Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yin & Yang

In traditional Chinese philosophy, Yin Yang represent all the opposite principles found in the universe.

"Yin and Yang are mutually-arising, interdependent, and continuously transforming, one into the other. One could not exist without the other, for each contains the essence of the other. Night becomes day, and day becomes night....Such is the nature...of everything in the relative world." -Elizabeth Reninger

I've been thinking about this concept a lot over the past week. The balance of the universe. The ability of horrible things to exist at the same time as wonderful things. The ability to feel devastated and feel hope and excitement at the same time. Aaron and I definitely had a Yin Yang week last week. On Wednesday evening Aaron got laid off. There was no warning, no real severance to speak of, and it was effective immediately. Thus we found ourselves mired in uncertainty, confusion and despair. Aaron's work colleagues are like family to him, and he loved his job. Then, on Friday morning, we found out that we were pregnant! I had always imagined that I would be over the moon with happiness, and while I am delighted and excited, I'm also cautious. In 36 hours we had gone from sobbing to dancing. And we continued to sob while we danced. The interconnectedness and ability of two seemingly opposite emotions to exist at once was never more apparent to me than last Friday.

And perhaps that's where my caution comes from. I wish, I wish, I wish I could just be solely ecstatically happy. Don't get me wrong, I AM thrilled and happy, but, experience over the last several years has taught me that being cautious might just be the healthiest thing for me emotionally. Maybe if you've never been on a journey like this you can't understand. With illness, surrogacy, and, frankly, with life, I've learned there are ups and downs. Everyone knows that. And so while I sit here, thinking positive thoughts, and feeling happy, I'm also not releasing myself to 100% joyful abandon.

The thing is, at this stage in pregnancy, about 1 month, most people never announce they are pregnant. Things happen during the 1st trimester. And maybe because I'm a pediatric OT I'm acutely aware of things that can go wrong throughout pregnancy. Maybe I'm removed from feeling totally connected to what's happening because there aren't any changes going on in MY body. With a phone call, we find out we're pregnant. Nothing has changed around me or in me as evidence of a pregnancy, other than that phone call.

I think I'll feel a lot better on April 14th. On the 14th we travel to Portland for the first ultrasound. We'll get to see "Lisa," and our baby's beating heart. Or maybe our babies beating hearts. We transferred 2 embryos, so who knows what we might see. For the safety of the pregnancy, for Lisa and for the baby, we're hoping for a singleton, but if God has twins in the cards for us, then that's the road we'll travel.

It's funny, I thought that when we found out we were pregnancy I'd write a completely joyous blog. But I guess when you've already been through so much trying to get to this point, the positive pregnancy test is just another step on the road to being a parent. Instead of being the beginning of a journey, for most couples who get the positive pregnancy test, for us, between working with a surrogate and doing fertility treatments, it's just the middle part of the journey. And that's what I keep reminding myself, this is a journey. But the 14th will be a big day. Maybe I'll be able to breathe a little bit easier. Maybe I'll be able to let my hope grow a bit. Until then, I wait with cautious optimism.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Faith and Hope

Today is Aaron's and my 6th wedding anniversary, so it seems appropriate to post today. Above you'll see our blastocysts (that's what embryos are called after 5 days) that were transferred on Wednesday. It truly is amazing. The one on the right is a full blastocyst. It's about 200 cells. The darker mass of cells on the right is what will form the baby. The smoother cells to the left form the amniotic fluid. The thicker cells around the outside for the placenta. How amazing is that?!?!?! I could stare at this picture for hours and marvel at the intricacy, the ingenuity, the beauty. This picture was taken a couple hours before the transfer, and when the transfer was taking place we could see the one on the right emerging from it's cellular cocoon, "hatching" as they call it, and sliding out of its shell. A 5 day transfer like we were able to do this time has a greater likelihood of success, as they are able to choose the most developed embryos for transfer. In our case, on day 5 we had 3 embryos, one at the full blast stage (the one on the right) and two that weren't quite there (like the one on the left). After much thought and prayer, we decided to transfer 2. I'm really glad we did, because the next day we got some sad news. The 3rd embryo never developed into a blastocyst, and thus could not be frozen. So it's these two we're praying for right now. Aaron suggested we call them "blasty" and "cysty". I guess I'm more poetic, as I've decided to refer to them as "Faith" and "Hope" from Hebrews 11:1: Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

