The Pregnancy – Part 5: Shattered Dreams & Fading Hope

I write this entry with an extremely heavy heart, which is why it’s taken me 4 days to pluck up the courage to write it. After 5 years of trying for a family and almost 2 years into our surrogacy journey, it all came to an abrupt end on Wednesday when we went for our 13 week scan at the Foetal Assessment Centre. Our hopes and dreams were completely shattered. We were so incredibly excited to receive a positive pregnancy result for a singleton, even though we had hoped for twins. With sadness we mourned the loss of our one embryo but we still had a baby! All 3 scans leading up to the 13 week scan showed a healthy, growing baby. The only thing we were mentally preparing ourselves for, from an emotional point of view, was finding out if our singleton was the embryo from my egg (female) or the embryo from our donor egg (male).

The results we received at our 13 week scan completely shocked and confused us – I thought I was living a nightmare. The scan showed our baby boy, whose heart was partially formed and failing along with other abnormalities that hadn’t been picked up during PGD nor during previous scans. The prognosis was that our baby was dying before our very eyes (he was barely moving and his heart rate incredibly slow for his stage of development). It was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. The only decision we had to make was whether to terminate or whether to wait for him to die and the miscarriage which would follow. Together with our Surrogate Mother (SM) we decided to terminate, for the sake of our son who was clearly in distress, for our SM so that she didn’t have to endure the wait and for our sanity, knowing that it was a matter of time – hours, days … maybe a week at most all during which our son was battling along, waiting to die. I cannot explain how I’m feeling right now. After being given some tablets to take on Wednesday evening and into Thursday, our SM went in for a D&C on Friday and our baby is no more. An autopsy was conducted and the results will be made available to the egg donor as she needs to know that she is the carrier of a congenital abnormality.

LH and I are completely wiped out emotionally and don’t think we have the emotional strength to go through another attempt with a surrogate. Our SM indicated to us a while ago that she was only going to do this one time and now that time has come to an end. Finding a suitable surrogate is not easy and nor is finding a suitably matched egg donor, let alone the emotional toll of going through the whole process again will take on us. Perhaps in a few month’s time we may view it differently, but for now we’re not pursuing that option, unless it miraculously lands in our laps. The way things have worked out for us thus far, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing any miracles any time soon. For the moment we would rather focus on the possibility of adopting a baby. Having tried and just about exhausted all other avenues to the point where I’m feeling emotionally destroyed, LH has finally come full circle, to a discussion I had with him almost 5 years ago.

Who knows where this journey will take us. RIP my tiny little son. Your struggle is over, but you will always live in my heart.

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The Pregnancy – Part 4: Rose Tinted Glasses

In the past, when I pictured my eventual family through rather naive rose tinted glasses, I always had visions of me with my LH and 2 children. I also never wanted to be considered an ‘old’ mother (i.e. over 40!) and saw myself having children in my mid 30′s. The reality however is somewhat different. Throughout my life I’ve always been accustomed to strive for what I want and do what it takes to get there. I got this trait from my Dad who was such an instrumental part of who I am today, as he taught me most of the valuable lessons I still apply in my life. As a result I was mostly always ahead of my game.

With rose tinted glasses cast aside, by the time I was 20 years old I was working hard to pay the bills, put food on my table, petrol in my car and finance my night school classes. I was also partying up a storm every opportunity I could get – after all this is what being in your 20′s is all about. By the time I was 31 years old, I was a successful career woman with big responsibilities, a large home of her own in a leafy suburb, travelling all over the world on business trips with a blasé attitude towards personal relationships, bordering on being commitment phobic. Serious relationships cramped my life-style and my independence, so I treated all my romantic relationships frivolously, which often meant making the wrong choices. Looking back, my biggest fear was being ‘stuck’ in a disgruntled and unhappy marriage. I’m glad I waited until I met LH and didn’t rush such a big decision that would change the course of my life. Had I done so, I would have perhaps had my 2 kids, but not the right partner in life to raise them in a happy and secure environment. Although I have had my struggle with infertility because of my age, lost my precious baby mid term, will never know what it’s like to experience carrying a baby to full term and made immense sacrifices, I have no regrets at all that . I have a fabulous LH, a solid marriage and completely accept the path that I have travelled. Is it what I originally had planned for myself? Not exactly. Is it where I want to be right now? Without a doubt in my mind.

