogacy for it not to be a risk that he would hear it from someone else.

For those of you who used fertility drugs, IUI or IVF to have children, will you tell your children how they came to be?  We talk a lot in the IF community about speaking up; does that include our children?

The Theresa Erickson Scandal from the Point of View of a Surrogacy Participant

News broke yesterday that Theresa Erickson, prominent reproductive lawyer, pleaded guilty to being part of a baby-selling ring. She sent women overseas to undergo IVF with donor sperm and eggs and then once they were in the second trimester, she found parents for the babies, telling the parents that the original Intended Parents had backed out, charging them between $100,000-150,000 for the privilege of obtaining these babies. Apparently, she did this for years.

It is disgusting. Others in the IF blogosphere have written eloquently on the topic, especially since they had been recent guests on Erickson’s show: Keiko and Mel for example. However, I felt compelled to post on this topic since I am a parent thanks to gestational surrogacy.

While I have never met or been in contact with Theresa Erickson, her name as well as another lawyer charged in the ring, Hilary Neiman, are very familiar to me, especially around surrogacy issues. Surrogacy is like adoption in that it requires a lot of legal documents and processes to be followed. In NC, we needed a contract with our gestational carrier before we started IVF. Once we achieved a viable pregnancy, we needed a Pre-Birth Order (PBO) so that our names could go on the birth certificate from the beginning. Neither document guaranteed that we would go home with our baby, but based on our state’s nebulous laws, it gave us a place to start in case litigation was needed.

I cannot imagine what the couples who worked with Erickson to obtain these babies must be feeling now that the truth of their babies’ births has been revealed. How are they going to explain their origin to their children when they are old enough? When you go through infertility treatments and/or work with others to build your family, you rely on these experts to guide you and to keep you safe. You are putting your hopes and dreams in their hands. Theresa Erickson has violated this trust, this sacred relationship, and that is a horrible thing.

Theresa Erickson has also returned surrogacy and adoption to stereotypical Lifetime movie of the week status. Yes, we infertiles are so desperate that we will believe anything and be willing to buy a baby at any cost. And it hurts because she knows better. She was supposed to be our ally and help us legally obtain the families we desired but instead, she played upon our need and pain.

I am extremely thankful that all of the people we dealt with while trying to add to our family were beyond reproach from doctors to lawyers, but it saddens me, no it infuriates me that there are people like Erickson out there who succumb to greed and break laws, in the process hurting people and giving infertility a bad rap.

Theresa Erickson, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Connected By a Shared Uterus

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting F in the hospital where she was recovering after giving birth to a surrobaby just after midnight on Wednesday, making another couple’s dreams come true. It was another sweet little boy, and his weight and length were very similar to Daniel’s. I didn’t get to hold him because he was being circumcised, but I did get to see him through the glass later. He was so tiny! It is mind boggling that Daniel was that small too because he is so tall and energetic now and most definitely not a baby anymore.

The new daddies were ecstatic, and F had another easy labor. Daddy D and I commiserated over similar birth certificate screw-ups the hospital made in both of our situations. I spent more time with Daddy J, and he hugged me over and over and said it felt like we were family. And it did, which mirrored a feeling I’ve been having since I found out F was in labor and then once the baby was born.

It’s odd, but I feel like this little boy is like a new member of the family. I kept wanting to tell Daniel, “F had a baby, and he’s your…” but there’s no word for it. Technically, that baby boy, baby G, is absolutely no relation to D at all. But it seems like he should be. What do you call someone who came from the same uterus you did? Usually the word is “sibling,” but that’s not accurate for this situation. Two unrelated sets of parents, two unrelated babies and one unrelated uterus.

“Cousin” seems closer to what I feel. However, I wonder if there is some connection between the boys that we don’t see. They did share the same uterus, and F’s body nurtured them. If they ever met, would they recognize a connection? Normally we try to avoid questions like that because it brings up messy issues about biology, genetics and parentage.

Even if there is no physical or familial connection between the boys, I think we all felt a larger connection between us: Two couples who couldn’t have a baby themselves trusting another woman to help them; wrangling with lawyers and doctors and process issues that never seem to go smoothly no matter how much you’ve planned; the joy of success after years of heartache and overwhelming gratitude towards the woman who made it happen. The four of us have been in that crucible and emerged wiser and more thankful, relieved and grateful and amazed at the kindness of a stranger.