The days leading up the transfer were crazy! Our surrogate and her family came into town on Sunday, expecting a Monday transfer and then a return to Portland on Tuesday. On Monday we got the news that we had enough embryos to wait until a Wednesday transfer. Thus "Lisa" and her family stayed in town for the Wednesday transfer and returned to Portland on Thursday. I felt so bad about the change in plans, but Lisa was great about it, and their family made a mini-vacation out of it. Perhaps best, Aaron and I got to spend a lot of time with them, dinner on Sunday and Tuesday, hanging out on Wednesday. It was wonderful. Tuesday was the hearing in the Senate committee...and let me tell you, that's a whole different blog entry coming up! The "Anti"s for our bill were out in full force spewing rhetoric that made me cringe. What was supposed to be a quick hearing lasted about 2 1/2 hours with a half an hour prep before. But, as I said, that's another blog entry. If you'd like a preview, another woman has already blogged about it: here.

The transfer itself was more uncomfortable this time. Lisa has to have a full bladder, and this time it was VERY full. The pressure of the wonderful "duckbill" holding things open, the tube for inserting the blasts, and the ultrasound wand pressing down were a bit much. And yet, I got a flash forward to 9 months from now. Lisa was grimacing and I reached out my hand and held hers. It felt so natural, and boy does she have a grip! I'll have to exercise my hand squeezing skills! It was wonderful to not just be an observer and watch our little embry-babies make their journey into her womb, but to really be in the moment with her. Breathing with her, following her lead, supporting her, and being actively involved in the process, not just a passive observer.

So now we wait. Next Friday is the date when we will get word. Until then, we pray, and hang on to faith and hope with confidence and assurance.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cheaper by the half dozen....

Someone today asked me how I was feeling. (ok, it was the nurse from YFCF21C) I replied, "Well not bad. Actually I just feel like someone repeatedly stuck a very long needle through an orifice that doesn't typically receive needles, and picked off small objects from my innards multiple, multiple times yesterday. I'm sure you know the feeling." Maybe a bit snarky, but the truth.

Yesterday I was really disappointed. Although I had 12 good looking follicles, they only managed to retrieve 7 eggs. The doctor said that she tried each follicle several times, but, from what I understood through my still somewhat foggy from anesthetic state, if the egg doesn't retrieve easily, then it's likely not mature and not going to fertilize anyway. Today, however, we received good news. Of the 7 eggs retrieved, 6 were mature and they all fertilized! That makes it twice as many as last time. We went from a fertilization rate of 60% to 100%. So maybe the acupuncture and herbs did do something! So we currently have 6 embry-babies doing their best to divide, conquer and grow in a petri-dish. The transfer is set for Monday. Grooooooooow little embry-babies!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Veins of Steel

For some reason, although my ovaries seem to be cooperating more this round, my veins have decided not to cooperate. Each time I go in for an ultrasound to check out how my little Easter baskets are doing, they draw my blood. Now I'll admit, I'm what's known as a "hard stick," in medical language. My veins are deep, move around, and generally try to disappear the minute a needle clears the skin. But the phlebotomist at YFCF21C was phenomenal last round. She managed to get my blood with the first stick each time it was drawn. I even thought that perhaps my "bad vein" days were over and I had entered into a more harmonious, symbiotic relationship with them. Alas, this has not been the case. I've had my blood drawn about 6 times in the last 2 weeks. And only once has it been done with one poke. Neither elbow vein seems to be cooperating this round. Even more distressing, about half the time it's taken 3 pokes to get blood, a try in each elbow, and finally, with much sighing on the part of the phlebotomist, moving to my hand.

