You guys, I met someone!

Well, two someones.

I knew I wanted to do another surrogacy the second the twins were born. Call me a glutton for punishment if you’d like, but I’m proud of my particular brand of crazy. I always thought that it would happen in much the same way–I’d reapply with CSP, I’d get matched, and we’d begin the long legal and medical processes.

Then I met Roger and Mimi (names have been changed to protect the innocent). When we met in the fall of last year, they had been trying to have a baby for over five years. They tried everything, and just before we met, Mimi’s doctor had just informed her that due to her underlying health issues, even if she could get pregnant, it was no longer safe for her to carry a pregnancy. This news was devastating to them, and they reached out to their rabbi for solace and advice. Their rabbi, whom I knew through my work in the Jewish community, mentioned me and my recent surrogacy. He offered to connect us, not to match us up, necessarily, but to give them someone to talk to who had experience in the surrogacy world.

We met for coffee a few times over the next several weeks. I was moved by their story, and we hit it off. After our third meeting, we began discussing my carrying a pregnancy for them, and before I knew it, we were both speaking to the agency, preparing to begin the process. But before too long, I got a phone call from Mimi. She had met with her fertility specialist and mentioned offhand the complications I experienced during my previous delivery. He told her that he would not work with a surrogate who had a history of preeclampsia and complicated births. He refused to even see me or review my records. The couple did not want to change doctors at this point, so that was that. Door closed.

Before this, I had only briefly thought about how my HELLP syndrome might affect my ability to act a surrogate again. I began to doubt that any doctor (or any intended parents) would want to take the risk. I put my desire for another surrogacy on the back burner and withdrew my reapplication from CSP.

Fast forward 8 months. It was July, and Mike and I were down in LA visiting Maya, Ben, and their daddies. They had invited friends over for Shabbat dinner, two guys named Adi and Ron (names have not been changed because they’re super awesome and chill). I had met Adi on my last visit to LA, and he had made an impression with his amazing rapport with the babies.

The evening was friendly and fun–the conversation flowed and we all laughed and talked like old friends. Over the course of the conversation, the surrogacy came up, of course, and I learned that not only were Adi and Ron in the thick of planning their wedding, but they were also thinking about babies. I glanced over at Gil and Tomer, and I caught them exchanging a look and a smile.

We’re being set up! I thought, and I had to laugh. I had pretty much talked myself out of trying again; the sting of rejection from that one IVF doctor was enough to cloud my desire with doubt. But I really liked these guys, and the thought of keeping it in the family, so to speak, was attractive. When Ron invited us over for dessert the next night, we accepted, eagerly anticipating speaking with them further about the possibility.

The next night went just as well as the first. We discussed some possibilities and made a plan to sleep on it then talk more over Skype the next week. The major things I had to think about were whether to use the agency again or go private and if I would be willing to carry twins again. I was open to foregoing the agency and going through a fertility lawyer instead, as long as all of the same safeguards were in place. And as for twins, as luck would have it, Ron and Adi were thinking they would transfer only one embryo, anyway.

Adi, Gil, Tomer, and I at Adi and Ron's wedding.

Snapshot of Adi, Gil, Tomer, and me at Adi and Ron’s wedding.

Because Ron and Adi were planning their wedding, we put most things on hold until after the festivities. So in December, we began the process in earnest. The dads got their sperm analyzed, I visited my OB, and they began looking for an egg donor. I tried (am still trying) not to get my hopes up, understanding that I could very well be rejected by another IVF doctor. I spoke to a perinatologist (high-risk OB) at Kaiser, who wrote a letter to the IVF doctor with his opinion that my risk of developing HELLP or another form of preeclampsia again is low, assuming a singleton pregnancy and different genetic material.  The IVF doctor accepted this letter and agreed to see me himself for a saline ultrasound and some bloodwork.

