Saturday, November 30, 2013

The First Trimester (March- May 2013)

While completely overjoyed to be carrying these precious children for my IPs, the first trimester has not gone well for me at all.  I am filled with a sorrow, a depression I have never felt during pregnancy before.  I hesitate to write [and for months I couldn't actually write a thing] because I don't want to write about the sadness I am filled with, but I can't write without writing the entire truth. 
My body seems to understand that there are two little humans playing in here once more, and she is angry with me!  I tell my body, "just one more time, just get these children here safely this one more time and I will listen to you."  I am afraid my body will give out on me, will not get these babies here safely and on time, and I feel afraid that I will fail my IPs.
I cannot write, play the piano, enjoy the sunshine.  I sit in the darkness of my living room, staring out the window at the light and I am sad.  It is a terrible feeling, but at least I know it is not real.  I know these feelings are just hormones and they will pass.

Finally, I am able to go off of all the meds from the IVF cycle, and within days, I feel wonderful!  I am so happy to know it was just the meds making me feel so awful, and I am able to enjoy the sunshine once more. 
The babies are growing well.  I am already sporting a little belly and everyone at work has already noticed.  I am excited to have a baby bump so early so that I can enjoy the last six months I will ever have a cute belly in my life (I realize that it will be stretched beyond recognition after this final journey).  Summer is almost here, and I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Are we pregnant yet?

Step One- POAS (pee on a stick):
As we have learned from prior experience, I am not patient in the least!  I started the process of POAS three days after transfer (all the hormones you take in IVF make you feel pregnant even if you aren't, so those feelings are unreliable).  On day 4, we saw this:

And my fear of twins skyrocketed!  That is an early BFP (big fat positive).  I continued to test, of course, and this is what we saw:

Step Two- BETA (a quantitave count of the hcg level in your blood to determine pregnancy):
And, just for comparison's sake, these are the BETAS from my last two pregnancies-
Twins:                                                 Singleton:
270@9dp5dt                                        101@11dp3dt
550@11dp5dt                                      373@14dp5dt

BETA #1- 324@9dp5dt (And yes, this is a higher number than my first set of twins.  I am already convinced at this point that I am carrying twins again- despite the low odds the doctors gave us).
BETA #2- 624@11dp5dt (even higher)

Now, in both my other surrogacy experiences, the IVF doctor would schedule an ultrasound to see what all is going on inside the belly.  Hence, the commonly used phrase "in the 2ww (two week wait)" to describe waiting to see if any and how many babies are growing.  However, this IVF doctor decided that instead of scheduling an ultasound, we would continue with more BETAS.
BETA #3- 8099@19dp5dt
BETA #4- 20600@25dp5dt

At this point, I am totally flabbergasted that I have not had an ultrasound, and I am ready to strangle the doctor for making us wait so long! 
In fact, I am already showing:

Finally, finally, after over a month of waiting, the IVF doctor decides we will have an ultrasound.  I already know it is twins, and convince myself I will survive another twin pregnancy, and hope I am wrong.  We have the ultrasoud and see:

Yep, twins it is!  The twins' mother literally jumps up and down smiling and laughing for a few minutes.  Dad is calmer, but has a huge smile across his face.  (I would love nothing more than to insert the beautiful, glowing faced of the parents-to-be here, but I will have to check on that.) 
We have started another adventure, and we are off and running...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lucky Transfer