So here's my concern. Let's say I pass out at the grocery store or something (I don't anticipate this happening, I' m just posting a scenario) and they call the paramedics. One look at my tummy will reveal a constellation of needle marks and bruises. At least 40 at this point. Then they'll look at my arms. My elbows are covered with needle marks. One look at my hands reveals the same. Thus, instead of searching for a deeper medical cause for my passing out, they'll label me a junkie, give me some narcan and toss me in the back of an ambulance. I mean, at least I look like one of the "Snooty, Upper Crust, Eastside junkies," but with the needle marks, a junkie nonetheless. I can see this case of mistaken identity leading to either tragic consequences, or a great number in the musical.

I can't believe how much is going on at this point. OK, first of all, "Lisa's" lining. It's looking ok, but she's travelling from Portland to Seattle on Thursday to get that all checked out, and I'll be her wheels for her time in town. Then on Friday they're doing the retrieval. The excellent news is that I may have as many as....12 good follicles by then! Yes friends, God asks us to pray specifically, and praying for a dozen may have done the trick! The doctor keeps remarking that this, "is a very different cycle from last time." I don't know if it was the acupuncture, the herbs (oh gosh, another thing someone might overhear and think I'm a junkie!) the prayers, or just simply another month, but things are looking good. With the retrieval on Friday, depending on how the embryos look, the transfer will take place on either Monday or Wednesday. Here's where things get a bit complicated. On Monday, at 10:00, I have my every-3-months-oh-how-I-love-them botox injections. Which means I reduce down on my medications and go way up on the pain scale. (oh man, I get about 20 shots then. Yet another reason I will be mistaken for a junkie in my supermarket scenario) Anyhow, this should be ok because my physical labor will be done by then as far as baby-making goes. But it will mean that I have this am appt. then off to the train station to pick up Lisa, then off to YFCF21C, etc. On Tuesday I've been invited to testify to a Senate committee on behalf of the bill that passed out of the House. Then, if it's a day 5 transfer, I work most of Wednesday and will have to figure out a way to get around that one.

So things are super busy...but I also have much to be thankful for. For how well this cycle is going. For the support I'm getting from my family and friends. For our wonderful surrogate and her family. For the bill that I can speak on behalf of. For a medication like Botox which, although painful, does wonders for me.

And perhaps, for understanding paramedics who will look beyond the myriad track marks and consider the fact that, perhaps, I am not a junkie.

What you can expect is updates as often as I can over the next week to let you know how things are going, and what specific prayer needs are. Right now I've got 4 follicles that need to grow about 2 mm more to possibly be mature, and Lisa needs a safe journey to Seattle and back to Portland on Thursday.

Oh yes, and if that wasn't enough, I've taken a real step out now (not that I've exactly been hiding in the shadows up until this point or anything). Last night I received a call from the Seattle Times. They asked if they could interview me for an article they are writing about the bill currently going through the legislature. With Aaron's blessing, I was interviewed this afternoon. I really think this is the right thing to do. I think more people need to understand what gestational surrogacy is, and isn't, and the challenges that can arrive when Washington State makes it so difficult to do. At the same time, I've basically opened up our story for anyone who picks up a paper to hear. Sure a blog can reach a wide audience, but mostly it's my friends and family who are reading this, and other interested parties who have heard about it through word of mouth. Now, anyone from my kindergarten teacher, to the grocery store clerk (the one who is going to respond when I pass out in the grocery store), to someone very opposed to surrogacy is going to see my name associated with it. So I'm a little bit anxious about that. As I said, I think it's the right thing to do, but I'm still a little anxious about it....and the needle marks....all over my body. Thank goodness it's still long sleeve weather.

Friday, March 4, 2011

One Little, Two Little, Three Little Ovum.....