Question I’m now asking myself is, in light of what we’ve been through to get to this point, do I still want 2 children? We have one precious baby on it’s way, which I’m extremely excited about, but it’s been a incredibly long and emotionally tough journey to get to this point. Do I have the inner emotional strength to go down this road again? Would it be fair on LH? Our situation after all is unique and such a decision would again involve a team of people, a whole load of financing, zero guarantees and an emotional roller-coaster ride unlike any other. I’ve always believed that to have a sibling in a loving and supportive home is an amazing experience. As a parent it must be equally rewarding and heart warming. On the flip side, it can also go horribly wrong. Unhealthy sibling rivalry can create all sorts of jealousy issues, insecurities, antagonistic competition, animosity and undesirable tension within a family unit. In saying that however I truly believe that the dynamics leading up to unhealthy sibling rivalry is often fuelled by the parents at a time when each child in the family is competing to define who they are as individuals and either of the parents favour one child over another. I could be completely wrong in my theory, however if I look at just our circle of friends, there are those that have awesome sibling relationships and others that are completely antagonistic toward one another mostly citing parental favouritism. LH on the other hand grew up as an only child and sees the merits in being an only child, although for his entire junior and senior scholastic career he was in a boarding school surrounded by fellow boarders. Although not siblings he was surrounded by his peers all of the time, but boarding school is certainly not an option I would choose for our child. Siblings on the other hand can and often do share a special bond, unlike that of friendship. Perhaps again I’m looking at the world through rose tinted glasses. Either way, this is a decision that we need to make quickly because of the orchestration required between all of the parties involved, which means it won’t happen over night. There are two avenues I’m looking at if this is the way we decide to go …

Sigh … it would be a much easier decision if all we had to do was partake in some bedroom gymnastics! … Sigh … unfortunately not an option for us, but it was a nice fleeting thought :-)

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The Pregnancy – Part 3: Realisations & Realistic Expectations

It’s been a super-charged few weeks with what feels like complete craziness. Next week – on Wednesday to be precise – we’re going for our 13 week scan at the Foetal Assessment Centre. In some ways it feels like the past 12 weeks have flown by and in another it feels as if everything has been moving in incredibly slow motion. Weird.

Our 10 week scan all went well and was an emotional one in that it was our final scan at the fertility clinic and we bid our farewells. In a way I felt like my safety blanket was being suddenly taken away, as the team at the clinic have been so instrumental in being part of my emotional support structure and getting me to this point. Our little bean had grown from 19.49 to 36.4mm. With our 13 week scan now coming up, there’s a lot of apprehension as we’ll find out which of our precious embryos has survived – the one from our donor egg or the one from my egg. Whilst in my mind I’ve made peace with what ever the outcome may be and I’m now finally allowing myself to start feeling really excited about our precious baby, I’m not sure LH will take it so well if it’s not what he’s hoping for. What I am sure about however is that we will be there for each other, as we always have been through our journey and for our SM whose been so incredibly amazing.