Sometimes family is biology; sometimes it is shared experiences. There isn’t a word that describes what we are, but family comes close.

More on the “Twiblings”

The New York Time’s Motherlode blog posted a follow-up to the “Meet the ‘Twiblings'” article, and Melanie Thernstrom herself addressed some of the commenters’ questions and reactions.

Again, I thought Thernstrom did an excellent job of providing her point of view and again I was shocked by some of the comments. This time it seemed quite a bit of the snark and vitriol were taking issue with Thernstrom’s explanation of why they didn’t adopt. The comments disputed her facts and even slammed her not using correct adoption terminology (“placing a baby for adoption” vs. “giving up a baby”).

What frustrates me most about the comments is that they don’t listen. Or read rather. Or think. Every time an article like this is published, someone tries to explain that adoption is not inexpensive, easy or fast. For every person whose cousin’s in-law’s neighbor’s BFF was able to adopt a newborn after only two days of waiting, there are many more couples who wait years for a child, and that’s domestic or international adoption. It is not an easy process. It is invasive, expensive and humbling, and I can use those same words for infertility treatment in general.

However, one thing that dealing with infertility does give you is time to reflect and consider. Lots and lots of time. Our family building options dictated that we think long and hard about what was important to us in a family and what we could or could not handle. I think that’s why it is doubly infuriating when we are judged and criticized for the decisions we make.

And don’t get me started on the accusations that we exploit women by using them as surrogates b/c they are all ignorant, lower-class women who don’t know any better. Ridiculous. I’m glad the commenters have the time and the distance to debate the ethics. I don’t and didn’t. This is my life, and situations seem a lot different when they are happening to you.

If you haven’t read the Motherlode blog before, I encourage you to do so. I really enjoy reading it even though at times it seems like an alien world (sort of the same way I felt about Sex and the City).

Meet the “Twiblings”

I don’t know how many of you are readers of the New York Times Magazine, but there was a really nice article on gestational surrogacy in the most recent edition: “Meet the Twiblings“. The article chronicles writer Melanie Thernstrom’s journey to her son and daughter–not quite twins but yet more than simply siblings since they were born 5 days apart–via egg donor and two gestational surrogates.

All of us with any experience with surrogacy always hold our breaths when we hear about surrogacy in the media because it is usually handled poorly. This article is really good, and it is probably one of the best ones I have read about a couple’s experience with gestational surrogacy and all the emotions, decisions and overall roller coaster ride. And I’m a little surprised that it is the New York Times that provided the story since their last piece on surrogacy, “Her Body, My Baby,” was very controversial and reinforced a lot of stereotypes.

I was less thrilled with the comments on Thernstrom’s piece. Commenter after commenter declared the lengths they went to have a family disturbing, usually taking them to task for not adopting one of the millions of babies all over the world who need loving homes and contributing to overpopulation. Yes, that’s right: we infertiles were created expressly to solve that problem! What a neat solution! Never mind that we might have a desire to have our own biological children just as those who are fertile have and do. But I digress. I supposed that I expected the comments to be a tad more enlightened since they were reading an article in the New York Times. But then again, maybe I shouldn’t have expected it.

I thought Thernstrom’s piece did a wonderful job of explaining their motivations and how they came to surrogacy, making surrogacy and egg donation seem not as unusual as they might. Unlike the previous article on surrogacy, it was clear that Thernstrom and her husband truly valued and appreciated their gestational carriers and egg donors, preventing any accusations of exploitation that the other article generated. Thernstrom’s article was carefully crafted and thoughtful. How could it have engendered the mostly negative criticism it received?

It made me wonder about the reception we received when we told everyone we were pursuing surrogacy. No one reacted with horror or disgust. No one preached at us about it being an abomination. We did get asked questions, some more clumsily posed than others, but we answered them. I certainly didn’t and don’t expect anyone who hasn’t gone through infertility and surrogacy to be knowledgeable. The typical reaction was elation.

But now I wonder. Did anyone think like the commenters on Thernstrom’s article? Did they go home and wonder why we didn’t accept that clearly we weren’t meant to reproduce and just adopt or live childless? Do they look at Daniel and study him for any sign of deformity or mark? Do they pity him for such an unusual origin? Do they wonder if F will come back to get him?

In reality, whether anyone in my life thinks those types of thoughts doesn’t matter. Daniel is here, and we would do it all over again and hope to do so. I think it just bothers me that any reader of Thernstrom’s article can be confronted with a parents’ desire to have a child and the extraordinary lengths they are willing to go through to have one and call that ugly.

