Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr Day

Today is MLK day and there have been various posts on FB in reference to this remarkable and courageous man who changed the world.  One quote in particular resonated with me:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

That is how I often feel about this whole fertility thing.  How I wish our stork could have just flown to our house and delivered our baby like it happens for so many couples- they decide they want to start a family and within months they are pregnant. It didn't happen that way for us, so we tried other avenues.  With each failure we began to lose steam, but we never lost our desire to have a child.  And so, we keep moving forward....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A New Hope

It’s been about six weeks since we had to really start thinking about surrogacy and about three weeks since we placed an ad looking for a surrogate. But it feels like it has been forever.  There are a really two main ways to find a surrogate match.  One is to go through an agency, where they recruit and screen surrogates and then match you based on personality and location, all for a mere $20,000 or so.  This fee does cover about 7K in attorney's fees but is still a good bit of money for linking you with your surrogate. The second is to go "independent" which means finding a surrogate on your own. There are several different sites on the internet such as surromomsonline and  allaboutsurrogacy where those pursuing surrogacy go to try to find a match. In an effort to try to save that money (and also because its very hard for me to just sit back and do nothing) we decided to try going the independent route.  Initially, we just lurked on the sites and sent messages to those who were geographically desirable.  Then, a couple of different friends who had gone through the process encouraged us to place an ad of our own as many of the more experienced surrogates are lurkers themselves and just reply when they see a couple they are interested in.  We first placed our ad on December 12th.  Since that time, we’ve had a couple of promising leads but nothing has panned out.  Some of this is due to some non-negotiable issues.  We really do want someone who is open to terminating if we deemed necessary.  We honestly don't think that will be an issue as we have done CGH testing on our final two embryos so we are fairly certain they shouldn't have any chromosomal abnormalities. But if there did turn out to be a medical issue and the baby was not going to be compatible with life, or the quality of life was going to be majorly compromised due to medical complications, we would want the option of terminating.  We completely understand those who have personal/ religious views which make them against terminating- those people just wouldn't be the right match for us. 

Some of the other issues had to do with distance or the surro not being insured but we are starting to think we can be more open to non-local surros and/or those without insurance (though both might be a deal-breaker due to finances).   And then there were some  that seemed too good to be true (aka shady) so we didn't pursue it (18K flat, they will come to our state for the last month of pregnancy and deliver here, buy their own insurance, put in 5 embryos, etc)  so we have yet to find the right fit. 

All that might have changed this week.  A couple of weeks ago,  a woman from one of the sites contacted me and invited me to join a private Georgia Surrogacy Facebook group. I jumped at the chance to do so, thinking I could find myself a local surrogate that way.  Once I joined I was kind of disappointed, as the group only had 10 members and all but two were surrogates who had already been matched.   I noticed a message thread asking one of the women if she was planning to do another journey and she said that she wasn’t planning on it but if she did it would be as a GS (Gestational Surrogate)I went to her page and immediately liked what I saw.  I’m not even 100% sure what it was.  Part of it was the close-up Justin Timberlake pictures (Jason and I had also just gone to his show a few days prior and were still on a JT high).  A lot of it was her posts- she was a bit snarky/sarcastic and they made me laugh.  I wasn’t “friends” with her yet but decided I needed to send her a message and see if she might be open to being a GS for us.  Then I friended her. She accepted my friend request pretty quickly but I never got a response from her.   The day after Christmas I decided to send her another message,  just in case she hadn’t gotten the first one.  She responded later that evening saying she was flattered by my interest, that surrogacy had been in the back of her mind,  but that she wasn’t sure her husband would be on board and would need to discuss it with him.  I wrote back and she happened to be online when I did, so we started im’ing (mostly about JT).  I liked her even more after that contact but didn’t hear anything else from her beyond that day.  Fast forward to  January 2nd and this blog.  Part of the reason I wanted to do the blog was to give  potential surrogates a window into our world, as otherwise we are just one classified ad among 60 others.  I was hoping that in learning more about us and actually seeing us in the video montage (and okay, maybe pulling at the heartstrings a little) surrogates would be more interested in helping us. In particular, I had hopes that I might woo my FB friend if she knew more about our story.   I decided to try one last ditch effort with this potential surrogate and sent her a message with a link to the blog. 

