Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Q & A

Although there aren’t very many Q, to be honest. My comments always go way down when I write about the surrogacy, and I worry that I’m boring everyone to tears. But in the meantime, if you can stop yawning long enough to leave a question in the comment section, I’ll answer it here.

Sandie from MN asked: “Hey Kristie--As I am reading, I keep thinking about how expensive medical processes such as these are. I'm sort of wondering (if this is too personal, feel free to ignore me) about all the airfaire/hotels/eating out and how that adds up. Is it designated who pays for what? Does everyone split the bill? Now I am second guessing asking you, but as nosy as I am, I won't delete.”

Sandie, that’s a fair question. I mentioned, in a previous journal entry, that the costs for the Intended Parents can be prohibitive. As in, they pay for everything. That’s not to say I’ve *never* encountered any expense, because I have, but my occasional expenses are normally minimal. A pharmacy co-pay here, perhaps some long-distance phone calls, or faxing charges, some gas or parking fees,etc. Nothing that adds up to anything noticeable, at all. The rare expense I encounter that is very large, perhaps an unexpected medical bill, or long-term parking fees, I am always reimbursed.

The parents to be, however, can run up huge bills in addition to the medical expenses. Travel expenses for themselves and the surrogate, if the reproductive clinic is long-distance, the medical and/or life insurance that is sometimes required on behalf of the surrogate. Also, the medical screenings, the psych screenings, and legal expenses for everyone. It’s a little insulting, isn’t it, that *they* pay for a lawyer to look over a contract on my behalf, that another lawyer *they* also paid sent to me? And different clinics, agencies, and attorneys can have various charges such as counseling services, etc, that are required.

I’ve said it before, I don’t know the ultimate total cost of a surrogacy, and I don’t want to know. Every couple I’ve ever worked with has been gracious and generous and thoughtful. I don’t think I’ve *ever* opened my wallet at a restaurant, or a movie theater, etc, although I offer every time. And of course, like you mentioned, the big-ticket items are the IVF procedures, screenings, tests, and medicines themselves. What’s really discouraging, with this as with any fertility process, is that there is no money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work.

Does that mean every couple that turns to surrogacy is loaded? Of course not. But I would hope people would understand, and be sensitive about the fact that in addition to the mental and emotional investment, there is a financial burden as well.

Cindi asked: “It's very clear that being a surrogate requires a support staff. With Kendrie being so young, and there being three children, and Blaine not always available 24/7 for the kids, did you ever have trouble finding someone to watch your children when you had to leave town? Did many of your family and friends know what you were doing? And one more thing, if I'm not prying too much, did anyone try to talk you out of doing this?”

Cindi, you’re not kidding about the support staff. Technically, it took four people to get me pregnant …. Me, the IM, the IF, and the doctor. But if you count the peripheral nursing and lab staff, and all the people who cheered us on and supported us from the sidelines, it probably numbers in the hundreds!

After Blaine, who supported the idea without hesitation, I think the next two people I told were my mom and my sister. They were both of the attitudes (if I could be so presumptuous as to speak for them) that they had no idea why I would want to do this, but hey, if that’s what I chose to do, more power to me. Ironically, as other people found out about it down the road and questioned *them*, I think they became a little more quick in their defense of it. Then, once my mom met my first couple (that story to follow) she became the biggest supporter ever.

The next three people I told were close friends who I asked to write references for me when I applied to the surrogate agency. I received whole-hearted support from all three of them, especially my best friend Kim, whose own miserable pregnancy had prompted the entire experience.

As more people started finding out, I never had anyone try to convince me otherwise. I had one distant relative tell me all the reasons he thought it was a bad idea, to which I murmured polite mumblings and then have purposely never discussed it in front of him again, nor has he ever acknowledged it in any way. Honestly, ignoring it seems to work well for the two of us, so that’s ok. I don’t see him often, so his avoidance of the issue doesn’t impact my life at all.

The only comments I get that are negative in any fashion are along the lines of “Good for you, but I could never do that” to which I reply, “That’s probably for the best” or “Oh, well, I love it and feel lucky to get to do it” or, if I’m feeling especially snotty, I’ll reply ”I doubt anyone would ever ask you.” (No, I’m kidding. But wouldn’t it be awesome to say that to someone sometime?)

I also get “Isn’t it hard to give up the baby?” to which I usually reply, "No, because I have a cold, hard, shriveled-up raisin for a heart" .... then, after the awkward laughter fades away, because I guess people aren't sure if I'm kidding OR NOT, I'll normally explain, “I’m not giving it up, I’m giving it BACK.” I’ve tried explaining that it’s like babysitting your sister’s or cousin’s or best friend’s baby --- you care about it, but you don’t really want to keep it, do you?

And the only other comment I can think of that ever bothered me was when people would ask if my kids were confused by the process, and did I worry I was messing with their psyche to think people could just give away babies like that? I actually have a story I’ll share later about this exact thing, but my only response to that question is to clarify that, in my own personal opinion, as long as the surrogate has done her job explaining the situation to her children, then honestly, kids are probably more flexible and adaptable than grown ups. In fact, when Kellen was in the 2nd grade, his teacher announced she was pregnant. Kellen, age 8, raised his hand and asked, matter of factly, in front of all his classmates, “Are you having it for you, or for someone else?” The teacher was a little shocked, but you have no idea how happy and proud that made me, to know I’m raising such open minded children.

As far as the physical care of my own children while I was gallivanting all over the country for doctor’s appointments and tests and transfers and surrogate support meetings … yes, to be honest, at times it was tricky. My kids were young enough that they did not attend any kind of pre-school or day care, and of course we were living on an Air Force base in Ohio, far from family. If I was traveling over a weekend, Blaine was (has always been, and still is to this day) phenomenal with them and I never batted an eye about leaving. If I would be traveling during the week when he was working, or especially those trips where he and I had to go together, it was another story. If it was just a few hours, I would normally ask friends to watch them. Once, when a friend kept all three of them overnight and all the next day, my IP’s paid child-care wages to that friend. And more than once, if I needed several days’ worth of childcare, it was cheaper to buy my mom an airline ticket than to pay childcare for three kids. Once the kids got older and in school during the day, childcare wasn’t much of a problem anymore. But hands down, without help or support, no woman with children of her own would ever be able to be a surrogate. Or at least I don't see how. Yes, it might take a village to raise a child, but in this case, it took a whole damn village just to get to the point of getting pregnant, too!

Jen in Maryland --- go next door and ask for Barbara. Tell her I said a huge hello!!!

Becca – (hee-hee, you said “ass” in my comments. I love that. Have I ever told you that “jackass” is my favorite word in the whole entire world??)

The Actual Transfer

The next morning, we all drove the few blocks from the hotel to the clinic together. We had to get checked in, similar to how you would for an outpatient procedure, which I guess at its simplest, is exactly what an embryo transfer is. Mainly, I remember that we all three had medical wristbands, and they kept confirming our social security numbers against their records. Over and over again. I assume the very real scare of putting the wrong embryos in the wrong person prompts them to double and triple check, every step along the way. I had to sign release forms that I understood what was happening and the medical risks involved, blah blah blah.

At long last, I was put in a private room. I undressed from the waist down, hopped on the table and covered up with a lovely paper drape ….. ah, good times. Then I called my IP’s in to join me, and chugged about half a gallon of water. Big mistake. That’s when I learned how my bladder MUST BE teeny tinier than normal because of how miserably full I got before the transfer.

As my IP’s and I sat in that room, waiting for the RE to come in, we had this sort of awkward, stilted conversation. It’s surreal, in a way, to know you are embarking on something so hopefully miraculous, yet you almost don’t want to jinx it by talking about it, so you sit and babble about stupid things like the weather. Or at least I did. I also remember that we were the very first transfer scheduled for that morning, and it was freezing cold in the room. So part of my brain was dwelling on the excitement of what was about to happen, and part of my brain was dwelling on trying not to shiver, half-undressed, on the table. Part of my brain was carrying on a completely inane conversation about, I don’t know, probably shoes or Brittney Spears or something moronic in an attempt not to show how nervous I was, and the very last part of my brain was dwelling on my very real struggle not to wet the table because my GOSH my bladder is full and when are they coming in here with those embryos already!?!?!

The doctor, at long last, came in and told us the embryos looked good; growth was right on target for day three. We had previously discussed putting two embryos in, and at the last minute, my IF and I put out tentative feelers for inserting three. (I told you, I get that way, all sort of desperate and panicky, every single time.) My IM wasn’t so sure about putting in three, but it didn’t matter. The doctor was emphatic – No. These embryos looked strong and healthy, and to quote him: “Putting in multiple embryos doesn’t raise the chance of pregnancy …. It simply raises the chance of a multiple pregnancy, if it’s going to work at all.”

He went on to explain that (at *their* clinic, anyway) they consider the most-successful IVF transfers to be the ones that result in a singleton pregnancy. Less complications during the pregnancy, less risk for the surrogate, less risk for the baby. Yes, twins are wonderful and miraculous and it seems like everyone left and right is having them these days, thanks to fertility drugs, but ideally, the goal of this fertility clinic was healthy, low-risk, singleton pregnancies.

So, we all agreed, two it would be.

The two they transferred were 8 celled and 8+ celled, meaning the embryos had divided to the point of having eight cells each (one slightly ahead of the other and getting ready to divide again.) We watched on the ultrasound screen (OMG woman, I mentally screamed at the nurse, quit leaning on my bladder with that ultrasound wand!!!) as the doctor inserted the catheter and Poof! there went the flash of white as the fluid containing the embryos was inserted. The doctor pulled out all the instruments, patted my knee, told us it was a “better-than-textbook” transfer, and wished us all luck. All that work, all that effort, all that time and expense …. And the whole thing took less than three minutes, start to finish.

I lay there for half an hour afterwards, and for some reason, started doing that uncontrollable shaking thing on the table, to the point where they had to bring in warm blankets to lay over me. I’m not sure if it was because it was so cold in the room, or nerves, or adrenaline, but I remember thinking there was no way those embryos would be able to attach themselves to a uterus jerking around like the drum of a washing machine. Then, when the half hour was over, I got up and hurried down the hall to the bathroom so quickly that I remember thinking there was no way those embryos could attach to my uterus while I speed-walked like that, desperately holding my knees together. (To hold the embryos in, or to keep from wetting my pants, I’m not sure.) Or, while I urinated for what must have been close to five solid minutes. Is it possible to PEE out a baby??? (PS, the doctor assured me, No.) (Because yes, I did ask.) (Because I'm a goober.)

