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.

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.

Our Birth Story (with far too much detail)

**Long post ahead. But it's worth it, I swear!**

A little more than a week ago, I got the call from my OB. “How about having some babies today?” she asked, in her trademark chipper voice.

“Um, ok! What’s going on?”

“You’ve been officially diagnosed with HELLP syndrome. Your liver enzymes are way high and your platelet count is dropping. If we let you go any longer, you could go into liver failure or you could begin to have seizures.”

“Sounds convincing. I’ll call the dads.”

IMG_1826And thus commenced an 18 hour labor. I got to the hospital around 10:45 on Tuesday morning, where I stopped by the perinatology department for one last ultrasound. The perinatologist wanted to double check the relative sizes of the babies and their position to make sure that vaginal delivery was still the best option. I thought we would be meeting with the doctor to discuss all the options, but I was sent to Labor and Delivery without speaking to anyone.

What followed was an hour or so of not really knowing what was going on while they monitored the babies’ heartbeats and my contractions. Turns out I was actually in early labor anyhow. Weird. Finally, the senior resident in charge of my case (we call her Blonde Doctor, not in a pejorative way, but because she is very pretty and blonde and I love the TV show Scrubs) came in to talk to me. She told me that in my case, vaginal delivery is still the safest option, even with Baby B being breech, because my low platelet count could cause excessive bleeding during a C-section. And because I was in early labor, my body would likely react favorably to the pitocin (the synthetic hormone used to induce labor, known for producing incredibly painful, relentless contractions).

IMG_5345All of this sounded ok. The daddies were on their way with an ETA of about 6:00pm. I had been preparing for a pitocin-induced labor for weeks, and I had read up on what to expect during a breech extraction (do a google image search–I dare you). But then Blonde Doctor gave me some bad news–I had to be on magnesium sulfate during the entire labor and for 24 hours after the delivery. Magnesium sulfate, commonly referred to as “the devil’s drug,” is used to prevent seizures, one of the most dangerous complications of HELLP syndrome. It is a muscle relaxant, which is not what you want to be on during labor while your uterus is trying its damnedest to contract, and it causes wooziness, hot flashes, grogginess, nausea, vomiting, and all-around yuckiness–all things I would have liked to avoid during labor. But I also did not want to begin having seizures, so, at about 12:00pm, I began pitocin and magnesium.

One of the super-fun things about being on mag during labor is that you have to be on complete bedrest. And as those of you who have ever been in labor can affirm, in bed is the worst possible place to be. None of those magical yoga poses to help ease the pain and help the baby descend, no way to relieve the horrible pressure on your back and hips, and, because there is no dignity in childbirth, no trips to toilet. That’s right–for the first 7 hours of labor, before they placed my epidural, I had to use a bedpan. And let me just take this opportunity to say that nurses are the most amazing people on the planet. I cannot imagine a more selfless occupation. Thank you to each and every one of my nurses, including the one who had to help me heave my gigantic ass onto a bedpan every 90 minutes for 7 hours.

Once I began the magnesium, I entered what I began to call “mag time.” The hours were simultaneously endless and impossibly fast. The time passed in a liquid fashion, sometimes flowing so swiftly that I could not believe the clock and sometimes seeming to stop altogether. My contracts got stronger and stronger, and my labs continued to deteriorate. I worried and worried that the dads would not make it in time, and I had very conflicting feelings about wanting it to just be over and wanting to hold on until the dads got there. (If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to take a chill pill–I would have 12 more hours of labor after the dads arrived!) Finally, at 6:00pm, 6 hours after beginning the drips, Gil and Tomer arrived!

About an hour later, I decided to get my epidural. I probably could have gone longer, but Blonde Doctor was worried that if my platelet count continued to drop, they would not be able to place one at all. So my anesthesiologist, Liz, placed a very careful epidural. (Liz, by the way, has a child in Ramona’s class. It was so great to have someone I know be there for me, especially later on when things got dicey.)

The next few hours passed in mag time, with Mike rubbing my back and snoozing at the foot of my bed, and the dads, my mom, and my stepdad talking quietly. Sometime in the middle of the night, Blonde Doctor broke my water, and I instantly progressed to 6cm. She then upped my pitocin drip as high as it would go. No more messing around–time to get these babies out! Unfortunately, this was around the same time that my epidural began to stop working. I regained the feeling in my feet and legs, and I began to feel the pitocin-fueled contractions more and more. Mike rubbed my aching back and hips more vigorously as I moaned through the contractions.