It worked!  The next day she replied saying that she spoke to her husband and while he initially said no, after showing him our messages and our blog he had a change of heart.   She said that family is everything to them and they just can't imagine wanting something so desperately and not being able to fulfill those dreams.  I messaged her back and once again, we began im’ing.  To give you an idea of how witty/great she is, when I asked her about our deal breaker issue regarding termination she wrote back, “You being a UF fan could be a potential deal breaker. Lol. All kidding aside, yes, I am open to terminating”.    This started a two hour instant messaging session- lots of witty banter sprinkled with more serious questions regarding surrogacy.   We ended our conversation with promises to make plans to meet in person the following weekend. I was on cloud nine!

It took a little while to coordinate our meeting and I began to get nervous that this, like everything else, wasn’t going to pan out.  However, we finally found a time and met for breakfast with our husbands on Sunday morning.  While it was a little awkward at first, the nervousness was quickly replaced with laughter.  By the end of the meeting, we all felt pretty sure that we were going to move forward. 

I’m trying not to get too excited or hopeful, since those hopes have been dashed too many times to count.  Still, this could really be our chance to finally have our family!  Next stop:  Contacting the doctors and attorneys. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Longest. Miscarriage. Ever.

I used to be a runner.  In the past, I have ran three half marathons and a sprint triathalon, along with numerous 5k and 10k races.  When we began trying to get pregnant my GYN told me to cut back on my running as my cycles were sometimes off  while I was training .   I stopped running as much, and between that and all the hormones, I put on a fair amount of weight.  Upon learning I wouldn't be able to carry a baby one of the first things I decided to do was run a 15k. I asked Jason to run it with me.   I figured it would be a good way to start shedding some of the weight.  Unlike becoming pregnant,  I  also felt this was finally a goal we could set and actually achieve.  Or so I thought.

Training was going okay for a while, but then I started having a nagging knee pain. I tried to run on the treadmill, but ended up listening to my body and just doing weights instead.  For any LA fitness members out there who heard about someone leaving the gym on a stretcher on January 2nd, that was me. It wasn’t due to runners knee, though I wish that was the case.   It was one of the scariest, most mortifying experiences of my life.

I was doing bicep curls when suddenly I felt like I was peeing in my pants. It was odd because I
never had the sensation that I needed to pee but I felt wetness in my workout pants. I began walking towards the bathroom and suddenly it felt like it was dripping all down my legs, so I made a mad dash to the locker room. Once in the bathroom I realized it was not urine but instead, bright red blood. Buckets of it. It was gushing from me, the likes of which I’d never seen before. The entire toilet was filled with blood. If I had not already had a D&C, I would have assumed this was my body miscarrying the fetus. However, I had a D&C two weeks prior and had only been lightly spotting every since. Panicking, I called my doctor. The nurse instructed me to go to the ER. I stood up thinking I would call my husband and have him meet me there, only to realize that there was no way I could leave the bathroom stall in my current condition as I was GUSHING blood. Like a faucet. Attempts at wrapping toilet paper up to catch the blood were in vain as the blood soaked the toilet paper in seconds. At this point I began sobbing. I took a blood-filled picture of the toilet and texted it to my husband, then called him in tears. He had a hard time understanding me as I tried to explain that I was bleeding and needed to go to the ER. I sent a second picture of the toilet and he immediately left work to come get me, staying on the phone with me all the while. I was in full panic mode by this point and just kept crying “I don’t’ know what to do".  Thankfully, some kind girl overheard my conversation and asked if I was okay. Through my sobs, I told her that I wasn’t and asked if she could find me some pads. Meanwhile, Jason was telling me I needed to call an ambulance. I told him that I didn’t want to do that. In my head, I was worried about the expense of an ambulance and mostly, just not wanting to be wheeled out of the gym on a stretcher. A few minutes later, that decision was made for me as two female LA fitness employees came in and told me they were calling an ambulance because I was hemorroghing. The girl came back with a full box of pads and some Kleenex (she had gone to CVS- how sweet is that?) and the LA Fitness employees told me that the paramedics said I needed to be lying down. They helped me out of the bathroom and we waited for the paramedics to arrive.  All the while, I was still hoping Jason would get there first so he could take me to the ER.

Soon after, the paramedics arrived and began taking my vitals (they were fine) and asked me how I was feeling ( I never felt any pain- I was just really scared and embarrassed). I had them talk to Jason, who was almost at the gym. The paramedic told Jason that I needed to go to the hospital and asked him to meet us at the ER. They put me on that dreaded stretcher and I covered my face with a sheet, hoping no one would see me as they wheeled me out of the gym. In an attempt to calm me, the lead paramedic shared that he and his wife had lost a baby at six months but she was fine now. He told me , “I know you’re worried about whether you’ll be able to carry another baby”. I told him I wasn't worried about that as we already knew that we needed a surrogate. Then he said, “Well you’re probably worried you will need a hysterectomy”. To which I replied, “No, I’m worried I’m going to die!” He assured me that wouldn’t happen on his watch.