It’s really odd having a baby without the experience of going through the pregnancy and having those pregnancy hormones rushing through my body. Whilst some women may think I have the best of all worlds, in essence I feel like I’m missing out on a whole chapter of our child’s life – the first 9 critical months of his or her life. Even though my pregnancy with Stella was fraught with complications, worry, bed rest and emergency trips to the doctor, I really enjoyed being pregnant and feeling the glow of being pregnant. Now all I can do is look in occasionally from the outside through the eyes of the camera during the scans. In some ways it still feels vaguely surreal, but in essence I guess what I’m experiencing is a pregnancy through a father’s eyes – just from a greater distance in that I don’t see our SM every day – for now it’s been just for the scans. Silly as it may seem, I keep trying to remember in detail what I was feeling with each week in my pregnancy with Stella, just so I can hope to connect in some way with our baby. On the one hand it’s an incredibly hard and immensely sad time for me and on the other I feel almost like a child counting down the days to Christmas. There’s absolutely nothing I can do to alleviate the feelings of melancholy that sometimes threaten to take over, bar taking a fistful of anti-depressants, but as someone who gags at the simple thought of a pill, it’s a process I simply need to work through in my mind and through my writing. What keeps me afloat is the immense gratitude I feel knowing that I have an amazingly strong husband and that we’ve been given this unbelievable opportunity with the help of so many phenomenal people. I had no idea what incredible individuals I’d have the honour to meet and befriend along the way.

Well it’s almost 1am in the morning – I’m listening to LH’s steady breathing next to me and our furkidz’ gentle snoring, so I guess it’s time to bid a goodnight. Tomorrow I’ll share some more thoughts on another topic that has been weighing heavily on my mind.

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The Pregnancy – Part 2: Is This For Real?

Ok, I’ve been quiet … in fact super quiet for far too long. The reason … I’ve had LOADS to digest, process and figure out in my heart and in my mind. Until now I haven’t really known how to assimilate and verbalise my thoughts and feelings which has been a mixture of excitement, elation, sadness, apprehension, mourning, celebration, uncertainty, grief, joy …. the list goes on and on.

Embryo transfer took place on 11th June where two embryos were transferred to our SM (1 mine and 1 from our egg donor, both of which were fertilised by LH’s swimmers). First pregnancy blood test took place on 21st June – an unbelievable positive. Beta blood test to confirm first result was on 25th June – again an amazingly positive result. A momentous occasion that we’d been striving towards for so long! Hormone levels in both test results were extremely high … twins perhaps? We were holding onto that hope.

As scheduled we went for our 7 week scan on 23rd July. With our hearts beating loud and fast in our chests we peered at the screen to see one tiny 11.4mm embryo developing beautifully with a rhythmic heartbeat barely visible, but so definitely there. LH asked about our second embryo … but there was no sign of a second sac or second heartbeat. One perfect embryo, which although heartbreaking for us as we had SO desperately wanted twins, we were elated with our tiny little bean on the screen. On the way home from the appointment LH voiced what was weighing heavily on my heart … is it my little bean or the donor egg bean that has survived? In a way we’ve been desperate to get a part of our daughter Stella back and whilst I realise she will never be with us in this lifetime and can never be replaced, her sister may just bring us peace, a better understanding and overall acceptance of where we have found ourselves. What few people understand is that each and every time we’ve lost an IVF embryo it’s been incredibly hard for us and a mourning process has followed. This time however it was a devastating blow. Perhaps the knowledge that the embryo was perfect in every way, passed the dreaded PGD tests, had survived an artificial lab environment, followed by a freezing process and then thawing process, only to perish after transfer, makes it harder bear. Perhaps its the knowledge that it could very well have been the little embryo from my egg that perished, Stella’s full blooded sister, an embryo I had endured a year of 9 rounds of back to back IVFs for; months of endless drugs, poking, prodding, hope, tears, needles, bloating, night sweats, bruising, discomfort, PMS, depression, anaesthetics, procedures, disappointments and quite honestly borderline insanity, during which my relationships with friends and family suffered tremendously – some irreparably. Or perhaps it’s the knowledge that this could very well have been the one and only chance of us ever having 2 children. Whilst we still have 2 remaining frozen embryos, what are the chances of us finding another surrogate mother? … or of those remaining embryos surviving the thaw and transfer process? As has always been the case in this journey, the odds are stacked significantly against us. With these odds in mind, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that our one little developing bean is an absolute miracle and a blessing. I know that everyone says the 12 week mark is the one to aim for in terms of the safety margin, after which you can relax. With our history and the fact that I have absolutely no control over this pregnancy as SM is carrying our baby for me, I’m going to find it incredibly difficult to relax until we are at least 27 or 28 weeks into the pregnancy. A catastrophic event caused us to lose Stella just short of 20 weeks, in a manner and at a time when she had absolutely no chance of survival. Should something go wrong at 27 weeks, our daughter or son will have a very good chance of survival.

