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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8lbs 2oz of baby

My belly has developed its own gravitational pull

My belly has developed its own gravitational pull. Notice the amazing (and attractive) veins and stretch marks. All part of this labor of love.

Hello, friend. I know, I know, It’s been a while. Let’s blame my long absence on my broken home computer and not on my olympic level procrastination.

A quick update: I am now 31 weeks 4 days. The babies are growing (and growing), and every ultrasound confirms that all is well in utero. At my scan on Thursday, the ultrasound tech estimated that each baby is weighing in at approximately 4lbs 1oz. That’s over 8 pounds of baby! Neither of my kids ever reached 8lbs while on the inside. I’m getting a little uncomfortable (read: very, very uncomfortable but embarrassed to complain about it), and I honestly have no idea how my belly is going to make it another 6 weeks. Or my bladder. Or my internal organs.

Nuzzling head to head.

Nuzzling head to head.

The babies are currently both breech, nuzzling each other with their heads up in my ribs. Baby A needs to flip head down if I want to have any prayer of delivering vaginally, but since they are the same size, Baby B can remain breech and we’ll try for a vertex/breech delivery. I’m remaining optimistic (read: delusional); the ultrasound tech said there is still plenty of fluid around each of them, which means the little girl still has room to flip. Lots of down-dogs for me! I’ve also read that doing handstands in a pool could help a baby flip. Fun! And probably less hazardous than handstands on dry land.

The dads were in town a couple weeks ago for a quick visit. It was just lovely, as usual. And now that they live in Los Angeles, it’s less of a schlep for them to get up here. We began our visit at a check-up. My OB practically squealed when she saw the dads! She is so into this whole process. Some Kaiser OBs are not like OBs at other practices–there are OBs who do clinical work, seeing patients in their office, and there are OBs who work in the hospital, delivering babies. My doctor never got privileges at the hospital because she knew she wanted just clinical work. But she told us at our appointment the other day that she will apply for privileges so she can assist at the delivery! Talk about flattering! Now I just gotta keep the buggers in until the paperwork goes through.

After the doctor, we had lunch then headed over to the daddies’ hotel to hang out and talk about the birth plan. They are so patient, kind, and supportive in my delusion that I will be able to have a vaginal delivery. Gil also talked me through a C-section step by step in intricate, bloody detail. Really, I’m just terrified of drugs, so the thought of getting a spinal and having to take painkillers afterwards scares the crap out of me. A few days after the visit, I found out that a mom of one of Ramona’s classmates is an anesthesiologist at Kaiser. She very kindly talked with me about my concerns and made some suggestions. I’m hoping she’ll be on duty when I go in–it’ll be a party in the OR with her, my OB, and the daddies. Who says major abdominal surgery can’t be fun?

The next day, after amazing french toast a la Tomer, the dads and I headed off to get some 3D ultrasound pictures taken. I’m a little farther along than most women are when they get these photos done, and I’m much more full of baby than a woman with a singleton, so the babies look a little, well, squished. But their adorableness is undeniable, and maybe it’s just me, but the fact that they are both using their placentas as pillows is just too damn cute.

Last bit of news: I am officially off work! Friday was my last day. I am now a lady of leisure. Bon bon, anyone?

Thanks for your patience with my long absence. Coming soon–a reflection on my 15 minutes of (somewhat awkward) fame. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can peruse this article from the j. weekly and this blog post from Kveller, both published in the same week.

The Halfway Mark (in which the daddies feed me very well)

It’s Thanksgiving today. I’m sitting in my mother-in-law’s dining room, listening to my raucous family in the next room, laughing, playing games, and (for the moment) entertaining my children. I’d like to say that I’m sitting here quietly reflecting on all the things I have to be thankful for (spoiler alert: quite a lot), but who am I kidding? I am sitting here grabbing a few moments of peace while trying to digest the fourth helping of mashed potatoes I’ve had today. Have you ever had the potato-sweats? It’s like the meat-sweats, only saltier.

This is the first moment I’ve had to reflect on the past week, which was pretty incredible. The visit from the daddies included our anatomy scan, a meeting with the hospital, trips to Toys R Us and Buy Buy Baby, lots and lots of meals, and a talk at the synagogue, all compounded by some ridiculousness at work. What struck me the most was how close I felt to the daddies, how comfortable it was just to be with them. We’ve only met in person once before at our match meeting, but the events of the past several months (you know…me getting knocked up with their babies) have made us like family. I was so sad to see them go, and not just because they kept me so well fed.