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March 17 is a lucky day.  It is St. Patrick's Day, and tradition dictates luck will come on this day. I woke up this beautiful Sunday morning, donned my knee-high four leaf clover socks and "I'm your lucky charm" green tshirt, and went with my IPs to transfer.
Our first bit of luck came in our 5 day transfer.  In most protocols I have seen, clinics opt for either a 3 day or 5 day transfer.  If there aren't a lot of embryos, or the embryos aren't developing as nicely as the doctor would like, they do a 3 day transfer to try to get them into a natural environment and hope they thrive there.  If there are plenty of embryos and they are developing well, a 5 day transfer is preferred because it gives time to watch the embryos develop so we can transfer the strongest ones.
This is the first transfer I have had that didn't happen in the clinic itself.  This one took place a few buildings away in an outpatient procedure type of place.  It was Sunday morning, and only one other transfer was taking place, so it was very calm and peaceful.  We walked into my pre-procedure room and found three sets of gowns and caps folded neatly on the exam table and the two chairs- one set for each of us.  My IPs actually had masks they had to wear, but I got a pair of fuzzy red socks instead!  I signed a bazillion papers, including one that said the "condition" I was being treated for was "procreational management" (which made me laugh).  I was offered a valium, and I accepted!  I drank my 1 1/3 bottles of water (the amount my bladder requires to reach full capacity), and tried to keep my bladder calm as we chatted and waited for our scheduled appointment time.
 photo embryos_zps2db27f9d.jpgThe IVF doctor came in and showed us the two beautiful embryos we would be transferring.  One was already branching out, and one was about to.  He said they were as perfect as could be, and gave my IPs the picture taken of them just that morning.
We rolled on down the hall and into the
"operating room", even though there would be no operating occuring.  I went in to the special chair, and the doctor himself got me all wrapped and snuggled into position.  My IM sat just to my left, and my IF sat just behind her (where he wouldn't have to endure the peek-a-boo show!) Once I was settled, we looked at the u/s screen to our right and watched as the IVF doctor opened the path up into my uterus.  As soon as the way was prepared, we turned our attention to the huge TV screen on the left wall and watched the embryologist put the catheter into the dish with the two embryos and suck them up.  They didn't really want to go into the straw, and kept jumping out of it.  Finally, both embryos were loaded.  The embryologist came in with the catheter, and we threaded it up the pathway to the very back of the uterus.  Then, the IVF doctor pulled the trigger and we watched the embryos shoot into their new home, followed by an air bubble (which you will see as a white dot in the picture.  The air bubble is loaded behind the embryos so there is a visual that the embryos left the catheter.  Once the doctor sees the air bubble, they take the catheter and put it under a microscope to make sure the embryos are not still in it.) 
 photo embryosinuteruscropped_zpsb7e1187c.jpgWe were given the all clear, my bladder was drained for me (sweet relief), and we rolled back down the hall to our room to wait for 30 minutes.
We left the clinic, hoping and praying the embryos were snuggling in to their new 10-month home.
We went to my IPs home, where they fed me lunch and helped me get situated to rest.  I kept waiting for the valium to kick in, but it didn't.  Well, until I fell asleep...
We had a great transfer day.  I came home with my family from my IPs' house with a strong feeling of peace and calm.  I am not superstitious in the least, but I do like to believe that we had a bit of the luck of the Irish with us on Sunday, and that it will follow us through to a healthy pregnancy.  My wish is for my IPs to have a baby in their arms, a living, breathing piece of St. Patty's Day luck, by the time we roll back around to this festive holiday.
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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wait for it...wait for it- Go!

Surrogacy is a game of hurry up and wait.  First, you research the process.  Then, you find IPs to work with.  Then, you go through legal contracts.  Then, you go through medical and psychological screenings.  Then, you wait.  And you wait.  And then you wait some more.  It is like a child waiting 364 days for Christmas to finally arrive.  And then, when you are so used to waiting you forget to complain about waiting, you go to check your email and there is a message from the IVF nurse coordinator with the subject line:  Calendar.  And then your breath catches in your throat, your eyes open up wide, a smile spreads across your face, and you shout out, "YES!"  The Calendar.  It is a sacred word in the surrogacy world.  The calendar.  It tells you what meds to take, when to take them, when to go to appointments, and- most importantly- it gives you tentative transfer dates.  Now, it is more common than not that these transfer dates will change, but it at least gives you a time frame and something to actively do. 
Then, when the joy of putting appointment dates into your calendar and talking with your IM to share the excitement of who takes what drugs when and who has to have the most injections (my IM wins this time with three injections a day for several weeks), you receive a big FedEx box in the mail filled up with goodies.  Now, these aren't tasty, yummy goodies or new clothes, these are the pills, liquids, containers, alcohol wipes, and syringes you will use to medicate yourself with for the next several weeks (usually about 6).
Finally, it is Go time.  We are in our cycle.  My IM is filling herself with all things necessary to grow as many healthy, viable eggs as she possibly can as fast as she can, and I am working on growing a nice, "fluffy" lining to make a safe and inviting home for the embryos that will soon be created.
It is a beautiful thing to be able to create babies the "old-fashioned" way, but don't discount the beauty of the IVF/surrogacy way.  When I look at the love, the struggle, and the commitment it takes to make babies this, I am so hopeful for these babies who will be born into a family that is willing to move mountains to get them here. 
I couldn't belong to a more wonderful community.
We have been waiting,
and waiting,
and it is time to

