Sunday, June 2, 2013

Baby Steps

As we sat anxiously in the waiting area of Agency A, I was overwhelmed with a strange feeling that had become foreign to me over the last year or so. I think it was hope. For the first time in months, I wasn't waiting for a doctor's appointment or a chemo infusion or a radiation blast or a CT scan. Instead I was surrounded by wall hangings with quotes about dreams coming true and photos of happy babies. My heart started to beat a little faster, and my fingers tapped nervously on my thighs.

"Are you excited?" I asked Jimmi. He motioned to a magazine on the table with a headline about the high rate of gestational carriers birthing twins, shot me a mischievous grin and quipped, "My life is over!" I giggled and grabbed his hand, secretly hoping we would be doubly blessed.

"Suzanne and Jimmi?" called the receptionist. We both stood up. "Shelly will see you now."

Shelly is not only the owner of Agency A, but also an attorney who specializes in surrogacy law. As we sat down in her office, which was very underdone, with only a basic desk, a computer and some family photos on the windowsill, we listened as she told us about her personal surrogacy journey. Shelly explained that her children had been carried by someone else, so she understood what we were going through. She went on to tell us about her agency and what to expect during the process of finding a carrier for our baby. It all sounded so promising. We would just have to sign some papers, fill out some forms about what we're looking for in a carrier, wait until we're matched, implant the lucky lady with our embryos and voila! Baby time!

"How long does it usually take?" I asked. "Depending on how specific you are about what kind of carrier you'd like to find, it could take anywhere from a few months to a year to get matched. After that it'll be about three months for the medical review, testing, background check, home study and contract negotiations. Then she'll have to start on medications to prepare her for the transfer. Then, hopefully she'll get pregnant." My smile faded as that timeframe was a slightly unexpected. Start to finish, we could be looking at almost two years! I mean, I'd told Jimmi this process would take a REALLY long time, but I mainly said that to get his ass in motion, not because I actually believed it!

Once we finished asking Shelly all of our questions she directed us to the conference room to meet with our Intended Parent or IP Coordinator, Joan. Joan was a no nonsense, strait to the point type of woman whose main goal was to find out what we would or wouldn't accept in a carrier. "If you don't want someone of a certain color or religion, you need to make sure you mark that on the forms. My job isn't to judge your choices, it's to get information. The more information I have about what you're willing to accept, the better I'll be at matching you. I will tell you the less picky you are, the quicker you'll find someone. The best thing to do is pick the one or two qualities that are most important to you and try to be a little more open to the others. You're obviously not gonna find someone exactly like you. But we'll try to get close."

Joan showed us a sample profile of an actual carrier Agency A had used. The woman was a translator for hearing impaired children, she was married, had two kids and had health insurance. A carrier with health insurance was a rare find, as we were told by both Joan and Shelly. We could wait for one, but it would just make the process take longer. Since our own health insurance company wouldn't cover a gestational carrier, we would have to purchase private coverage for our surrogate for a rather ridiculous sum. "Can we use this one?" I asked, on the off-chance this perfect specimen might be available. "Sorry," Joan smiled. "She's in the middle of a sibling project right now."

As I was adding up the costs of this journey in my head, I started to feel a little bit flustered. There was the initial consultation fee that had been collected upon our entrance into the office. Then, if we decided to sign with Agency A, we'd need to send a deposit check that would go toward the total agency fee. Then there would be the carrier's fee, the attorney's fee, private health insurance, the remainder of the agency fee, maternity clothes, travel for us to the carrier's home state, travel for the carrier and her partner, if any, to New Jersey, and any additional costs that would inevitably arise over the nine months of pregnancy.

So, in short, we'd need to pay a small fortune to have our own baby.

Damn cancer!

We finished up with Joan, took the packets of paperwork she handed us and left the office. I had already made up my mind that I would do whatever needed to be done to bring our baby into the world. I looked at Jimmi with pleading eyes, "So? What do you think?" He put his arms around me and said, "Whatever you'd like to do, Pumpkin. If you feel comfortable, let's do it." The waterworks started up for like the millionth time that year. Only this time I was crying happy tears.

I immediately got to work on the "What Are You Looking For In a Carrier?" questionnaire when I got home. Jimmi was at work and left me in charge of all the decisions. Some of the questions were easily answered: Would you accept a carrier of another religion than your own? Sure, we would. Easy! Would you accept a carrier who is not married? I don't see why not. Moving on. Would you accept a carrier who would not abort for any reason? Wait, what? Why are we aborting the baby we want to have so desperately? There were actually quite a few questions about aborting or "selective reduction" on the forms. I guess it's important to be on the same page with the baby mama and the baby's parents about whether or not we'd want to knock the pregnancy down from two to one fetus, or abort an unhealthy one.