Their visit began with a quick tour of the JCC where they are quite famous amongst my coworkers. Then they took me and Mike out to dinner at La Fondue, where we enjoyed a long, lingering meal, sometimes chatting about the babies but mostly just chatting about nothing in particular, enjoying each other’s company.

Selfie at the doctor before our appointment.

The next morning, the three of us grabbed some breakfast (which I insisted on paying for to assuage my guilt for the very expensive pots of cheese and chocolate from the night before). Then we headed to the doctor for the much anticipated anatomy scan. This is the scan where the tech measures every little part of each fetus, and it was incredible to watch. I could see the folds of their brains, the texture of their kidneys, every little bone in their hands and feet. This was the first ultrasound the daddies got to see first-hand, and I reveled in every little gasp, sigh, and comment. It felt so good to have them there with me, sharing in this pregnancy.

A beautiful shot of Baby B.

A beautiful shot of Baby B.

“Do you have any guesses about the sexes?” the tech asked.

“We already know Baby B is a boy,” I replied. “Gil thinks A is a boy, too, and Tomer thinks it’s a girl.”

“Well, Tomer is right!,” she said. “Baby A is a girl!” That’s when the waterworks really started. Gil and Tomer both began texting their families, spreading the news.

The daddies proudly displaying the roll of ultrasound pics.

The daddies proudly displaying the roll of ultrasound pics.

The rest of the scan went quickly, and we met with the perinatologist briefly. Both fetuses are developing wonderfully, and the doctor said my cervix looks beautiful. It’s not every day a girl gets a compliment about her cervix!

After the scan, we popped over to Labor and Delivery to speak with the nurse manager about the logistics of the birth itself. Turns our Kaiser is pretty accommodating. I will have to deliver in the OR (apparently standard procedure for twins), and normally only one other person is allowed to be present. For us, they will let both dads be in the delivery room. The only bummer is that Mike can’t be in there, so I don’t get a support person. But I have a feeling Tomer will want to be up near my head anyhow (because really, who wants to see all that?), and he can probably shout, “Breathe!” as well as anyone. Once we’re in the postpartum ward, the daddies will get their own room next to mine, and the babies will room in with them. They can be brought to me to nurse or, if I’m recovering well, I can pop next door. Just one big party! Hopefully, after a few days, we will all be released at the same time.

After the meeting at the hospital, the daddies dropped me back off at work (for a verrry long evening, it turned out), and then met Mike and the kids at Toys R Us. They ended up with an awesome remote control car. All Gil would tell me about the evening was that he was impressed with Mike’s patience and parenting skills. Ummm…uh oh. The next day, I played hooky from work and, after yet another delicious meal out, I took the daddies to Buy Buy Baby to give them the lowdown on baby gear.

Next came Shabbat dinner, cooked by Tomer and my mom. Delicious, of course. Once again, just like back in June, the daddies blended right in with my family. The next morning, I headed over to Beth David to give my talk. I was really nervous, not so much because I was worried about people’s reactions to surrogacy, but mostly because I hate public speaking. It went really well, though. I was glad I didn’t prepare much because it ended up feeling really natural. The rabbi started things off with some basic thoughts about the conservative movement’s position on surrogacy (mostly positive), then he turned it over to me. I told the basic outline of my story so far and then opened it up to questions. I told people they could ask me anything, and they did, although no one was disrespectful. Everyone seemed really interested, and I was really proud to be an advocate for this beautiful process.

After one last meal that evening, it was time to say goodbye. I can’t believe I won’t see the dads again until the birth! Tomer made a few hints that he might think about coming to stay a few weeks early in late March, just to be safe. I hope he decides to do that, for a couple of reasons. I am terrified that I will go into labor early and the dads won’t be here for the birth. What gets me through all those hard evenings is thinking about that moment the babies are born, when I will get to hand these amazing people their children. I think I would be devastated if they miss it. Oh, and less selfishly, I want Gil and Tomer to have the experience of watching their kids be born. I also think it would be awesome for at least one of them to be around, in the trenches, those last few weeks. Those of you who have been through a pregnancy (as either the preggo or the preggo’s partner) know that those last few weeks are some of the most intense. The aches, the pains, and the fluids that leak out of embarrassing places. The insatiable hunger and the maddening inability to eat more than a few bites because your stomach is smushed up against your sternum. The Braxton-Hicks, the cervical pain, the sleeplessness. And the amazing things, too. The strong, reassuring kicks. Watching your belly jump rhythmically when the baby gets the hiccups. I want the daddies to experience all of this. (And I wouldn’t complain if they fed me, too.)