With Stella’s death, I’ve learnt that life is incredibly fragile and that we cannot assume that anything is a given, nor can we take anything for granted. Whilst I work through the melting pot of emotions which is threatening to boil over and just about consume me at any moment, I hold onto memories of our beautiful daughter Stella who we never got to know and look forward to embracing each milestone of this pregnancy.

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The Pregnancy – Part 1: Pinching Myself

Wow … there was a time when I never thought I’d be typing a heading like the one for this post. A time when I felt like a hamster on a wheel … frantically running to get somewhere, but without actually getting anywhere. After months and months of back to back IVF’s friends / family start looking at you as if you’re crazy … crazy to be putting your mind through devastating disappointment after disappointment … nuts to be putting your body through chemically stimulated hormonal hell month after month and gently suggesting that perhaps it’s time to consider throwing in the towel. Who can blame them? I looked like crap, felt like crap and my moods were delightfully over the top crap! But on I went with the same determination of a little hamster running frantically on his wheel … and how glad I am that I did.

Whilst we patiently wait for 16th July … (patiently?? … who am I kidding!) SM and I have been chatting about how she’s feeling, how I’m feeling (LOL!), diet, levels of exercise etc … I promised her that I would be doing everything alongside her with regard to lifestyle changes, so that she doesn’t feel isolated and also so that I can share in the experience as much as possible – which means (still) no drinking, no sushi, no caffeine, urm… no sex when prescribed … etc … I’m aware that many surrogate mothers feel a sense of isolation and irritation when their commissioning / intended parents (especially the commissioning mothers) carry on with their lives with little regard for the sacrifices that their surrogate mother is making for them … entirely on their behalf. There was a story told by a surrogate mother (not ours), about a time when she was invited out to supper by the commissioning parents. Throughout dinner the commissioning parents quaffed back glasses of wine, ordered sushi and finished off with espresso coffees. Whilst that is an extreme case of insensitivity, it’s important for me that our SM doesn’t ever vaguely feel that way. I must say that SM and I have been able to openly and honestly communicate with each other which is a HUGE help, even on sensitive issues. In a surrogacy journey communication this isn’t always easy, which is why so often couples seek the assistance of a social worker to navigate the through the sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable discussions. It’s an individual choice and one that we haven’t needed to make.

Over supper this evening I said to LH that I wished I could go to sleep tonight and wake up on the morning of 16th July – how amazing would that be … just be fast forwarded to the future! No one warns you ahead of time about how difficult it is to get through the waiting and wondering during each stage of any IVF cycle. This particular wait between blood results and the scan is becoming particularly challenging for me. For now I’m throwing myself into my work, staying positive, trying to keep calm and remembering to breath!

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IVF IX – Part 12 : Is It All A Dream?

On 21st of June SM’s hCG levels were sitting at just over 200 – which indicated a very healthy positive result. Today’s beta hCG blood test, which is to measures how the levels are increasing (which they should be considerably) shows an hCG level of 1896! Our pregnancy is developing well!!

Our little girl Stella, who we lost almost 5 months into my pregnancy was conceived in June 2010. Almost exactly 2 years ago to the day we are now expecting again – another co-incidence? Another factor working in our favour? Who knows how the universe determines what will be and what will not, but for now I’m feeling blessed and revelling in the fact that we are expecting with a healthy SM.

Our next date to look forward to is 16th July – our first scan where we’ll see if we’re having twins!

