Posted on November 17, 2017
Update 8 – Life Gives You What You Need
Brace yourself – this is going to be a long update, but it does end well!
For those of you who know me, you know that I love a good plan and sticking to it. I like when things happen on schedule and when everything is in its right place. Going through surrogacy is an exercise in patience--despite our best efforts, nothing goes to plan. I'm learning that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there is so much control you have to let go of when going through surrogacy. It's a challenge to say the least.
The past few weeks have been incredibly emotional, filled with ups and downs. Like I said in the last update (which, I glanced down and saw that was in AUGUST...), we will go for long stretches of time waiting, and then many events will happen simultaneously. After our egg donor was medically cleared, we began working with our clinic to plan the egg retrieval. Due to our donor's work schedule, it looked like October was going to be the best time to do the retrieval. This was going to be perfect! Erik was already planning on going to Michigan to photograph a wedding, and I was planning on being in Michigan for work as well. We would be able to go to Chicago together with our donor, be there for the procedure, and we were going to get 20 eggs and it was going to be great.
Except things never go to plan, thanks to that pesky thing called biology. There is so much of the science that I do not understand, but I will do my best to explain what happened. In order to start the egg donation cycle, the doctor must choose the precise moment to begin medication and then periodically monitor how our donor responds. This basically involves a blood test to inspect hormone levels (and other things, I'm sure). The problem was, our donor had a certain hormone level that was too high that would interfere with the medication. It wasn't anything to worry about, our donor is perfectly healthy, but in this case, the medications wouldn't have been effective. In order to proceed, all we could really do was wait until the hormone levels returned to normal with our donor. After three weeks of our donor patiently driving to her outside monitoring clinic and having her blood drawn, it was finally determined that the levels were normal and she was ready to start medications. Hurray!! The downside to all this waiting is that Erik and I missed our window to be with her during the actual egg retrieval, which we were really looking forward to. More on that in a minute.
So, our egg donor was finally ready to begin medications, and let me tell you, our donor is a superstar for going through this for us. If you know anyone who has ever donated eggs, give them a hug and say thank you. It’s not an easy process. In essence, it is shots for 10-14 days, blood draws, ultrasounds, and culminating in an outpatient procedure. The doctor is constantly monitoring the donor to decide the precise moment for the “trigger shot” which is the last shot the donor takes before the procedure. None of this is exactly pleasant for the donor—the side effects of the medications can be uncomfortable, not to mention the shots are self-administered. It’s extraordinary that we have this person in our life willing to go through so much for us to start a family. Honestly, I don’t know what we did to deserve such a gift. I’m also thankful that our donor’s partner was there to help her through it all. It’s one more person in the constellation of individuals helping making our dream of having a baby come to life.
While our donor was having her procedure, Erik and I were literally waiting for a plane to take off on our way to New York City where we attended the Men Having Babies(MHB) conference. We weren’t originally planning on going to one of these conferences—we had received a lot of information from the MHB website and YouTube channel, and our surrogacy agency (Colorado Surrogacy) and IVF clinic (InVia Fertility) have been amazing resources. However, a new requirement for the MHB grant program was added this year, which was attending one of their conferences. From the application instructions we received, it sounded like some of the parents who were approved in the past weren’t exactly ready for the process, so this was a way to ensure intended parents were educated enough to go the distance. Fortunately, we had saved up enough hotel and airline points to make the trip relatively cheap. The conference was great, but it was catered more for intended parents who are just starting the process. Many of our decisions have already been made—who the donors will be, our clinic, our surrogacy agency, etc. Heck, our donor literally just had her egg retrieval! However, we were able to get good information on deciding on a surrogate, and we also had an amazing experience listening to teenagers and adults who were born from surrogacy and have two dads. Overall, a memorable experience.
However, all of these events happening simultaneously were stressful, to say the least. As I mentioned, Erik and I were at the airport when our donor was going through her egg retrieval. I'll never forget the moment when we received a message from our donor’s partner telling us that everything was fine and that the doctor was able to retrieve eight eggs. At first we were very excited. Eight eggs! That seemed like a lot! Wait, is it a lot? Our clinic assured us that this was a successful retrieval and eight was a great number to have. After all, you really only need one. So, we felt good about eight. They told us that the next step in the process was fertilizing the eggs, and our total number may go down after that.
So, we anxiously awaited the news on how many were fertilized. In fact, it was in the middle of a break at the conference when we received the phone call telling us to check the patient portal. Erik scrambled to pull up the results on his phone and…..! Four. Four eggs were fertilized. Wait… what? But we started with eight! We knew not all of them would make it, but this seemed harsh. All of the sudden, it started to feel like the Hunger Games with these eggs. Or maybe Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Eight eggs enter, four leave fertilized. Regardless of your preferred dystopian movie reference, the dread we felt was very real. The note we received on the patient portal said that the eggs go to incubate for five days, and after that they will check and see how many develop to the blastocyst phase, which is when they are ready to be frozen. Again, the note told us that not all of them make it to this next phase.
The lunch we had after receiving that news was less than satisfying. While most of the men at the conference went to go explore the various providers, Erik and I contemplated on what this meant. While asking around, we found out that four fertilized was actually a good number, and again, “you only need one.” Right, but what happens if that one doesn’t take? Would we need to start all over? Could we ask our donor if she wanted to go through a retrieval cycle again, and would she even say yes? It was overwhelming. At times I started to tear up thinking about those four little embryos.
While mentally trying to sort this out, I sent a note to the coordinator at the IVF clinic just to get some reassurance. In fact, I the subject line of my email was “need some reassurance.” Our coordinator has been fabulous throughout this entire process—always thoroughly explaining things, incredibly supportive, always looking for ways to help us reduce costs, etc. I asked her what she thought and what we should be thinking about if this wasn’t successful. The email that I got back literally made me cry—like always, she took the time to write a thoughtful email answering all my questions, and most importantly reminding me that “sometimes life gives you what you need.” And again, we only need one.
Of course, we were still anxious and eager to see how many results developed, and yesterday we found out that two had made it. Two! The other two didn’t develop after fertilization, but two were doing very well. Perfect, in fact. Those aren’t my words—the clinic grades each embryo based on several factors, and both of ours were 4AA. According to them, those are two perfect embryos. Life gives you what you need.
So what is next for us? Well, we’re not quite out of the woods yet with these embryos. They are being frozen now, but the clinic also biopsied both of them for PGS testing. This is where they are checking for any chromosomal abnormalities. We should receive those results back in a few weeks, and fingers crossed, both will be a-ok (or maybe, 4AA-ok?). Other than waiting though, our next real big step is saving up for the next milestone which is finding a surrogate. I’d love for this to happen next year—we already have a few funding sources identified, and fingers crossed we will get good news from the MHB grant program. Whatever happens will happen, and with next week being Thanksgiving, I know that Erik and I both have much to be thankful for. It’s been an amazing year, and we are so much closer to becoming parents.