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Walking in their shoes; A Mother and a Surrogates journey

Imagine if you will, being a woman. A woman who has worked hard and has found a partner. A woman who now wants a child, a complete family. Now imagine trying to conceive this child and nothing happens; going to the doctor and being told you can’t conceive. Then, taking all your hard earned money and trying every other possible alternative to create a baby–hormones, egg retrieval, IVF–again and again with no results. Or even worse getting pregnant (!!!!!) and then miscarrying. Do you think you have an idea of what that could feel like? Now imagine the physical, economical and emotional toll this will take on you.

I can only imagine and sympathize with these women. Unfortunately, I know too many. I’ve had long personal discussions with a few and it breaks my heart. These talks are one of the main reasons surrogate mothers exist today. So, after all this pain and toil, some of these women look towards surrogacy. The reason they choose an agency is for protection. This most precious treasure they have been so long in seeking becomes closer to their grasp and they want to do everything in their power to obtain it.

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When a man and woman intend to become parents and look through the files of fully screened surrogates (and, sometimes, egg donors) they are looking for a means to an end, an end to the emptiness they have been feeling, an end to their toils and tribulations. They choose carefully and hope that the surrogate will help them complete their maternal desires.

Once everyone has spoken and agreed to this journey, the contracts are signed; and the medications for the surrogate begin. The egg retrieval is done and at this stage the Intended Mother (IM) becomes even more anxious. It’s happening all over again, but with renewed and different hope! If, and when, the surrogate is confirmed pregnant with a heartbeat ultrasound then the IM is inundated with emotions: “It happened, we’re pregnant! Oh God, we could loose it (again)?!?!” Her maternal instinct takes over and yet she feels out of control because it’s not her body. She may become increasingly concerned with the surrogate’s diet, what medications she is taking, if she is following the doctors orders, and just about every waking aspect of her life—anything from the surrogate getting her hair dyed and nails done to if she is exercising enough or too much. All of this may cause the surrogate to undergo additional stress, which is the exact opposite of what is wanted.

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It can become very tense very quickly. There is an emotional switch that can, and does very often occur, with an IM and her surrogate. The IM needs to know that the surrogate is doing everything possible to achieve a healthy pregnancy. She wouldn’t be a surrogate if she weren’t. The surrogate then needs to know that these emotions are not personally aimed at her, it’s just the IM’s fears and apprehensions manifesting due to her own perceived “helplessness” in these matters.

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As the pregnancy continues and they enter the second trimester healthily, things tend to lighten up. The emotional roller coaster on both sides seems to even out a bit. The IM starts to feel more secure that the baby is doing well and begins to trust he or she is eventually going to arrive. The surrogate earns the IM’s trust and the women may even become quite close during this part of journey. They may share intimate details with each other, promising to stay friends and keep in touch once the baby is born. This calm may go on until delivery. And, if they are among the lucky ones, it stays that way. The happy healthy baby is born (!!!) and the no longer IM, but now mother, is over the moon, delighted and grateful. She lets the surrogate hold the child after the delivery. They remain in contact via pictures and emails and life is good. 🙂

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However, that is a best-case scenario. Once that baby is born, the “Momma Bear Switch” can turn to the extreme level. The IM becomes so frightened, so scared that someone will try to take her child, she suddenly sees the surrogate as a threat. No matter how irrational or unfounded this feeling may be it is real to her and can be completely over-powering. The IM cannot believe that something she has wanted so dearly, and that is so extremely precious to her, would not be coveted by the woman who carried it for her for nine months. This feeling is understandable for the IM, but completely unfounded for the surrogate. The IM will not let the surrogate see the child, let alone hold it. All contact is severed and the surrogate may never hear from the family again. It’s the harsh truth, but it happens. It is completely within the Intended Parents’ (IP’s) rights to do so. The surrogate may just never know the child she helped bring into this world.