Finally, I was dressed and ready to go. My couple drove me back to the hotel, where I stayed on 24 hour light bedrest. They brought me lunch and dinner, and for the rest of the day I simply lay around and watched movies. I don’t know that I’d want to live my life like that, but for a day, it was pretty relaxing, I must admit. Back home, I had a one year old, a three year old, and a four year old to keep happy and entertained. Lying around in a hotel bed all day, with no-one demanding to be wiped or cleaned or fed, was pure heaven. The next day I drove the rental car back to the airport, then flew home.

And thus began the dreaded two-week wait.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Transfer Plans

We were slated for an approximate Memorial Day (2001) transfer, give or take a few days in either direction, based on how my IM responded to her meds. Since she had done well with the mock cycle, we figured things would go well this time also, and we began making tentative (are you clueing in here that “tentative” is a recurring theme?) travel plans. The clinic was not only long-distance for me, requiring flight arrangements, but it was long distance for my couple as well, meaning we all needed hotel reservations once we got there. The advantage this time is that we were aiming for a three-day transfer, so none of the waiting and wondering if the embryos would make it to day five.

{side note: I just realized I made an error in my previous journal entry when I told you some clinics transfer at day two and some at day five. It’s actually day THREE and day five. I am a moron, and perhaps too clueless to carry other people’s babies. I mean, if I forget basic details about IVF, what else will I forget? Will I just forget that I’m pregnant, and chug a bunch of Jack Daniels, or go skydiving before suddenly remembering oh, wait, hey, there’s a baby in there???}

The fact that the clinic was long-distance wound up being more of a hassle for my IM than for me, because the last week to ten days-ish of the cycle before the egg retrieval, she had to be monitored every single day. So she drove to Maryland by herself and stayed in a hotel that entire time, going to the clinic each day for her shots and her blood draws and her ultrasounds.

We were scheduled for a Monday morning transfer, so Saturday night I flew to Maryland, rented a car and drove to the hotel, and her husband and son also drove in and joined us at the hotel. This was the first time I had met their son, although I had heard lots about him. He had just celebrated his tenth birthday, and his mom told me he had recently become obsessed with learning to blow the biggest bubbles in the free world, so for a birthday gift, I took him an entire case of Bubble Yum, and some Bionicles. My IM told me later that the bubble gum pretty much cinched the deal and he thought I was great. (Hey, I’m not above bribery to get a kid to like me.)

Sunday morning, the guys got up and went to an Orioles game, and my IM and I decided to drive down to Washington DC and do a little sight-seeing. What we didn’t realize was that holiday weekend was the annual “Rolling Thunder” event --- 200,000 Harley Davidson Biker/Vietnam Vets celebrating on the mall, as well. That was some party, to say the least, and certainly made for an interesting sight-seeing day for us. It also rained a few times that afternoon, and if having my IM give me my progesterone shots in the rear wasn’t enough to cement our new friendship, I think huddling together under an umbrella at the Lincoln Memorial certainly did the trick.

We all went out together for dinner that night, and I spent so much time laughing and talking and realizing how very much I liked this family, the more time I spent with them, that I almost forgot to be nervous for what was taking place the next morning.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

As a Parent, Can You Think of Anything More Nerve-Wracking?

Than this:

You want your child to try new things, and hopefully do spectacular. If not do spectacular, at least do well. If not do well, at least have fun. If not have fun, at least not have the child's fear that "I will let all the balls get past me and we will lose the game and all my new team-mates will hate me and why oh why did our regular goalie have to go out of town this weekend????"

So can you think of anything more nerve-wracking than seeing your little girl standing alone, waiting, watching, tense in front of the goal??

No? How about this:


Luckily for us, she got the hang of it pretty quickly and that was the only goal the other team scored the entire game.


In fact, I would say by the time half-time rolled around, she was able to relax a bit.


And to be honest, by the time the end of the game was drawing near, she might have even been enjoying herself.

And by the end of the game, I was relaxing as well. And even enjoying *myself*, until I noticed that the other team's goalie was crying, and asked a parent what the score was, and discovered we were ahead 8 - 1. Then I started feeling crummy again, but for different reasons.

This is why I never played sports .... my over-developed sense of sympathy and compassion for the losing team. Well, that, and the fact I am chubby and uncoordinated.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The mock cycle

The mock cycle is the part of the surrogacy process that I personally think is the dumbest, most annoying thing on the planet. Even more annoying than Jim Carey, and that’s saying something.

Basically, both the surrogate and the IM take all the meds, shots, pills, patches, etc, and have all the blood tests and ultrasounds done, as if they were doing a *real* cycle. Hormone levels are monitored, egg quality and quantity are closely watched, uterine lining is measured, etc, just like the real deal. Then, a day or two before an egg retrieval would normally take place, the RE will evaluate everyone’s responses, and say, “OK …. Whew! Looks like we’re good to go for the real thing!” Then, you both stop all your meds, get your periods (hey, there’s some female bonding, isn’t there???) give the IM’s ovaries a month to rest, and then basically start all over again … for “realsies” this time.

I mean, what’s UP with that? It’s like running a PRACTICE Boston Marathon, and stopping one foot short of the finish line, just to see if you can do it. Or swimming the English Channel, but climbing in the rescue rowboat twenty yards shy of the shore. Or climbing Mount Everest, but heading back down before you reach …. Yeah, yeah, ok, you get my point. If you’re going to go to the trouble and hassle and expense of a pretend cycle, just flipping DO IT already!!!

But despite seeming dumb and annoying to impatient people like me, the mock cycle does serve a purpose. At least that’s what the doctors say. In the event either the surrogate or the IM does NOT respond typically to the ovulatory stimulation drugs, or the ovulatory suppressant drugs, or the uterine lining drugs, or the blah-blee-bloo-blah-blee drugs, then the cycle can be stopped before doing any sort of transfer that is doomed to fail. Then, the drugs can be tweaked for optimal success the next time, if need be. I guess *in theory* I understand it, but my question is if everything looks good during the mock, why can’t they just go ahead with the transfer? It’s like they’re WASTING time and money and EGGS, for goodness sake!! But, since I’m not willing to attend 37 years of medical school to understand this, I just take the doctor’s word that sometimes, it’s simply necessary.

After my IM and I both passed our screenings, we underwent our mock cycle. My IM produced an appropriate number of follicles and eggs with no problem … she was 39, so was a little bit worried about quality due to her age and that pesky biological clock, but things looked great.

For me, at the end of the mock, I had to fly back to Maryland so the doctor could measure my lining for himself (Oh, hello! You are becoming quite familiar with my bagina, are you not?) which thankfully looked fine as well. So, plans were begun in earnest for the real thing; we were both put back on birth control, and eagerly awaited the calendars we would each be given for the transfer, detailing the tentative (again, always with the tentative) dates for all the meds and blood draws and ultrasounds we would have done in the month leading up to the big day. The day where we were gonna make a baby, man, a BABY!

Getting there …

So now that you understand (hopefully, if I managed to explain it well enough) the ins and outs of a gestational IVF process, I’ll share with you the route it took me and my first couple to get there. Our experience is pretty typical for first-timers, and is similar to what most surrogates go through. Although I imagine most surrogates have way more patience than me. In fact, I imagine most people in general have way more patience than me. Actually, I imagine every single-and-multi-celled organism on the planet has way more patience than me.

Once we were matched (still pinching myself that a couple this marvelous wanted to work with me!) we started getting our legal contracts worked up, and my couple had to select a reproductive clinic. Although for privacy reasons I won’t tell you exactly where they live, I can tell you it is in the northeastern part of the country, and luckily, there are quite a few very good clinics, with experienced doctors, compassionate staff, and high success rates, to choose from in that area. Ultimately, they selected a clinic called Shady Grove in Maryland. Really? Shady Grove? Doesn’t that sound more like a pet cemetery than a fertility clinic??? Whatever, as long as they got me pregnant, I didn’t care *what* they were called.

Although I had passed all the rudimentary medical screenings that the surrogate agency required (basic pap, hormone, and communicable diseases screening, which Blaine had to take as well) I still had to meet with the reproductive endocrinologist (RE) at Shady Grove and pass all of *their* tests and procedures. That was the visit we were trying to get set up almost three months after we met and were matched (in my previous journal entry). Fertility clinics are all about success rates and percentages, so naturally, they only want to work with surrogates who they feel have a good shot at getting pregnant. Luckily, most women, as long as they have a healthy uterus, are good candidates. Determining that is the point of the initial consultation.

The criterion that would eliminate a potential surrogate vary from clinic to clinic, but generally include simply the following: anyone who has had more than one c-section is usually ruled out. Scarring from the sections leaves the inside of the uterus “not smooth” --- “smooth” is what they need in order for the embryos to attach. Never mind that women all over the planet have two and three and even more c-sections and go on to get pregnant on their own quite easily. But any woman who has had more than one c-section will typically be turned down from being a surrogate. Extremely overweight women will be turned down, as well. While I understand obesity can affect fertility with regard to ovulation, I’m not sure I understand the connection here, since surrogates don’t ovulate, and in fact, are given drugs to suppress ovulation. But nonetheless, many clinics have a BMI criterion that must be met. I’m just glad “pleasantly chubby” is allowed, or I’d be shit out of luck.

Other than that, if you’re healthy, and have no medical issues that might complicate a pregnancy of your own, you would most likely be cleared to move on to the RE testing part of the process.

