Holiday musings: Getting by with a little help from friends

Holidays can be an especially poignant time, depending upon where you are in your journey to parenthood. The season is geared towards babies, kids, and families. It seems everywhere you turn are boisterous reminders of the babies we long to arrive, ache to cuddle, or who remain a distant dream. If you are blessed with a baby on the way or your baby has arrived, this can be a season of great anticipation and joy.  If on the other hand, you are still waiting for baby, it can be a season of sadness and loneliness.

If you have made the “crossover” from “getting to baby” to “having your baby,” you can offer sensitive and timely support for friends and family still working through infertility options, waiting for an adoption referral, or struggling with the decision to remain childfree.

The best gift is to simply be there for your friend, to share their sorrow and struggle. Take them out for an evening or a day to do something fun, not centered on children and families.  If you live near a big city, check out Goldstar for discount theater and event tickets. Groupon or one of the other crowd-sourcing sites, in addition to restaurants, have lots of pampering options like massage and manicures. A Groupon Gift Card will let your giftee select something close to home or something she has always wanted to do but hasn’t had the time or money to make the leap.

If you’re looking for something tangible to say, “I know how you feel,” take a look at Cafe Press and Zazzle, where someone has created a gift or a store for just about every “conceivable” idea. Search donor, surrogate, infertility, gay dads, and TTC (trying to concieve). Jennifer and I still consider ourselves Infertility Warriors.  And hoping this time is the charm makes a great stocking stuff for the boxer wearer in your life.

Finally, Etsy is where you will find all things handmade and heartfelt.  Unique illustrated calendars, a chunky knit wrap, vintage ornaments, paper goods, jewelry, housewares, and so much more. For friends who are already on the path to parenthood through surrogacy or adoption, I like this tile or this one for a single parent.

The holidays can be bittersweet. A funny gift or exhilarating experience can help make this season a little sweeter if completion of your or your friends’ family is not quite “wrapped up.”

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.

Equal Rights to Family: A Key Moment for Your Voice?

I’m not a philosopher or a politician, but as a lawyer the concept and protection of equal rights for all is foundational to what I do. This principle grounds our constitution and our country.  Yet for more than 200 years, we have continued to struggle to apply this principle: who deserves equality under our laws — and in what areas of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Some Americans have always held some people more equal than others. There’s a world of more work to do, but witness how far we have come in discrimination against African Americans (1833 slavery, 1964 the right to vote) and women (1920, right to vote), children (1938, child labor law), farm workers (1964), and GLBT (2011, right to serve openly in military).

While we continue to fight for the freedom to marry for all Americans, another fight is close to my heart — the right to equal access to health care, including insurance coverage of infertility as an essential benefit.

These things take time. And typically, the steps are incremental.

Proposed in 2009, the American Family Building Act proposed requiring infertility coverage but failed to muster support. A new bill, the Family Act of 2011 S 965, introduced by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), calls for a tax credit for out-of-pocket costs associated with infertility medical treatment and will offer some financial relief from the high costs of infertility treatment, especially ART/IVF. This is a step in the right direction.

RESOLVE, a national infertility support and advocacy organization, has been working since 1974 to secure the equal access to all family building options for men and women experiencing infertility or other reproductive disorders.

Last year, RESOLVE established the Center for Infertility Justice to promote access to care, to fight attempts to restrict or eliminate care, and to provide research and data to support positive public policy for the infertility community. RESOLVE is the only patient advocacy group in the U.S. that fights for the rights of infertile women and men at a national and statewide legislative level.

Like every fight for equality throughout our history, it is vital to raise our voices and be heard.

One way to act today is to sign the Essential Health Benefits Petition urging Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius to designate infertility as an essential, pro-family benefit as part of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Another is to urge your two US state senators to sign on as a co-sponsor of Family Act of 2011 and invite your family and friends to write to their senators in support of your efforts.

In every fight for equality, there is an ebb and flow of energy and enthusiasm. For those of us lucky enought to get our baby, sometimes we get wrapped up in parenting and forget the fight that brought us to our baby. But just because we finally added to our family successfully doesn’t mean we can forget those left behind, and the generations that will battle infertility in the future.

Take the time today to stand up for your rights — and the rights of future generations.

Donor Unknown

The film Donor Unknown premiered on the PBS  series Independent Lens this week. This documentary follows the journey of Jo Ellen Marsh, raised by two moms in Pennsylvania, and her an insatiable need to discover the identity of the anonymous sperm donor Number 150, who contributed half of her DNA.

Jo Ellen signs up with a donor sibling registry and begins to connect with her half-siblings. Many half-siblings, it turns out. As the count rises, NY Times writer Amy Harmon picks up the story and eventually Donor 150—Jeffrey Harrison—recognizes himself and comes forward. Mr. Harrison has likely fathered 150 children. A similar story is featured on the Donor Sibling Registry website, in another documentary, Sperm Donor, which premiered on the Style Network in September. In this one, sperm donor Ben tells his fiance Lauren that he may have fathered 70 children. We get to meet several of them.

These are fascinating stories and very emotional journeys. Since we used donor eggs and sperm, this possibility is part of our story. Is it part of yours?