The numbers are in, and they are looking good! It looks like right now I've got about 10 good follicles. Last time I had 6 follicles and we got 5 mature eggs, and 3 embryos. I'm not all that good at math, but intuitively I know that having at least 10 good looking follicles is better at this point. I don't know if it was the acupuncture, or the viatamins, or the new protocol, or just luck and prayers, but inspite of all my worrying, things are looking good! Frankly, I'd like a dozen. It just sounds like a good number of eggs to have. Eggs are meant to come in dozens, at least, according to the grocery store. So I'm praying for an even dozen, and hoping that's not too greedy.

Now our concern is "Lisa," our surrogate. She gets checked, just like I do, except instead of follicles they're looking at the thickness of her uterine lining. Right now, it's not as thick as the doctor would like to see, that is, according to the doctor in Portland. Thus, like last time, she's probably going to have to travel up to Seattle to get her lining checked up here. We want to have a nice, thick uterine lining to create a hospitable, warm environment for our embryos to snuggle in.

With the size of my follicles right now, the retrieval will more than likely be Thursday-Saturday of next week, with the transfer 3 or 5 days after that.

In the meantime, I continue to shoot up, with 3-4 shots per day. The dots on my belly remind me of stars in the sky, and I almost want to create my own personal constellations out of them :)

Thanks so much for all of your prayers!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rough Day....Good Friend

Right now things are rough. In addition to the stress of the IVF cycle and the surrogacy, I've got a lot going on in my life outside of the surrogacy, and dealing with raging hormones is not helping at all. I'm at the point where I want to throw my hands up in the air and shout at no one in particular, "Seriously? Seriously? There's got to be something more to throw at me! Because I'm not giving up! On anything! Even if I'd really like to! So...since I'm not giving up, Lord can you please just make things a little easier?"

So I've decided to take a page from my friend Michael's blog. He's the inspiration for my blog. He's also going through a surrogacy right now and began blogging about it. And after reading his, I began to blog, and, with encouragement, decided to share my blog with my friends, as he had been doing with his. And one day, he wrote the kindest blog entry about me (excerpt: Michaela's (my pseudonym on his blog) blog has been so helpful to me. She finds humor in pain like I can't do. She finds hope in adversity which I can't always find. She finds happiness in a frustrating hand that life has dealt her. I have definitely used her texts and calls and blog to help me through rough times.)

I was actually re-reading his entry today to remind me that I can make it through all of this. So I thought one way to turn my attitude around was to talk about his experience. Because he's been so great for me, going through this.

Michael and I went to Northwestern together, eons ago. Of course, he had no idea who I was because I was 2 years younger than him in the theater program, and who pays attention to those that are in the years behind them, unless they are particularly threatening? But I noticed him. And years later, after returning from Disney, and deciding to pursue ASL in addition to finishing my degree at Northwestern, I ran into him again at Columbia College in downtown Chicago, where he was studying interpreting. Now, here's his version of how we re-met, taken from his blog:

Picture it: Columbia College. Summer of 2001 (I think). A hallway. A young girl comes up to me and says...

Girl: Is your name Michael?
Me: Yeah. (She looks up to me because she's a newbie and I'm about to graduate.)
Girl: Is your last name H____?
Me: Yep. (She knew me because I was such a phenomenal interpreting student!)
Girl: Did you go to Northwestern?
Me: I did. (Hmmmm...what's going on?)
Girl: You majored in theater, right?
Me: Ummm...yeah. How'd you know? (Should I be calling the cops?)
Girl: You graduated in 199...7?
Me: OK...why are you stalking me???

