Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our Surrogacy Journey

In the summer of 1985, a young lady gave birth to a beautiful, brown-eyed girl. She loved this precious baby girl so much that she knew the best thing for this innocent little miracle was to give her to another family to raise. She courageously gave that baby life and then selflessly gave a couple from Grove City, Ohio the gift of a baby girl. This couple knew the struggle of infertility, because they lived it. For years, they tried to have a baby and could not. Their journey led them to adopt a strong baby boy in 1982 and then this sweet little girl in 1985. After years of trying to have a baby, they now proudly had two beautiful children to call their own. Their family was complete.

Twenty-eight years later, that brown-eyed baby named Gina, now a married woman, would quickly become the mother of three baby boys. She would hear of friends and family who struggled to get pregnant and wonder how she was so lucky to have been given the amazing gift of babies so easily. She would often think of these friends, family, and the millions of other women who deal with infertility on a daily basis and feel helpless, knowing there was nothing she could do to make their pain any easier.

However, one night over a casual conversation with some co-workers, the topic turned to that of surrogacy. This brief conversation sparked an interest in Gina's heart to see if this was something she could actually do for somebody. She was young, in good health, and had three successful pregnancies with zero complications. In fact, being pregnant was something she truly enjoyed. She assumed she would be the perfect surrogacy candidate. She was given the gift of life as a baby by her biological and adoptive parents. She had been given the gift of life from God in three perfect baby boys. Now, Gina set her gaze on nothing less than returning this special gift to another couple.

The Day That Changed Everything
For a brief moment, the entire world went into slow motion, and all that was running through my head was this phrase: "All of these people want babies. All of these people want babies. All of these people want babies."

It was a beautiful, bright, and sunny Chicago spring morning that first time we energetically walked into the fertility clinic located in a neighborhood just north of the city. The waiting room had an energy that I had never before felt in my 29 years of existence. With all of the energy and activity that was occurring around the waiting room, the entire building seemed to be spinning. One patient after another filed in and was quickly escorted by one of the nurses to an assigned examination room.

As we waited, I remember asking our agency coordinator from Alternative Reproductive Resources, "Is it always this busy?" She simply answered, "Yes." Her answer was quick - one word to be exact - but that one word confirmed in my mind and heart that the journey of surrogacy my wife had chosen, and one that I was determined to join her on, was exactly the path we needed to take.

I remember thinking, "Is there something about this time of year that makes the center so busy? Is there some kind of IVF sale going on? Surely this many people cannot be struggling with infertility! Surely there must be an explanation to all of this!”

“Yes, the fertility clinic is always this busy”, she replied, confirming the reality deep within my soul. It was a simple answer, but the depth of that one word could not have been more complex. The fact remained that this room was over-crowded, and the implications of that reality were about to change our lives forever.

The Facts

After our coordinator stated that the fertility center was in fact always busy, we sat down and she informed us of a couple of facts:

  • The inability to have a child affects 6.7 million women in the U.S. (approximately 11% of the reproductive-age population) (Source: National Survey of Family Growth, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] 2006-2010).
  • One in eight couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy (Source: National Survey of Family Growth, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] 2006-2010).

Before that spring day in Chicago, these facts would have gone in one ear and out the other - not because I do not care about people who do not have the ability to become pregnant - it’s just that oftentimes we do not tend to give something much thought until it directly affects us. That day as we sat in the waiting room, I looked around at all of the people who wanted to have babies, and those facts could not have moved me more.

I saw men and women from all walks of life in that room. Looking around, I saw Caucasian and African-American people; I continued to look and saw people of Asian and Middle-Eastern descent. I saw young couples and older couples. I saw desperation and determination. I saw hope and courage. I saw faith. I saw joy and anticipation. By being in that room, I saw couples declaring an expression of love that swore to move mountains in order to reach the child that would one day be born to them.

The statistics our coordinator outlined as we waited in that crowded room were no longer just numbers. These statistics had faces. These faces had stories. No, these were not just statistics: these were people. These were people on a journey. Some may call it a mission to go through years upon years of struggle, some more than a decade, to reach that moment they first hold their baby. Some may get to reach that moment and others may not, but all of them believe the struggle is worth the sacrifice. Sitting in that room, Gina and I began to believe with them and were about to join them on their collective journey.

I wish I was exaggerating when I say that the room was packed from wall to wall, but I am not. What this room symbolized was a reality that I was not able to grasp at that moment. I will do my best to explain why this day in Chicago was life changing.

Our One-Hit Wonders

My wife, Gina, and I grew up together. Our parents attended the same church and we saw each other whenever the church doors were open. Around middle school we became “interested” in each other, and one fall evening after a church service I gave Gina a note (via my best-friend-delivery-service) asking if she would be mine. It was the “check yes or no” type of letter. Very romantic. It must have worked because the next time I saw her, she said yes.

As a couple, we survived the high school and college years and were married over Christmas break of our senior year at Cedarville University. After graduating, we moved back to Columbus, Ohio and started married life and our careers.

After an exciting second year of marriage, we decided that it was a logical time to start trying to have a baby. After a few calculations, we discovered the best day to “go for it.” The day that our very scientific calculations predicted to be the most likely to get pregnant happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day. We were living in Pennsylvania at the time, and that holiday weekend we just so happened to be home staying at my parents house. Very romantic. My brother generously gave us his bedroom for the weekend. Sorry, Craig, but on Thanksgiving Day in 2008, we went for it.