The decision to create a child using donor sperm and/or egg has ethical, legal, psychological, and deeply personal implications we must consider when creating our families. Getting to Baby is only the beginning. We always have to remember that there is a life that comes after the infertility. How we navigate life after the baby arrives is a lifelong journey.

The PBS website has a good list of resources for donor-conception issues.

Check it out here.

Let us know what you think about the implications of a generation of children conceived through a donor process.

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.

Is it time to find another OB-GYN?

If you have ever been very sick or seriously injured, or if someone you love has, you know how critical the doctor/patient relationship is. Your health and well being, your future — perhaps your very life — are in this person’s hands.

This is also true when you are seeing a physician not for an illness or injury, but in an effort to change your life another way: by having a child.

If you are undergoing infertility treatments, like artificial insemination or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), it’s so very important to see a doctor you trust, and who will communicate with you about everything that’s happening. Does your doctor take the time to fully answer your questions? Does he or she make sure you completely understand what the treatments entail, and how they will affect your body? Is your doctor clear about what you can expect, and your chances for success?

It’s also so important that your doctor is truly qualified to handle your specific case. Just because an OB-GYN offers fertility treatments doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is the right doctor for you.

Some fertility problems are tough to diagnose; it may require a specialist to determine what’s going wrong in your case, and how best to treat it.

If you have been seeing an OB-GYN who does not specialize in fertility problems, and your treatments haven’t been successful after a reasonable number of attempts, you should consider finding a specialist. The average number of attempts at artificial insemination before success is between three and four. How many times have you tried?

Yes, it can be tough to leave a doctor you like and trust — but if he or she is not the right physician to help you, it may be a necessary step.

Make it fun

If you’re a heterosexual couple and you haven’t grappled with fertility problems, you’re likely to try to become pregnant the, ahem, old-fashioned way. Unless you’re an extremely fertile couple, this process can turn clinical in a hurry after a few months with no positive pregnancy tests. Thermometers, ovulation tracking and harried midday calls to announce the ideal timing can make lovemaking feel more like a chore than, well, making love.

That’s no way to go about things. Making love is supposed to be about communing with the person you love the most. If it starts to lose its appeal, a wedge can be driven into your relationship that lasts for years. At the very least, it can mean short-term annoyance for one or both of you, and worse yet, can put undue stress on both parties. Stress, while uncomfortable, can have even worse results — hampering your fertility and actually hurting your chances of becoming pregnant.

Even if the stress of it all doesn’t impact you physically, you won’t have a very enjoyable conception story to think back on. Doing things in the same way every day, mechanically, does not make for the fondest of memories.

Find ways to keep things fun, whatever that means for you. For some couples, behaving like newlyweds keeps the activity exciting. Do it in every room of the house, in any position you can think of. Pick odd times and locations for a quickie, as long as you’re not breaking the law or putting yourself at risk. Remember, before there was an objective to it, this was something you did for fun! Why can’t it be fun now that there is a goal in sight? After all, you’re working together to make something happen that will bring you unimaginable joy and fulfillment.

Having trouble getting in the right mindset to relax and have fun? Try getting out of the house. Vacations can spice things up, no matter how lavish or relatively mundane they might be. You don’t have to take time off from work or spend tons of money to get away from the routine and familiar surroundings of home. Even within your own city, you can head to a hotel for a change of scenery.

Anything that helps you approach your journey to parenthood from the right standpoint is worth a little bit of time and money, within reason. Relax. Have fun! Keep things in perspective.

Open Adoption

Closed adoptions are the kind most people have read about in books or seen in television and movies — adoptions, through an agency, in which the birth parents’ identity remains protected. Many adopted children have set out to find their birth parents once they reached adulthood, often gaining media attention if their attempts at reunion are successful.

Things don’t have to be that way. Open adoptions are about as far from that familiar scenario as you can get. In an open adoption, a birth mother seeks out a couple that she feels would be a good fit to raise her child. The adoptive couple gets approval through the state in which they live to bring the baby home. Open adoption has been gaining ground as an option for the past 20 years.

In the age of the internet, couples hoping to find children and birth mothers hoping to find adoptive parents have plenty of options for connecting. Agencies can help, delivering letters from prospective parents to potential birth mothers. The birth mothers often have a hard time choosing from tens or hundreds of hopeful couples, while prospective parents usually enter a stressful waiting game, wondering when the call will come from a birth mother ready to entrust them with her child.

Open adoption, while empowering and reassuring to the birth mother, has plenty of potential for complications. There’s always the risk that the birth mother will change her mind at the last minute, which happens more than you might think. That process can be extremely painful for hopeful parents, especially after a relationship with the birth mother has been established over the weeks or months leading up to birth. Not only do couples who find themselves in this situation have to deal with feelings of loss, they often begin second-guessing themselves, wondering if they could’ve said or done anything to lead to a different outcome. Sometimes, partners can begin blaming each other for the failure.

However, open adoptions do have their advantages. Unlike in closed, anonymous adoptions, you can have continued contact with your child’s biological parent or parents, and even biological grandparents, which gives you access to information that can become important, like family medical histories. Depending on how deeply involved with the birth mother you become before the baby is born, you can even attend doctor’s visits with her, see sonogram pictures and start laying the groundwork for a lifelong relationship.

You can read more about our experience with attempts at open adoption by reading “Getting to Baby.”

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.