Thanks and Giving

“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.” – W.J. Cameron

I love November.  As a wife, a mother, a veteran, and a lawyer, it’s a season where my passions collide.The air is crisp and fall colors are beautiful – an interlude before the full force of winter and the hectic December holidays.  I use it as a touchstone to remember to give thanks for what we have and give thankfully going forward.

Two holidays bookend the month; Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. This is the first Veteran’s day we’ve celebrate since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”  in September.  As the nation paid tribute to the generations of veterans – nearly 25 million in all – whose commitment to service and sacrifice keeps our nation strong, I stood proudly alongside my partner, Jennifer and our twins Katherine and Christopher.  It’s an amazing feeling to know active duty troops must no longer serve in silence and the contributions of the community are finally recognized and celebrated.  And to also know that every soldier can stand proudly with their own families at parades and on a tarmac.

A uniquely American holiday ends the month, Thanksgiving.  A day where family, friends, and food (and don’t forget football!) come together for a massive, festive, feast.  While we tend to focus on the feast and football, my favorite part of Thanksgiving is gathering over a meal, not over a mountain a gifts. It’s an opportunity to catch up on the year past, to share a laugh, and have a conversation with parents or other aging friends or relatives about their future.
Most importantly, it’s a day to reflect on the the bounty in our lives – our friends and families and our freedoms.

This is the second Thanksgiving Jennifer and I are celebrating as parents.  I am sitting with my deep sense of gratitude – for the healthy children born to us through our surrogate, Brittany.

As we wrap up the month and look forward to Santa season, I encourage you to consider giving a gift that will make an impact on lives. We love and appreciate Brittany’s gift of surrogacy – which obviously made a lifelong impact on our lives – but that’s not for everyone!

Why not make an impact this holiday in the lives of people you don’t even know? There are so many reputable charities focused on helping veterans and their families – as well as organizations that focus on family and fertility.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Operation Homefront – a national organization helping active duty, deployed, and wounded warriors and their families with emergency assistance – financial, food, home and auto repair, and much more.
  • Resolve – the national infertility organization provides support, education, access to research, and political advocacy for all family building options.
  • Colage – a national movement of children, youth, and adults with one or more LGBTQ parent/s, building community and working towards social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.
  • Feeding America – largest national hunger-relief organization with a national network of member food banks providing fresh foods to Americans struggling with hunger, meals for children, and emergency assistance in disasters.
  • Toys for Tots –  US Marine Corps national campaign to collect  new, unwrapped toys  during October, November and December and distribute them as Christmas gifts to needy children in the local community.

Let Thanks and Giving be an everyday part of your life – not just in November, but every month of the year.

Surrogacy Journeys

Our babies, Christopher and Katherine, were born in the spring of 2010. Our book, Getting to Baby, also came into being in the spring of 2011. In it we chronicle our optimistic expectation of easily achieving pregnancy, the disappointments of the world of infertility, the trudge through failed IVF, miscarriage, failed adoption, and then finally our joyful SUCCESS through surrogacy.

Ours is just one story with a happy ending. Every year, hundreds of others forge their own successful paths through surrogacy. Many have stories just like ours — gay or lesbian couples who find a path to parenthood through the generosity, trust, and love of surrogates and donors.

When you are riding the roller coaster of infertility, adoption, surrogacy, and pregnancy, the support not only of friends and family but of others going through the actual experience is so important. The blogosphere gave us essential information, encouragement, and support  — and is one reason we created GettingToBaby. We want to create a central, collaborative place for the kind of support, referrals, and education we had to really work to find, and really depended upon to make our dream of becoming parents a reality.

I thought I’d share a few great blogs of babies in progress—and babies brought home:

Babies in progress:
Special Delivery follows the journey of Kelli, a gestational surrogate carrying twins for Ian and Troy.  Ian’s sister Leandra donated the eggs, which were fertilized with Troy’s sperm. Kelli is halfway through the pregnancy, and their story is being made into a movie called “More than a Village” by documentary filmmaker Edward McDonald. Follow the film by following Edward on twitter: @edwardmcdonald

Bernadette and Duane share their roller-coaster ride of surrogacy in India at Rasta Less Traveled. We look forward to following their tale to a happy ending.