About 4 hours later, Liz came back to urge me to let her replace the epidural. “We need a working epidural in case of an emergency C. Otherwise we’ll have to put you out completely,” she explained. I was also beginning to fear the breech extraction sans pain control. So I consented to a new epidural. It was much harder to sit still for it this time, since the contractions were now coming one on top of the other. The instant I sat up, waves of nausea hit me, and my nurse pushed some zofran into my IV.

Half an hour later, the new epidural was placed, and the pain receded a little. I began to feel a lot of pressure down below, so Blonde Doctor was called in to check my progress. 10cm! I was complete! The room was suddenly bursting with activity–the dads were suiting up, the attending physician was paged, and I was rolled from my labor room to the OR. Hospital protocol is to deliver twins in the OR since the chance of an emergency C is relatively high. This meant, however, that since both dads would be there, Mike had to stay out. I began to feel my first real pricklings of fear as I was rolled past Mike and he gave my arm a quick squeeze. “Love you,” he said. I think all I did was try to smile.

Once in the OR, I shimmied over onto the table, and placed my feet in the stirrups. I was flat on my back and the pain in my ribs was excruciating. I began to feel the overwhelming urge to push but was told to wait while everyone got into place. Finally, after an eternity, Blonde Doctor took her seat. “Woah, she’s crowning already!” she said. Umm, yeah. That’s what I was trying to tell you! When I was finally given permission to push, Baby A–soon to be known as Maya–just glided into the world with three easy pushes. The wondrous sounds of a newborn baby crying filled the air as Gil cut the cord and Maya was placed in her warmer.

Now on to Baby B and the breech extraction. I was told to not push while Blonde Doctor reached up inside me and tried to locate both of Baby B’s feet. His sac was still in tact, and the doctor seemed to be having trouble getting ahold of both feet. She kept getting a hand and a foot or a foot and an elbow. The attending physician was using an ultrasound and manipulating the baby from the outside, which was just about as comfortable for me as you might imagine. Thank goodness Liz was there, letting me squeeze her hand since the dads were understandably distracted. (Liz, if you are reading this, I would like to apologize if I broke any fingers!)

Finally, after about 5 minutes, Blonde Doctor felt confident that she had both feet, so she broke the bag of water and started to ease him out. I was told to push push push! while the attending pressed down on my belly. All of the sudden, Blonde Doctor yelled, “Stop!” I stopped pushing and watched in horror as she and attending physician began to try to get Baby B’s head unstuck from just inside my cervix. I began to cry and asked over and over “Is he ok?” No one would answer. After who knows how long (turns out is was just a couple of minutes), the attending grabbed some forceps and sat beside Blonde Doctor. He inserted the forceps to widen my cervix while Blonde Doctor reached both hands in to ease the baby’s head out. She caught him, this tiny blue creature, and the silence was deafening. Baby B–soon to be called Ben–was whisked to his warmer, where they bagged him and began administering CPR.

Time stood still as I began to doubt every decision I had made over the past few days. Why had I been so insistent on a vaginal delivery? All the doctors had told me it was the safest route for me, but what about the babies? Had I been unbelievably selfish, wanting to avoid surgery? How could I ever forgive myself if something happened to baby Ben? How could the dads every forgive me? But after the longest 30 seconds of my entire life, a shrill cry split the air. The entire room exhaled as Ben began to breathe. Tomer came over and wiped my tears, which made me feel a little better, like they wouldn’t be angry with me, but for the next few days, every time someone said the words “traumatic birth,” the guilt would come bubbling back.

Normally, after you have a baby, said baby provides a distraction from what could arguably be the worst part of child birth–delivering the placenta. But with no babies on my chest, all I had to concentrate on was the nurse’s excruciating uterine massage (sounds lovely, but it’s not) as the next few contractions tried to push the the placentas out. But the placentas would not deliver, and Blonde Doctor had to sorta pull them out. After that, I got to see the babies up close and personal for the first time. They were, of course, gorgeous and cuddly, all burritoed together. I got to hold them as I was wheeled back to the labor room, back to family.