And here we are. My appointment with him is in two weeks, and I’m trying my damnedest not to get my hopes up or to get too attached to this theoretical pregnancy. Everything happened so fast and went so smoothly last time. There are a million what-ifs–what if something’s wrong with my uterus, what if they discover something funky in my bloodwork, what if the first transfer fails, and then the second and third, what if I miscarry, what if the fetus isn’t healthy…what if what if what if? I had forgotten the uncertainty of the early stages of this process. I had forgotten the pressure of holding the hopes and dreams of two awesome people in my uterus.

I’ll take it one step at a time. Next step is a quick trip to LA for the saline ultrasound. One benefit of doing this surrogacy privately is that the dads can be more involved in these early stages. Mike and I are staying with them, and I am looking forward to having a couple days to bond with them and process with them a little bit. And bonus: we get a little visit in with my first surro-family!

Buckle up, friends! Here we go.

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You want to do this again?!

“Would you think I’m totally crazy if I said I absolutely want to do this again?”

Mike shot me a quick sideways glance and then hesitated just a beat too long before saying, “No, not at all.”

We were driving to Sonoma for my last surrogate support group. I was three and a half weeks postpartum, still in maternity clothes, still sore and in a little bit of pain from the delivery, still super hormonal. So I don’t blame Mike for thinking I’m crazy. But it’s the truth: I want to do it again.

This past year has been a crazy roller coaster ride, full of complicated combinations of emotions. There were all of the intense joys and pains of pregnancy, with the added compounding factor of a surrogacy and all it entails. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also one of, if not the most rewarding. For every painful or uncomfortable moment I experienced, I can think of three more joyful, beautiful moments. And every picture I get from the dads chronicling the twins’ first weeks on the outside gives me warm, gooey, happy feelings that make me so proud of the part I played in the creation of this family.

The hardest part by far has been the toll this pregnancy has taken on my relationship with my kids and having to watch Mike take the brunt of the fallout. Experiencing this pregnancy with them and teaching them that families come in all shapes and sizes was amazing, but because this pregnancy was more difficult than my past pregnancies, I found myself unable to parent my kids fully, both physically and emotionally. This was especially difficult on my 2-year-old, Solomon, who entered a very difficult stage a couple months into the surrogacy. In particular, he began throwing tantrums. Not your run-of-the-mill, ignore them and they’ll go away tantrums. Oh, no. These are awe-inspiring, out of control, possessed by demons, all that’s missing is projectile vomit and a spinning head tantrums. They are scary–for me and Mike, for him, and for Ramona (and probably for our neighbors, too). And they’ve continued post delivery, with the added bonus of Solly completely rejecting me. In the throes of a tantrum, if I get anywhere near him, if I even enter the room he is in, he will scream even harder, shrieking at me to “Walk away Mom!” If I go to him when he wakes up crying in the middle of the night, he’ll whimper, “I want Daddy,” and cry pitifully until I relent and send Mike in. It’s completely heartbreaking, and I will often collapse under the crushing guilt of knowing that my partial absence during this pregnancy is somewhat to blame for this rejection.

I have begun the work of rebuilding my relationship with Sol, and although it is obviously going to be a long road, I rejoice every time he comes to me, unprompted, for a cuddle, or when he says to Mike, “No, I want Mommy to do it!” Sometimes I have the urge to take off both our shirts and hold him skin to skin like I would a newborn, reestablishing our bond, but sadly, no almost-three-year-old would stand for that. So I’ll just go day by day, knowing that this too shall pass.

So why do I want to do another surrogacy? It’s a little hard to explain. During this entire process, I felt like I was doing something, like I had a purpose. This may sound crazy to most of you, but maybe I was meant to have a bunch of babies for other people. Every single doctor who had his or her hands up in me (and it was a lot of doctors) told me that with my very high, very long cervix, I am an ideal carrier. I’m done having babies for myself, and it would be a shame to put my high, long cervix on the bench forever, right? So I’ll give myself time to heal, I’ll enjoy being with my family as just me, sans nausea and a giant belly, I’ll give Solly time to grow out of his tantrums, and then after a while I’ll begin to think about my next surrogacy journey, whatever that might look like.

