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?

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.

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.

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.

Support system

Have you ever tried to explain something you just feel in your gut? For many people, it is not an easy process. That said, when you find yourself yearning for something completely life-changing, like a child, taking the bull by the horns and facing your own thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes is an absolutely essential process.

Once you and your partner, if you have one, understand what’s behind your desire to have a child, you can explore other aspects of the concept of parenthood. After all, even though society sets some protocols for who does what, when and how, that might not work for you. Will one of you be a stay-at-home mom? A stay-at-home dad? Perhaps neither of you will stay home, and in that case, childcare should be considered. What can you afford? How will you react to pressure or judgment from others?

Gay, straight or single parent, one child or several, the logistics that must be considered are staggering, even if fertility isn’t an issue. And if getting pregnant is an issue, or is impossible for you and your partner, there’s a whole new universe of questions to be answered and feelings to be explored. What are your thoughts, feelings and attitude toward infertility treatments? In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)? Adoption? Surrogacy?

Although the thought is not one that many prospective parents want to wrap their heads around, you also need to consider your views on children with special needs. Some babies arrive with physical disabilities, while others suffer from developmental problems. Plenty of babies with special needs are already here and in need of adoption into good homes. In other cases, pregnancies are not successful. That’s the last thought any potential family wants to face, but it’s important to remember. Whether you’re planning a pregnancy, an adoption or to conceive through a surrogate, facing these possibilities is just as important as planning a budget and making lifestyle choices.

A good support system, from your partner or spouse to family and friends, can help you think through the details at the outset. People to bounce ideas off of are key, whether it’s a close friend or spouse or someone you rarely see. No matter who it is, having someone you trust and feel completely comfortable sharing with can provide perspective and comfort. This person can join in your joy, but also keep you in check, as you’re dealing with the dizzying prospect of caring for another person.