A couple weeks went by, and I even forgot about our efforts. But after Gina missed her monthly cycle, a home pregnancy test amazed us when we discovered that Gina was pregnant on the first try. I remember thinking and saying to Gina, “Wow, that was easy!”

In fact, it seemed so easy that after two years, we were excited to try again for Baby #2. Just like before, a few calculations were made and a couple days later Gina was pregnant again. At the time, we did not know that the exact moment had been successful, but after several weeks, another home pregnancy test would confirm once again that we had achieved another “one-hit wonder.”

Less than a year after Baby #2 arrived, Gina and I had an enjoyable date night planned. We sent both of our sons to their grandparents’ house and set out for an relaxing kid-free night! I do not remember where we went to dinner or what entertainment we chose for our evening out. I will skip a few obvious details, but all I remember is the night ending with Gina exclaiming, “Oh no, I know I am pregnant now! I just know I am pregnant.”

“Gina, I am sure you are not pregnant. We were not even trying!” I stated confidently-ish, desperately trying to console my beautiful bride who was now frantically lost in a rare moment of uncertainty. She always has a plan, and now, “We were not planning on trying for another child until Deacon stops nursing!” She must have reminded me of that 13 more times before we turned out the lights and put fate in God's hands.

Not to my surprise, several weeks went by, and once again a home pregnancy test confirmed that in eight months, our third one-hit wonder would be joining our rapidly-growing family.

After hearing our story, it is easy to see why I was in such shock on that spring morning in Chicago to be informed so emphatically of the reality of how hard it really is to achieve pregnancy. Having babies was clearly not something with which we were ever going to struggle. We wanted a baby, we tried, and we were successful three times in a row. Technically, one time, according to me, we were not even trying.

Please do not hear me wrong. We did not and do not take the fact that we had three healthy babies so quickly for granted. When I say it was easy, we recognize that it was nothing within our ability that was making it “easy.” It was not easy because anything about us made it easy. Those were just the cards we were handed. We recognize that every time a baby is conceived, it is a miracle. We recognize that every time a baby is delivered, it is a miracle. We are in complete awe of the three miracles that God has given us.

However, even though we know these babies are miracles, I do not think that until Chicago did we fully realize how lucky we truly are. The struggle of infertility is so real and deep for so many people that the thought of our experience just simply seems effortless and too good to be true.

The Talk

One night after work, Gina came home and asked me what my thoughts were about her carrying somebody else's child. My response was brief, because I thought if she wanted to do this, it was something she had to commit to first. I would fully support her, but I knew this was ultimately her decision to make.

Looking back, I was shocked at the topic of discussion, but in that moment I was instantly so proud of her and thrilled that she was considering this. Her three complication-free pregnancies and deliveries were no guarantee that it would happen again. She was literally considering putting her body on the line for someone else's benefit.

Our faithJesus Christ, who just so happens to be the product of the most miraculous birth in the history of the world, taught, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Often, people view the Bible as a list of rules that God has set in place to keep people from enjoying life. The truth is that the Bible is a story about how the world is broken. There is a lot of evil, pain, and suffering, even in trying to have babies. Consequently, the Bible is a story about how God sent his son into a broken world to heal it and create a way for people to experience life to the fullest. The climax of the story and the entire message depends on the truth that only way the brokenness of the world can be fixed was for Jesus to die. In the realest sense, He gave his life so that we could experience life ourselves. That is love.

My wife, in accordance with our faith, was contemplating demonstrating the message of this bigger story in a very tangible way. She was choosing to lay her body down in order to let a couple, one that she did not even know, experience a life they did not think was possible. How could I not support her wish?!

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match…”

Our faith convictions about the sanctity of life put matching us with intended parents on hold.  Unfortunately, it was not easy to find a couple with like beliefs. We were adamant about our stance against selective reduction and terminating a pregnancy at any point of the process even based on testing that may show signs of physical or mental disabilities. We believe all life has tremendous value, and we set out to find a couple with similar convictions.

Six Long Months Later...

We were finally placed with a pair of intended parents! This brought us back to Chicago, and it was time to make the transfer of embryos. We walked into the doctor’s office at 8 am, and by 8:15 we were walking back out to the car. We made a quick stop at Molly's Cupcakes and Intelligentsia's Broadway Coffeebar, and then headed out on our drive back to Columbus. I remember looking over at Gina in the passenger seat and saying like I had with our first born, "Well that was easy."

Our previous pregnancies were (for the most part) stress-free: We never really worried about whether or not a pregnancy would occur. This time was different. The next several weeks were agonizing. We were experiencing what it was like to walk in someone else's shoes. For many women and men, this experience of playing the waiting game is very much the norm. The possibility that nothing would happen and the prospect of having to try again next month and again the following month over and over was their reality. Waiting alongside the intended parents, we were now beginning to experiencing this anxiety.

I was merely a spectator in the front row of this incredible story, but I was absolutely consumed with anticipation and hope. The realness of the struggle is something I will never forget. The agony of waiting was almost too much for me. I was not the parent or even the one carrying the child, and yet I wanted so desperately for this pregnancy to occur and for the baby to be healthy.

Finally, the day arrived to be tested. I had used my earned vacation to go on our trips to Chicago, so it was not possible for me to go to the doctor. It was the longest morning ever. If Gina and I were this anxious, I can not even imagine how anxious and excited the intended parents must have felt. Then to receive the news, it was one of the happiest text messages I have ever received from Gina.

“They are going to have a baby!”

I could feel the joy and hear the laughter and celebration as the intended parents would in a matter of moments receive the incredible news. Another one-hit wonder was on its way!

Alternative Reproductive Resources

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