Babies at home:
George and Farid are the proud parents of Gustavo and Milena, born on November 6, 2011, to gestational surrogate Jeni. Their beautiful story is chronicled on Jeni’s blog Love Makes a Family.

Jeni, Kelli, and Bernadette also list other blogs they follow — so check them out.

Brings a smile to my face.  How about you?

Personhood: An Extreme Attack on Freedom

As a lawyer and a mom of twins conceived via in-vitro using a gestational surrogate, it is with deep personal interest I read about the “personhood” petitions being introduced in all 50 states.  On November 8, Mississippi will be the first state to vote on such an measure, Initiative 26.

Positioned as a “civil rights” issue, these extreme measures target abortion and women’s rights – reaching even further into the private life of women by insisting that all fertilized eggs be defined, and protected, as a person – even  before a pregnancy is validated by a physician.  The consequence of this type of legislation is that it may result in outlawing not only all abortions – but also some forms of contraception and assisted reproductive technologies such as in-vitro fertilization.

The ethics of reproduction is complex and nuanced – as is reproduction and sexuality itself.

When Jennifer and I started our journey to parenthood, we knew we had some intrinsic challenges in out parenting quest – but never in our wildest dreams did we imagine we would go through failed IVF, miscarriage, failed adoption, and finally have a gestational surrogate (name) to bring our babies into the world.

Imagine if such a law were in place in our state or on a federal level. Our dream of parenthood would never be fulfilled. This is not only an issue that involves us individually – it is an issue making headlines in the the presidential race.

Like most Americans, we want to see fewer abortions and believe in adoption. We also stand with a recent nationwide survey where 80% of likely voters that agreed with the statement that “government should not be getting involved in the decision to end a pregnancy, it’s better left to a woman, her family and her faith.”

Jennifer and I deeply believe in the sanctity of life.  We also believe that defining a fertilized zygote as a “person” does nothing to enhance that sanctity – it only serves to devalue the living breathing men and women faced with individual choices about their futures when a pregnancy is contemplated, a possibility, or established.  And with full legal rights, the loss or destruction of a fertilized egg could be classified as murder. This is a truly frightening prospect.

To learn  more about the important and timely issue, check out recent blog posts and articles by RESOLVE, Sarika Bansai,  Mississippians for Healthy Families, and NARAL.

Showing our Support!

We’ve been waiting for weeks to be able to announce this, but now it’s time!  Getting to Baby is the official Book Sponsor of The Mid-Year Conference of The American Academies of Adoption Attorneys and Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys. We are so excited and honored to be a supportive vendor of this conference which is so close to our hearts.

The Mid-Year Conference of The American Academies of Adoption Attorneys and Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys
November 3-4, 2011
The Sir Francis Drake Hotel
450 Powell St. | San Francisco, California | 94102

The theme “Exploring the new frontier of assisted reproduction law” is near and dear to us, as many of you know. Our greatest two joys (our twins Christopher and Katherine) came into our family through surrogacy, so we’re eager to hear more about this new frontier!

The Conference will be held in San Francisco, early November, (3-4) which is perfect seasonal weather in the Bay area. The two-day event will cover topics such as rights, contracts, ethics, medical advancements, trends in assisted reproduction, international surrogacy and so much more. Read more on the event agenda.

There’s something so uplifting about being surrounded by like-minded individuals, who share the journey while having their unique experience. We encourage all ART professionals and adoption attorneys who are not Academy members to register for this exciting event. We think you’ll find the agenda was created to address the interests of both Academy Fellows seeking CLE credit as well as professionals in all fields of adoption and ART practice.

For more information on the conference, visit their website .

You can even find the American Academies of Adoption Attorney’s on Facebook.

We hope to see you there – we’ll be showing the video of our journey, on Friday the 4th before lunch, and each attendee to the conference will receive a complimentary copy of our book “Getting to Baby” chronicling our experiences that finally led us to not just one baby, but two!