I answered the questions to the best of my abilities, knowing in my heart that I'd checked the "yes" boxes for traits and qualities I really didn't feel 100% comfortable accepting. But, hey, no one said we'd have to agree to the first or even the second woman whose profile was sent to us. I figured it was best to keep it pretty open and then narrow it down as we go. I knew they had to interview each prospective carrier before accepting them into their agency anyway, so how bad could they be?

I waited a week before I sent in the finalized paperwork and our initial deposit check because I had a scan coming up. As I've mentioned, I always plan the big stuff around my scans so I can make sure I'll be able to do whatever it is I'm planning. But this one was different. Obviously, since it's now June and I'm writing about something that happened in January, the scan was fine. But what about the next one? And the one after that? This isn't like planning a vacation or going to a concert. This is a plan that will continue through every scan I ever have. What if the next scan is ok and then our baby mama gets pregnant? That's awesome, right? But then, what if the following scan shows the cancer is back? Then we'll be expecting a baby while dealing with more treatments and more stress and the possibility of our baby only ending up with one parent. Is it really smart to do this now?

Well, if not now, when? I don't imagine a time in the foreseeable future that I won't be afraid. Waiting the typical five-year, post-treatment period to be considered cured is an option, I guess. But then I'll be 41, and if I'm still around, I'll have wasted all of those years I could've been spending with my baby. Besides, the five-year thing isn't foolproof either. One of the women on my Small Cell support group was cancer-free for 11 years when it came back, ravaged her body and killed her. No amount of time passing will ever make me feel safe. And that was how our decision was made. My January scan came back clear and the check was in the mail.

And then the waiting began.

As weeks turned to months without so much as one carrier profile to view, I started to feel disheartened. What was taking so long? We barely had any restrictions on the carriers, other than wanting a healthy, non-smoking, non-alcoholic, non-drug abuser. That wasn't too much to ask.

And then, finally, it happened. It was the first week of March, exactly two months after signing the contracts, when Joan called. "Hi Suzanne! I just wanted to let you know I'm going to be emailing your first carrier profile to you in a few minutes. Normally I'll just send the profiles over, but since this is your first, I wanted to give you a heads up." I was so excited I was barely able to respond. But she continued anyway, "She looks really good. I spoke to her myself and she seemed great! The only small problem I can see is that her BMI is a bit high." As someone who works out regularly, I am fully aware that BMI stands for Body Mass Index, which is the estimated amount of body fat based on someone's height and weight. "How high is it?" I asked as I tried to remember how much mine was the last time I'd checked it. "Thirty-four point three," she answered. I was silent, thinking that seemed more than a little high. "Hmmm. How much does she weigh?" I asked while frantically typing my statistics into the BMI calculator I'd just pulled up online. "She's five foot four and weight about two-hundred and twenty pounds."

My excitement turned to defeat as I stared at the screen in front of me which was showing my personal BMI at a 20. Honestly, I have no problem with people of any size or shape. If you're a good person, I'll love you no matter how you look. But if you're going to be carrying my baby, I need you to be healthy. It kills me that I can't do this myself, but I know if I could, my chances of gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy would be super low. I just wasn't desperate enough to put my baby at risk.

"Wow. Wouldn't there be more health risks associated with a larger carrier?" I asked as carefully as I could. Joan responded nonchalantly, "Well, your fertility clinic allows carries with a BMI up to thirty-five, so she's under the limit. Just take a look at her profile and let me know what you think."

I hung up the phone and looked back at the BMI chart on my computer screen. Anything over 30 is considered obese. Above 35 is morbidly obese, and this carrier was pushing the limit there. I couldn't believe our clinic would allow a number that high. But I decided to keep an open mind and review the profile that was waiting in my inbox.

With one click of the button, everything about this stranger, minus her last name, was there for me to read. Ok, she's 24 years old, single, has a 6 year-old son, lives in Texas, doesn't have health insurance, makes $1600 per month and her main reason for applying to be a carrier is because she needs the money. I'm not stupid. I understand that one of the main draws for a woman to offer up her uterus is the almighty dollar. But I was kinda hoping for someone who wasn't basing her entire decision on the compensation. Is it too much to ask to find a woman who really loves being pregnant, has a huge heart and just wants to help our dreams come true?

And then there were the photos.