I am halfway done with this journey. It hasn’t all been easy, but it’s been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Here is to smooth sailing in the second half.

“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 Art of Peeing on a Stick

No one knows how to pee on a stick and read the results like a woman who is trying to conceive, in whatever fashion. The acronyms, the lingo, the brand loyalties, the tricks, the insider knowledge–it’s its own subculture.

Here’s what’s important to know: Home pregnancy tests measure hCG in a woman’s urine. HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin (yes, one of our randy little gonad hormones) is the hormone released by the embryo when it implants into the uterus. During the first few weeks of pregnancy, hCG levels rise rapidly, doubling every 36-48 hours or so. The most sensitive pregnancy test (the ones that proudly claim “Know you’re pregnant 6 days before your missed period!” in bright yellow letters on the box) can detect hCG levels of just 25 mlU, and may produce the faintest of pink lines (known as a squinter) as soon as 4 days post transfer or 8 days post conception. The more hCG you are producing, the darker that second little pink will be.

Seeing that line get darker is one of the great joys of POAS (peeing on a stick). This is why we surrogates are keeping First Response and Clear Blue in business. Is it necessary to POAS twice a day for two weeks straight? Perhaps not, but it definitely gives you a feeling of control over something that is entirely out of your control. It gives you something to do when you can, in fact, do nothing.

I was perplexed when I first began lurking on the surrogate Facebook page and saw how obsessed these women are with POAS. Post-transfer, women would post a picture of a stick every day, twice a day, asking for second opinions about squinters and celebrating darkening lines. But, man, the first few days after my transfer, I began to totally understand.

Here is the first half of the Facebook thread 3 days post-transfer, just to give you a taste of the POAS culture.

screenshot

And, without further ado, here are my first 5 sticks, beginning with 3 days post-transfer.

hpt

You totally see the squinter on 4dpt, right?!

So… I’m knocked up! Now the only question that remains is how many?

And now we wait.

Embryo transfer complete. The next phase in the process is the hardest: waiting. I am scheduled for a beta blood test next Thursday to confirm pregnancy (or, ya know, to confirm no pregnancy). That’s 10 days–an eternity. As hard as it is for me, I can only imagine that it’s a trillion times harder for the daddies. Tomer is off in Germany at a family function while Gil is home in Texas, working. Their active role in this process took all of 5 minutes last Wednesday when they made their, ahem, deposits. Now they have to just sit back (or, more realistically, pace aimlessly) and put their trust in modern medicine and my body.

I bought six home pregnancy tests, and I told myself I cannot use them until Friday, 4 days post transfer. That is still really early, so I expect a few days of negatives, but testing feels like doing something when in reality there is nothing to do. All I can do is take my meds and think sticky thoughts for those little embies.

Here is a photo essay of the journey so far. (Please excuse the dark photos; there was no flash allowed in the clinic.)

dinner at the airportAt the airport, having a fancy virgin drink to celebrate my hopeful virgin conception.

pregnant lampThe first thing I noticed at our swanky hotel was this slightly pregnant lamp. (Would it create some bad karma to steal it? Because I am feeling very tempted. If anyone is having trouble deciding what to get me for my next birthday, I would like this lamp, please.)

orange sharps containerForgot your sharps container at home? No problem! Use a handy orange, instead. (The orange can also be used as a practice butt for your mother who is a little too nervous for comfort about giving you your injections.

on the table, waitingWaiting for Dr. Ringler, mesmerized by a blank ultrasound machine.

IMG_4669The lab technician preparing the embryos. One giant incubator for two tiny embies. The doctor said the embryos are “beautiful.”

Dr. Ringler and my legsDr. Ringler lit up by the glow of my nether regions. He inserted a semi-thick catheter through my cervix and into my uterus then slid a tiny catheter containing the embryos in a little bit of fluid inside. Then he released the embryos with the guidance of the ultrasound. It took less than 10 minutes.

Feet up.And now for 24 hours of this.