And no, it’s not a post about the merits of chocolate chip vs macadamia nut, although I have given the topic serious deliberation at times in my life …..
Most of you that read on this site know that I have been a surrogate in the past. Three times, in fact. The first time, delivering a baby girl in May of 2002, was an incredible blessing for me. I knew before I was even half way done with the pregnancy that I wanted to do it again. I chronicled that journey here on this site and it was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
The second time, in Aug of 2003, I delivered twin boys for another wonderful couple. That experience, also, was a joyful, blessed event for me, even if it did leave me stretch marks on my stretch marks. It always cracks me up when people comment on what a “giving” thing it is for me to do …. When really, the happiness and fulfillment these families give me, by allowing me to share this miracle with them, is almost impossible to put into words. Again, I knew I wanted to repeat my surrogate experience, before I had even delivered the twins, and couldn’t wait to get started on my third journey.
Odd as it might sound, surrogacy is addicting. I mean, what greater adrenaline rush can there be than helping form families by bringing babies into the world? Not everyone can do it … not everyone even remotely WANTS to do it. But for me, those experiences have been second only to the happiness my own children bring me.
Six weeks after the twins were born, Kendrie was diagnosed with leukemia, and all surrogacy plans were put on indefinite hold. I waited a year and half before even considering starting again, and only then with the total and complete blessing of her oncologist. It took seven months, from the time I met my couple, until the day we found out we were expecting. At that point, Kendrie was only a few months from finishing her treatment, and the pregnancy went along smoothly. A 10 pound, 2 ounce, bouncing baby boy was the result in May of 2006. (I mention his weight every chance I get because holy Stromboli, that was one big baby I pushed out of my bagina!!)
And even then, after that delivery, I still didn’t feel …. Done. Finished. Like I was *through* with surrogacy. I was healthy, I had easy pregnancies, and I love it so much, why not do it as many times as I’m able? So I was very excited to start on my fourth surrogacy attempt, a sibling project with the twins’ parents. They had frozen embryos left from when we got pregnant with the boys, and after the high-caliber success of that journey, we just knew we would be pregnant in no time.
We did our legal work, medical testing, psych testing, etc, and were excited for our first transfer last fall. I didn’t really mention on this blog about the fact we had what is called a blighted ovum (a sac that attaches to the uterine wall, but then doesn’t grow anything in it) and subsequent miscarriage. I had never had a miscarriage in my life, and naturally, we were all very sad. It’s a fact of life, however, in the world of artificial reproduction, that not every attempt will work, every time. So we chalked it up to unfortunate statistics, and geared up for round two. Except, well, about then is when we moved to OKC, then the fertility clinic closed down for the holidays last year. So it wasn’t until early this past spring we were able to try again. Much to our delight, the transfer went as planned, the pregnancy tests were positive and the first ultrasound showed a perfect looking sac. Then, to our dismay, another miscarriage a week or so later.
Lots and lots and lots of testing later, it was suggested by the fertility doctor that my couple try their last remaining embryos with a different surrogate. I won’t lie, I was hurt by her recommendation. And baffled. I’ve been a surrogate three times … and carried twins for this very couple …. How could I suddenly be unqualified to be their surrogate??
I consider this couple to be friends, and have seen first-hand what wonderful parents they are. Of course I want it to work for them, and wish them only the best as they follow the doctor’s advice and try again with a new surrogate.
But still …. Ouch.
I talked to my own doctor about whether in his opinion I was a suitable candidate to carry again …. He said I was. I talked to Blaine about whether I wanted to try it again, starting from scratch with a new couple, or if I should take the doctor’s comments to heart and consider myself “unfit”. He said (spineless jelly fish that he is) that whatever I wanted to do was fine. If I want to try again, he knows how much it means to me and he’ll support that. If I don’t want to try again, that it’s ok to stop and be grateful for the three families I’ve been able to help.
The thing is, I still don’t feel done. I truly believe in my heart that I have the physical and emotional capacity to help another family with their miracle. And after three successful journeys, I certainly don’t want to end on such a negative note. But, it’s time to be realistic, as well.
I doubt everyone realizes the work that goes into being a surrogate. It’s not just that you decide to do it, have a few doctor’s appointment, and BAM! Nine months later a baby pops out.
