The day of my hysterectomy I threatened to walk out of the operating room unless I was able to keep my ovaries! I had literally just met a guy who was different. I didn’t know why he was different and I certainly didn’t expect to marry him a few years later. However, that day when I awoke in recovery, there he was holding my hand. He had gone to the trouble of finding out what hospital I was in and making sure that he was there when I woke up. I knew in my heart I’d made the right decision to fight for my ovaries. Later that week I turned on the television and saw Joan Lunden sharing her surrogacy story.
A few years later the “guy” was my husband and we were on the surrogacy train moving full steam ahead. To say that the “journey” was a rollercoaster ride is an understatement. Surrogacy requires the intended parents to place their trust in many strangers. For me, the Intended Mother, the hardest person to place trust in was myself. How exactly does one pick the person who will be the most important member of your family? How do you know the person you choose will care for your unborn child as well as you would? Trusting yourself is the hardest thing during this early stage of surrogacy. Luckily, perhaps with a little divine intervention, we found our dream surrogate!
Even though our surrogate and her family were perfectly matched for us in that they shared similar educational backgrounds, were both professional and could be younger versions of ourselves, things did not always go as smoothly as expected. Surrogacy begins with a contract. There aren’t many friendships that begin with negotiations over fees, lawyers and contracts. Add to that both the surrogate and, in our case, the Intended Mother being jacked up on fertility drugs and you’ve got a lot of emotions riding on individual expectations. It’s a strange position to be in. On the one hand you want to be open and friendly. You want to cultivate a deeper bond with the woman who will be carrying your child, but on the other hand you are fearful of being taken advantage of by her. Even worse, you are terrified that she will abandon you and you will have to start the search over. In many respects, finding a surrogate is like finding your soul mate. It’s one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.
Trusting myself became even harder as we approached our cycle. The spotlight was on me, or so it felt, to perform. I did everything in my power to not let everyone down. I went to acupuncture, I took herbal fertility supplements and I followed my IVF doctor’s protocol to the “T”. The weight of the world really was on my shoulders. For me, at 42 years old, I knew in my bones that this was a “now or never” situation. Normally trying to conceive at this stage of life is stressful, but I had TWO people relying on my ovaries to perform; my husband and my surrogate. Talk about stressful! The week of the retrieval I felt as though I would explode…my new boss was threatening to fire me, I had our surrogate staying at our house for five days and my stomach was growing so quickly I looked like I was having a baby! As it turned out, I was experiencing ovarian hyper stimulation, a condition that could have ended our entire cycle. I begged my husband to trust me and not take me to the emergency room until after our egg retrieval.
Thankfully our egg retrieval was textbook! It’s hard to describe the deep satisfaction that I felt that day. As I lay there listening to the doctor explain how well the procedure went, my thoughts drifted back to all of the doctors who told me I would never have children. I remembered all the tears and sadness when I realized I had to lose my uterus. This was it! This was the moment in my life when it was all just working out, as it should. There were no more doubts, no more worries, everything was going to be great and I was going to be a Mommy! After the retrieval a new waiting game begins. We all sit and wait to see how many embryos survived the first 24 hours. We got the call on day three… FOURTEEN!!! Fourteen little embryos waiting to become my children!!! Great news indeed, especially for a 42-year-old woman! Now we wait for day five to see how many will be implanted and how many will be frozen.
On the fifth day we arrive at the clinic with our surrogate wearing the mandatory green clothing for luck. We are ushered back to the pre-op area and told to change into our scrubs. My husband and I are giddy with delight. Our surrogate is confidant. We all get to go in to watch as the embryologist hands the syringe with our embryos to the doctor. With one precise movement, the doctor pushes down on the plunger of the syringe and we see our two little guys floating into the uterus. What a truly awe-inspiring day! We all seem to float on clouds back to our home where our surrogate is force fed McDonald’s French fries while keeping her feet up! I read somewhere that McDonald’s French fries are the magic ingredient to a successful transfer! The next day we said goodbye to our surrogate and began the excruciating two week wait.