And so I traveled to Maryland for the first time, crossing my fingers that everything “in there” was as it should be. At this point it had been a year and a half since I delivered Kendrie, so I felt fairly confident they wouldn’t find any cobwebs or dust bunnies … but you just never know. I met with the doctor and he reviewed the records of my previous pregnancies, asking questions and gathering information from me. I had a physical exam and a saline sonogram. A saline (infusion) sonogram is routinely performed to make sure that the endometrial cavity (inside of the uterus) appears normal. Benign uterine growths, such as endometrial polyps or uterine fibroids, may develop in the cavity and create an environment that is hostile for implantation. Scar tissue might also be identified with the saline sonogram. These things won’t rule you out as a surrogate, but must be recognized and taken care of before you can move forward. I even know one girl who went in for her sonogram and the doctor found pre-cancerous lesions …. So really, a necessary test to have.

The sonogram itself is simple and usually takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Assume the position, ladies, then the cervix is cleansed with an antiseptic solution, catheter is inserted, and ultrasound wand is inserted (wow, lots of inserting going on here, isn’t there?) Then, sterile saline solution is pushed through the catheter, which distends the endometrial cavity and allows the RE to see the cavity on the ultrasound monitor and check for irregularities.

Then, since I was already on the table, the doctor did a mock transfer, threading another catheter and transferring fluid only, to make sure my anatomy was favorable for an actual embryo transfer. I do have a tipped {retroverted} uterus (hmmm, could *that* be why my tummy is so poochy all the time? No? You think it’s more likely the Oreos???) but after all was said and done, I was proclaimed fit and healthy and the proud possessor of a “beautiful uterus!!”

Ummmmmmmm, thank you????

In the meantime, my IM had passed all of her screenings with flying colors as well, so we were cleared for the next step: the mock cycle.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not to be left out …

While the Intended Mom (or Egg Donor) is going through the process of shots and meds and blood draws and ultrasounds to reach the point of egg retrieval, the hopeful-surrogate-to-be, not to be left out, is also being put through her medical paces.

Let me preface this post by saying: Every reproductive fertility clinic does things differently; they each have their own protocols and tests and procedures, and sometimes even do things differently from doctor to doctor and patient to patient. Although I’ve done months and months (and years and years) of my own fertility treatment, and IVF twice for myself, and surro-IVF three times already (seven times if you count the transfers that didn’t work) --- well, I have a memory like Swiss cheese and can’t be certain of all the exact details. So as I’m telling you the story, please keep in mind that it’s how I remember the story as it relates to ME, and different fertility patients might have had different experiences. Heck, I might even have some of my own details wrong. But I promise to do the best I can … what with this swiss cheese brain and all.

Like I mentioned previously, the surrogate and the IM have to get their cycles in synch with birth control pills. The overall calendar-schedule of an IVF cycle is centered around when the doctor predicts the IM will be ready for her egg retrieval. The goal for the surrogate is to get as close to “ready” to receive the embryos as she would be in a “normal” cycle as if she was getting pregnant on her own. (Clear as mud? Did I explain that well at all?)

About three or four weeks before the tentative egg retrieval date, the surrogate will begin giving herself injections of a drug called Lupron. (Please bear in mind that EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY step of an IVF cycle is “tentative” … that’s one of the things about IVF that can be so maddening; you just don’t know for sure when you’re gong to do things until a day or two before you do them, making it difficult to make plans, especially if long-distance travel is involved.) Lupron is a drug that suppresses the production of testosterone and estrogen, to “quiet” the ovaries, and often comes with a wicked headache side effect. The first few times I used it I got the headaches, but the last few times I didn’t … who knows??? Lupron is normally given as a little sub-q shot in either the thigh or tummy, and the once-a-day shots last a few weeks. Sometimes, one giant dose of the drug is given as an intra-muscular shot; I’ve only done that once and am not sure of the difference …. Again, it just depends on your clinic’s protocol.

A week or so later the surrogate will discontinue the birth control and get her period. Then, in the weeks between getting her period and going for the embryo transfer, the surrogate will be started on estrogen, which regulates the hormones, and fluffs up the uterine lining, to trick her body into getting ready to be pregnant. The estrogen can be given by pill, patch, or suppository (at least that is the only three ways I’ve ever gotten it …. I think. Oh, swiss cheese brain, why must you fail me???)

Throughout these few weeks of hormone therapy, the surrogate will need to be monitored with blood tests to make sure her hormones levels are where they need to be, and ultrasounds, to make sure her own ovaries are not producing eggs, and to make sure the lining of the uterus is thick enough to sustain a pregnancy. If the Intended Mom’s clinic is long-distance (which mine have always been) you have the added bonus of having orders and test results faxed back and forth between the “ordering” clinic and the “monitoring” clinic. In Georgia, my monitoring clinic was almost 45 minutes away from my house, which made for a lot of driving near the end of each cycle, when I was having blood draws and ultrasounds every other day.

The surrogate's shots, pills, suppositories, blood draws, and ultrasounds will continue until the IM has her egg retrieval and the clinic decides whether the embryos will be transferred at two days old, or five days old. Theoretically, five-day embryos, called blastocyst embryos (or “blasts”) are stronger, healthier, and often are quoted a higher success rate for pregnancy--- the risk is that the embryos could quit dividing at day three or four. Some clinics don’t want to play the waiting and guessing game --- how many eggs fertilized, and how many died off? If we wait until day 5, are we risking the cycle, and what if there are not any left???? So, some clinics will do automatic 2-day transfers, but most try to wait until day 5 as long as it looks hopeful that enough embryos will make it that long. (This part of the process is stressful to me, and is why I would never make a good gambler. Well, that and the fact I'm too cheap to part with my money.)

This un-certain stage of the process can also be frustrating because plane tickets need to be purchased, hotel reservations need to be made, childcare arrangements must be made, etc. I’m not really a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of gal, so about this time in every cycle I tend to get a bit overwhelmed with the what-ifs. Then I realize stressing out about things isn’t going to help, and hey, I’ve only got a few days left where I can drink, so I normally fix myself a big ole’ margarita and just relax about it all. (Kidding. I can’t stand tequila. I drink scotch.) (Kidding again. You guys KNOW my drink of choice is Amaretto!!) (Well, honestly, my drink of choice is Diet Dr. Pepper, which is probably I would never make a very good alcoholic.)

A few days before the transfer, the surrogate is normally started on a seven-day course of antibiotics (better safe than sorry, as there will be lots of people and instruments down there in the next few days!) and a seven-day course of baby aspirin, to increase blood flow to the uterus and help promote implantation. Some clinics also prescribe a seven-day course of steroids (oh, yeah, because with all the other drugs we’re not hormonal enough already???) to keep the body from rejecting the embryo as “foreign”, since our own bodies “know” they did not produce it.

It’s the most bizarre thing, really, having a conception as artificial as this one, yet trying to trick the body into thinking it is totally natural. Suffice it to say, lots and lots and lots of drugs.

Also a few days before the transfer, the surrogate starts giving herself once or twice-daily injections of progesterone, to help the body sustain the pregnancy. Again, since she didn’t get pregnant “naturally”, her body is not producing the right hormones in the right amount, so supplementation is needed. These are the “big” shots that go in our rear ends; some girls give them to themselves (me) and other girls prefer to have someone else give them (I’ve done that, too.) These shots are thick; progesterone suspended in oil, and you're usually giving yourself at least 1CC. They will continue for at least two weeks, or if pregnancy is attained, for up to twelve weeks. Even an ass as big as mine runs out of available spots after a few weeks, and most surrogates wind up with big, lumpy hips that are bruised and sore. Oooh, Pretty!!

At the point where the RE determines it is time for the transfer, the surrogate will travel to the clinic. The transfer itself, considering all the time and work and cost and effort that led up to it, is probably one of the simpler parts.

The surrogate (and almost always the IPs) will arrive at the clinic at an appointed time, and the fertility doctor or the embryologist will discuss with them how the embryos are looking, how they are (hopefully) dividing and growing as they should. They’ll talk about how many to transfer -- usually this decision has already been made, and even written in the contract, but occasionally, if the embryos look stronger than they anticipated, a doctor might recommend putting in only one. If the embryos look weaker than expected, or if perhaps only three have survived to this point, a doctor might recommend putting in all three. The actual decision, however, is up to the surrogate and the IPs and ALL should be in agreement. This could be the difference between carrying (and ultimately RAISING) one, twins, or triplets, and EVERYONE’S feelings should be considered. Just because a couple is anxious for kids doesn't mean they should throw eight or ten or a dozen embryos in there .... and just because a surrogate thinks it might be a neat experience to carry twins or triplets, the very real risks of a multiple pregnancy must be considered, and the very real consideration must be given to what the IP's ultimately want. Although I'll admit to almost always getting desperate right at the last minute and hoping the doctor throws in a dozen to increase our odds of it working. {/sheepish}

The transfer is done concurrent with an abdominal ultrasound, and it’s important that the surrogate have an extremely full bladder, (have I emphasized "extremely" enough???) to ensure better vision for the doctor. This is the part of the process I like to call “This Sucks”. They advise you to drink six to eight cups of water, and then put you in a room or cubicle, on a table or in a bed, in a paper gown for an hour, waiting for your bladder to fill. If your bladder is a teeny-tiny pixie-fairy acorn-sized thing like mine, it will fill rapidly, then you’ll spend 45 minutes cursing the doctor who is making you wait, and worrying that you’re going to pee all over the table. Seriously. I’ve almost peed on the table before. Then, when they put that ultrasound wand on top of your bladder and press down as hard as they can, you can't even think of the miracle that is hopefully taking place .... it takes every ounce of self control you have not to wet the table right there.

At long last, it’s time. The transfer takes a little longer than a pap smear, and involves the same basic positions and instruments. The difference, of course, is the incredibly fragile, precious cargo being transferred from the lab to the doctor to the, uh, “place of deposit”. The catheter containing the embryos is threaded up through the cervix into the uterus, and then you can sometimes see on the ultrasound screen a little "poof!" of white light as the fluid, containing the 100-celled beings that will grow up to be doctors or lawyers or surrogates themselves someday, (Hey, who knows? It could happen) is syringed out of the catheter and into the uterus, hopefully attaching themselves to that uterine lining that is now thick and fluffy.

Embryologists inspect the catheters under high-powered microscopes to be certain the embryos don’t get stuck in the catheters …. And the entire process can be viewed on the ultrasound screen by the surrogate and the parents. Once they determine the transfer is complete, the surrogate typically lies on her back about half an hour after, then is free to get up and leave. Or, get up and go straight to the bathroom, do not pass go, or I swear to high heavens you will wet yourself.

