Saturday, January 29, 2011

I came, I saw, I testified

I tried to look this up in an online Latin translator. I got Veni, Vidi, Testifi. Somehow not as impressive sounding as Veni, Vidi, Vici....but I did that too. ;) The best thing about doing this was meeting two other families testifying on behalf of this bill. We each had slightly different stories, but each of us was passionate about what we were speaking about, and each of us could relate to the others' stories. So here it is. It's a bit long, and some of it was taken from previous blog entries so it may look familiar but if you have the time, it may be worth a read. Right now it's getting past the House Judiciary Committee. After that it will go to a full vote of the House. The bill made it that far last year. If it passes that, then it will go to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That was where the bill died last year. If you are a resident of Washington, I urge you to send your House representative a quick e-mail or give them a quick call voicing your support for HB 1267. If you go to and put in your address, it will tell you your district legislators. Then, just click on each legislator's homepage, and on that page there will be a link to e-mail them. If I can go all the way to Olympia to testify, it would be great if you could send a quick e-mail to your house representatives.

OK, so the testimony:
Chairman, committee members, thank you for allowing me to speak to you here. For the record, my name is Tiffany Sparks-Keeney, and this is my husband, Darrell Aaron Keeney.

In 2007, while in the middle of graduate school, I began to develop some strange symptoms. My muscles began to tighten uncontrollably, sort of like a charley horse that won’t let go, I began to trip over my feet, and I developed a tremor in my hands. After 2 years of seeing multiple neurologists, physiatrists, neurogeneticists, physical therapists and other medical professionals in several states, they arrived at the diagnosis of generalized dystonia, in my case, a condition that causes muscles in my body to tighten uncontrollably, causing extreme pain, and limiting mobility. And in my case, slowly progressive. There is no known cause or cure, only ways of managing the symptoms.

My husband and I had been planning on having children when we both completed graduate school, however all of a sudden it wasn’t quite as simple as what they explained during high school sex ed. No one could say for certain how my body would be affected by carrying a child, during that time, or afterwards. Because I have a very rapid heart rate as part of the dystonia, there was a lot of concern. Another major concern was the medications I was taking. After 3 years of living with dystonia I had finally found a combination of medications that worked for me and allowed me to function fairly normally. Getting pregnant would require me to come off of some of those medications. But what do you do when the medications that make your life livable can poison your developing child? And the additional stress caused to my body by going off the medications would cause extreme stress for the developing child. What do you do when your body is unreliable and not a safe haven for a baby?

Well, first you cry. A lot. I'd always dreamed of being pregnant. Sure, I wasn't looking forward to the morning sickness, or not being able to see my shoes, or things like that, but I wanted the experience. I wanted to share that experience with my child, to be able to tell them stories about what it was like when I was pregnant with them. We had dreamed of having several children, and now what were we to do? Then you question God. You ask him why, over and over again. You pray, you get angry, you get jealous of every friend that gets pregnant so easily. Then, after a year in our case, you come to a place of acceptance. You realize that while 99.99% of the population isn’t in your boat, this is the boat you are in, so you can either sink, or plug the leaks, grab the oars and start moving again.

Looking into surrogacy, we found there were many options. The least expensive was to go overseas, to India, or to Guatemala. We weren’t interested in engaging in any exploitative practices. That left us looking state side. Unfortunately we didn’t have a friend or relative who could carry the child. My sister has never had children, and is thus ineligible. None of my friends were able to at this time. We were amazed to find that Washington State does not allow surrogacy for compensation. Thus, we looked to Oregon where we have found an amazing woman to help us become parents.

The expense of surrogacy is tremendous, including the costs of in-vitro fertilization. Having to use a surrogate in Oregon has added an undue burden to our costs and to our time. Aaron and I have travelled to Oregon 3 times since this process began, to meet agencies, interview potential surrogates, and look at hospitals. We’re becoming very familiar the Amtrak and Portland regional transportation! Our surrogate has travelled to Seattle 4 times since this began, in one instance, three times in one week, and this is all before we have conceived a child. Between hotel, train tickets, and food expenses, each of these trips has cost between $700-$1000. There is also the time cost. It takes roughly 3 ½ hours to travel one way to Portland, so at a minimum, going to Oregon necessitates taking a day off of work. And, during the pregnancy, we expect to make many more trips. The cost, however, isn’t what it’s really about. Aaron and I would mortgage our house if that’s what it took. The real cost is in terms of bonding with our child.