Am I certifiable? Maybe. But deep down, I know this is the right path for me. This is what I can do for couples facing the trials of infertility and for gay couples who long for children of their own. I want to do something to help people, and this is what I do well, so this is what I will do.

The Embryos Have an Advocate

Ramona is totally into this surrogacy. She has been from the very beginning. Remember when she told me I was doing a mitzvah? Still makes me tear up when I think about it. And it did not stop there. Ramona has become a big advocate for surrogacy in general and these little embryos in particular. Here are a few snippets of conversations I’ve had with Ramona about the surrogacy.

Scene 1:
Ramona
: When will the babies come out?
(This was way before the transfer, just after we met Gil and Tomer for the first time.)
Me: Well, after they put the eggs inside me, a baby won’t come out for about 9 months.
Ramona: But that’s too long! Tomer and Gil will be sad to wait that long!

Scene 2:
Ramona
: Will you make a baby for me when I want to be a mommy?
Me: Why do you want me to make your baby for you?
Ramona: Because it will hurt. I want to be a mommy but not to have it hurt.
Me: Hm, well, I’ll be too old to make a baby for you by the time you’re ready to have a baby.
Ramona: Oh, well you should just make babies for people who need them now.

Scene 3:
Ramona
: They are putting two eggs in you?!
Me: Yep.
Ramona (gasps): One for each of the daddies!

Scene 4:
After the embryo transfer, I picked Ramona up from school. She ran up to me, ready to give me a huge hug. Then she stopped short and looked at my belly.
Ramona: Mommy, if I give you a hug, will I crack the eggs?

Scene 5:
I had to carry Solly, even though I’m not supposed to lift anything heaver than 10 pounds until there is a heartbeat.
Ramona (in her most stern voice): Mommy, put Solly down! You are going to hurt the eggs and then they won’t turn into babies!

Scene 6:
This evening, Ramona asked me to help her make a sign. I asked her to tell me slowly what the sign should say so I could write it down exactly how she wanted it. Here is the sign:

Ramona's sign reads, "Don't squeeze mommy right here because there are baby eggs in there."

“Don’t squeeze mommy right here because there are baby eggs in there.”

Those little embies certainly have a cheerleader. I am not looking forward to the conversation I’ll have to have if only one embryo took or if, god forbid, I should miscarry. But this is life, and Ramona is certainly learning life lessons. I find it amazing and inspiring that she took so easily to the idea of me growing a baby for another family. I think it’s important that all kids be given the opportunity to experience different kinds of families and different ways of having children.

Quick pregnancy update: I went into my first beta pretty confident it would be positive (I peed on about 15 sticks in the 5 days leading up to it, all positive). The blood test showed that my hCG level was at 555, which is a very strong number. They were looking for levels of around 100. So now the ladies in the surrogates’ Facebook group are all betting on twins. I’m not letting myself speculate one way or the other. I think the daddies are secretly hoping for twins, and I don’t want to get my hopes up too much for them. I go in on Wednesday for my second beta and then, assuming the number remains strong, I’ll go in for the yolk sac ultrasound a week or so after that. We’ll find out how many embies are in there at that appointment. So stay tuned!

A match made in Sonoma

“So we’ll see you on Monday. Oh, and make sure to take 800 milligrams of ibuprofen an hour before your appointment.”

That’s something every woman wants to hear before visiting a lady-parts doctor.

I was flown down to LA for my medical clearance exam with the fancy fertility doctor. The ibuprofen was for the saline injection, in which the doctor shoves a rather large catheter through my cervix and into my uterus before shooting saline solution up there to blow my uterus up like a balloon. Not the most fun thing I’ve ever done in LA, but definitely not the most uncomfortable, either (I’m looking at you, summer of 2005).