Some clinics require no bedrest afterwards; some require “light” or “modified” bedrest for a day or two. Then, no heavy lifting, no saunas, no hot tubs, no tampons, no douching, and no jumping on trampolines for two weeks. Oh, and sex. Absolutely no sex, the doctor will be very clear about that. But of course, that’s been the case for a few weeks already if you're paranoid like me and don't want to do anything to "disturb the area" …. Remember when I said the husbands have to be on board for anyone wishing to be a surrogate? Yeah, well, that’s yet another reason why. (Blaine will be so happy that I talked about our sex life to the entire Internet, don't you think?)

Then, you begin what is traditionally called “The Two-Week Wait” – the most agonizing time of an IVF cycle, waiting to see if it worked. The two weeks when you convince yourself you’re not going to hyper-analyze each and every twinge, and you’re not going to spend every spare second wondering if it worked, and you’re not going to continuously mash on your own boobs to see if they’re sore yet ----- but you totally will anyway, all those things.

Many surrogates take home pregnancy tests, and some get positive results as early as four or five days after the transfer. Sometimes a surrogate won’t get a positive until a few days later … and sometimes, a surrogate won’t get a positive home test at all, but the blood test that is ordered for two weeks later will show a happy, surprise positive.

And sometimes, the blood tests are negative, and the whole process just blows.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oklahoma Land Run, circa 2008

Child: “Mom, do you know what a Sooner is?”

Me: “Well, yes, it’s the mascot of Oklahoma University.”

Child: “But do you know where that name came from? About how Sooners were the people who snuck across the starting line at the Oklahoma Land Run to claim their land early? And how they went SOONER than they were supposed to?”

Me: “Yes, I knew that, too.”

Child: “So my teacher said basically, Sooners are big fat cheaters.”

Me: “Well, um, I guess technically, yes, that is correct.”

Child: “So Dad is a cheater because he is a Sooner.”

Me: “Uh, your dad graduated from OU, but that doesn’t make him a cheater. Let’s just say that nowadays, being a Sooner might be more like someone who really wants to win, or who really wants to accomplish their goals.”

Child: “No, they’re big fat cheaters.”

Me: “Ok, you know, I think you’re not quite getting it. Back *then*, a Sooner was a cheater … it doesn’t mean that anyone who graduates from OU is a cheater.”

Child: “Yep, Sooners are cheaters.”

Me: “I'm telling you, being a Sooner now isn’t the same thing as being a Sooner then.”

Child, in a sing-song voice: “Dad is a cheater, Dad is a cheater!”

Me (tired sigh): “You do understand that your father didn’t actually PARTICIPATE in the original land run, don’t you???”

And with that, so marks the annual 4th grade re-enactment of the Oklahoma Land Run.

All kids had to dress the part of a pioneer. (And you KNOW how much I love costumes!! Actually, this was much easier to put together than the 70's outfit Brayden needed last week ..... man, I love costumes.) {please note heavy sarcasm} The only overalls I could find at Goodwill that were skinny enough to fit him were Ladies XS from the Gap. Please don't tell Kellen he was wearing ladies overalls. We borrowed the hat (thanks, Stephanie!) and personally, I thought the metal pail for his lunch was an extra-special touch. Explaining to him that it wouldn't be authentic if he carried a Lunchable and a Powerade in it was another story.

The kids were grouped up in "families" and made to keep journals chronicling their Land Run experience, including their preparations. And don't try to adjust your glasses or monitors .... I blurred Kellen's family faces since I didn't ask permission to post the photos on the internet. Kellen's group named themselves the "Johnson" family, and they had quite an elaborate plan of attack to ensure they would get the lot that they wanted.

If you'll notice, apparently that plan included Kellen and one other "family members" running like crazy to the lot after the principal fired the starter pistol, while the rest of the family got stuck hauling all the gear, including their "homestead".

Then, once you had the lot number, you had to run back to the surveyer's table and be the first to claim it. There was an ugly scene involving Kellen's family where three different families were trying to claim two lots .... the family next to Kellen's got bumped, and were NOT too happy about it. Plus, the teachers let a small group of kids sneak in early (hello, SOONERS!) and they totally snagged the lot my nephew wanted. Considering in the original land run, there was only enough land for one out of three who were trying, this was probably a pretty close re-enactment, but it made my stomach hurt because I want all the kids to be be happy and they WERE NOT. Even the Land Run scene in Far and Away makes my stomach hurt. But my sister told me that two years ago, my older nephew wound up in tears, so at least it wasn't that bad.

The Johnson Family with the deed to their land. My brother-in-law, who is an actual surveyer, marked off the land, plotted it with stakes, and notarized all the deeds. It was really pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

Then, of course, the best part of the day, LUNCH. Kellen took a bread and butter sandwich, an apple, and an oatcake. One boy in his group brought beef jerkey, one brought root beer, and one brought a pan of the most delicious cornbread I've ever eaten seen in my life. No, no, I definitely didn't eat any. And really, do you think they had Little Tykes wagons back then?? Or plastic bags from Wal-Mart?

Then they played games, and even played impromptu baseball with the apple that I so lovingly packed, and called it a day. A very successful day, in my opinion.

This event takes place on the college campus near our school. As we were setting up (I tied the red flags to the stakes ... aren't they beautiful?) some of the college kids walked by and asked what we were doing. When I replied, "Land Run for the elementary school" one of the college boys paused, got a nostalgic look on his face, and said, "Ahhh, the Land Run. That was one of the funnest days in school" which prompted some of the other parents to talk about how much *they* enjoyed the Land Run when they did it.

Um, hello? I grew up in Oklahoma and attended this VERY SAME ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, and *I* never got to do a Land Run! What's up with that????

So my question is, has anyone else done this? And even more unlikely, has anyone who attended school in any other STATE ever re-created the Oklahoma Land Run?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Me. Him.

Me: “You know what stinks? What totally stinks? That I’ve worked out six days out of seven for the past two weeks. I’ve only skipped TWO DAYS. I’ve walked a MINIMUM of a mile and a half each day … most days between two and two and a half. I’m watching what I eat, drinking tons of water, and yet I’ve GAINED one pound since I started!! Where is the justice, I ask you? Where??”

Him: “Well, maybe walking isn’t enough.”

Me: “I know, but I’m doing Pilates twice a week, and I even added nautilus three times a week … why isn’t it working??”

Him: “Oh, there you go. You’re lifting weights. Everyone knows that muscle weighs more than fat. That’s your problem.”

Me: “Oh, please, don’t give me that load of crap. I’m lifting five pound hand weights, the smallest in the gym, and I’ve got the machines set to almost the lightest weight possible because I am such a weenie. And it’s not like I’m taking steroids. Just how much muscle mass could I have possibly added in the past two weeks? Hmmmm??? That’s not it.”

Him: “Well, maybe your body is in shock and hanging onto every pound. You know the older you get, the harder it is to lose weight.”

Me: hateful death-ray vision stare

Him: “OK, maybe I didn’t say that right. No, seriously. What I mean is, I remember reading that when you start exercising, your body goes into this shock mode and hangs on to all the extra weight. Then after a while you’ll reach a peak, and then past that, the pounds will start falling off. Just falling off faster than you can imagine. You just haven’t reached your peak yet.”

Me, slightly hopeful: “Really? Is that true?”

Him, pause: “No. But did it make you feel better even for a second?”

Me: “Shut up and pass me the Chips Ahoy.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Nuts and Bolts of It

(and please, no lame puns about how I used the word “nuts” in a post about reproductive organs.)

(Oh, wait. Maybe I’m the only one who would have noticed.)

So, I know a few people in life (not that I’m naming any names :cough: my sister :cough: ) who simply need look at their husbands across a crowded room and they can get pregnant. My sister (again, not that I’m naming names) has four boys and every one of them was conceived on the first try. Oh, the irony, considering she and I have the same DNA and even after six years of trying, numerous specialists, injectable drugs, and using every instrument known to mankind but a steamroller or a frying pan, I still wasn’t pregnant. But I digress, with my whining about myself. I also have a high-school friend who after having three kids in three years with her first husband, decided with her second husband that they would like to have a baby as well --- he needed a vasectomy reversal, and still, BAM! First month out of the gate after the reversal, she was pregnant. Or the friends I’ve known (three, thank you very much) who managed to get pregnant even AFTER their husband’s vasectomies .. and one who managed to get pregnant …. TWICE … after her tubes were tied.

For the people in the worlds of infertility and surrogacy, however, it’s a whole different story. By the time you really sit down and try to understand the process of conception, from ovulation to fertilization to implantation, you realize just how many, many, many things must go exactly right in order for someone to get pregnant. On the female side of the issue, you’ve got egg quality, ovulatory issues, that pesky cervical mucous, tubal concerns, lining issues, and hormones, to name just a few. And while the men aren’t quite as complicated, they have their worries as well with sperm count and motility. Wear briefs, not boxers, so the little swimmers can move around; correct any varicoceles, don’t use lubricants with your condoms --- (wait, you’re still using condoms? Maybe THAT is why you can’t get pregnant!!) get plenty of vitamin C, no hot tubs, no saunas, just say no to pot, and don’t ride bikes. (Although actually, I think the jury is still out on those last two … but still, just say no to pot. Even Nancy Reagan will tell you that.)

Anyway, my point is, there are actually so many things that need to go RIGHT in order for someone to get pregnant that at times it seems like a miracle anyone ever does, let alone those thousands of teenagers who manage to do it without trying in the back seats of cars. Once you enter the world of surrogate-reproduction, you truly, if you haven’t already, come to appreciate the exactness (and also the sheer dumb luck) of reproductive medicine.

Becoming pregnant as a traditional surrogate is not that complicated, though no less of a blessing. Because she is using her own eggs, the surrogate simply (if the word “simple” can EVER be used when talking about fertility!) monitors her ovulation, and then is inseminated, either at home or in the doctor’s office, with the Intended Father’s sperm. Hopefully, ten to fourteen days later, give or take a few days, she’ll get a positive result on a pregnancy test. If not, she can try again the next month. It’s about as close to a “normal” conception as you’re going to get in the world of surrogacy. Again, “normal” being a relative term in this process.