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IVF IX – Part 11 : Alignment of Stars, Planets & The Universe

It’s amazing how incredibly long 10 days can seem … when waiting for results that will change the course of the rest of your life. 11th June two of our Little Miracle Embryos were transferred in a simple, seamless and painless procedure in theatre. The only reason it’s done in theatre is that the room ambient temperature has to be perfect (warm), the environment sterile and although a simple procedure it’s very intricate. So now my embryos are in someone else – our wonderful SM who has willingly offered to lend us her womb and give us (people she’d never met until our meeting a year and a half ago) the greatest gift I believe anyone could ever give. The gift of our babies.

The date we were anxiously waiting for … 21st June … the 10 day hCG blood test that would tell us whether there was a pregnancy. After 9 days of pent up anxiety and apprehension, on the eve of 21st I felt a wash of (relative) calm fall over me. My reasons … the role of the number 21 in my life. My late brother’s birthday was on the 21st January, LH’s birthday is on 21st April, LH and I were married on 21st November. Co-incidentally the sister on office duty, who would be calling with the results, was celebrating her birthday on 21st June. What are the chances? It was like the stars, planets and universe as a whole were aligned in some way … how could it possibly be anything but a positive outcome??

The news on 21st June came in earlier than expected and caught me off-guard. I was expecting the call to come through as scheduled at around lunch time. Our SM had sms’d just after 7am to let me know that she was going for her test shortly after 8am. At 10:30am the call came through … with the best possible news we could hope for at this stage of our journey. Our SM’s hCG levels are really high, confirming a pregnancy!! LH was in a boardroom meeting with business partners and customers at the time … I’m not so sure how productive the meeting was after receiving such monumental news!

Whilst it’s early days, we get a confirmation result with the follow up blood test this coming Monday 25th and then a scan on 16th July if SM’s hCG levels have continued to climb. Only at that scan on 16th July will we know whether we’re expecting a singleton or twins. Of course then there’s the 12 week marker as with all pregnancies, followed by our 13 week foetal assessment before we can finally … finally can start to relax … just a bit. Still so many milestones … so many baby-steps. What we’ve learnt through this journey thus far however, is that life can be so unexpectedly and incredibly cruel at any given moment. We cannot afford to take anything for granted, but we can allow ourselves to and should cheer the milestone victories.

In the meantime I just need to remind myself to breathe … breathe.

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IVF IX – Part 10 : Embryo Transfer

Today was a HUGE milestone in our journey towards parenthood and it was an extremely emotional step for me on so many different levels. The 3rd embryo the scientist selected yesterday survived the thawing process and so today two of our embryos were transferred to our surrogate mother (SM) this morning at about 11am. Our one from LH and I and the other from LH and donor egg. Our SM was looking relaxed and radiant whilst I must have looked like a rabbit in the headlights having had very little sleep for the last two nights and my heart was pounding so loudly in my chest I thought I was going to pass out.

So many well intentioned friends and acquaintances have cheerfully applauded how lucky I am that I get to have someone else go through the pregnancy for me and that I won’t have all of the inconveniences that are sometimes associated with pregnancy. Whilst what they say is theoretically true, as I watched our babies being placed in our SM’s uterine cavity, I felt like a spare part – completely robbed of the honour, the opportunity to provide life and nurture them. So much has been completely out of my control and continues to be so, that at times like today it’s really hard to accept. Looking at that tiny spec on the sonar screen once the embryos had been transferred welled up bucket loads of emotions which had me quickly blinking away the tears whilst trying to keep myself from falling apart. Memories of my daughter, feelings of inadequacy, relinquishment of my role up until this point … and so many more feelings that I simply cannot find the words to express them.

Although it’s premature to celebrate, despite all of the emotion, I’m immensely happy that we have reached this point. Now it’s up to our SM to take care of herself and take her medication and up to our babies to embed themselves, flourish and grow. In 10 days time, on 21st of June, we will find out if there is a pregnancy through a blood test and then a follow up blood test on day 14 since transfer on 25th June. Until then all I can do is try to stay sane, muster up the courage to see me through these days, whilst hanging onto every bit of hope I can possibly grasp.

