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?

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.

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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.

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.

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.

International Adoptions

You’ve seen Angelina Jolie and other celebrities with children they’ve adopted from other countries. Like domestic options, international adoptions are certainly viable, as long as you approach them carefully and do your homework. Find experienced legal counsel early on to help you navigate the complicated and nuanced processes involved in international adoptions, which vary from country to country.

As heartless as it may sound, many fraudulent agencies have sprung up in recent years, especially on the international adoption scene, that will take your money, give you the runaround and leave you without a child at the end of the process. Work with your attorney to run background checks on any potential agencies you’re considering to make sure they’re not known for fraud. Get references. Figure out how the adoption agency you’re considering works, and whether you’re comfortable with their practices, pricing structures, reputation and success rates. How do they track down children? How many offices do they have?

While adoption processes are more standardized stateside, you might run into strange restrictions and regulations in other countries. Some countries won’t adopt to you if you’re over a certain age, while other countries will only allow adoptions to heterosexual couples or individuals. Others won’t allow single men to adopt a child, which means even if one member of a male couple presents himself as single, he won’t be successful.

If restrictions don’t create snags, be aware that although some countries can match you quickly with adoptive children, the adoption process can be exceptionally lengthy. That means that even if you’re matched from the outset with a newborn, that child could be eight months to more than a year old before you’re actually able to bring him or her home.

Children in other countries awaiting adoption are often living in orphanages, where they might not receive the best care or nurturing. That can result in emotional or physical issues you’ll need to address once the child arrives. Be sure to examine these possibilities up front, so you know what to expect.

Consider cultural issues as well. If your child comes to you as an infant, do you teach that child about his or her own culture as well as yours? If you get the child later in life, you may want to seek professional help as you approach bonding, which could be more difficult, depending on the situation the child has been in prior to being placed with you.

In Touch With Your Feelings

Misgivings? Be honest about them.

I had some friends, a married couple, who were having fertility issues while Jennifer and I were trying to conceive. When they discovered they were unable to get pregnant, like many couples, they began considering their options. And like many couples, they started looking at adopting a child.

The woman was completely comfortable with adoption, and even started to like the sound of it. After all, her body wouldn’t have to go through everything a body endures during pregnancy. Her husband, however, had misgivings. And although those misgivings might offend some readers, they illustrate an important point.

He shared with his wife that he feared he wouldn’t be able to control his anger or frustration as easily without a genetic bond between himself and a child. Although he said it almost as a joke, he wasn’t kidding.

When you’re dealing with infertility, you might feel as though you’d bond with any child, regardless of genetic links. Whether you agree with the husband or not, though, he was right to share that concern with his wife. It’s important for both partners to be all in, no matter what path they’re pursuing.

Getting on the same page

If you’re in a relationship, there is much to discuss when starting a family. Why do you want a baby? Is this what your partner wants, and do you both want it right now? Consider your own thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes. Do they mesh with those of your partner?

What about career issues? Will one partner stay home? If that’s just not an option, how will childcare work? Those are touchy questions, no matter your relationship status. In heterosexual relationships, there are societal pressures that will try to dictate the answers for you. If you’re comfortable with that, great. If not, address it.

For lesbian and gay couples, society has fewer preconceived expectations. That brings with it a certain freedom, but also many questions to be answered.

Whether you are trying to conceive naturally, undergoing fertility treatments to get pregnant, or considering adoption or surrogacy, it’s important to enter the journey to parenthood with your eyes wide open. After all, if you let your mind wander unchecked and develop expectations about how things are “supposed to be” without your partner’s awareness, conflict can arise. Head that off at the pass by sharing your feelings, thoughts and expectations openly with your partner from the start.

In-Vitro Fertilization

In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a more invasive and expensive pregnancy option than simple artificial insemination, but has a higher success rate and has grown in popularity in recent years. In this process, a doctor carefully places a fertilized egg, or embryo, right into a very specific spot in the uterus. The patient remains awake during the procedure.

Not just any fertilized sperm and egg will do for In-Vitro Fertilization. Several eggs and sperm are fertilized in a lab, outside of the body, for a doctor to review. Only the strongest-looking embryos make the cut to be placed into the woman with hopes that the fertilized egg will grab on to the uterine lining. Many couples like the reassurance and feeling of control they get from knowing from the outset that fertilization has successfully occurred.

No method is fool-proof, and such is the case with IVF. The diciest part of this process is whether the embryo will attach and grow, rather than being absorbed into the uterine lining. There are processes, like physician assisted “hatching,” that can improve the odds of implantation, but that simply increases the chances. Nothing is certain, and the more specialized the procedures get, the higher the price tag is.

The process isn’t as simple as just inserting the fertilized egg. The woman who hopes to become pregnant has plenty of tests and medications to look forward to during the process, especially if she wants to use her own eggs. That’s the option we chose. That meant frequent hormone shots designed to grow a large amount of eggs, which were later extracted through a medical procedure.

Meanwhile, the woman who wants to carry the baby must take hormone treatments — that is, more shots — to prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy. In many cases, both the egg harvesting and the egg transfer occur in the same woman. In other cases, such as surrogacy or with many lesbian couples, each leg of the race is carried out by a different woman.

It isn’t easy, and it isn’t always fun. Hormone treatments can lead to a wide array of side effects, from the pleasant, like an increased sex drive, to the not-so-pleasant, including wild mood swings.

Be prepared. Fertility assistance isn’t a simple process. You need to be ready for multiple doctor’s visits, invasive procedures and other discomfort along the way.

Have Faith

You don’t have to believe in God to have faith. No matter what you believe in, having some kind of faith will help you get through the process of becoming a parent.

That can be much tougher than it sounds. At the outset of the process, when possibilities and choices seem limitless, it’s easy to believe that somehow, some time, you will have a child. However, after a few bumps in the road, believing parenthood is in your future can be much more difficult. The inability to become pregnant naturally, struggles with fertility treatments, miscarriages, failed adoptions, trouble tracking down surrogates — there are many bumps in the road you can hit, and each in turn can hit your confidence. Trust us. We know. We hit just about every bump a couple can hit before we finally ended up with our beautiful twins.

Coping with loss, particularly miscarriage, is very difficult for both prospective parents. It might start to seem like expectant parents are everywhere you look. You might feel frustration heaped on top of grief and loss. That’s normal. When you’re focusing so hard on getting to baby, all you will see are mothers, pregnant women and babies everywhere. It’s like becoming fixated on a certain number — suddenly, that number is in every telephone number, every address, and every license plate you see. It’s in the time whenever you look at the clock. It’s a part of the TV channel every time you stop on a show.

Stay centered. Control your emotions. Find an outlet to express your grief and anger, whether that means heading to therapy or a support group, simply talking to a friend or writing it out. Becoming overwhelmed isn’t good for you or those around you, and it won’t help you achieve your goals.

When Jennifer and I lost a child, we found a perspective that worked for us. Partially because Jennifer is a twin, and partially because we knew we wanted two children but only wanted to go through the process once, we had long hoped to have twins. When we lost our first child, a girl, we chose to look at it this way: Our little girl wasn’t ready to come until her brother could be with us, too.

Find your own silver lining. Keep the faith. Know that some how, some way, it will work out for you. The timing and path might surprise you, but believe that things will transpire as they’re supposed to.