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For the surrogate, this can be devastating, especially, because it can happen without any warning. Things seem fine until they are in the labor and delivery room.  Suddenly, she has had the baby, but there is no baby. The IP’s will not speak to her. She feels alone and abandoned. There is a reason that in a surrogacy contract it states that the surrogate will, if desired, be allowed one hour alone with the baby in the hospital. This is for closure sake. The surrogate had this baby inside her body; she wants to see what she helped to create. A surrogate doesn’t want to keep the child. She entered into the agreement knowing and trusting this. When a surrogate delivers a baby, there is a physical need to know about the child. Much like an artist or a craftsperson that has created something, the surrogate wants to see her work and know that it was successful.  It is a completely different connection than with her own children, but it is still valuable to the ending of a journey. It makes it all feel complete.

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Sometimes in these situations the IP’s may come around and send an email with pictures. Some have a change of heart later, once that fear has subsided and they are comfortably settled at home with the child. The IP’s may start sending updates to the surrogate in the years to come. But sometimes they don’t and that’s OK too. As long as the surrogate is aware of this possibility as she enters the agreement. The surrogate can be comfortable in the knowledge that what she did was an amazing act of love and is valued even if unspoken. What the surrogate needs for this to work is to know that this separation has nothing to do with her. What she did was a beautiful and fulfilling act. Even if she is not involved in the rest, she has helped to create a loving family. The families are grateful, too, in their own way. Some IP’s have been through such a long and harsh road they are unwilling to take any chances once they’ve obtained that wonderful gift of life. It has made them complete and they don’t want any more obstacles. A clean break was felt best. It all just needs to be communicated.

Understanding on both sides helps. The agency will help provide this from beginning to end, but it really does come down to the individuals involved. Prior knowledge is key. For the Intended Mother, she should remember she’s chosen (albeit reluctantly) to have another woman carry her baby.  Conversely, surrogates should be understanding of the IM’s experiences and tribulations. Knowing and being prepared for any possible outcome is best; that means it may hurt, but it can hurt less.

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Surrogacy, the new prostitution?

Negativity exists in every form of work. Uniformed and overly (and overtly) opinionated people are everywhere. The subject matters they dwell upon range from politics to plumbing. Surrogacy is, by far, without exception to this rule. I recently read a blog calling surrogates “prostitutes;” those who work in IVF “pimps” and the intended parents “Johns.” I am not referencing or linking to this person’s blog because I don’t want to lend it any credibility. While I do understand some people’s aversion to the idea of surrogacy–due to religious or emotional ideas–I absolutely cannot condone those who judge without research or understanding. Especially when it is by someone who isn’t affected personally by another’s choice. This is my broad statement of belief, not just when it comes to someone’s fertility or lack thereof. I am a firm believer in live and let live.

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Surrogacy fulfills a need, a yearning that is denied to a person by unlucky circumstance. It is born out of a desire so strong, I would put it akin the fulfillment of their life. I don’t believe it’s even really a want at this stage. It’s a need. A need for the love of their own child.

Some opt for adoption, which is just as long and as tedious a process as surrogacy. Surrogacy is a very, very personal choice, alongside a woman’s right to choose. It is an expensive one as well. I am not sugar coating it here: if you cannot afford it then it is not an option you can utilize. However, it is not a profit deal either. The doctors, nurses, lawyers, and agencies involved are not doing it for the money. They are just people who felt the need to help other people in their profession. There are swindlers out there, as in any profession, which is why it is important to do your research. The reason it costs so much is that there are separate steps with many specialized professionals. No one person is making a large lump sum.

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The women who opt to become surrogates aren’t in it for just the money.  Who, in their right mind, would want to go through at least a year of medication (needles mostly), dealing with lawyers, and then giving birth (!!!)  just for money?  The money involved helps support us as we go through this process, but we aren’t buying Lamborghini’s or paying cash for a mansion. We do it because we care. We are mothers, too. We’ve been blessed with easy pregnancies and healthy bodies and are able to give back to those who need us.
Also, there are moral laws in place that are strictly adhered to by these professionals. They aren’t making babies in the lab or selling babies to families. They are merely doing outside of the womb what would naturally occur (if it could) in the womb. It’s just putting all the pieces together with hopes for the best outcome. Trust me, if any of these people could have a baby the old-fashioned way, they would. It’s not about wanting to keep your nice body while someone else does the work or about picking out some sort of “super baby” with selected genes.  It’s about having a healthy child to call your own. That’s it. There are no ulterior motives involved. At least, not from reputable sources.