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IVF IX – Part 9 : The Impassable Chasm

We’ve been getting intermittent updates through the day today.

The first was this morning when I received an sms from one of the sisters to say that they had started with the thawing process of our two selected embryos and that our trusty Doc would give us an update as soon as the scientist had provided feedback. The 20% thawing failure rate that I had so feared has claimed it’s first victim. It’s a bitter / sweet situation in that it’s not the embryo from my egg, but the one from our donor egg. I’m feeling a mixture of sadness and relief … and guilt for having such feelings. Relief that my little genetic bean is hanging in there. Sadness that we’ve lost one of our babies. Does that make me an evil person? Perhaps … or perhaps it’s normal. What is normal in a situation like this? Nothing of what we’re doing is normal.

The trusty Doc has requested our permission to select the next best embryo to thaw, which of course we have given. What a way to spend a Sunday!! Hanging onto the phone … hanging onto hope … hoping that the fragile balance of life will defy all odds.

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IVF IX – Part 8 : End Of The Ski Holiday

Here we are on the eve of the end of the ski holiday for two of our embryos. A year and 2 months later, we have a total of 5 embryos on ice – only 1 is mine & LH’s and the rest from our donor eggs & LH. Tomorrow, the two embryos we selected during the week, will begin the thawing process in preparation for embryo transfer on Monday. The clinic has an 80% success rate with thawing embryos, which gives our babies really good odds. However … 20% is suddenly looking like a chasm which almost seems impassable. I realise it’s all in my head … but between tomorrow and Monday morning we need to get past 20%.
How do we choose which embryos to use? It’s not an emotive decision, but rather a scientific one. Based on quality and how advanced they are in the blastocyst stage. All embryos should reach blastocyst stage by Day 5 at which stage our embryos were frozen. All of our embryos are at blastocyst stage because we chose to do PGD testing which requires the embryo to be a 6 or 8 cell before testing can be done. Had we not done PGD testing our embryos would have been frozen or transferred on Day 3. I’ve included a link that explains day 5 blastocyst transfer for those of you who want to read up on it in detail. In short there are big advantages to doing Day 5 blastocyst transfer instead of the normal Day 3 transfer – provided however that the lab conditions are optimal and efficient. If you’re dealing with a sloppy lab then it’s not a good idea, as the embryos have far less chance of growing and developing to day 5 in suboptimal conditions. The caveat of course is that no clinic will tell you that they have a sub standard lab environment or sloppy lab technicians. We’re thankfully dealing with a clinic that has a highly professional team of doctors and lab team. We had actually established that right in the beginning when LH drilled them for stats, which we received in with complete honesty – stats that the first clinic we had a disastrous experience with, couldn’t provide and fumbled their way through by fiddling with their paperwork and avoiding eye contact.

Our embryos are each stored in separate straws which vary in colour. The straws that will be prepped for thawing during tomorrow are:
25.01.2012 1 x normal embryo; green straw
20.04.2012 1 x normal embryo; pink straw

The one embryo is genetically mine as it was thankfully a really good quality little bean and the other is a good quality embryo from one of our donor’s eggs.

In the event that one or both of them don’t survive the thawing process, there is a quick thaw process as an emergency measure. Hopefully we won’t get to that though. In the meantime we wait for the phone call to tell us that our embryos are fine and confirming the time of embryo transfer on Monday. Our Surrogate Mother (SM) is driving through to town on Monday and will meet us at the clinic. We’re all “good to go” as they say.

Whilst my heart beats loudly in my ears and my stomach is all tied up in knots, a friend of mine made a valid point. She said that whether I fret or whether I relax the outcome will be the same, so I should just relax and focus on the positive. So I’m off to practice my meditation breathing and find my peaceful zen space …

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