For about half an hour, everyone gushed over the babies, and I was handed them to nurse. Maya latched right on like a total champ, and a nurse was helping me to latch Ben on when I felt a gush down below. I must have said something, because my nurse came over to take a look. She pressed down gently on my belly and whoosh! All of the sudden I felt incredibly dizzy and I started shaking uncontrollably. My nurse yelled, “Get Dr. Hebl back here!” and suddenly there were hands everywhere–taking the babies from me, laying me flat, trying to place an IV, placing towels underneath me. I was whisked out of the room while I heard people call for blood and anesthesia and doctors. I heard a nurse call over her shoulder to Mike and my mom, “Someone will come back and tell you what’s happening!”

I was rolled back into the OR, and before I was even back on the table, Blonde Doctor had her hand up inside me, up to the elbow, feeling around inside my uterus. The attending physician was back, too, using the ultrasound. The two doctors began arguing about something and the nurse kept saying she couldn’t find a vein and all there was was pulling and pressure and shaking and noise and hands. Then Liz leaned down and said into my ear, “I’m going to give you some gentle sedation now.”

Next thing I know, I’m back in the labor room, pulling off my oxygen mask. I asked a nurse what had happened. She told me that I had started to hemorrhage and they were concerned that I had retained pieces of the placenta, so they had performed an emergency D&C. And in order to save my uterus and stop the bleeding, they placed a balloon inside my uterus and towels inside my vagina. This lovely “vag pack” was to remain inside me for 24 hours following the delivery. I also had to remain on the magnesium and on bedrest.

The next two and a half days in the hospital, I rested while the dads bonded with the babies and my family flowed in and out to visit. It was just as strange and emotional and wonderful as I anticipated it would be to watch the daddies with their babies. It was a little harder than I thought it would be to let go of the responsibility, to not be a part of the decision-making process about various things, but watching Gil and Tomer hold those babes felt so, so right.

We all got discharged on Friday afternoon. I was recovering well, and Maya and Ben were both looking healthy and strong. Friday evening and Saturday were spent with family. I cuddled those babies at every opportunity, knowing that we would be saying goodbye far too soon. I remember being in awe of my own kids when they were newborns, unable to believe that my body could create something so perfect. Looking at these babies, the feeling was the same–sheer and utter perfection.

We said goodbye Saturday evening. I have a hard time showing emotion publicly, so the goodbyes were swift and straightforward. It hit me sometime that night, however, that it was over, that I would not be seeing the babies or the dads every day. My life had revolved around this pregnancy for so long that it was hard for me to imagine what life would be like when things returned to normal. I felt very weepy the next few days, hormonal and sad, but it helps to know that we will see them soon. Gil and Tomer have very generously offered to have us come stay with them sometime this summer and do Disneyland! And in the meantime, there’s Skype and pictures–lots and lots, right, guys?!

IMG_5362I think it’s all too fresh to have some insightful wrap-up of this experience. My body needs to heal, my hormones need to settle down, and I need to rediscover my rhythm with my kids and my husband. All I know is that my life is richer for having done this and that I have gained two more children to love.

Welcome to the world, Maya and Ben. May your lives be filled with love, light, and laughter.

The Daddies are Coming (and a brief lesson on Jewish law)!

bump in the woodsskeleton shirtThe daddies are coming for a visit next week. I haven’t seen them since before the transfer. I can’t believe it’s been that long. We skype and facetime regularly, so it doesn’t feel like that long, but it’ll be so nice to have them here and get the opportunity to really share this pregnancy with them. You can only convey so much through pictures, even pictures as cute as these.

They fly in on Wednesday, and we have some big plans. Wednesday night, they are taking me and Mike out to La Fondue (ooh la la). Then Thursday morning, they are treating me to a pedicure before the main event, the anatomy ultrasound and the big gender reveal.

14w6d ultrasound(Although we kind of accidentally found out that Baby B is a boy. At my last doctors appointment, my OB was doing a routine scan just to check their heartbeats, when Baby B suddenly flipped over and presented us with his bottom and his very obvious boy bits. Both the doctor and I gasped in unison, causing the daddies, who were facetiming with us, to say “What, what?!” “Well,” said the doctor, “I could tell you Baby B’s gender, if you want…” The daddies said sure, so we shared the news. She tried to get a look at Baby A, too, but to no avail. Baby A stayed resolutely in a tight little ball. But I digress…)

After the ultrasound, we’ll grab lunch before I have to go to work, where I will stay late for an event (boo) while the daddies take Ramona and Solomon to Toys R Us for some good, old fashioned spoiling. The next day, Tomer is insisting on cooking Shabbat dinner for the family, which is exciting not only because I’ve been dying for him to cook for me but also because it will be amusing to watch him arm wrestle my mom for control over the kitchen. Tee hee.