 It’s a good thing I wasn’t truly at risk of dying because the ambulance driver apparently missed a turn. I realized this when I looked out the window after we had been driving for a while and saw that we were clear on the other end of town, way past the hospital. Jason arrived at the ER a full half hour ahead of us.  When the ER doctor finally examined me she removed a large blood clot. Once the clot was removed the bleeding subsided. After an ultrasound and another examination from my own OB/GYN, they determined they weren’t quite sure what was happening but felt there may have been a tiny “retained product of conception” that was missed during my D&C. Since my vitals and bloodwork were all okay and the bleeding had nearly stopped, they sent me home on meds to help stop the bleeding.  However, I couldn't really go home in my soiled gym clothes so I had to go leave in the hospital gown.  This is what a hot mess I looked like when I got home. 

Even my cat was scared. My friend Dave told me I look like one of those "Utah Sister Wives".  Sadly, I have to agree.

In the week that followed, I had a few smaller bleeding episodes that seemed to stop once a quarter-sized clot was released. One of these episodes happened during my follow-up visit with my GYN on Tuesday. She didn’t seem too alarmed and asked me to follow up with her on Friday. Before I could do that, on Thursday (one week after the initial episode) I began hemorrhaging again. This time, thankfully I was at home. Jason had just left for work but I called him and he turned around immediately. I knew I needed to lay down so I got in the tub, figuring that would be the easiest to clean. At first, I was just gushing blood but soon huge clots came out. Pancake sized clots. It was horrible. Jason came home to what looked like a murder scene. He began running around trying to get old towels to catch the blood so we could get to the doctor (she told us at the ER to come to her office if it happened again) While this time wasn’t quite as scary as before because we knew what was happening, physically I felt worse. I was lightheaded and nauseated and even vomited.  At one point, I felt so bad that I even thought about having Jason call an ambulance. That thought passed, along with the nausea. The bleeding finally subsided and we made our way to the doctor. My GYN was still unsure what was going on but felt it was important to do another D&C. This one was done in her office with out being put under. It was excruciating. Thankfully, it was over in about 10 minutes. They did some more bloodwork and this time, it came back abnormal. I had lost so much blood this past week that I am now officially anemic! Apparently the low end of normal is 11.5 and my red blood count is 8.9. I wasn’t sure what that meant but found out pretty quickly: frequent headaches, shortness of breath and heart palpitations when doing any sort of activity (like climbing stairs, but even when taking out the garbage) I figured I would bounce right back once the bleeding stopped but apparently it takes a long time for red blood cells to replenish (120 days) so it will likely be a good month before I am feeling back to normal. So much for the 15k I was planning on running!

While I'm bummed I won't be able to run the race in two weeks,  I am grateful it wasn't something more serious.  I also think this experience has helped me get over my desire to be pregnant- I definitely don't want to go through that again! It's just more confirmation that something is not right within my uterus.  Someday soon I hope we find a better uterus to help us create our family!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How We Got Here and Where We Are Going

We are Kerri and Jason and this blog is our way of documenting our long and winding road to parenthood...we haven't reached our destination yet and have faced many bumps, roadblocks, and detours along the way but we are hopeful that we will get there someday soon.

We met on June 26th, 2008 at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta.  Kerri was 35 1/2 and Jason was about to turn 30.  Despite the age difference, our relationship progressed very quickly,  We were engaged within six months. Ten months later, in October of 2009, we had a beautiful beach wedding.

Since Kerri was already "Advanced Maternal Age", we began trying to start our family almost immediately.  After a couple of months with no luck we began to get serious about this baby-making thing and started using ovulation predictor kits, timing intercourse, taking temperatures, etc. etc. One month turned into two. Two months turned into four. Ten very frustrating months later we began to accept the fact that this dream of ours may not happen on its own. It was then that we turned to the first of three fertility clinics.   Initial tests could not find anything wrong and we were given the label "Unexplained Infertility".  The doctor recommended that we try an IUI (Intrauterine Insemination AKA turkey baster method)  We attempted our first IUI in November of 2010.   We anxiously awaited the results and got the phone call the day before Thanksgiving.

Just like that. First shot.  We were ecstatic!