It is absolutely devastating for someone who always wanted to have a house full of children to not be able to carry a child. And with the distance between here and Oregon, the opportunities for my husband and I to experience the beautiful process of a pregnancy with our child through another woman are going to be limited. 3+ hours away seems so far. I'd always dreamed of being pregnant. Unfortunately, while in many surrogacy arrangements intended parents do attend all of the doctor's/midwife's visits and whatnot, with our surrogate being located in Oregon that's going to prevent us from being as involved in the pregnancy as we both want. We won't get to see a pregnant belly slowly growing week by week. I know many of you on the committee are parents. How many parents cry during the first ultrasound showing a beating heart, or anxiously wait for their weekly check-ups towards the end of pregnancy where doctors let them know everything is ok? How many could sit for hours with a hand placed on a pregnant belly, feeling the fluttering of the tiny growing child? If I could, I would visit the woman carrying our child every week or more. I would bring her home baked cookies, ok, actually I stink at baking, but I would bring her fuzzy socks and Ben and Jerry’s. I would take many pictures and write journal entries so that when my child is old enough to ask what it was like when they were growing in "another woman's tummy" I would have great stories for them and pictures to share. However, with the distance we will have to travel to visit our surrogate I don't know how much of that is going to be possible; certainly not enough to fill our desire to know our child and support our surrogate. Of course, besides the emotional impact and desire to bond, support and nurture both the growing child and the wonderful woman who will carry our child, there are also all of the concerns of the possibilities of emergencies during the pregnancy when we are hours away. And then, with the distance, we may miss the most precious moment of all, our child’s birth. Members of the committee, imagine how it would have felt for you to have missed your child’s birth.

The current statute places an undue burden on couples struggling with infertility. We aren’t worried about our figures, or want to take the easy way out. Indeed, this is the hardest journey we have had to make. Gestational surrogacy for medical reasons is socially acceptable, my friends are thrilled at reading about our journey on our blog. It is acceptable in a legal sense, much of case law has been decided in other states. Not only would this bill make gestational surrogacy with compensation legal, but it puts in place strict guidelines, safe guarding intended parents and gestational surrogates. You know, when you get to the place of needing a gestational surrogate, it’s a very low point. I felt like we had exhausted every alternative and hit a wall at every turn. First my illness, then not being able to carry a child, then not being able to adopt, then being told that Washington State wouldn’t allow compensated surrogacy. Each of these slams into the wall makes you just a little bit sadder. Washington State can’t change my illness. Washington State can’t change the fact that I can’t carry a pregnancy. But what you have the power to do is help couples like Aaron and me, who have been slammed again and again, and make this path on the journey towards having a child a little more gentle.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Citizen Participation in Government

Tomorrow is the big day! In an earlier blog entry (August 4th) I talked about writing one of our state representatives about wanting to help with trying to get gestational surrogacy with compensation legalized in our state. As it stands right now, someone in Washington who wants to use a gestational surrogate with any monetary compensation for the surrogate can't, it's criminalized. HB 1267 - 2011-12 would decriminalize it and set specific parameters on surrogacy in Washington. In many states right now there aren't specific statutes on the books allowing surrogacy, but there also aren't specific statutes prohibiting surrogacy. Those states function in a sort of surrogacy limbo. People in those states often engage in surrogacy, but if something were to go before the courts, neither party has much protection and their contracts could be essentially meaningless. This bill sets up specific rules, spelling out exactly what is allowed. It protects both the intended parents, and the surrogate.

So here I go. I've always said if you don't vote, you can't complain about the decisions our lawmakers make. And I guess I'm taking it one step further. If there's something that's really important to change, then it's important for people who have a vested interest to stand up and speak. There's a part of me that really doesn't want to do this. I've got a bunch of stuff I have to get done for work, it's about a 1 1/2 hour drive to get there, and who knows what it will be like afterwards when there's traffic, I'm not sure what I'm going to say, excuses, excuses, excuses. But, when I really got to thinking about it, this is an opportunity for me to actually have a chance to make a difference for something I believe in. Granted, it's not as simple as writing a letter or giving money to a cause, things I've done in the past. But, I figure it's time to step up to the plate. In 20 years I want to be able to look back at my life and say that when I had the opportunity to make a difference I didn't let it pass by, I stepped up.

So tomorrow I'll be in front of the Washington State House Judiciary Committee with Aaron by my side. Wish me luck, and pray for me!