And if you need more reasons why you should consider attending, here’s their top ten list:

TOP TEN REASONS TO REGISTER FOR THE THE ///A AND //ARTA MID-YEAR CONFERENCE NOW!
SAN FRANCISCO, CA  NOVEMBER 3-4, 2011

1. Summer’s over. It’s time to plan your fall getaway.

2. Finally, the kids are back in school. You can concentrate again. Concentrate on planning your escape to San Francisco!

3. Did you know the average high temperature in San Francisco in November is 64 degrees? Don’t forget your fleece.

4. The stylish and historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel, conveniently located just off Union Square, is a bargain at $175.00 a night.

5. You don’t want to miss the cutting edge conversation on the frontier of assisted reproduction. The agenda is full of thought-provoking issues and has something for everybody

6. Love Richard Serra’s work? Don’t miss his drawing exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, mere steps from the hotel.

7. The networking cocktail party will be the event of the fall season.

8. Cable cars. They stop right outside the front door of the Sir Francis Drake.

9. Restaurants, from famous to dives and diners. There’s something for everyone! More on eating at a later date.

10. Your ///A and AAARTA buddies. Fun together. Learning together. Life is good.

PBS profiles “Made in India,” a documentary film on surrogacy

A new documentary, “Made in India,” has just been released and was recently profiled on PBS NewsHour. The film, directed and produced by Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha, featured Lisa and Brian Switzer, a couple in Texas who struggled for several years to have a child. Then, due to a medical condition, Lisa had to have a hysterectomy. Unwilling to give up their dream of parenthood — and unable to afford a surrogate mother in the United States — the Switzers sold their home and spent their life savings on PlanetHospital, a medical tourism company that works with surrogate mothers in India.

Also highlighted in the film was Aasia, the woman in Mumbai, India who served as the surrogate for Lisa and Brian. Aasia, who lives in dismal poverty with her three children, was paid $2,000 to carry the Switzer’s child. She could not use her last name and appeared on camera only with her face hidden by a veil to keep her identity a secret from her community.

“What should I say about myself?” said Aasia in the film, through an interpreter. “I used to clean people’s homes before. I’m not educated. I don’t know how to read or write. So this is my life… I’m doing this for my children. A son can earn anywhere, but I want to save this [money] for my daughter.”

The film showed Lisa and Brian rejoicing first at the news of Aasia’s successful pregnancy, and again as they brought home their twin daughters. But when their story was told on The Today Show, they were surprised and hurt by negative comments from others on the Today Show’s website. Several comments accused the Switzers of exploiting Aasia.

In response, Brian Switzer said, “The surrogates are well-compensated in line with their local economy. I have seen poverty unlike anything I could have imagined. And knowing what this process is going to do for the surrogate and her family in the long run makes me realize that this is a very good thing for all parties involved.”

“This woman is carrying a life that I can’t carry. She’s giving me the family I can’t create. I will never, never be able to thank her enough,” said Lisa Switzer.

The filmmakers told PBS, “At the time when we started filming, we noticed that any mainstream conversations around this issue tended to be very polarized: either promoting or condemning the practice. We wanted to bring a nuance to the story that would offer the audience a closer understanding of the intended couple’s and the surrogate’s choices behind their decisions. We wanted to take this intimate journey with all the players involved. Of course, we had no idea how the story would end up, but we trusted that if we let events unfold on their own, all the questions we were interested in exploring would emerge organically. As a result, the film really challenges viewers to come to their own conclusions about the practice.”

Learn more about the film here, and watch a short video of own story on www.gettingtobaby.com.

 

 

Do it by the book

We know what it’s like to want a child so badly you’d do just about anything to have one. But when it comes to adoption or surrogacy, you absolutely must follow all the rules. The laws involving adoption and surrogacy vary by state — and with surrogacy, in some states, there simply aren’t any laws on the books. We cannot recommend more strongly that you work with a qualified attorney to ensure you are following the law at each step in the process.

