Most people don’t just jump from TTC to Surrogacy. We’re no exception.
Otter Pop (this is what my husband really wants to be called on here, and I’m not going to say no) and I did everything the “right” way. We met, fell in love, had a long engagement, and were married. We had epic adventures and then got ready to settle down and prepare for the next adventure – parenthood. We decided we’d wait until he was finishing law school to start TTC. As they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”
Around my 27th birthday, I got sick. What I thought was a persistent flu turned into something doctors couldn’t diagnose. I was in and out of the emergency room, and rushed around to see all sorts of specialists. I was prematurely diagnosed with everything from inner-ear disorders to thyroid problems and diabetes, but when results came back, there were no answers. In the meantime, I was barely able to stay awake or walk across the room without being winded. We spent our first anniversary eating the top layer of wedding cake while I sat on the living room floor because I was too sick to do anything else. I put my TTC books and basal thermometers to the side, and tried to focus on getting better instead of building our family.
With the help of Otter Pop and his super medical sleuthing, he spotted a girl in his law school classes who also had a medical disorder, and seemed to have similar issues. He chatted her up and found out that she had autonomic nervous system disorder called POTS, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and wrote down a list of symptoms for me to look over, and also the information for her cardiologist. After finagling an appointment and succumbing to a number of tests, I was preliminarily diagnosed with POTS. This was later confirmed with a tilt table test, which is basically a torture device for those of us who can’t stand long, where they measure your heart rate and blood pressure and see how long it takes you to faint. I broke the hospital record with an award-winning time of under 2 minutes!
The other part of the testing was an echocardiogram, where they take an ultrasound of your heart. Everything seemed to be going well until the end of the test, where the tech noticed an abnormality. You really never want to hear someone say something doesn’t look right when they look at your heart. They brought another tech in to do a “bubble contrast where they inject bubbled saline solution into your veins to look at your heart chambers. They found I had a Patent Foramen Ovale, or PFO, which is a birth defect where the chambers of my heart never completely closed at birth, leaving a small hole. Fortunately the hole isn’t large enough to operate on, but will need to be watched.
As much as I wanted it, I didn’t get magically better once being diagnosed. I had gone from an active person who worked full-time, volunteered with a lab rescue and as a sorority advisor, been a member of Junior League, and still had time to go out with my friends and husband, to someone who tried as hard as possible to work from home and force myself to walk my dog down the driveway of my apartment. My recovery has been long, and although I am so fortunate to have eventually gotten to a place where I can do a lot of the things I used to be able to do, the jury is still out on whether I’ll ever be as active as I used to be.
Around the time I was in a better place with my recovery, my husband was offered a clerkship in Nevada. We moved, got settled in, and decided to start TTC about 3 months afterwards. Since I was younger, I’ve never had regular periods. I’ve been on birth control pills since I was 16 to help regulate my cycles, and never thought anything of it. When I went off of my pills, I knew it would take a while for my cycles to regulate, but they never did. I quickly grew impatient, and went to a gynecologist for a check-up. She told me that since I was irregular in the past, she’d start me on Clomid to help me ovulate. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been that over-eager to start throwing medication at my body, but I wanted a baby so badly I was willing to try anything. The first month I took ovulation tests and never got the darn smiley face. Also, the Clomid made me crazy. Not just emotional, but crazy. I had hot flashes, I had flu-like symptoms, I was sad, I was angry, and I had no control over my feelings. So naturally when I went back in the following month and she suggested trying a higher dose, I agreed, even knowing the side effects.
The second time around was also hormonal torture, but I did finally get a positive ovulation test. I was ecstatic, then quickly disappointed when I got a negative pregnancy test, and even more disappointed and confused when the doctor said my blood work showed that I didn’t actually ovulate. She recommended a 3rd round of Clomid, which is when I started getting a little concerned. Even more concerning was the fact that I was having abdominal pain that didn’t seem to be going away, but wasn’t severe enough to force me to a doctor. I started doing internet research, and decided that it would be best to go to a reproductive specialist. I made an appointment and was able to get in to do a basic workup, where it was discovered that I had a 2-inch cyst that the gynecologist didn’t mention. I was also diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which he thought was contributing to my fertility issues. After a month of birth control pills, the cyst started to shrink, which was amazing because the last thing I wanted to do was have a procedure to remove it. Since I’d had such poor reactions to Clomid, my RE put me on Femara and Bravelle, and we decided to move forward with trying IUIs.
So along with all of my other bumps along the road, I was positive the IUIs would it IT for us. I was wrong. My lining never grew to more than a 6, and I only had one follicle. We proceeded and got a negative. My next cycle I only grew one small follicle and had thin lining, so the cycle was canceled. The same went for the following cycle. My RE couldn’t explain it, but my lining remained extremely thin. We kept pushing forward with IUIs, and then got some astounding news – I had gone in with three good-looking follicles, and somehow in the course of a few days, ended up with 15 large follicles and a ton of small ones. I’d had extreme discomfort, which was actually my ovaries swollen to the size of grapefruits. My options were to undergo a procedure where they’d do a follicle reduction, or we’d have to convert to IVF.
IVF was always a “hope we never get to that” option, but it was always an option. However, we had hoped to do 3 IUIs, and then save up for IVF. We didn’t have the money to move forward with it at the time. After a lot of talking, we were able to borrow money from family to be able to move forward with an egg retrieval and eventually do frozen cycles. My RE removed 40 follicles during the retrieval. 32 of the follicles were fertilized, and 20 made it to 3 days. Before my first FET (frozen embryo transfer), we thawed the 20 to see which would make it to 5 days. 8 of those made it to 5 days.
I went into the FET with thin lining again, and was devastated when I got a negative beta a few days later. We tried a 2nd FET a few months later and had another canceled cycle due to thin lining. At this point, we wanted more answers, so we sought out the advice of another RE in San Francisco. We drove out and hoped for the best, only to hear that he didn’t think that my chances of carrying a pregnancy were good. We’d tried everything from conventional fertility medications to Viagra to help my thin lining, with nothing seeming to make a difference.
So we took a break. We were completely overwhelmed, and couldn’t deal with any additional bad news. And as much as it hurt, the break was good for us to get in a better mindset and make our marriage even stronger. It didn’t make anything easier, and each pregnancy announcement from a friend hurt, but we were good to move forward. So we tried again for our next FET. And this time, I got a positive. I’ve never been as happy as I was getting a positive pregnancy test. We were so excited and bought tons of tests. We told our parents the good news and thought about names. Even though it was early, I felt different, and was so excited to finally become a mom. When we went in for our beta I had felt so confident, having seen the words, “Pregnant” on all of our digital tests. But then I got a call that our beta was only 10. We had to wait over the weekend, but it was looking like it was a chemical pregnancy. And it was. And I was devastated.
I couldn’t take any more bad news, and I couldn’t chance that our remaining 4 embryos wouldn’t survive if we moved forward with any other transfers, and after talking and the advice of our RE, we decided to move forward with surrogacy. We didn’t know much about it, and we’d heard it was expensive, but we knew it was our only option. We began researching and saving, and hoped to move forward as quickly as possible with our new path…