For a gestational surrogacy, however, the process is quite a bit more convoluted, for both the surrogate and the Intended Parents.

First of all, the cycles of the surrogate and the Intended Mom (or Egg Donor, if that is what they are using) must be synched up; normally that is accomplished with birth control pills. Often, the Intended Mom (IM) is using a surrogate because she has had a partial hysterectomy, meaning she has her ovaries, but no uterus. In that case, she has to have numerous blood tests to determine *where* she is in her cycle (no pesky periods to let you know for sure) before the bcp’s can even start.

Once they cycles are lined up, the Intended Mom undergoes a series of shots to increase ovulation, continued blood tests to check her hormone levels, and ultrasounds as well, to monitor the process. Women are born with a finite number of eggs, and traditionally, only one is released by the ovaries, to be sucked up by the fallopian tubes, to be transported down for fertilization each month. (Yes, ladies and gentleman, Biology 101, right here, no extra charge.)

For women undergoing IVF, however, the doctors want to optimize their chances for success by forcing the ovaries to produce many more eggs than that. The women are monitored to make sure they are producing enough eggs, but not too many. That the follicles containing the eggs are big enough, but not too big. Hyper-stimulation is a real concern, as that could lead to ovarian rupture, so the women are monitored very, very closely. At the point *right before* they are ready, they receive a shot of hcg (human chorionic gonadotropin) and then eighteen (approx) hours later an egg retrieval is done.

Egg retrievals (also called aspirations) are normally done via an outpatient surgery. Typically, powerful anesthesia medications are given through an IV so that the woman is "out" during the egg retrieval procedure. Back when I did IVF for myself, my doctor called it "Milk of Amnesia" meaning it wasn't a general anesthetic, but I remembered nothing of the procedure.

A needle is passed through the top of the vagina under ultrasound guidance to get to the ovary and follicles. The fluid in the follicles is aspirated through the needle and the eggs detach from the follicle wall and are sucked out of the ovary.

The fluid with the eggs is passed to the IVF lab where the eggs are identified, rinsed in culture media, and placed in small culture drops in plastic dishes. The dishes with the eggs are then kept in specialized IVF incubators under carefully controlled environmental conditions. When all of the follicles have been aspirated, the woman is monitored closely for about 1 hour - after which she is discharged home.

Sperm from the Intended Father (or even more rarely, a sperm donor) is mixed with the eggs about 4 hours after the egg aspiration, or sperm is injected individually into eggs – a process called ICSI which is sometimes used when sperm count or motility is poor. The following morning the eggs are checked for evidence of fertilization. In a perfect world, every egg would have fertilized, but I would say a more honest estimate is about 75 percent. Sometimes more, sometimes less, and occasionally, the dismal news is received that none of the eggs have fertilized and the entire cycle is a bust.

The eggs that did fertilize are now called embryos, and they are cultured in the IVF lab for 2-5 more days (again, thanks to attrition, only a percentage normally continue growing as they should) before the selected number are put into the woman's uterus with the embryo transfer procedure.

And that’s where I come in.

PS. Ding, Ding, Ding! We have a winner! Actually, we have several. All of you who guessed I hate "D", the dentist --- you are correct. I don't mind testing, even though it can be boring .... I tolerated the Pilates class, even if my core muscles didn't .... and maybe I'm some kind of pervert, but the gynecologist doesn't bother me in the least.

But the dentist??? With the guilt that comes from not flossing at all enough? With the whirring and buzzing of the instruments, and the drooling, and the little sucky thing that slurps the saliva out of your mouth? And the scraping on my teeth with those sharp, pointy, SCRAPEY instruments??? Ugh, I'm getting all skeevy just thinking about it.

But thanks to the person who suggested taking an iPod -- awesome idea. I have to go back next week to have a cavity filled (my first in I don't know how many years, and they said it is UNDER a previous filling, how on earth does that even happen, so they're taking out the old filling to fill the newer, bigger cavity, and like that's not bad enough, my new dentist {who I actually like very much} took one look at my x-rays and his only comment was, "Hang on to your dental insurance, you're going to need it in the years to come" ... I mean come on, was that supposed to be HELPFUL!?!?!?!) so yes, I will definitely have my iPod on my "Soothing Melodies" playlist for the appointment next week.

Maybe if I could get my hands on some valium as well ....

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Week in Review

So, if you had to guess which of the following events was my LEAST favorite part of the previous week, which would it be?

a) Going to the gynecologist ….. again …. But at least this visit only involved a blood draw and not an intimate adventure like the last few dozen appointments.

b) Serving as test monitor for one of the 4th grade classes at my children’s school …. Apparently a fairly bright class, considering they all finished the standardized testing before the time was up, which meant I had nothing to actually monitor, and I was so freaking bored by the end of the day I had snagged a Judy Blume book off the teacher’s bookshelf and read the entire thing, cover to cover. Bonus pathetic points for the fact I enjoyed it.

c) Attending my first-ever Pilates class and realizing that while I might not be the oldest of the group, I am definitely the fattest and the most out of shape. I’m discovering that in order to “strengthen” my core muscles, I need to actually possess core muscles to being with, and I do not. Plus, I think my diaphragm is retarded (even though I know retarded is a very un-p.c. word and I normally try very, very hard not to use it, but really, it’s the only way I can think to describe it.) Every time the teacher would say “inhale”, I would realize I was exhaling. And every time she would say “exhale”, I would realize I was inhaling. Can’t I even breathe correctly??? No wonder I'm chubby. But about the time she told us to lay on our backs and point our feet upward and write our names on the ceiling with our toes, I realized I didn’t care about my retarded diaphragm, I just wanted the class to be over so I could go home and lament my total lack of core muscles.

d) Going to the dentist. That’s all, just going to the dentist.

So, go in the comment section and guess which thing I hated most. Then tell me which thing YOU would hate most.

Need a clue? Here, let me share with you a snippet of conversation I had:

Dental hygienist: “Are you having any problems with your teeth?”

Me: “No. But sometimes I dream and stuff that they’re falling out …. Is that bad?” (pathetic attempt to try and be funny)

Dental hygienist: “You have green stuff falling out of your teeth? Yes, I would say that is bad.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

You Like Me! You Really, Really Like Me!

“The couple is thrilled. Thrilled! They loved you and loved Blaine and couldn’t be happier. They are so excited and said it went great! Fantastic! Fabulous!!!!!”

Ok, maybe the counselor knew my ego was still a little bruised from the first couple turning me down, and so she laid it on pretty thick.

But you know what? It worked. I loved them, they loved me, all was right and rosy with the world. And woo-freaking-hoo, I would be pregnant in no time!!!

“Now,” the counselor said, “You’ll move into what is considered the slow, frustrating, boring part ---- testing and contracts.”

Wait, what? *NOW* it was going to get slow and boring? What on earth had the previous six months of applications and interviews and screenings and psych tests been??? I thought *THAT* was the slow and boring part!

But no, she was right. We entered the Ice Age component of the process, better known as “Getting Everyone’s Ducks in a Row”. My couple had only recently relocated back to the United States, so they had to decide on a fertility clinic to use (NOT a decision to be made quickly or without research, for certain) They hired a lawyer to write up the contract, I hired a lawyer to review the contract, and once they decided on a clinic, she and I both had to have consultations, exams, medical record reviews, and be run through a multitude of “practice” procedures and medications and what-not.

Although I’m not exactly a split-personality, I am a little bit Sybil in that half of me is a lazy slob who is perfectly happy eating cookie dough, sitting on the sofa, watching TV all evening. The *other* half of me is a type-A, get it done yesterday, what the heck is taking so long, impulsive, rash, hasty freak of nature. [/see: paid full sticker price for a car when I was eighteen because OMG it is so cute!! and I wantitwantitwantitnownownow]

Naturally, *that* part of my personality, they hasty freak part, was a bit annoyed by the tortoise-like pace we were forced to follow, waiting for this person to do this, and that person to do that. In the surrogacy world, as I was quickly discovering, there is a LOT of waiting around for other people to get their shit done. You can make phone calls, you can be Ms. Johnny On The Spot at getting your own things done, and returning forms, and making appointments, and gathering information, but in the end, you are often at the mercy of other people. People who, sadly, are sometimes NOT as impatient and impulsive as yourself. In fact, here is a word-for-word excerpt from the journal I was keeping at the time, almost three MONTHS after we met:

March 2, 2001

“I have to admit that I’m a little frustrated with the way things have gone this week. M. from the center called and said she lost my lab results from last November (she just now realized she didn’t have them?) so I went and had my blood drawn again. Then, I got my initial consultation with Dr. M. set up for March 23. I called the agency to make travel arrangements and S. said they would try to get the appointment bumped up so we could get things started more quickly, yeah! Dr. M. himself returned my call and suggested March 7, so I said great. Then, when I called the travel agent to make plans, she didn’t return my call. The surrogate agency (who holds all the money for travel expenses in an escrow account) doesn’t want me to buy the ticket until I know how much it’s going to be, and I can’t know how much the ticket is if I don’t know the times I need to travel, which I didn’t know until today, when the appointment was finally confirmed. It has also been a week and a half since my phone consultation with the attorney, and I still haven’t received my corrected contract, which he said I should have in a few days. So I called his office today to ask about that, and no one from there ever called me back. Are the four of us {meaning me, Blaine, and the Intended Parents} the only people who are taking care of our end of the deal? I feel frustrated that I keep leaving messages for these people and no one is doing what they say they will do, or what they should. In the meantime, they most likely think I am the pushiest, biggest pest in the free world, but think about it! It’s Friday. They want me to fly round-trip to Maryland in five days. I have to get flight arrangements, plus make childcare arrangements. No one is going to be around at the surrogate agency or the travel agency all weekend, and since no one returned my call today, nothing will get done until Monday, when I most likely will have to call them all again myself, and I’ll have less than 24 hours to make all my arrangements. And apparently I need to call the attorney again, too. Can none of these people return a single, stupid phone call???? I’m telling you, surrogacy is not for the faint of heart, which thankfully I’m not, but it’s obviously also not for the impatient, which I am even more than I realized. I guess this entire experience will be one big lesson in patience for me, and we haven’t even technically gotten started yet.”