It’s months and months and potentially even more months of legal contracts and medical testing and practice runs and scheduling issues before you even get to transfer. I would say on average, it’s six months to a year of “prep” work to get there. Then, every time a transfer is unsuccessful, it’s another two or three months before you can try again. Every miscarriage can add several months. And of course, don’t forget the nine months of actual pregnancy. It’s a very exciting, very thrilling, very frustrating period of hurry up and wait. Wait to find the perfect couple, wait on the lawyers, wait to get your appointments, wait to take your tests, wait to get test results, wait to get approval, wait to get your meds, wait to see if everyone is responding to meds properly, wait to see how the egg retrieval goes, wait to see if the embryos thaw properly, wait to see if you’re pregnant, wait to see if the pregnancy sticks ….. And when it works … when everything little piece of the puzzle finally fits together and the stars and planets align and CLICK, a baby is the end result ---- and you get to be present when the baby is handed to his parents for the very first time, and they look at his beautiful face, and then look over and thank you for helping make it happen ---- it’s one of the most magical things on earth.
See why I would want to do it over and over and over?
The thing is, though, that entire time … through all that waiting …. You are at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. The doctors, the clinics, your couple, the egg donors, your own body, etc. Sometimes you have to drop everything and be free to travel; sometimes you are not ALLOWED to travel. You are not allowed to leave the country at all, and not allowed to leave the state in the third trimester. Since we have a cruise planned for next summer, I knew I would have to wait until after that trip before I could try and get pregnant again.
But I had decided that yes, I did want to try again. I just couldn’t shake the feeling of how much I want to be a part of one more miracle. I’m capable … I’m willing …. I’m RIGHT HERE, let’s have another baby for someone!
Then earlier this month I went to Outdoor School with Kellen. That’s something I couldn’t have done if I’d been pregnant … too physical. And I commented to one of the teachers, who has a son the same age as Kellen and a daughter the same age as Kendrie, that in only two more years we’ll get to come back to Outdoor School with our girls. And she reminded me that before that, our boys will take a trip to Florida with the school next year, and we can go as chaperones. And my first thought was, “Ohhhh, fun!” And my second thought was, “Oh, wait, what if I’m pregnant and can’t leave the state?”
So I came home from Outdoor School and sat down with a calendar. And planned out every potential overnight trip or family vacation or school trip for the next three years, that could NOT be done pregnant.
With my first couple, it was eighteen months, start to finish, from the time I first met them until I delivered. My second surrogate journey happened at the speed of lightning, but still, it was almost a year from start to finish. My third journey was again, eighteen months. Since there is no promise that things will run according to schedule, and no guarantee that you will get pregnant on the first attempt, you have to be honest about your time table and what you can and cannot do.
And I was a little stunned, and a lot discouraged, to realize there is no block of time for me in the next three years where I can make it happen, without giving up something with my family. Postponing a vacation, or NOT going on a school trip as a chaperone.
I’ve missed a lot through the years, as a surrogate. I’ve missed baseball games and soccer games and holiday parties at school and birthday parties. And I didn’t mind …. When my kids were younger, those activities happened often enough that missing one or two wasn’t the end of the world. I missed getting to be with Blaine when he got radiation in Seattle because of a surrogacy … both when I was pregnant and not allowed to leave the state of Georgia, and after I delivered, when an epidural headache had me flat on my back and unable to board an airplane. And certainly, Blaine is a big boy and he survived without me. But still.
And, as my kids get older, I see these opportunities to be an active part of their lives coming along, and I don’t want to miss out. I want to take them out of the country on a cruise … I want to take them RV’ing to the Grand Canyon …. I want to take them to see Niagara Falls … I want to be able to go to Florida with Kellen, and Outdoor School with Kendrie, and wherever Brayden winds up going as well. I want to be able to do all those things without planning it around a very-temporary and precarious pregnancy calendar, that potentially can stretch out for a year … or year and a half … or even two years or more, depending on how things go.
Blaine’s cancer coming back again has reminded me that I need to be fully present for my kids. Chasing after toddlers while pregnant --- although tiring --- is doable. Chasing after pre-teens, when you want to go with them places, and travel --- is not as doable. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow, and blah-blah-sappy-sappy-stuff about making the most of today. Me being pregnant -- getting pregnant – recovering from being pregnant – wasn’t that big of a deal when they were little and **I** was the boss of their schedules. But they are older now, and if I have to choose ……COULD I make it work? Probably. Could I make it work and be fully present in everything I want? Realistically, no. I think, unless I am willing to give up something with my family, that it’s time to let go of my dream of being a surrogate again.
Even if my heart breaks a little bit every time I imagine never doing it again.