It will be a whirlwind few days, and I’m sure it will be over too soon. But I’m going to do my best to savor the time we have together, especially because this will be their only visit before the birth.

After the daddies fly home Saturday morning, I will be heading to Congregation Beth David. They asked me to come speak about my journey so far at a learning session after services–they even made a flyer! One of the rabbis will teach about Jewish halacha (law) regarding surrogacy and then I’ll add a personal touch by telling my story. Here’s an interesting tidbit: Judaism is a matrilineal religion; people born of a Jewish mother are themselves considered Jewish. I always thought that meant that if an egg donor is used, she needed to be Jewish for the child to be born Jewish. I recently learned that it is not the egg that matters but the womb. A Jewish womb is like a mikveh, and any child born of that womb is Jewish. (“Jewish law does not recognize the microbial,” a rabbi said to me today, “only things that can be seen with the naked eye.” Interesting…) I thought that my being Jewish was just an emotional plus, but now that I know it is actually halachically imperative that I am Jewish, this entire endeavor is imbued with even more meaning. I am looking forward to learning more next Saturday. Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to say… I kinda hate public speaking.

Through the eyes of a four-year-old

About once a week, Ramona will pack a box of stuff to send to the babies once they go home. I am happy she does this; I think anything that reinforces the idea that these babies are not ours to keep will be very good for her in the long run. Also it’s super cute. The other day, she was wandering around the house, picking up random household items and muttering to herself: “I don’t think the babies have a ruler. They can have this one. They will need tape, too. And this pencil. Do you think they have a can opener? I should pack them water in case they get thirsty. And applesauce.”

Suddenly, she looks up at me as though she just remembered something. “Mom, don’t babies drink boobie milk when they’re little?”

Ramona ran into this picture while Mike was taking a bump picture for the daddies.

Ramona ran into this picture while Mike was taking a bump picture for the daddies.

“Yep,” I replied.

“Do boys have boobies?”

“Nope, only women.

“So the daddies don’t have them?”

“Nope.”

With a furrowed brow, Ramona went back to her packing. She came back a few minutes later with an empty bottle.

“Mom,” she asked me, sounding a little worried, “are you all out of breastmilk?”

“Yep, I’m all out,” I replied.

“Why?!” she asked, panic creeping into her voice.

“When I stopped nursing Solly, the milk went away. You only need milk when you are feeding a baby.”

“But what about the daddies’ babies?!” Ramona wailed. “They will need milk!!”

“When the babies are born, the milk will come back, and I can squeeze some out for them and mail it to them.”

Ramona cut off mid-wail. The look on her face changed instantly from agony to glee.

“Ooh! Can I squeeze one while you squeeze the other?!”

That girl slays me. Her enthusiasm for this whole thing constantly amazes me and reminds me how open, receptive, and accepting children are. Not only does she accept that there are all different kinds of families, but she also accepts, without blinking an eye, that someone can have a baby for someone else who needs help. (And, side note, it’s a personal point of pride that breastfeeding and pumping breast milk is normal for her.) I know there are many adults who could learn a thing or two from the open-mindedness of children. I, for one, am grateful that I get to learn from my children every day.

ramona fairy

“We’re finding out today how many things are coming out of mommy!”

“I will tell you right away–there’s two!” The ultrasound wand had been inside me for approximately 0.3 seconds before the doctor made this announcement.

“Can you guys see?!” This was my mom, talking to the daddies. I had called them on Skype, and my mom was pointing them toward the ultrasound machine.

“Yes, yes!” replied Tomer, his voice heavy with tears.

7w1d ultrasoundEven to the layman, the fact that it was twins was obvious. Each embryo was nestled into it’s own little sac, looking like a yin and yang in my uterus. And each embryo sported the tiny flutter of healthy heartbeats. I stifled a slightly hysterical giggle. Some unarticulated worry deep inside me relaxed, and I settled back more comfortably onto the pillow.

The rest of the appointment passed in relative silence, punctuated by the occasional emotional gasp or sniffle. The daddies, my mom, and I watched the doctor take measurements, each of us processing the information privately. At one point, my mom wiped her face and exclaimed, “You guys are making me cry! It’s not even my grandkids and you’re making me cry!!” I glanced at them on my phone–Tomer had his head on Gil’s shoulder, tears streaming down both their faces.