See? See how the hasty freak part of me might have felt thwarted and annoyed?

PS. Speaking of impatient, hasty freaks (ha ha, you guys, not me!) (kidding, that was not very nice) for those of you who have mentioned “cliffhangers” and “making you wait” for the next part of this story ….. well ….. I’m not quite sure what to say. I can assure you I’m not dragging this narrative out on purpose. First of all, I started my first surrogacy journey in 2000; it’s now 2008 and as you know, I’m in the process of trying to do another. A lot of stuff has happened in the meantime, which I hate to gloss over. To do a single journal entry with the entire story, from start to finish, would be about a bazillion pages long. Quite frankly, I have soccer practices to sit through, and laundry to do, and dvr'd episodes of Dancing With The Stars to watch, and just don't have that kind of time, to sum it all up in one fell swoop. I guess I could give you the abbreviated version:

“I delivered four babies for three lovely families in six years. The End. PS. My stomach muscles will never recover.”

Personally, I’d like to flesh out the details just a wee bit more. :)

So if you’re the type of person who hates waiting around for the story, might I suggest that you quit visiting this blog for the next few months, which is probably how long it will take me to reach the very end. Especially if I take breaks every now and then to vent about stupid people, my hatred of feet, and my love of Diet Dr. Pepper. Just stop visiting for now, and then come back sometime this summer and read the entire story from beginning to end in one fell swoop. Really, it’s ok. I’ll even bake cookies so you can munch while you read.

PPS. To the person who asked in the guestbook about the pediatric cancer writing project that Julianna Banana’s dad Terry and I started …. Well …. As much as it saddens me to say this, I’m afraid the project died a pretty quick death. Not because we didn’t care, not because it’s not an important subject that (duh, obviously) has a special place in both our hearts, but because Terry and I both went through (in my personal, uneducated opinion) a little bit of PTSD after our girls finished treatment. I coped by eating my weight in Russell Stover candies (the purple caramel box, thank you very much); he coped by taking a few giant steps back from the overall experience of pediatric cancer. We both needed to remove ourselves a bit from that surreal world that had commandeered our lives the previous three years, and unfortunately, our neophyte writing project was the real victim.
Who knows if we’ll start it up again? Never say never, I suppose, but in the meantime, I’m just waiting for Caringbridge to shut down our sites for inactivity. Which on the one hand makes me sad, and on the other hand, helps me pray every night that I never need to start it up again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Clicking in Return?

This second match meeting went much along the same lines as the first. Talking with the couple, the counselor leading the discussion about personal, intimate, awkward things, (Hello, my name is Kristie, when was your last period? Why can’t you have children? How do I feel about having some man who is not my husband watch as I push his baby out of my bagina?) and in general, simply getting acquainted. I was just as nervous, and can’t claim to have relaxed immediately, but there was definitely a much more “comfortable” vibe in this air this time. Of course, part of me worried I was confusing “comfortable” with “pheromones of desperation” and maybe they could sense my freakish nervousness and were just being polite ….. I don’t know, it *felt* like we were getting along well, but given my past experience, what did I know???

Again, the counselor recommended the four of us go eat a late lunch together, so we did. The moment I knew this was the couple for me was when she pulled out photographs of their family, home, dog, etc, and said, “I hope you don’t think this is presumptuous of me, but I’d love to show you some of our life.” They already had a son, and you could see how proud they were of him as they told us about him. They appeared to have a great relationship; caring, without fawning; teasing, without being mean. They had lived overseas and told us about that experience ….. they asked about the military, and seemed genuinely interested in our kids and our life …. simply put, Blaine and I really enjoyed our lunch with them. It felt more like a “getting to know our new friends” lunch than any kind of weird, interview-type-process.

Then, as we were saying our goodbyes (again, with the “no committing one way or the other until Monday morning” rule making the good-byes all weird and self-conscious) they pulled out a big sack with gifts in it. I just stood there, sort of perplexed, like, “Um, what is this for? Crap … was there some sort of White Elephant exchange that no–one told me about?” and she told me they were for our kids.

“Oh, you didn’t have to do that” was what came out of my mouth, when what was going through my head was “Shit! No one told me I was supposed to bring a present!!! Awkwardness! Awkwardness!”

“You gave up an entire Saturday” she replied, “and left your kids with friends, two weeks before Christmas, to fly half way across the country and meet us. I *know* this was an inconvenience and we just appreciate it so much, that we wanted to say thank you.”

OK, they’re friendly, funny, laid-back, open, NOT-anti-military --- AND they’re thoughtful as well???

You can understand why I called the counselor on the way to the airport and told her that YES, this was the couple for me, with no hesitation whatsoever this time, no need to wait until Monday to think it over.

PS. I hope all of you know that it wasn’t because of the gifts themselves …. It was because of the thoughtfulness behind the gifts. If they were that considerate of our time, and our own lives, at our very first meeting, I knew they were the kind of people that I would like to work with.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Three Weeks

Well, it’s been three weeks since the d&c, and four weeks since the miscarriage. I am feeling much better physically and mentally. Blood tests have shown that my hormone levels are *almost* back down to normal, which means I am now only a raging shrew in private, as opposed to publicly, like I was there for a while.

Thanks to all of you for being patient with me while I took a break from the surrogacy story. It felt a little too weird and traitor-y to talk about my experiences, and celebrate the things that went right, in the middle of something going wrong.

Please keep all of us in your thoughts while we await test results that will tell us what our next step is …. And in the meantime, I’ll keep blabbing, which is really what I do best. When I left off, I had met, and been subsequently turned down, by the first set of Intended Parents. Instead of being stopped cold in my desire to be a surrogate, like I feared, the counselor recommended I meet the *other* set of parents … the set I had wanted to meet at the beginning.

You know the drill: up at dawn, fly to Baltimore, rent car, consider vomiting on the way because not only do I have the typical nervousness-blotchy-chest-rash-thing going on, but now I know first-hand the experience of rejection. Geez, Louise, I don’t want to go through that again. I mean, what if it really IS me? What if Blaine’s being in the military will scare off any prospective couples? What if I’m just not meant to be a surrogate? What if I’m doomed to live a surrogate-less life, wandering in the desert for forty years like Moses, and I become a sort of surrogate myth, with other surrogates talking about “that girl named Kristie, you remember her, and how she kept getting rejected by couple after couple until she snapped from the disappointment and simply abandoned mankind and...” …. Ok, wait. I’m getting carried away here. Let’s just meet this second couple and see what happens.

That particular morning, our flight had been delayed, and we were late to the meeting. Ahhhh, nothing like making a good first impression. So we were hurrying, rushing from the parking lot, and dashed up the flight of stairs to the office (this was back about thirty pounds ago, when I could still dash up a flight of stairs.) I made Blaine stop for just a second before we stepped into the conference room because I wanted to take a deep breath and calm myself down. There were some glass blocks between where I was standing and the room, and I glanced through them and saw a girl on the other side, also standing, also taking a deep breath. Funny, through the glass, it almost looked like she was nervous.

We stepped in, all smiles, and shook hands while the social worker made the introductions. I looked closely at them, scrutinizing their faces for any signs of anti-military-ness, and all I saw were open, warm, friendly faces. As I reached out to shake the Intended Mom’s hand, she sort of laughed, and said, “I’m so nervous.” And I had to laugh, because I felt the exact same way.

Then the Intended Father turned to Blaine and rolled his eyes, in that guy-to-guy-women-can’t-live-with-em-can’t-live-without-em way, and said, “She packed two suitcases trying to decide what to wear today.”


Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring in Oklahoma

Yes, the thermostat might actually say fifty degrees, and in some parts of the country ... you know, parts of the country where the wind doesn't blow in from the north off the lake next to the soccer fields at a face-pelting 40 miles per hour ... those other parts of the country where that *doesn't* happen, might technically be balmy and nice.

But here?

Here, it is STINKING COLD.

And so eventually, you will ask your mother to go to the van and get your sweatshirt, because even though you think it's uncool to play with a sweatshirt under your uniform, you will be forced to acknowledge that if your arms freeze and fall off your body, it will be much more difficult to keep your balance when you dribble the ball. Last time we checked, there weren't any armless people in the National Pro Soccer League.

We're happy to be home, but DANG we miss the weather in Georgia this time of year!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lowest of the Low

Let me just say, at the risk of offending anyone who does this on a regular basis, that it bothers me, for some snobby reason, to see people out in their pajama bottoms in public. You know, those fleece pajama pants that everyone wears? Only I don’t understand how someone can pair those pants with a t-shirt and a pair of flip flops and go out shopping at Wal-Mart …. like no one notices that they’re still in their pajamas? Like that’s not sending the blatant message that the rest of us aren’t even worth expending the energy to put on a pair of real pants for? It just looks sloppy and lazy and I don’t like it. Of course, considering I wear elastic-waisted yoga capris and a sweatshirt out in public almost every day, I don’t know that I should really fling any stones, but whatever.

So anyway, I left for the lake Friday morning for a girl’s weekend away with some of my new local friends. One of them invited a group down to her cabin for a few days and I was lucky enough to be included, but really wanted to come home early in order to see the kids’ soccer games on Saturday. (See? See how I complain about the soccer schedule but deep down, I love it enough to leave my girls’ weekend away?)

So early Saturday morning ….. like, 6am early, I got up and headed home. I was sharing a room with another girl and didn’t want to turn on the lights, so I thought long and hard (for about two seconds) about the fact I was going straight home, so what would it hurt to just wear my pajama bottoms for the car ride? I wouldn’t have to turn on the light to get my “real” clothes out of the suitcase ….. I would be in the car about two and a half hours, and honestly, would probably be more comfortable in pajama pants …. I mean, really, who am I going to see??

So, an hour down the road, as I was pulling into a Love’s to buy gas, I realized I would have to get out of the car in my pajama pants to pump the gas … but it’s not like anyone would notice, right? Of course, after I pumped the gas, and the “See Cashier” light blinked at me, I realized I would have to go inside the Love's ….. but maybe nobody would notice I was wearing pajamas.