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Life After Surrogacy

I remember when I first started looking into surrogacy, there was a woman on a message board I belong to who had a line under her name that read, "Retired from pregnancy, not surrogacy."  I didn't really understand it at the time, but I do now. 
One of the first questions people ask me about surrogacy is, "What happens after?" 
Well, the simple answer is that the baby(ies) go home with their parents and I go home to my family. 
For some women, their good-bye (or lack of good-bye) at the hospital will be their last contact with this family that they became a part of for a year.  For some women, they may carry on and sometimes think, "Oh yeah, I carried a baby for someone."  For some women, there may be a longing, an emptiness because they don't get to know what comes next for that child.  For me, the "what happens after" is beautiful.
This past November, I received an email from my first IM telling me that her children (I carried twins for her) were talking about how "Emily carried us in her belly."  She wrote in her email that the children wanted to Skype with me, and how she would love for them to be able to talk to me while the topic was in their minds.  She also told me that she didn't want me to feel obligated.  I smiled.  I smiled because these two three year old children already understand their beginning.  I smiled because of the kindness thier showed in not wanting to put me out.  And then I smiled because I was going to get to talk to these two fanatastic little people that I cared so much about!
We Skyped one Saturday morning.  The kids played with their cars and gave me all the attention a three year old can.  I was able to talk to them for a few minutes, and spent the rest of the time talking to their mom. 
This family became part of my extended family during the year that we worked together.  We learned about surrogacy together as we went.  We shed tears of frustration, anticipation, and joy.  We only see each other about once a year, and send occasional notes, pictures, and Christmas cards.  We do not keep in touch regularly, but we are always there.

Two days ago, I received an email from my second IM telling me about Isabella's Christmas, and what was going on in their lives right now.  She sent me pictures of Christmas, and I couldn't help but smile at the dark, wavy hair of her little girl. 
Her family has become my family.  We live only a few hours apart, and we see each other a few times a year.  She has always sent me pictures, and I have recently started sending her pictures of my children too.

When Jason and I got married, both of these families were in attendance.  My first IM went with me and held my wedding dress up as I used the restroom.  We laughed that it was so comfortable for her to be there with me (this was nothing compared to giving me a shot in the butt!).  My second IM put her hand on my belly and nearly cried with the joy that her daughter was there with us on our special day.
I did not become a surrogate to make a new best friend.  I did not become a surrogate to have a baby and then go on my merry way.  I became a surrogate to make families grow.  I do not have a problem handing a child over to his/her parents because I love the family, not just the child.
I always tell prospective IPs that I ask for two things "after" the surrogacy.  The first is that my children are able to see the baby in the hospital so they know the baby made it out okay. The second is that I would like a picture of the family we helped to create. 
In both cases, my children not only were able to see the baby, but they were able to hold and kiss the babies. 
Not only did my children get to see the babies, but I was able to hold, and kiss, and love the babies.
Not only that, but I was able to be in the room when all the IPs saw their children for the first time.
Not only that, but they all invited me to be there when the baby first came out of the nursery.
In both cases, they didn't just send me a picture of the family, they sent me many.
Not only that, but I have seen and played with all of these children.
Not only that, but we still keep in touch.

After all that I have been through in the last four years, I have finally learned what it means to be "retired from pregnancy, not surrogacy."  These  living children are a legacy of surrogacy.  As long as they live, as long as their parents tell them the story of their beginings, I will never be retired.  As long as I live, I will be a surrogate.  And it is far from an obligation, it is a blessing and a joy.

I am a surrogate.  I don't just grow babies, I grow families.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What I should have told the kooky counselor