Baby A (the blob on the right in the picture above) is measuring 6 weeks 6 days, and Baby B (the blob on the left) is measuring 7 weeks 1 day. The heartbeats are both strong, and there is nothing alarming going on in there. Well, except for the fact that there are two creatures occupying the same space space that each of my average sized children occupied separately–that is slightly alarming, I must admit. (Word of advice: do not look at Baby Center images of twins in the womb right after finding out you are, in fact, carrying twins. You will never sleep soundly again). But aside from that, everything looks good.

After the appointment was over, my mom drove me back to work. I sat in the passenger seat, staring down at the grainy ultrasound picture in my lap, trying to work my head around the idea of twins. All sorts of worst-case scenarios tried to worm their ways into my head, but I resolutely shut them out, thinking only of how happy the daddies had been.

flowers from daddiesThe next day, two baskets of flowers arrived at the JCC, one for me and one for my mom, from the daddies of course–classy as ever. The card read, “Thank you for making our dream come true. You are the most generous woman we know. Love, Tomer and Gil.”

No pressure or anything. =) I’ll get back to gestating now.

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!

T -2 Days Until Transfer

The embryo transfer is in 2 days, and my uterus is feeling the pressure. Tomer’s birthday was on Thursday, the day after the egg retrieval. I texted to say happy birthday, and he responded by saying I was giving him the best birthday present ever. Gulp. All I can do is hope for the best possible outcome and assume that the daddies are aware of the success (and failure) rate of IVF.

The doctor told me that with two embryos, a donor egg, and a surrogate uterus, there is an 80% chance that one embie will stick and a 30% chance that both will stick. (Just for some perspective, generally there is about a 15-25% chance of conceiving the old fashioned way each month and about a 1-2% chance of conceiving fraternal twins.)

Those are pretty good odds, but I’m still incredibly nervous. I have heard surrogates talk about taking on the emotional baggage of their couple’s infertility struggles, and I thought I was avoiding that by working with a gay couple. Turns out, I’ve traded that for all the emotional and political baggage of the struggle for gay rights–gay and lesbian couples being refused the right to marry or adopt, being refused the right to build their families in the way they feel is best, or even at all. These two men have been yearning for a child for 10 years, and even though this is only their first try, I desperately want this transfer to take. For them, for the gay community, and for society in general. I want there to come the day when “love makes a family” is the prevailing attitude, when having two daddies or two mommies is a non-issue. Perhaps it’s the hormones blowing things out of proportion, but suddenly the weight of the world is resting on my uterus.

Deep breath.

The egg donor had her retrieval a couple of days ago. They harvested 34 oocytes, 28 of which they inseminated. The daddies gave their “fresh deposits” the same morning, and I got what was perhaps the sweetest and most awkward text message ever:

They got 28 eggs. Our sperm counts were good today. 🙂 We are so happy!

Fun fact: did you know that sperm is actually short for spermatozoon?
Sounds like a piece of 16th century pirate clothing. “Arrr, ya ripped me good spermatozoon, ya scurvy blaggard!”

The five days of embryo development before IVF transfer.

The five days of embryo development before IVF transfer.

The eggs were mixed with the daddies’ sperm (or spermatozoa, matey) and put in an incubator to be monitored for five days. On Monday, the day of the transfer, the doctor will pick the best looking embryo from each daddy to transfer. The rest will be frozen in case we need to try again or in case they ever want a sibling.

I leave for Los Angeles tomorrow evening. My mom is going with me, and we plan to pass the 36 hours of bed rest with movies, games, chit chat, and (in my case) a blissful lack of tiny redheads demanding to be entertained or fed.

And so, dear readers, next time from the city of angels. Think fluffy uterus and sticky embies, everyone!

6 things to avoid while on hormones

If you are considering going on hormones for any reason, here is a handy list of 6 things you should avoid lest you become a soggy, weeping mess.