It wasn’t until I was standing in line at Loves, for like ten solid minutes because the woman in front of me wanted two servings of biscuits and sausage gravy but she didn’t want much of the actual sausage in the gravy so would the cashier mind trying to scoop out the parts of the gravy that were the smoothest???? That I realized the line was getting long and several people, in fact, had seen me in my pajama pants.

And I looked down at the floor, in a brief moment of shame --- and realized I still had on my house slippers, as well.

And it wasn’t until I got back out to my car, red-faced from being caught out in public in not only my pajama pants, but my house shoes as well, that I glanced in the rear view mirror and realized I still had the clip in my hair, holding up my bangs, from where I had washed my face and brushed my teeth before leaving the cabin that morning.

Seriously. I can never make fun of the slobs in Wal-Mart in their pajama pants ever again. Nor can I get dressed in the dark because apparently I don’t do it very well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The forbidden game

So, home-schooling. I’ve never really given much of an opinion on the subject because quite frankly, I don’t have much of an opinion. I think it is an option that for some families works great, and for some families, is an excuse not to deal with public school. I think public school works pretty well for most kids, mine included, and I also imagine there are plenty of kids in public school who would be better off if they were home-schooled. I know kids who have been home-schooled and who did great, and I know a couple of kids (who are now adults) who were home-schooled and never made it past the 8th grade. Like pretty much every thing in life, there’s good, bad, and ugly when it comes to home-schooling, and I try to take it all with a grain of salt. I’ve never considered home-schooling my own kids because we’ve had good public school experiences, and also because I think it’s important that it be done well, and quite frankly, I am way too lazy and un-disciplined.

So, all that to tell you --- I was at the gym yesterday (I know! Four days in a row this week!!! But that crap they tell you about the endorphins kicking in? TOTAL LIE.) and apparently I was there at the same time as a home-schooling co-op or whatever it’s called. Probably fifty kids or so, total. The older kids were playing volleyball on one end of the gym, as I walked around the track that circles one floor above the gym. So as I was walking, I had a really good view of everything that was taking place below me. And for the record, volleyball, at least the way those teenage girls were playing it, is NOT a very aerobic activity, unless standing on the court with their arms crossed over their chests, with bored expressions on their faces, counts as aerobic PE activity. I've worked up more of a sweat bowling.

The younger kids, however, were turned loose three or four at a time to run the same track I was on. So now, not only are old ladies passing me as I walk, but elementary age kids are flying by me as well. Whatever. It probably wouldn’t have bothered me if the little hooligans had the decency to be winded, but they didn’t even break a sweat, speedy little turds. (No, I’m not jealous of their ability to run forever without even panting, why do you ask?)

Then, the teacher gathered all the young kids below, on the other half of the gym. She put half the kids on one side, half the kids on the other, and lined a bunch of balls up on the middle line. And as I walked around the track, watching below, I thought to myself, “Hmmm, that looks an awful lot like she’s setting up for a game of dodgeball. But she can’t be; everyone knows that dodgeball has been basically eliminated from the public school system because of the damage it causes the kids’ self esteem by encouraging the strong to pick on the weak." :cough: bullshit :cough:

Right? Isn’t that right? I didn’t think kids played dodge-ball anymore in schools,because it was so un p.c., but sure enough, she blew that whistle and BAM! Those kids were off and running. Grabbing balls, throwing, ducking, jumping, yelling …… they looked like they were having fun. A lot of fun. In fact, I’m pretty sure Kellen would have loved to be right in the middle of it.

So about the time I’m thinking I might need to re-vamp our homeschool position, or at least see if I can homeschool, but only for recess, I decided to ask my kids what *they* were taking in gym lately.

“Pinball”, said Brayden

“Pinball? What’s pinball?” I asked

“Another word for dodgeball” was her reply.

Ahhhh, good to know the public humiliation of dodgeball still exists. And even better to know I can leave my kids in public school, which is MUCH less work for me!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Overheard last night before bed:

Kendrie, to Brayden: "Well, it's important that you like them a lot because you are stuck together in sickness and in H - E - double toothpicks."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Many Faces of Kellen

The face of "Woo-hoo, here comes the cake!" (and yes, please take note that I remembered to buy candles this time, thank you very much ...):

The face of "How much longer until I can open my presents?":

The face of "Oooh, nerf guns, the best gift of all!":

The face of "Seriously, should the boy be this happy shooting round puffy balls at his friends??? What are we raising, some kind of militant gun freak???":

The face of "Total gayness and a career in cheerleading in case that NRA spokesman job doesn't work out.":

The face of "Ah, this is what I wanted ... for them to burn off as much energy as possible":

The face of "Kellen trying desperately to tackle his older cousin but dude, that kid is FAST!":

The face of --- Holy cow, what *IS* this really the face of???

Excitement? Happiness???

Total and complete sugar overload???

Oh, well, the best faces of all by the end of the night, "A boy and his dad spending quality time together ... bonding .... aiming beams of light at one another and laughing maniacally when they manage to hit one anothe ...." On second thought, perhaps we need to re-examine our faces and offer Kellen a Disney Princess party next year.

Happy (final) Birthday, Kellen. All I can say is I hope you and your friends had a good time, and I for one, am GLAD that it's over.

PS. I went to the gym again and walked another two miles today. I also added one lap warm up and one lap cool down .... and most importantly .... jogged ONE-HALF of ONE LAP. According to my calculations, that is almost 40 yards. And seriously? I liked to have DIED. The only thing that kept me upright was the fear that none of the elderly people in the gym would have the upper body strength to do chest compressions in the event I was to need CPR.

In truth, my shins are the part of my body that hurts the worst this evening, which leads me to believe I need new work out shoes, which should make it OBVIOUS to anyone reading this that my exercising will have to be put on hold until such time as I can go shopping. Shopping and maybe even lunch. Yes, definitely lunch. And then I'll probably be tired from all that activity and need a nap. (sigh, it's so exhausting being an athlete like this.)

PPS. Lynne, are you kidding me? You don't have the cookies in a tube that you slice apart and bake with pumpkin faces at Halloween and egg shapes at Easter and flags on the 4th of July??? Well, ok, naturally you probably wouldn't have the 4th of July --- but none of the others either? Ok, geez, I'm going to have to re-vamp any plans we might have had to ever visit Britain again. Sure, you've got Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London and Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey and Stonehenge and what have you ... but no cookies in a tube? That's barbaric!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Thank goodness, not that bad.

So, I went to my "new gym" today and walked two miles.

{I'll wait just a moment so that those of you who read that sentence and then fell out of your chairs in shock and amazement can get back up and join us again .... no, really, I'll wait.}


As you might remember, I've not had good luck with exercise programs in the past. To say the least.

The. VERY. Least.

Needless to say, my expectations for today were extremely low today, considering what colossal disasters some of my earlier attempts have been.

Anyway, the indoor track at this church gym is one of those little ones, that takes twelve laps around to make a mile. So I checked in at the desk, and got my little lap-clicker counter thing-y (why yes, that is the technical term .... I happen to know that because I am an exercise-professional) and took off walking.

I was feeling pretty good about myself at first because I lapped two ladies, then I realized that one of them was one of my high school friend's 80 year old mother, so really? Not so much with the feeling proud.

Then two of my new local friends (other school moms) came in and started jogging together, and lapped me pretty consistently, but I couldn't even be jealous because I know they are training to run a 5K and I have to admire their hard work.

But then, this college-age chickie came in and started running. Lapping me, lapping me, lapping me ..... when the track is only 1/12th of a mile, and you are a chubby walker, you get lapped fairly often by the runners. And every time she went by, with her slim, muscular legs, and small waist, and very un-bouncy rear end (much unlike my own, I can assure you) I started hating her a little more and a little more.

I tried telling myself not to feel bad ... she had obviously never had a kid, or had to deal with an old-lady-metabolism like mine .... or had probably never eaten an entire bag of Oreos at once, if we're being honest. But the cold hard truth is, I know plenty of moms my age who are in great shape, so my only real excuse is that I love food much more than I love exercise. On a scale of 1 to 100, it would be food = 100, exercise = a negative number. Some kind of very low negative number that they haven't even invented yet in the math world.

So I just kept walking, and grumbling to myself, and hating her more and more every time she lapped me.

Finally, my little click-y thing showed the magical number 24 which let me know I was done. I was sitting on a bench, sucking air (yes, simply walking two miles left me sweaty and breathless .... and I wasn't power walking either, but more of an ungainly striding motion) when Little Miss Skinny Pants jogged by, looked me right in the face, smiled, and said, "Hi, Kristie!"

Yep, it was my hairdresser. A sweet, friendly, cute young lady who I simply adore. The kind of person everybody just loves because they are so genuinely good-hearted.

And apparently she's athletic, too.

Man, I HATE when I can't even be mad at the skinny people.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Not that. But probably this.

I took a random survey today, sampling a highly scientific demographic of the general population (in other words, I asked my sister) if my hiding the remote control to the fart machine last night at Kellen’s birthday party makes me the worst parent on the planet. Considering she is the one who HANDED me the remote control and told me to hide it, it should come as no surprise that she said no, it did not actually make me the worst parent on the planet.

But you know what does?

The fact that my son invited a friend over for a playdate today, and in the course of their playing, his friend slipped while climbing a fence and wound up with a pretty impressive cut down the side of his torso. I’d say a good six inches long, at least.

And like it’s not bad enough that we borrow a kid and then return them as damaged goods, but can you believe it wasn’t until he was standing in my bathroom, bleeding and wincing, that I realized we had no gauze? No adhesive pads? And that the only tube of Neosporin in the entire house expired in April of 2006?

Thankfully, this boy was a pretty tough egg and didn’t complain. And was willing to make do with hydrogen peroxide, a q-tip, and about eleven mini-bandaids, lined up and down his rib cage.

The poor boy is going to be scarred for life. Figuratively, AND literally. All thanks to me and my sub-par first-aid skills.

When Parenting magazine calls with my Mother of the Year award, I’ll remember all the little people in my acceptance speech, I promise.

Not On Your Life

The beginning of the year, we optimistically told all three kids they could have slumber parties this year to celebrate their birthdays. I mean, we finally had a house with closets bedrooms big enough for sleepovers, and I figured what better way for the kids to make new friends at their new schools?