Unfortunately, there are unethical people out there. A recent case currently receiving a lot of media coverage centers on Theresa Erickson, a nationally recognized surrogacy attorney, who pleaded guilty to being involved in a baby-selling ring.  According to news reports, Erickson and two accomplices recruited women to travel to the Ukraine to be implanted with embryos created from the sperm and egg of donors. Erickson and her partners would then tell prospective parents that a child had become available because another, fictitious couple had backed out of an adoption. They charged the adoptive parents, who had no idea they were being misled, more than $100,000, and paid the surrogates up to $45,000.

Erickson could receive up to 5 years in jail and be ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Fortunately, the innocent adoptive parents who were victims of this fraud will not have their parental rights terminated.

As an attorney, Theresa Erickson obviously knew that what she was doing was wrong. But sometimes, things aren’t quite so clear.

When we were going through the adoption process, we were contacted by a woman whose friend was pregnant. They would allow us to adopt the baby if we paid for the birth mother’s college tuition, along with some other financial arrangements. They did not want to use lawyers or an agency. When you have a situation presented to you in that way, you might think, “Well, if we save on lawyer’s fees and agency fees, it’s okay to put that money towards to her college instead. We’re helping her, and she’s helping us.” It’s easy to rationalize. If we weren’t lawyers ourselves, we may not have initially realized this is illegal — but it equates to buying a child. If we had agreed, it could have resulted not only in our losing that child later, but also in criminal charges.

Play it safe, and use a qualified adoption attorney or surrogacy attorney as you go through the process of getting to baby.

Different paths to adoption

Most couples who struggle to have a child undergo fertility treatments, which are often successful. In those cases where they fail, however, many hopeful parents turn to adoption.

With an open adoption through an agency, or with the help of an adoption facilitator or attorney, the first step is matching with a birth mother. An open adoption means you might have the chance to experience her pregnancy with her, going to doctor’s appointments, seeing the sonograms and being in the delivery room when the child is born. It also means the birth mother may be a part of the child’s life, even after the adoption.

However, there is always a risk with adoption that the birth mother will change her mind and decide to keep the baby. Regardless of any contracts or agreements you have in place, many state laws protect the biological mother, leaving the intended parents heartbroken and without a child. Although this worst-case scenario is possible, and does happen, most adoptions go through as planned.

Another path to adopting a child is to work with a foster agency. There are many, many children in the foster care system without parents who are able to care for them. These are kids of all ages, and all races, and each is in need of a loving home. Not all foster children are available for adoption, however. Some are in the system because their parents have temporarily lost custody. Once the situation leading to that loss of parental rights has been resolved, the parents often regain custody. However, most foster agencies are happy to work with intended parents seeking children who are available for adoption.

Many couples also adopt children from another country through an agency that offers international adoptions. The agency handles the paperwork and legal issues, which can be quite complicated, to give you the best odds at a successful adoption.

No matter how you go about adopting, both child and the adoptive parents are getting a precious gift: the chance at a better, more fulfilling life as part of a loving family.

We understand

We understand how important having a family is. My partner and I tried long years, with much confusion, plenty of doctor’s visits, lots of close calls and our share of heartbreak along the way until we finally had the opportunity to look into our twin babies’ beautiful eyes. We struggled against many odds, but we finally became parents. Believe it or not, no matter how frustrated you are or how difficult your journey has been to this point, you can get through this. There are many options available to you, some of which you might never have considered.

Do the different options seem daunting? Not sure how to approach them? There’s a lot to think about as you consider what path you’ll take while Getting to Baby. Although our book isn’t intended as a substitute for advice from medical professionals and other experts, it will help you to understand you’re not alone in your struggles. We’ve been through it, too, and we hope our personal journey will help in some way to prepare you to make the right choices and ask the right questions. We also hope we can provide a little moral support and some perspective.

Visiting this website shows you are someone who wants to learn as much as you can about what it means to become a parent and how you can get there, no matter who you are or what kind of relationship you’re in. We hope our website and book will help inform you and provide suggestions that could have helped us as we pursued our own path to parenthood.