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I just felt the air around here needed some cleaning. I recently spent the weekend with a group of surrogates and the number one topic we spoke about was the things people say to them. The positive is what makes the experience worthwhile. We need the support of others just as anyone in a highly involved position would. However when strangers come up to and say “How could you sell your baby?” or “You must be numb not to feel connected to the child growing inside you?” or even “What you’re doing is wrong!” it hurts. These are not fictions; these are actual statements collected (and shared) by many surrogates. We try not to let it in, we try to rationalize and forget, but it still twists the knife and hurts every time.

When you are doing something you truly believe in and are told it’s wrong, your first instinct is to fight, to justify and to make them understand. I’m just trying to share the other side of the story. I can’t make those who don’t want to listen hear. But I can put this out into the world in hopes that it may make a change somehow, somewhere for someone. I want people to ask me questions. I want them to become more knowledgeable and informed, then I want them to go and make their own personal decisions.

And remember dear readers that old saying your mother probably taught you: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all (at least to people you don’t know 😉 )

Needles, Syringes and Bloodwork, Oh My!

Three medications most of the population has not heard of or understand the reason for: Progesterone, Delestrogen, Lupron. No, I’m not conjuring up the dark forces; these different medications have to do with hormones to become pregnant in the “New” fashioned way. If you’ve underwent In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) before, then they are as common a household name to you as Tylenol is to most people. Their common bond, along with  multiple blood tests, is that they all require poking yourself with needles for probably a good solid month (or two…or three…depending on how it all goes).

First medication is usually Lupron. This is administered by a relatively small needle and easily injected in the tummy. Many fertility doctors use this drug to get your cycle lined up or synchronized with a third party, such as a surrogate mother or egg donor. Then you’re on to the big boys! Progesterone is an oil-based shot given in the upper-outer quarter of your buttocks each night. Delestrogen is also oil-based that is even thicker that’s administered twice a week in the same areas. Your poor heiny ends up lumpy, battered and bruised. Not to mention you inner elbows (is there a word for that part of your body?) start to look like you’ve been shooting heroin from all of the blood drawing required. However, it’s a small price that’s happily paid by those hoping to conceive.

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My husband has had the honor of “sticking it to me” on a nightly basis for a while now ;). It’s so much easier with help. Twisting yourself into some weird high-level yoga pose to get that gigantic needle into position and then watching yourself jab it into you own butt, is absolutely no fun at all. Also, I think it gives him a weird, sadistic pleasure getting to poke his wife with needles. All joking aside, I do believe that it is bonding in a way; it makes him feel more involved in the process and sympathetic to my situation.

I’ll tell you something though, you become a poking-prep expert pretty quickly: “I need to twist off the gray needle, twist the pink one onto the syringe, pull back to the two mark, insert needle into the bottle of medication, push up, then pull back, make sure there’s no bubbles, pull back again so liquid is out of the needle, remove the pink needle (or OUCH!), discard it in the Sharps container, twist on the gray needle, cap it then get the alcohol wipe and Band-Aid.” Veterans are laughing right now because it’s true. And that’s just for one of the syringes!

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After he’s done with the injection(s) he usually takes a tennis ball and rolls it around the area with moderate pressure so that I don’t get knots too badly. You may never look at a tennis ball the same way again. I know I don’t 

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After you have done the embryo transfer (a different kind of poking and prodding), and you are lucky enough to get a positive pregnancy blood test (this requires at least 3 more blood draws), you’ll probably remain on Progesterone and Delestrogen for most of the first trimester of your pregnancy. This is to “trick” your body into believing the embryo is yours and to not reject it. It’s similar in a way to what they do to an organ transplant patient. Once you are cleared and taken off all medication by your fertility doctor, those injections become a thing of the past and it becomes your basic old-fashioned pregnancy until birth.

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To Bed Rest or Not To Bed Rest, That Is The Question?

Any woman who has used IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) will have an opinion on this matter. Do you need to stay lying down after an embryo transfer?  And if so, for how long?  Under what kind of conditions?  Most of these opinions are given to us by our fertility doctor, whose individual ideas range and vary themselves in this ongoing debate. There is still no clear cut winner.