Yes, she was on the heavy side, but she used some clever camera angles used to show her in her best light. But then I saw the pictures of her with her 6 year-old. The poor kid looked like he lived on a strict diet of McDonald's and Waffle House, which was actually the menu in front of him. All I could see when I looked at the two of them was unhealthy eating choices. I tried to be openminded, but the welfare of my baby was just too much to compromise. I hit reply:

Dear Joan,

Thank you so much for the profile. Unfortunately, we're going to have to pass. Can you please make a note in our file that we'd only like to consider carriers with a BMI under 30?



I then called Jimmi to whine about my fleeting high hopes that had been dashed with one click of my mouse. Oh well. She was only the first profile we were given. You should never jump on the first one, right? The best things come to those who wait, right? UGH! Patience has never been my strongest quality.

Luckily, we only waited one more week before the next profile graced my inbox:

Hi Suzanne,

I've attached another profile for you. This one's BMI is lower than the last one.

Let me know,



Ok, another Texan. Hmmm. She's 42. We'd put an age limit of 40 on our initial paperwork. No insurance for this one either. She's single, too. Income of $1200 per month. Doing this for the money. BMI 33.4.

33.4?! Are you KIDDING?

I barely even looked at the photos of this one longer than it took to notice the can of Coke sitting in front of her at the restaurant table before I hit reply:

Hi Joan,

As I mentioned before, we'd really like a carrier with a BMI under 30.



I was kind of pissed that my request wasn't taken into consideration the first time.

Ding! Click.

Hi Suzanne,

Duly noted. I'll revise your criteria.


Why did I need to tell her twice before she took me seriously?

I called Jimmi to whine again. Then I complained to my mom. Then I posted another desperate plea on Facebook asking if any of my friends had a uterus I could borrow.

As the weeks went by without a word from Joan, hopelessness started to set in. March turned to April and April meant scan time. All the crazy thoughts in my brain always multiply by the thousands each time my scan day draws near. This time I was convinced that the Universe knew my cancer was back so we weren't supposed to find a carrier because I'd probably die anyway. Yes, I am seeing a shrink. Why do you ask?

Anyway, the scan was clear in April and I shot an impatient email to Joan asking when we should expect to see our next profile. She promised me our perfect match would find her way to us in the first or second week of May and we should just wait a little bit longer.

And there it was! True to her word, on May 6th, Joan sent me an email. I just knew this was the one!

Hi Suzanne,

I'm just touching base to let you know that there are no carriers for us to show you at the moment as we are having a slew of carriers with a BMI of 34-39. Keep your hopes up. We'll find someone.


And that was that. My hopes fell to the floor with each tear that escaped my eyes. This was never going to happen for us. I called Jimmi. This time I skipped the whining and allowed the hysterics to take over, "Is it that difficult to find someone who takes care of herself the same way I do?" I screamed at him. "Why are they even accepting these people? It's not healthy for them OR the babies!" Jimmi let me bitch at him until I was able to calm down a little and come up with an idea. "Should I call Agency B?" I asked him. "Hmmm. If you think they'd be better, maybe you should," he offered. Honestly, I did. Over the last few weeks I'd started noticing something very interesting on Facebook. You see, I'd "liked" both agencies months earlier, and I'd been reading everything they'd posted. It seemed the only posts that came from Agency A were about surrogacy lawsuits or illegal surrogacy operations around the world. Conversely, the only posts that came from Agency B were photos of healthy-looking, pregnant carriers and the babies they've birthed for their Intended Parents. BABIES! Isn't that what this whole process should be about?

I hung up the phone and emailed Joan to ask if it would be against our contract with Agency A to explore other options. Her response was something along the lines of, "I understand why you'd want to do that. Just remember your deposit with us is nonrefundable." Ok then.

I Googled Agency B to see if I could find any reviews yet. Last time I'd tried I found nothing, as this was a newer agency. Same result this time. I went right to their website and began to reread the information I'd last seen a year earlier when I'd started my research. But this time, after dealing with Agency A for five months, I was a bit more experienced in the lingo. The one page I read that slipped by me a year ago, but stood out like a chunk of solid gold this time, was the one about the initial qualifications of each carrier. That one page brought hope back a little bit more with each line I read.

- BMI of 30 or lower
- Not currently receiving any form of government assistance
- Currently have personal medical insurance

These were REQUIREMENTS of each carrier who applied! On top of that, I read that every applicant was pre-screened before being accepted into the agency. For us, that meant no additional waiting for  medical reviews, blood tests, home studies or background checks. They were all done before we would even see the profiles! I was sold! I immediately sent an email to Agency B. Then, not surprisingly, I was way too impatient to wait for a reply so I picked up the phone and called them.

That call changed everything...

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