I didn’t have to wait two weeks. A couple of days after our transfer I began to feel panic. All the other intended mothers had pictures of their embryos. All the other intended mothers knew the grade and quality and exact number of cells of their embryos. I realized our doctor did not give us any information except for the fact that two embryos were transferred. I began calling and emailing frantically trying to get an answer from the clinic. Finally the doctor called. I could tell from his voice that this was not a “happy” call. He began the conversation with “I’d like to talk to you about our egg donor program.” What? What do you mean egg donor program? I just transferred two embryos into a surrogate! The good doctor went on to inform me that my embryos were so ugly, had I not had a surrogate waiting with her feet in the stirrups he would have canceled the cycle right then and there. Of the 14 beautiful embryos on Day three, only four had survived to Day five. Of those four he chose the best of the bunch for the transfer, but they were of such low quality he did not expect the transfer to be a success. Ugly embryos? Really? A doctor could not choose a better adjective? I don’t remember much of the conversation after this. It was as if a thick black fog encircled my brain and seeped into my lungs pushing out all of the oxygen. For the next few days all I could do was sob. I lost the will to eat or breathe. I told my boss to fire me if he must because I just could not come to work. My tear ducts were somehow connected to my feet and merely standing caused a fit of uncontrollable sobbing. I felt nothing but despair.
During this time my surrogate seemed to want more attention than I was emotionally able to give her. I think I may have even told her I didn’t want to hear from her until our official “beta” test (the blood test to determine pregnancy hormone blood levels.) I’m sure this must have seemed horribly insensitive at the time to her. She kept sending me cryptic little emails and then one night she got a little pushy and called to yell at me to open my email. She knew I had been depressed. The date was October 3, 2007. I will never forget it. I opened the email and there it was…………. A POSITIVE PREGNANCY TEST! For all of the doctor’s talk about ugly embryos, somehow, against all scientific odds, one of those ugly embryos decided to stick around. I don’t think I was able to breathe. I just stared and stared at it! I’m sure my surrogate was disappointed not to have had a bigger reaction from me, but I was truly in shock.
As the weeks went by the ugly embryo continued to grow and thrive. As shocked as I was by the pregnancy, I truly think our IVF doctor was more shocked! He actually told me not to get too excited until after the second trimester. He even insisted that we consult with a genetic counselor because he was so sure an embryo that ugly could not produce anything but a chromosomally defective fetus. We obliged him but really, nothing could change the feeling I had in my heart. I WAS going to be a mother. God had put into motion something science no longer controlled.
As the months went by there were many ups and downs in our relationship with our surrogate. I believe her expectations for our relationship during the pregnancy were just too different than my own. She wanted a close bond, a best friend if you will. I was still in protection mode as we were in contract. For me friendship is something that organically grows, not forced because of circumstances. At the end, when our beautiful son was born, the nurses handed him to me after the cord was cut but I refused to take him. I told them to give him to our surrogate. She was meant to be the first person to hold him. It was my gift of friendship to her. She got to look into his little face and see the magnificent life she helped create. When she was done holding him, she got to be the one to hand me my son for the first time. It was as meaningful and symbolic a moment as one could ever experience. The room was filled with people, but in that moment all I saw was her and my son. In that instant, friendship was ignited between surrogate and Intended Mother. It’s been three years since the birth of my son and I am grateful to call our surrogate a friend.
Surrogacy is a testament to humanity. It is the perfect balance of God and science. There are many critics of surrogacy but I defy any of those critics to tell me my son is not a miracle. That ugly embryo is one of the most beautiful and extremely intelligent human beings I’ve ever met. From the moment of his conception he defied the odds. I have no doubt that God has a plan for his life. Hopefully I can raise him in a way that honors the miracle that is his life.