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I just want to state the fact upfront, before I broach both sides of the argument: your freshly planted embryo WILL NOT FALL OUT. The female reproductive system is not designed that way. Once the little speck is in there, no matter how it got there, it stays. This by no means guarantees a baby, but that is one fear you absolutely do not need to worry yourself over. Ok here we go…

Nay-saying doctors don’t believe there is any substantial proof that bed rest increases your chance of conception; not even by 1%.  Confined to a bed and feeling useless when you are totally healthy can increase stress and nervousness, thus decreasing the chances of a friendly environment for the embryo to adhere to.  These are the type of doctors who like their patients to stay active and believe in a more “energetic” pregnancy. One of the more suspicious mothers I spoke with informed me she believes that bed rest is just a way for the doctors to have an excuse if the embryo doesn’t take. An out, if you will. “Well you must have gone down some stairs or got up to pee too often.” I do want to note, that most clinics that say no bed rest is needed do still recommend taking it easy for the first 24hrs afterward and no heavy lifting, but this is just common sense for any such procedure.

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Pro-bed rest doctors believe that even if it’s just a theory, it’s better to try it, if it means a better chance of conceiving. Who wouldn’t want to do everything possible to become pregnant? Bed rest doesn’t do any harm and its common sense to keep the womb horizontal for a better chance of stickiness. It’s been described as a time when a woman can relax and ward off the anxiety that is often the enemy of fertility. These are the type of doctors who believe in a “calm and relaxed” kind of pregnancy. Although, the length of said bed rest varies from as little as one day, to as many as ten.

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Speaking from my own personal experience, I don’t have any answers either (sorry). I have used both types of doctors. I’ve done three days of strict bed rest at a hotel down the street from the clinic because they wanted to keep my movement very limited.   I’ve also been sent home 15 minutes after the procedure and told to take it easy for the rest of the day. Both ways worked. The first did result in a blighted ovum and, unfortunately, a D&C, but my body held on to the embryo like it was supposed to. In that way it was a success. The second stuck fast right away and turned into a healthy fetus. So, I, personally, am at a loss. I’ve spoken to other mothers who have had the broad spectrum of results from working out right after to taking it super easy the whole ‘in between” time.  Each had vastly different results in each scenario.

The in-between time, is the time from your transfer to blood test. It’s that exciting/awful unknowing time when you don’t know if in the next week you’ll be crying or laughing. It’s stressful whether you are lying down or not, but I don’t know which is the lesser of two evils. What I do gather is it really depends on what kind of a person you are. Are you the kind that needs to stay busy so as not to think about things you have no control over?   Or, are you the kind who finds being calm helps relieve you? These are elements best discussed with your personal physician.  They can really give you the most tailor-made advice. Just know your of all options and do what you believe is best for YOU and you can’t go wrong.

Trusted Doctor Uses Forged Surrogacy Documents to Sell Babies In India

Have you heard about this? A gynecologist in India has been charged with human trafficking and forgery after selling a baby using fake surrogacy papers. He and his “clients” have been making the international headlines for the past couple of months and it looks as if this has been going on for some time now. Dr. Bharat Atit, along with three of his staff, were arrested and booked after it was discovered that a newborn baby had been illegally sold via the Doctor by a woman and her boyfriend. Now they are investigating previous claims and more cases are coming to light.

The woman involved, claimed rape towards her boyfriend when she was 5 months pregnant. It was discovered that she had done this because they were arguing over the price of the child and she is to use this claim to cut the boyfriend’s percentage. Once this was found out she dropped the charges, however, this opened the investigation to that of the Doctor.

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This newest scandal involving surrogacy in India raises the issue of legality when it comes to these delicate waters. India has had issues before dealing with the health and treatment of their surrogates during prenatal care and the backgrounds of the women that were being used.

India was a place that was considered to be “a great deal” to go to for people looking to start an “inexpensive” family which made it easy for some, to turn a blind eye to the murkiness involved. However, with these new legal issues piled on top of the old health ones, they may be losing their drawing power for even those with lesser morals.