Things were moving quickly now. After a remarkably non-awkward Skype call with my potential couple, an in-person visit was quickly arranged. It felt like a first date on steroids. We exchanged a few emails to work out some details, and each one was torturous. I read, reread, rewrote, and reworded each 3 sentence email a thousand times. I worried about what they would read into these messages, whether I was emailing them too much, whether I should sound formal or casual, so on and so forth. I worried about what I was going to wear, what the kids were going to wear, whether Mike was going to say something stupid or embarrassing (sorry, honey), whether we’d find things to talk about. I wanted them to like me so badly that I forgot that I was supposed to be feeling them out, too. I even didn’t think about the possibility that maybe I wouldn’t like them. (Spoiler: There’s nothing not to like.)

The plan was for them to come to Shabbat dinner at our compound complex to be overwhelmed by meet my family. Then we’d have our official match meeting at CSP in Sonoma the next day. The official match meeting was to discuss all of the potentially uncomfortable subjects like how many embryos they want to transfer, my willingness to carry multiples, how we all feel about selective reduction and therapeutic termination, what kind of food/lifestyle restriction they want put in the contract, etc. Seeing them the day before was the get-to-know-you time, the do-we-mesh time. We were both given explicit instructions from Donna at CSP to steer clear of all surrogacy related topics. So of course I fretted about that—what if they wanted to talk about it, what if one of my family members brought it up and said something stupid or embarrassing (sorry guys), what if we didn’t have anything else to talk about?

The day of the visit, I waited anxiously for their call. When it came, a sudden calm came over me, and Ramona and I went out front to greet them.

Tomer and Gil in San Francisco

Tomer and Gil in San Francisco

Gil and Tomer, classy as only a certain kind of homosexual couple can be, walked up the front steps with a beautiful orchid for me, a wrapped gift for the kids, and a gorgeous homemade challah. Ramona, sensing the gift was for her, skipped the standard I’m-shy-for-about-30-seconds and went straight to you’re-my-new-best-friends! After slightly awkward hugs all around, Ramona led Gil and Tomer (who I now think of as ‘the daddies’) out into the courtyard to try out her gift, a nerf rocket launcher.

The rest of the family gathered out there with us, and introductions were made. Any tension or weirdness that may have occurred was eased by the kids’ delight in their new toy, and pleasant chit-chat soon filled the courtyard.

Tomer's gorgeous homemade challah.

Tomer’s gorgeous homemade challah.

Shabbat dinner, as per usual, was boisterous and fun, filled with chaos, singing, and laughter. Tomer commented that it reminded him of the Shabbat dinners of his childhood. For the first time, I began to think past the pregnancy and the birth, past my own role in this adventure, and forward to the two of them creating traditions with their own kids–Shabbat dinners, Sunday morning pancakes, yearly trips to visit their families in Israel. It began to dawn on me that this was it, this was the beginning of the creation of their family. And I felt enormously lucky to be there to witness it, to be a part of it.

Our Sonoma meeting was easy, uneventful. There were no surprises, no outrageous restrictions. Gil is a doctor, so he seems to be pretty levelheaded about things. Well, about most things. Apparently there is some new research about artificial sweeteners, and he requested that I severely limit my intake. “Of course!” I said, while on the inside I was wailing, “Noooo! Splenda…my sweet, sweet Splenda! Whatever will I do without you?! No sushi I can handle. No wine? Ok, fine. But no Diet Dr. Pepper? No Coke Zero?? What will I put in my tea??!” Deep breaths…

Tomer's signature 'feet on the dashboard' shot

Tomer’s signature ‘feet on the dashboard’ shot

After our meeting, the daddies took me out to an amazing lunch, where we chatted about pregnancy, parenting, and life in general. I drove home from Sonoma pleasantly full and eager to move forward.

Not two weeks later, I found myself in stirrups, a catheter up my cervix and saline solution in my uterus.

Next stop, self-administered hormone injections…