We are Victoria and Jennifer Collier. As we endeavored to become parents, we tried everything from In-Vitro Fertilization, which resulted in a miscarriage, to several close calls on adoption before finally finding surrogacy, which ended up being the right choice for us. What’s the right choice for you? We can’t say, but we can tell you about our experiences with each option, preparing you for hidden pitfalls and tricky choices you might be faced with along the way. After all, knowledge is power. Being armed with the right knowledge from the outset can save you from missteps, frustration and heartbreak.

If you enjoy what you find on www.GettingtoBaby.com, we recommend checking out our book for a more in-depth look at not only our journey, but what your journey could be.

Where is your head?

Are you really, truly in touch with your feelings? Soul-searching and analysis of the facts on the table are key when approaching the journey to parenthood. Once people find out you want to become parents, they will ask you questions, sometimes very personal questions. If you can’t answer them, that might be a red flag.

How long have you been trying to get pregnant, and how? What methods have you used? And for a more intangible question, what is motivating you to want to have a child? Even if you think you know the answers to those questions, including the last one, which might be the most difficult to answer, revisit them in your mind. Your mindset is a very important part of trying to become a parent, especially if you want to get pregnant rather than pursue another path. The way you cope with stress can directly affect your ability to carry a child.

Negativity won’t help. If you have other children, questions might creep into your mind about why you were able to become pregnant before but can’t now. If you don’t have children already, negativity can take the form of wondering why you can’t seem to have children while everyone else around you can. Either way, getting into a bad head space can have a very real impact on what your body is willing to do.

Calm self-reflection is important. You need to identify why you want to have children right now. If you’re following your urges for the first time, you may never have addressed these questions. If you’ve had other children or tried in the past, you may have — but your answers may have changed as the years marched on. Getting your priorities straight clears the clutter. It allows you get a sharp focus on what you want right now, shaping your decisions and helping you cope with natural stress that can arise in the process.

Don’t just look at what you’re feeling and facing right now. A long-range plan, covering everything from efforts to become pregnant, adopt or use a surrogate; to who will care for your child once he or she arrives, will help eliminate stress along the way. The logistics, from people to finances, can be a little daunting. Better to take them on at the outset than reach a conundrum unexpectedly at an inopportune time.

We can help guide you through some of the questions you might need to ask yourself and some of the obstacles you might face in our book, “Getting To Baby.” If you like what you see at www.GettingToBaby.com, consider picking up the book, in which we share our own journey in hopes of preparing you for yours.

Letting go

Sometimes, the process of getting to baby requires letting go. Letting go of your attachment to one method of becoming a parent can be tough. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming pregnant with your partner, facing the reality that your body, your partner’s body or a combination of the two won’t allow that to happen can be heartbreaking and difficult to accept. The same goes for couples or individuals who have long hoped to become parents through adoption — for some people, the stars just don’t align for a child to enter their lives in that way.

Letting go can be tough, and it can be difficult to realize when it’s time to move on. It’s much like ending a relationship — a process we all know can be messy and painful, and doesn’t always happen as soon as it should. With relationships, all outside observers sometimes realize it’s over long before the parties involved in the relationship reach the same conclusion. In the meantime, it means plenty of pain and frustration for both of them.

The same goes for letting go of one method of becoming parents. When it’s over, it’s over. At a certain point, trying to head down a road that isn’t working only hurts and amps up stress. In the case of attempting to become pregnant or adopt, money also becomes part of the equation.

Approach your effort with eyes wide open. Set a time frame. Decide how long you’re going to work on getting pregnant before you seek professional advice or diagnosis from a fertility specialist. Set a time frame for when you’ll stop trying. Same goes for trying to adopt or using a surrogate. Decide when you’ll start trying, how much you’ll invest and when you’ll walk away.

It might be hard to think about, but there’s an option that many prospective parents don’t talk about at all — not becoming parents. Remember, there are ways to live a happy and fulfilling life without children. At a certain point, your efforts toward getting to baby might become more of a burden than a pursuit. It’s essential to be able to step back and consider what’s happening. Is this best for you, or is it okay to choose to live your life in a different way than you had expected?

At www.GettingtoBaby.com, in the membership section, you can find fertility specialists who discuss the options available and how they assist their patients with determining when it is time to let it go. Do your research, and don’t dismiss alternatives before you fully understand them.