I call it beautiful.

Musings

The July issue of Self magazine published an article on infertility called “Breaking the Silence on Infertility.” It’s a really good article–probably one of the best ones I’ve read on infertility–and it’s clear that the author took the topic seriously and fact-checked extensively. Often when mainstream publications tackle infertility, the articles are infuriating: rife with errors, upholding stereotypes or glossing over the real issues involved. This article, though not perfect, provides a glimpse into what it feels like to be infertile. So, yeah, I encourage you to read it if you have a few minutes.

I don’t often talk much or blog much about infertility (at least on this blog), and the article calls out the infertile community for that because our silence is hurting the cause. Infertiles hate it when a fellow infertile seems to forget what it’s like to be infertile once success has been achieved. I can understand the forgetting. After all, infertility is all about pain, often both emotional AND physical, and who wants to remember that? After months or years of feeling abnormal due to IF (infertility), it’s great to be able to feel like a normal mommy. You’re in a new club; how you got there isn’t important.

Though I have enjoyed feeling normal and being a mommy and being able to swap tales with other parents, I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to have IF. How could I? After all, our unusual path to parenthood was a little more obvious than most. It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t pregnant. Since I wasn’t carrying our baby, it’s rather clear that there must be something preventing me from doing so (unless I’m just that vain which I doubt anyone would believe since I’m not exactly a size 6 or a model). I don’t have the ability to forget, to put IF in the past.

Whenever I think I might just be able to forget about IF, it comes roaring back. We don’t want Daniel to be an only child. We’d like to have a sibling. But to do so means pursuing the surrogacy path again. That’s fine–we’ll do what we need to do–but it’s like being back where we were a few years ago. Feeling angry and bitter again that we have to go through so much to have a child. Feeling like the path to our family is more like a mountain. Wishing that having a second child were as easy as just deciding to do so when for us it means finding a surrogate, lawyers, contracts, expense, clueless nurses, etc. Knowing that trying to have a second child may not result in one. J and I were talking about this last night. Trying to have a second child will be stressful, but nowhere near as stressful as trying to have Daniel was because we have Daniel now. But while the stress level will be lower, it will still be there.

If asked, I don’t mind talking about our path to parenthood. I don’t shout it from the rooftops, but I’m open. The article made me think, though, that I need to be more open, to advocate. I did donate my leftover meds to my old clinic, but I need to do more. I’ll have to give some serious thought to what I can do. IF changed my life. It changed both me and J. We aren’t the same people we were before our almost 4 year journey to Daniel. I like to think we are better people: stronger, more compassionate, wiser, more determined. But we are also more cynical.

Much to ponder.

Daniel Cont’d: Post-Partum

Daddy and Daniel

Daddy and Daniel

The rest of our time at the hospital was mixed and stressful unfortunately. A fellow IP had warned me that the hospital would likely be stressful, and she was too correct. Rex Hospital delivers tons of babies every day, but I swear there were moments where I wondered if they had ever delivered a baby before. This hospital has a public cord blood center on-site, yet they found our private cord blood collection kit confusing. I hope we were able to get some usable cells, but who knows. It took us forever to be moved from the delivery room to a post-partum room, and when we were, we were moved to the overflow area in the main hospital instead of one of the nice rooms in the birth center. It felt weird and somehow not right wheeling our newborn in his isolette down a long hall, into an elevator, and down another hall.

This wing of the hospital was apparently undergoing construction because almost as soon as we got into the room, we could hear very loud hammering and scraping that at time sounded like the workers would be coming through the ceiling. The nurses apologized profusely, informing us they had no idea construction would be going on when they reopened that floor. Hours later we were finally moved to another room down the hall.

When we explained the surrogacy situation to the nurses, they looked at each other, baffled, and one said, “Oh, We’ve never encountered that situation before. We’ll have to think about how to handle it.” Feeling good and confident at this point! They were obviously confused about whether they needed to address me or F about Daniel’s circumcision and other issues that needed a parent’s signature. One of the nurses commented that even though we were the parents, there might be some legal issues involved that necessitated F signing. F and her husband and J and I whipped out our PBOs at that point and told the nurse we had legal documentation. The infuriating thing was that F had delivered her previous surro baby at this hospital 1.5 years ago and I also doubt that we have been the only other case they’ve encountered since then.