  1.  Disney movies. I caught the last five minutes of Hunchback of Notre Dame today. I have never seen this movie, but there is a part right at the end when a little girl goes up to Quasimodo, touches his face, then takes his hand. Under normal circumstances, that may have caused me to choke up a little. But under the influence of the hormones? Tears streaming down my face. And seriously, what kind of sadistic people do they have writing these movies? Dead parents, orphans, child abusers. It’s like they take pleasure in making me weep so hard that I frighten my children.
  2. Grocery shopping. I broke down twice in Trader Joe’s yesterday. Once because they did not have pretzel rolls (although, let’s be honest, that might have made me weep under normal circumstances because…pretzel rolls…). And then again while I wandered aimlessly up and down the aisles, thinking of all of the healthy food I do not buy and how there must be something on these shelves that will make me a better mother. Kale chips? Quinoa? Kefir? Should I be buying the fancy organic cucumbers for $1.69 more? Why do I feed my kids so much mac n cheese? Why do we eat out so much? And don’t good moms actually shop at Whole Foods instead of selfishly boycotting them for being pretentious, douchey, and everything that’s wrong with “healthy eating” in America? I was sucked into a downward spiral of self-loathing and self-doubt, openly weeping while I put yet another bag of tri-color pasta and 8 boxes of applesauce pouches into my cart.
  3. Your office or place of business. Turns out that being super emotional at work is not great for productivity or intraoffice relationships. Every offhand comment becomes a hurtful insult, every innocent look becomes a mean glare. Went over budget on an event? Time to hide in the bathroom and quietly sob into your hands. Forgot to turn in a credit card receipt? TIme to collapse onto the floor of your office in a trembling heap. Good thing I can go home after a long, emotional day and have a nice glass of wine. Oh, wait–sorry, sister! No you can’t! You’re on medication and are under doctor’s orders to abstain from alcohol. Sucks to be you, bitch!
  4. Books. Especially those featuring children, orphans, dogs, lovers, and/or dead versions of all of the above. You might want to steer clear of children’s books, too. Ramona and I are currently making our way through the Ramona Quimby books, and [spoiler alert!] at the end of Ramona Forever, Mrs. Quimby has a baby girl. They name the baby Roberta. My Ramona is named after my grandmother Roberta who died quite suddenly when I was about 5 months pregnant. So yeah…soggy, weeping mess.
  5. Television. It’s the commercials that will get you! Cheerios, Subaru, iPhone, Folgers, Home Depot, Iams… fuck you, television marketing evil-geniuses, taking advantage of me in my hormone-induced weakness.
  6. The Internet. Did you know there are 58,000 results on YouTube when you search for “crying elephant”? And you will watch every single one of them while ugly-crying into your bowl of cookie dough ice cream.

And so, dear reader, if you ever find yourself on hormones, please heed my warning and avoid these 6 emotional triggers. Or at least make sure you have plenty of ice cream and kleenex on hand.

It’s a mitzvah (…?)

“Mommy, that’s a mitzvah!”

That was my three-and-half-year-old daughter’s reaction when I told her I was becoming a surrogate.

“Am I going to get another baby brother?”

“No, honey. I am going to grow the baby for someone else.”

Blank stare.

“You know that only women can grow babies, right” She nods. “Gil and Tomer are two daddies, two men, so neither of them can grow a baby—they need help. So I’m going to grow their baby for them.”

A few seconds of silence. Then Ramona’s face splits into an enormous grin, and she says, “Mommy, that’s a mitzvah!”

And it is. It is a mitzvah. I think. Actually, I have been struggling with this during the entire process. I’ve slowly been telling people about my upcoming journey—my family, my in-laws, my boss, the HR director at work, my close friends—and pretty much without fail, everyone’s response has been some version of, “Wow, that is so amazing of you! What a gift you are giving!” And I smile uncomfortably in return and promptly change the subject. Because while I understand that I am giving these beautiful people a gift—the chance to create their family on their own terms, something most heterosexual couples (not struggling with infertility) get to do without a second thought—I am not being completely altruistic.

I am getting paid. To grow a baby.

Sure, it’s technically a settlement for pain, suffering, and lost wages. And yes, I am putting my body (and my family) through another pregnancy. Yes, I am assuming all of the risks involved with IVF, which can lead to more complicated pregnancies, including multiples. Yes, I could hemorrhage or lose my uterus or develop high blood pressure or preeclampsia or HG or post partum depression. I will have more stretch marks, more baby weight to lose, more nausea, more heartburn and leg cramps and gas and ligament pain and fatigue and, oh yeah almost forgot, another round of labor and delivery.

All of this for someone else’s baby. So perhaps I deserve to get paid. But it still feels a little yucky.

Could I refuse the payment? Perhaps. Will I? Hell, no.

If I were a scholar, I could go on to discuss the ethics of surrogacy and in doing a good deed for money. Would the rabbis consider this a mitzvah? I have no idea. So I’ll leave the question to you, dear readers. Is it still a good deed if you’re getting paid?

[crickets]

Really, this is not a rhetorical question.