First, it is used as a method of human trafficking.  Second, the surrogates are treated like cattle. Yes, it is cheaper, but at what cost? This is a child we are discussing.  A child carried by a person no less important or critical to the process than the intended parent. Having a child when you physical aren’t able to is tricky enough, without weighing on your conscience as well.  People are now coming to realize it’s not worth the gamble of saving money. This is a child we are talking about and ensuring that child has the best start in life starts at conception.

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Overall, India doesn’t seem to present a viable option for surrogacy now to those who were able to justify their means to an end before.

As I am doing research for this blog I have also just learned that India has now implemented new guidelines this year which no longer allow foreigners of same-sex couples, single individuals, unmarried couples or couples who have been married less than two years to commission a surrogate there. Also, if you did qualify to utilize their surrogacy programs, you would still be required to provide a letter from your countries government expressly giving you permission to bring your child home from India and that your country would agree to recognize this child as a product of a surrogacy pregnancy and birth.

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I think the chapter on surrogacy in India is closing, and very quickly. After everything, it is my opinion this is for the best.

Double Trouble… being sick while pregnant

Oh man – oh man – oh man. UGH! I was just starting to feel better. No more nausea, no more vomiting; I can finally keep things down and morning sickness was slowly becoming a thing of the past. Then…BAM! I’ve got a cold. That stuffy, achy, icky-ness feeling that I wish would just go away. With so many changes already going on in my body and so many things I can’t do, eat or take during pregnancy, this is just the icing on the cake isn’t it? What can I do? What can I take? Is it worth it, or do I just suffer? Blah….

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Luckily, most doctors have a list of “approved” products that are safe for you and the baby. Unfortunately, it’s a rather short list and even shorter during your first trimester. Good-old-fashioned-home-remedies may even work better for you (they always seemed to for me). However, always, always, always check with your health care provider first before taking anything herbal or over the counter. Even if it’s what your mom, your grandma and your great-grandma took and what all your friends suggest. It’s better to double check with the pros and be safe than sorry. You never know for sure what new discoveries have been made in the last couple of years and for the safety of that little one (and you) it’s always best to ask beforehand. There is never such a thing as too many, or too stupid, a question when it comes to your health. That is especially true when it comes to prenatal care. Also, that stuffy nose you’ve got may not even be a cold in the first place.

A lot of woman, (around 30%), are congested during their pregnancy, it’s a condition called Rhinitis of Pregnancy, and it has nothing to do with allergies or a viral infection. It has to do with the high amounts of estrogen and blood in your body, causing swelling in the mucus membranes and blood vessels in your nose. This leads to congestion, runny nose, sneezing and mild headaches. Be prepared, you may have it during your entire pregnancy (sorry). I did, the second time around. It’s annoying, but as long as there are no other symptoms it is perfectly harmless. Your risk of sinus infections also increase when you are pregnant, so if you feel pressure, pain, are coughing, have a fever, swelling or any other symptoms, contact your provider for help.

Another culprit is those pesky allergies that you had before the pregnancy. They run amuck once you get knocked up and can increase in potency. There are a few medications a doctor can prescribe for you that are safe to take, but it may be best to just try to stay away from the source for a while, considering that you can get pregnancy rhinitis on top of any of these lovely illnesses.

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What you can do is this: keep elevated and use pillows, pillows and more pillows. Take them all from your partner. You’re allowed…seeing as you are probably kicking off all of the covers anyway, it’s a fair trade. Drink plenty of liquids and hang out in your warm bathroom after a shower for a bit or wet a washcloth with warm water and breath through it for a while. It’ll be a nice soothing relief from congestion. Some people like saline drops or spray (Saline only! No added stuff) to clear everything out. Vaporizers and humidifiers also work well at night; just make sure you clean them regularly. The last thing you need is more irritants and bacteria floating around. Also, avoid anything that may be an irritant. Do your work out indoors on days when the air quality is poor. Stay away from smokers, paint and chemical fumes (which you should be doing anyways) and get your partner to dust and clean any mold and/or pet dander from inside your home.

As mentioned before, there are so many different methods and home remedies out there.  I’ve only mentioned a few.  

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What are some of the methods you use?  What Holy Grail of discoveries can you offer those sick in the morning (afternoon, evening and sometimes midnight)?

Post your comments below and then repeat after me: “This too shall pass.”