The birth certificate lady informed us the state needed another certified copy of our PBO for us to be named parents on the birth certificate (never mind the fact that the hospital had one that they apparently weren’t using since they were clueless). So, instead of getting to spend lots of time with baby boy, J had to call the attorney to get another certified copy. He also had to deal with getting the hospital to finish up the cord blood kit procedure, which we had been told would be no big deal.

We left our house so quickly that we didn’t think to grab a few bottles. The hospital provided formula and huge bottle nipples, noting that all babies look like they are choking on them. Um, ok. F was pumping as well, and we wanted to use the colostrum but didn’t have any bottles to put it in. And apparently neither did the hospital. The nurse finally found something that would work, acting like she was doing us a huge favor. Daniel took an ounce of formula early on but refused to take anything else using the large nipples. We tried to feed him the colostrum via a syringe, which didn’t go that well. I wasn’t too concerned about his intake at that point since I had read that newborns actually don’t need much nourishment the first couple of days although that was constantly contradicted by nurses coming in to tell me he needed to eat every 3-4 hours.

When we left, F was in the wheel chair, and the nurse told us that Daniel would have to be wheeled out as well. She was perplexed by what to do since apparently they have only one wheelchair in the entire ginormous hospital; we again heard the now-familiar “I’ll have to figure out how to do this.” She wanted us to take the baby out of his car seat and put him back in the isolette for the trip downstairs, but I refused because he was strapped in and recovering from his circumcision, and I wasn’t going to bother him again. We finally agreed on F holding the car seat on her lap as they wheeled her out.

Amazingly, the only thing that went smoothly was discharge. F had terrified me by telling us that it may take us hours to be discharged, but the hospital was on the ball with that thankfully. I think I would have lost my mind having to sit there any longer.

I don’t want to give the impression that Daniel’s birth was a horrible experience. His birth was wonderful although a bit shocking, fast and terrifying! He was a wonderful baby in the hospital, and I was thankful for my quiet, cooing baby when the baby next door cried all day and all night long (something I could hear clearly all the way on the other side of our room). No, our main irritation was with the hospital and their disorganization.

I have to admit that the whole situation was a bit awkward overall. F was great and never did anything that made me feel weird. It was just that the rooms were small and people were coming in and out and I felt like I had to be “on” 24/7. J and I had an important role in this drama since we were the parents of the newborn, but F was the patient. We had no privacy. She had no privacy. The chairs weren’t comfortable. The futon was not ideal for sleeping. I don’t think I went to the bathroom for hours b/c you could hear everything in the room. We were new parents trying to figure out what the hell to do when the baby cried or needed a diaper change, and we had to do it in front of everyone. And never mind the fact that we were feeling a little emotional ourselves since we had just achieved our heart’s desire after 4 long years.

Sweet boy napping

Sweet boy napping

When we first arrived in the post-partum room, the nurses were being unhelpful, F was eating, I was starving and tired, I told J that I was about to lose it and I didn’t think I could stay there that night which made me feel awful since that meant leaving my precious newborn in the nursery. I calmed down a bit once I fed the baby, and it was quiet for a while. Then our pediatrician came in and told us that if the baby was doing well, we could be discharged after 24 hours. That then became my goal. If I could get to that, I’d be fine b/c all I wanted to do was go home and be with J and Daniel.

The evening went better because we had friends visit. F insisted that she had no problems with any visitors we wanted and to treat the room as our room. F’s parents brought her kids to see the baby later on and finally, everyone, including F’s husband and J left around 10:30, and we were alone. J had brought me a giant coffee from Starbuck’s (I had first requested it around 9am) and a cheeseburger and fries. I drank the coffee, but I was too torqued and worn out to eat much. Daniel was a bit fussy around midnight and wouldn’t be quieted, and F and I had some nice moments trying to figure out what was going on and her showing me a few tricks. I finally gave in and let the nurse take him to the nursery since all I was doing was watching him, and I was exhausted.

We left the hospital at 1pm on Wednesday, the day after he was born. Coincidentally, as we were getting ready to drive away, J noticed our friend A walking up. She was on her way to visit her twins who had been born a few weeks ago. It was perfect because we ran into her unexpectedly at our very first OB appointment back in November, and it seemed right that she was the last person we saw before we left.

We felt exhilarated and jubilant as we snapped his car seat in the car and headed home. I kept looking over at my beautiful baby boy, and he made all the stress of the past 4 years, the past 40 weeks and the past 24 hours worth it.