We went to the clinic a few weeks ago- my IM,my IF, and me.  The IVF doctor had to make sure that my uterus hadn't mutated since my last delivery, and we were relieved to see that it was, in fact, exactly and perfectly as we had left it.  We were ready for a calendar (I always love to have the dates and the plan of action laid out in front of me), but much to our dismay, the nurse coordinator said that I had to have a procedure done- an hsg- which is short for some big, long medical word that basically means "shoot nasty chemicals that will show up as contrast in an x-ray into your uterus and push them through your fallopian tubes to make sure there are no blockages".  Of course, the procedure had to be planned in advance, and we had not planned it in advance since we did not know about it.  We were pretty bummed.  The silver lining to the clinic causing a delay in my testing was the absolutely amazing news that this clinic is going to allow me to use Crinone instead of PIO.  Translated to human speak:  I will simply take a suppository instead of stabbing myself with a 1 1/2 inch needle every night for approximately 6-8 weeks.  I feel my hips doing a happy dance and my poor, abused blood vessels smiling with glee!
We headed off to a yummy lunch at a local downtown Austin restaurant, and then went back to my IPs' house to relax, visit, and check out the miniature donkeys in the backyard.  We had a relaxing afternoon, and then headed back to Austin for our appointment with the counselor. 
Counseling is an important step in the surrogacy process.  The first time I was a surrogate, I had to take the MMPI (which I call the crazy test), meet with the counselor independently, and then meet with her with the IPs.  The second time, I got to skip the crazy test, but still met with the counselor with my IM (and IF by phone), and then talk to her alone.  The purpose of the counseling is to determine if the surrogate is in an emotionally and mentally balanced state to endure a pregnancy and the related challenges and trials that come with it, and then hand the baby back to his/her parents and still remain psychologically intact.  The purpose of counseling for the IPs is to make sure they are ready to go through another trying procedure and that they are emotionally healthy enough to try something else that could fail.  I think the reasons for meeting all together are to establish our expectations for and during the pregnancy, the way we will treat each other and communicate throughout the process, and how we plan for things to end.  
At first, I thought the counseling was a complete and total waste of time. Seriously.  The MMPI asked if I heard voices in my head telling me to hurt myself. This seemed silly at the time. However, I have come to appreciate the counseling, and yes, even the test. With my first couple, it was just another 't' to cross, but with my second couple, I truly felt concern about the emotional state of the mother since she had recently delivered a living child who died soon after birth.  The counselor was able to show me how the mother was handling it in a healthy way and alleviate my fears for her well-being. I realized then that the reason I take the crazy test and speak with the counselor is so the parents know that I can make it through this process without going nuts and that I am capable of handling the emotional difficulty of this seemingly bizarre situation.
This time, we visited with a new and somewhat eccentric counselor.   I did not meet with her alone, only with my IPs. I expected the same type of questions as always. Why did you become a surrogate?  Does your husband support you?  How are your relationships with your previous couples? 
The conversation went easily.  We had already agreed about everything and knew we would not have trouble with termination or selective reduction ( we both want a healthy, living child- a perfect one is just a bonus). We had already gone through trouble with the agency and the contracts, so we knew we could handle adversity well.  At one point, I told my IM, " close your ears" because I did not want my words about the beauty of carrying a child and feeling them kick inside to hurt her. The counselor stopped us, and pointed out that I already cared about my IM - awesome!  She told us that we already showed concern for each other's feelings, well-being, and protection.  What a great thing to hear at the beginning of a friendship.
There came a point toward the end of our visit where we were ready to leave, but the counselor just 
kept firing away with the questions. There came a question that I simply didn't know how to answer. 
She asked, " Why do you love your previous IPs?". 
I couldn't think of a a response. I tell her, " I carried their child(ren) for them."
She asks again, "but what makes you love them?"
Again, I am stumped. I try again, " We keep in touch."
"Yes, but why?" she poses, and I am reaching for straws here. 
 I blurt out the only other thing that comes to mind.  " Well, a few months after the twins were born
their mother sent me a necklace with two doves on it. She told me they represent the spirits that I carried here for them.  The day after I delivered my last surrobaby, her mother gave me a necklace with my children's birthstones on it.   These are symbols to me of our journeys together, and I love them for thinking of me with this reminder."
I look at the counselor to see if she approves (as I look at my IPs in horror that I just blurted out 
something so stupid and materialistic). I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I didn't. We just ended our meeting with the kind and kooky counselor and went our separate ways. 
On the way home, I started thinking about her question. I wanted to find the truth so that I wold know for myself what makes me care for these people so deeply, so quickly...

I think about my love for these families that I helped to grow. I didn't start to love them at the end
 of our journey when they gave me a tangible gift. I didn't start to love them when their child was born.  I loved them way before then. 
So I go back to the beginning. I think of my first meeting with each couple. I think of the words they speak and the expressions on their faces as they explain to me why they are on the road to surrogacy. I remember the sorrow in their eyes when they tell me of their losses, and I still see the love in their eyes when they speak about falling in love with their spouses. I listen to the passion in their voices as they share their desire to become parents. I feel sincerity in their tone, and I see the light of hope alive in them when they speak of the possibility that surrogacy will bring them a child. 
In each case, I know right away that I want to work with each couple. Why?
It is the human suffering they have endured.  The grace with which they accept reality. The strength they have gained through their trials. The love they have for each other. The desire they have to become parents. The hope. I fall in love with these couples the very first time I meet them. I see my brother and my sister in need, I see their humanity- the grief and the joy and the hope (always the hope), and I want to walk with them awhile. I want to carry a child for my sister while she is unable, and I want to absorb some of their strength as we go. 
Every moment after that first meeting is just our friendship and our love growing.  Every phone call to check on their child, every intake of breath as I share the baby's heart rate, every smile when they can feel their baby kicking them through my belly, every tear that they shed when they watch their child dancing on the ultrasound screen makes me love them more. 
By the end, by the time this couple is holding their child, they are my family.  We have walked through fire together and I love them. 
That is what I should  have told the counselor.   That is what I should have told my IPs.