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.”

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.

The Truth About Trying

I ran across an a new campaign to bring infertility out of the closet and into the light.  It’s called the “The Truth About Trying”.  Resolve, the National Infertility  Association and Redbook magazine have teamed up to end the shame and secrecy of infertility.

I love it.  So far, almost 200 videos where women (and men) share their personal stories have been added to the site.  Celebrities, physicians, and just plain folk like you and me answer the question : What I wish I’d known about infertility.”

Some have found success, others are still trying to conceive (TTC), others will remain childfree. No matter what the outcome, the process is painful – and too often we suffer in shame and silence.  Why is that?  Why do too many of us keep this agony a secret from family, friends, and collegues?  And why do well meaning people give advice that blames the victim with simple ideas like “ just relax” “you’re too stressed.”   Infertility is not a choice. It is a complex disease of the reproductive systems of men and women. You can’t see it on the outside and  you don’t know you have it until you try to conceive. It’s emotionally, physically, and financially draining. And you can’t just take a pill, get a massage, or stop thinking about it to make it go away.

I’m seeing more about this movement in the media to destigmatize infertility and it’s an encouraging sign. With more than 5 million Americans battling infertility on any given day, we are a small army . This is why we wrote Getting2Baby and why we’re creating a community here to provide an open, welcoming forum for men and women – especially those in the GLBT community – to find support and resources.

Let’s get our army on the march, let’s get infertility out of the closet.  And if you make and upload your own video – be sure to let us know here – we’ll share the link.

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.

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.

Natural IVF: A tested and affordable option with fewer side effects

At a 50th birthday party last weekend for my friend Maggie, I noticed one of the guests, Kristin, receiving quiet congratulations. I quickly deduced she was newly pregnant: 6 weeks. I knew Kristin had been trying to conceive for at least a year, and I was naturally pleased and curious to learn about how she “got to baby” — or at least to pregnancy.

I went over and offered Kristin my own congratulations and we started chatting about her journey and swapping war stories. I was intrigued to learn she was successful with natural cycle IVF, a low-medication alternative to standard IVF. (Another alternative is called minimal stimulation IVF or Mini-IVGF  Mini-IVF uses Clomid, an oral medication that has been in use since the 1960s.) I did some quick investigation and learned that natural IVF has been around since the late 80’s early 90’s — but it’s not the first option offered by many clinics.

 Natural cycle IVF is similar to standard in vitro fertilization but doesn’t rely on expensive and painful follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) medications to stimulate the ovaries to make multiple eggs. In natural cycle IVF,  follicle development during a normal ovulatory cycle is tracked by blood work and ultrasound, and when the follicle is ready to release, it is retrieved and fertilized using conventional IVF procedures. Natural cycle eggs are typically considered to be of a higher quality than traditional IVF.  Like traditional IVF, not all eggs result in an embryo. But when an embryo is produced and transferred successfully to the uterus, the pregnancy success rates are similar to conventional IVF.

With a new generation of infertile women pursuing holistic health solutions, it’s little wonder that natural cycle IVF is attracting new clients and researchers. The University of Southern California (USC) is recruiting participants today to take a fresh look at how advances of the last 20 years may influence outcomes (no discount on treatment, but this is a way to help other women know if this is a better option in the future).

 This is a safer, less costly approach for IVF. It’s not for everyone, but according to several clinics it’s a good option for many women, including those with elevated FSH (lower ovarian reserves), failed conventional IVF cycles, tubal disease, or male factor issues.

 So why isn’t natural cycle IVF promoted more? Perhaps the main reason: it can statistically lower the overall success rate for a clinic, because clinic data on stimulated and unstimulated (natural) cycles are lumped together (although the CDC tracks each separately). Not surprisingly, clinics don’t want to skew their success rates, so natural IVF is not the go-to option for many clinics.

Infertility treatment is never fun, but it seems this method takes the “sting” — both physically and financially – out of a painful situation.

 Kristin? She got lucky. Worked on the first try. Congratulations to her!

 Meanwhile, we’d love to hear about your experiences au naturel IVF. We’ll keep an eye on the USC study and keep you posted on this perhaps overlooked and statistically disadvantaged approach to Getting 2 Baby.

—–

A few quick points from clinics specializing in the natural approach:

Advantages of Natural  / Minimal Stimulation IVF

  • Eliminates the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)
  • Significant cost savings: about half of most standard IVF procedures
  • No painful and expensive gonadotropin injections
  • Fewer office visits
  • Generally produces a higher quality egg
  • Produces one follicle, virtually eliminates risk of multiple pregnancies

Potential Problems

  • Cycle is cancelled, usually due to premature ovulation or LH surge.
  • Failure to retrieve the egg – in less than 10% of patients.
  • Failure to fertilize the egg – in less than 10% of patients.

Decision Making when Making a Baby

“When I have kids we will bake Christmas cookies every year.”

Becoming a family. Carrying on traditions. Creating new ones. Replacing ones that didn’t work.  What motivates your decision to become a parent?  It seems so simple in the beginning. Find “the one,”  commit to each other, and create a child to bind you together, forever, as a family.

For many, the most difficult decision is the first one – do I become a parent and when? We assume that once that decision is made, the rest is easy. After all – we’ve been told since middle school that if you’re not very, very, very careful you might make a baby by just being too close to someone! But for some of us, making a baby is not a simple cause and effect.  It is process, a continuum, a collection of small – and monumental – decisions.

When you don’t get pregnant within a few months it’s confusing, and a bit scary. Or if you do get pregnant and suffer a miscarriage it is even more confusing.  What does it mean? Miscarriage is common you’re told, up to 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage. And there is hope – after all, a positive pregnancy test means it can happen again.

But for some of us, the first miscarriage is not the last. For others, the pregnancy test never turns positive. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying to conceive.  If you are over the age of 35, infertility is declared after 6 months of actively trying to conceive.

Infertility can involve making hundreds incremental decisions – day by day, month by month. This is not only emotionally exhausting, if decision fatigue sets in, can be expensive.

If you’re over 30 and a pregnancy isn’t happening easily, it’s important to look reality in the eye and put a plan in place.

  1. Recognize that infertility can happen to you.  Infertility rates range between 15 – 30% for women over the age of 30.
  2. Develop a personal decision making strategy.  How far are you willing to go to become a parent?  How much medical intervention is right for you and your partner? What can you afford? What will you do if you cannot conceive a biological child?
  3. Know your options.  Depending on your situation, what medical intervention is right for you and your partner?  Are alternatives like donor insemination, surrogacy or adoption something you need to know about?  Getting To Baby is a step-by-step guide that will help in your decision making process.
  4. Find support.  Find a peer-led or professionally led support group through Resolve, the National Infertility Association.  By connecting with others who have been down this path, you will be in a position to make better, more informed decisions.

Finding your personal path to Getting To Baby can result one of the most fulfilling decisions of your life – becoming a parent.

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.