Then Brayden had her slumber party in February, and I realized two things:

1. Three children, the amount of kids in our own household, is actually very manageable. Triple that number, and suddenly it's a whole different ball game.

2. I am not cut out to be the cool, fun parent who hosts slumber parties.

It was actually a good party (I think) but we had two little girls who not only refused to go to sleep, which was actually fine by me, but who refused to get in bed, which was NOT fine by me. Refused to quit playing in the closet, and slamming doors, and running (which have I mentioned the girls' bedroom is directly overhead of MY bedroom???) until finally at 3:30 am I went upstairs for the final time and told them if they didn't get in bed I was going to duct-tape them to the floor have them come downstairs and put in a movie so the other girls, who WERE trying to sleep, could do so.

Needless to say, all sleepovers since then have been limited to no more than two guests, and they have worked out much more nicely.

So no, Kellen's party last night was over at a respectable 10:30 pm. Which gave me just enough time to pick up the living room before falling into bed exhausted, in time to get up for our all-day Saturday Soccer Extravaganza .... a weekly event which as you know, I complain about out loud but secrectly love.

I'll share pictures of last night later this weekend, but something to consider before I go:

Does anyone besides me see the humor in the fact that the Survivor Maze that the kids got to go through before the laser tag actually started, a 5000 sq ft maze, was actually pretty easy for every boy there? Every boy there except ONE, and his FATHER, who not only were the last ones out, and who still couldn't find their way out, not even when I was standing at the exit yelling, "Follow My Voice!!!" but who the laser worker guy almost had to go in and lead out by the hand .... I mean, does anyone else think that is funny besides me??? That the other ten year olds got out no problem, but THE ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY GUY got lost in the survivor maze???

PS. Although he kicked ass in the laser tag. He even took out his own nephew, which I found particularly cold-hearted, but which I think made him feel redeemed after the embarrassing maze episode.

PPS. I hid the remote control device for the fart machine last night. Does that make me a bad parent?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Help me!

As I type this, I have twelve 10-yr old boys running like maniacs on speed around my house and my yard and my neighbor's yards. We have pizza, cupcakes, Nerf wars, ripsticks, skateboards, footballs, a remote control fart machine, and laser tag planned.

Yes, I am currently hiding inside. What an awesome chaperone I am.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Not sure what I’m doing wrong

I went to our church yesterday and joined the gym they have available for church members. The gym that is three blocks from my house. However, rather than walk, I drove my car there because it looked like it might rain. So then I pulled open the big heavy doors when I walked in. And filled out a form to join, which involved moving a pen around quite a bit, and finally, lifted my wallet to open it and pay my membership fee.

Then I had to have my picture taken for my gym ID and I had to step forward towards the camera, then oooops, too far forward, step back a bit, no, a little bit forward again …. I swear it was like a grueling high-impact aerobics class.

Then I got in the elevator and went upstairs to look at the gym equipment and the walking track. Granted, I probably could have taken the stairs, especially since it was only one flight, but in my defense, I did push those elevator buttons really, really emphatically. Which is a good workout for your pointer finger, as everyone knows.

Then I looked at the treadmills. And stationary bikes. And stair steppers. They looked nice, but I was not inclined to get on any of them. And then I talked to a personal trainer for a while. Not about exercise, but just because she was friendly.

Then, I left to come home, and aha! I was right, and it had started raining. So I practically sprinted from the door to my car. Sprinted! to the car. Which was about 30 feet.

Then I got home and I was so exhausted from all that activity that I sat on the sofa. And ate a cookie.

Shockingly, when I got up this morning, I hadn’t lost a single pound.

I’m just not sure what I’m doing wrong.

It Has Begun

Three teams. Two leagues. Four practices a week, on four different fields, in four different locations around the city. Three to five games each weekend. An endless number of water bottles and dirty soccer socks. And my rear forming to the shape of the bleachers. Well, ok, maybe not bleachers, but those little fold-up chairs we all carry around in our cars.

Am I a lot, or a little, sick and twisted that I’ve been looking forward to it?

Just don’t ask how much convincing it took to get Kendrie into a pink and lime green uniform.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Five Years

I meant to write about this back when we moved and I first noticed it, and then I got busy, doing … um…. important stuff. Like …well ….. you know, just stuff. Then I wanted to do it in March to actually commemorate the *real* five year anniversary, and then got busy, what with the other …. Um …. Stuff.

So today, on this first day of April, I’m going to address it before another week or month or year slips by.

One of the things I noticed when we moved here to OKC, and I was unpacking our household items, specifically clothing, was that the blue pants that go with Blaine’s dress-blue uniform had dust on them. For some unknown reason (and perhaps we should address this in the comment section because as far as I’m concerned, it’s a topic worthy of an entire debate all to itself) Blaine likes to hang his pants folded over on the hanger. Me? I’m a clip kind of gal, and prefer to hang my pants long ways, clipped from the waist. Well, that’s technically not true. I do fold dress pants over on the hanger, but I hang jeans from the waist, whereas Blaine insists on folding jeans over the hanger, which I tell him takes up way more space in the closet than is necessary but does he listen to me? No, he doesn’t. So what do you think? Jeans, folded, or clipped???

What was I talking about?

Oh, yeah, his dress blue pants. When I took them out of the box the movers had put them in and hung them in his closet, I noticed that the crease, where they lay over the hanger, had dust on it. A pretty substantial line of dust. And I thought, “Holy cow, I must be the worst housekeeper in the world, that his pants are dusty from hanging in the closet.”

And then I thought about it --- wait a second, when was the last time Blaine wore those pants? How long, exactly, had they been hanging in our closet?? See, when our country was declared at war, Congress (or somebody) passed a rule (or something) that all military members were to dress in their fatigues every day, not just Fatigue Fridays, to signify the fact our country is at war.

Blaine has been wearing fatigues since the war started ….. and hasn’t worn his dress blues that entire time …. Which means ….. they’ve been hanging in our closet …… and therefore, we have been at war …………. FIVE YEARS.

You know how I can remember that?

Because Blaine was diagnosed with cancer in February of 2003. He had his first surgery, to remove the initial tumor, in March of 2003. It was a pretty big surgery, and they removed not only the tumor, but his cheekbone, soft palate, hard palate, and teeth as well. So he spent a decent amount of time recovering in the Army hospital in Augusta, and I remember, clear as day, sitting on his hospital bed with him, spoon-feeding him disgusting chicken broth and sneaking in cups of black coffee, watching the television, the night that President Bush declared we were at war.

There was definitely a tension, or maybe just a feeling, in the air ---- we were on a military base, in an Army hospital, surrounded by active duty and veterans, for goodness sake. Of course emotions probably were a little tense, considering these people knew they would be affected.

And I also clearly remember thinking, “This is a big deal. We are at war. I know this is a big deal, in fact, but right now I can’t focus on that because I am focusing on Blaine. I’ll have time to focus on that later.”

Who knew we would have THIS MUCH LATER to focus on it?

And of course, for some, the opposite has happened. So much time has gone by that many have not only lost focus, but it’s faded so far into the background that at times even I will look up at a news report or a magazine article and think, “Oh, wow, that’s right. We’re still at war.”

I’m not sure how I feel about it. The war, I mean. I agree with the people who say they want to see all our troops brought back home safely; that this has gone on too long. I also agree with our friend Gary, who deployed there twice, and who said he felt frustrated that the GOOD that is being accomplished there isn’t being reported to the general public. I agree that we shouldn’t pull out too quickly and stop the forward momentum and progress we've made …. I also feel that at *some* point, shouldn’t the Iraqi people be able to police themselves? Again, with the wishy-washiness, and why you never want me on a jury.

But the one thing I know for sure is that we can’t stop supporting the troops that are there, and the families they’ve left behind. Or stop thinking of them as anything other than heroes, no matter your personal opinion about the war, or how long it is lasting.

As we’re meeting new people here, many are surprised to find out Blaine is active duty. They think we’ve returned here to retire …. Or, they just didn’t know us before, and seem surprised to realize (or remember) that there is a military base only half an hour from where we live. There is often this pregnant pause …. Then a sort of bewildered, “So, you’re actually IN the military? Now?? Like, active duty???”

Often, that is followed with, “Have you been to Iraq yet?”

Bottom line, Blaine hasn’t been to Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Qatar (sp?), or any place like that, because he has/had cancer. He is considered non-deployable due to his medical needs, and although he can travel for the military, it won’t be outside of the continental United States. He can still work, still do his job and do it well, but he needs to have access to the kind of health care that they can’t provide in a tent in the middle of a sandbar in Baghdad.

He doesn’t want to explain all that to total strangers, though, so he normally just says a simple “no”. The other day, however, we got the strangest reaction. The lady looked him right in the eye, after he said no, and said, very emphatically, “Good for you …. GOOD for you!”

And I thought ….. “Huh????” Did she mean good that he’d been lucky and didn’t have to leave his family? Because that implies the men and women serving over there are UNlucky? When in actuality, they are accomplishing great things. Or, good because she disagrees with the war and thought he was making some sort of political statement by not going? (Like he would have any say in the matter under different circumstances???) What, exactly, did she mean? I don’t think she was being malicious in any way, but I wasn’t quite sure what she meant.

His name has come up twice to be deployed. Both times, he’s been turned down, passed over, whatever you want to call it. Both times, that means someone else has had to go in his place. He’s not happy about that, but we both understand why its necessary. And sure, I’ll admit, I’m glad he’s stayed home, but would I trade? Trade his having cancer for a six month or twelve month or shoot, even twenty-four months stint overseas? Seriously? I’d have his bags packed so fast he wouldn’t know what hit him. Because five years is a long damn time to be messing with the treatment and side effects from the treatment of cancer.

It’s also a long damn time for our country to be at war, and I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent about Blaine.

So today, April 1st, as we officially enter the first month of the sixth year of the war, please take just a minute to say a silent thank you to the men and women who have served, who are currently serving, and who will be serving in Iraq. Again, no matter your personal opinions, they are making huge sacrifices, and there is no end in sight.

I guess sometimes it takes a little dust to remind us of what’s important.