OK, he didn't actually say the last line, but I guess that was going through his head. Although I looked so cute and innocent back then, how could he possibly think I was stalking him? So we were friends there, where he helped me out several times as I got into scrapes with the professors...usually accidentally. We lost touch after I left the Chicago area, and then, years later, we bumped into each other on Facebook. Well, God has a grand plan for everything, because he began a blog about surrogacy, since he was starting his surrogacy journey. And I just happened to see a link to it on Facebook right when Aaron and I were beginning our surrogacy journey. Seriously now, how many people go to the same University, then years later are at interpreting school at the same time, then years later begin surrogacy journeys at the same time?

Anyhow, along this crazy ride, Michael has been an amazing support to me. I've had friends facing infertility, friends doing IVF, but he's the only one who is doing surrogacy. And being a unique experience in and of itself, having a friend to share the journey is incredible. Along the way Michael has always encouraged me, telling me things are going to turn out ok and, "Just think, after all of this, the teenage years will be nothing!" Whenever I think I've got it tough I think about his journey. While my uterus isn't a good home for a baby, and my ovaries don't work as well as we'd like them to, at least I've got my own ovaries. Michael has to work with a surrogate and with an egg donor. And, at this point he's had 2 failed transfers. And run out of embryos so he's starting again with egg donor #2 whose cycle just got pushed back until May. And he's still encouraging me. Mostly, his blog cracks me up.

We've decided when all this is over, to pay off all of the bills, we're going to write Surrogacy: The Musical, or perhaps Michael and Michaela (similar to Julie and Julia, and where I got my pseudonym), or some other catchy title. We've got it cast for the most part. He wants to play himself, I've picked Amy Adams to play me (I plan to do the choreography), and we've got a host of other A-List actors slated to join the cast (not that they know it yet). We've come up with some catchy song titles like, "Makin' Babies in the 21st Century" (with choreography featuring pipettes and petri dishes), a hilarious cover of "Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof with all new Lyrics, and the showstopping "Pushin' Real Hard," a revival-esque gospel number about the birthing process. Of course, at the rate this is going, we may have an epic on our hands.

So can you do me a favor? The next time you say a prayer for Aaron and I, would you please pray for Michael too? Because he's an amazing guy who really deserves this to go right for him the next round.

And I guess I accomplished my goal. Because after writing this, I do feel a little bit better. :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Bill Passed the House!!!

Late last night, after over 2 hours of long debate, SHB 1267 passed off the House floor with a vote of 57-41! That's the bill I testified on. In fact, I was able to find the link to where I testified: My testimony It's fairly lengthy, but I begin talking at about minute 24 if you want to skip to my part. Now on to the next hurdle - the Senate!

A person who was there during the House debate had this to say, "40 amendments were offered but only the 2 offered by the bill's Prime Sponsor Rep. Pedersen were adopted...Rep. Miloscia (D), the member who offers the majority of the amendments, is a VERY strong Catholic and passionate about his beliefs. He feels that the bill is more about "baby selling" and the "slavery of women" then the creation of families. While his fellow Ds may not agree with him I think it is important to note that they let him speak and share his passion with a level of respect. In an environment usually built on conflict and disagreement he was able to stand up within his caucus with a differing opinion."

Now on to the next hurdle - the Senate! The bill continues to be scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, March 15 at 1:30 in the Senate. The hearing should be shorter but after the long House floor debate I think we can expect a bit more opposition on the billThe bill continues to be scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, March 15 at 1:30 in the Senate. The hearing should be shorter but after the long House floor debate I think we can expect a bit more opposition on the bill."
Since the Senate was where the bill didn't pass last year, I'm really hoping I can make the hearing to testify. At this point it's all going to depend on when my egg retrieval date is, and when the transfer to the surrogate is. I'll probably know more about when the retrieval may be on Friday after my appointment, and then about 24 hours after the retrieval, when they've had a chance to see how many embryos we have and their quality, we'll know when we're going to be able to do the transfer.

Whew. It seems like everything is either moving at lightening speed, or at a snail's pace with all of this. Meanwhile, the stimulant hormones are making me pretty irritable and weepy. I'm so glad I don't usually have PMS!