At our 7 week ultrasound we learned that the heartbeat was abnormal and intermittent and we would likely miscarry.  Our joy was quickly replaced by a devastating sadness that would become all too familiar in the years to follow.
Over the next three years we would go through:

-3 fertility clinics (including one is St Louis)
-6 IUI's
-2 corrective surgeries
-4 IVF egg retrievals
-1 failed adoption attempt
-2  IV  Intralipid infusions
-4 miscarriages
-3 D&C's
-Hundreds of subcutaneous and intramuscular shots
-Thousands of tears

This past April we thought we had found the answer to all our problems conceiving.  After endless research, Kerri found a doctor in St. Louis who finally gave us a diagnosis and a reason for our miscarriages (by then we had experienced three losses, one with a chromosomally normal embryo). 

His Diagnosis: Elevated Natural Killer Cells (NK cells) in the uterine cavity.    Basically, Kerri's uterus recognizes the embryos as a foreign substance and these NK cells attack it.   While this sounds quite ominous, this doctor assured us that the condition is quite treatable with intrapilid infusions.  Intralipids are basically a mixture of soya bean oil, egg yolk, glycerin and water which is administered through an IV drip in the arm. Intralipid Infusion therapy provides the body with essential fatty acids that help to lower the activity of NK  cells.    
So, our long and winding road to parenthood led us to St. Louis.  This summer we made two 550 mile road trips to St. Louis and had two egg retrievals. The plan was to retrieve as many eggs as we could (20 total) and get as many 5 day blastocysts as we could (only 4) so that we could test them for viability.  Most miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities, so we hoped that if we could have at least one genetically normal embryo, this, combined with the intralipids would greatly reduce our risk of miscarriage.  After six long weeks of waiting, we learned that THREE of our four embryos were chromosomally normal!  We were ecstatic and  hopeful that we might even be able to have a sibling!  We transferred one normal embryo on October 23rd- a day before our fourth wedding anniversary.  We found out we were pregnant on Halloween!  Kerri happily did her second Intralipid Infusion, confident that this would make this baby stick.   It didn't.  She began bleeding a few days before our scheduled six week ultrasound. We moved up the u/s expecting the worst but were elated to find everything looked good. We even FINALLY got to hear a heartbeat of 116bpm.  A few days later we had our regularly scheduled u/s and the news that had become all too familiar was heard once again- the heartbeat had slowed down and was barely detectable.  Miscarriage was imminent.

To say we were devastated is an understatement.

There are no words to describe the complexity of emotions that we have felt over the last four years.  We do our best to enjoy what we have rather than what we do not have.  Honestly, at times, this is very hard to do. You go through life with a mask on, not letting others know how crushed you feel month after month.  Sure,  there are good times and laughter.  But underneath it all, there's still this incredible pain.  Infertility changes you.   It turns you into someone you don't want to be. It makes you bitter and envious and angry.  You can never be truly joyous when you learn of someone else's pregnancy as it just reminds you of your own sorrow.   Throughout our marriage there have been three different times that we knew we were pregnant, albeit only for a few short weeks.  Those weeks were so much easier.  It was like there was a heaviness that had been lifted from us- one we didn't even realize was there because we had just grown so accustom to it. It's as if we are always dragging a weight around with us.  Some days the weight is ever-present, such as when we learn we are miscarrying.   Other days it's less noticeable- until you see a facebook picture of a sonogram or birth announcement or learn that a friend is pregnant.   That feels like a kick in the gut.  But those  short weeks when we were pregnant were different. It wasn't just that we were happy.  It was that the absence of the weight was so apparent.

Over the years we have tried  many different things to help us cope with our emotions.  We've tried Buddhism.  Counseling. Exercise. Volunteering.  Scouring the internet for answers. Journaling. Vision Boards.  Worry Stones. Internet detoxes. Yoga.  Acupuncture.  Talking to friends and family.  Hibernating.  Leaning on each other.

In the end, it has been the boundless support of family and friends that has gotten us through this difficult time.   And mostly, it has been each other.   Luckily, we tend to see-saw with our emotions. When Jason is really down, Kerri is there to lift him up. When Kerri is at her lowest, Jason says the wisest things to help raise her spirits. Through all the challenges, we both feel incredibly blessed to have one another.  Here's a glimpse into what that looks like...

We are now faced with our biggest road block of them all- the realization that Kerri's body just isn't mean to carry our embryo.  It is a lot to come to terms with, but ultimately, we want a family and will take whatever road we need to in order to achieve that goal.  Next stop: Gestational Surrogacy.