Monday, June 3, 2013
From A to B
"Thank you for calling Agency B. How may I help you?"
"Hi, my name is Suzanne. I literally just sent an email to your agency like five minutes ago but I got impatient and decided to call you instead." There, that didn't sound too desperate. Or did it?
I could almost hear the smile on the other end of the line as the faceless voice said, "Don't worry. You're not the first person who's told me that. How can we help you today?" I immediately felt more at ease, but suddenly was at a complete loss for words. Yes, really. I had to say something so I just opened my mouth and hoped for the best. "Um, well, I had called about a year ago for some information from your agency but the timing wasn't really right for us because I was waiting on CT scans and stuff and we weren't really sure what was going to happen so," Stop rambling, Suzanne. She doesn't need your entire life story. Get to the point! "Basically, we've decided we're ready to have a baby. Can you help us?" I held my breath until I heard her excitedly say, "That's great! Of course we can work with you. You'll need to speak with Tara first. She's the Director of Client Relations and she'll go over all of the details with you. I'll shoot her an email and give her your information." I thanked her about 17 times before hanging up the phone, and as soon as I did, I heard the familiar notification of an incoming email.
My name is Tara and I'm the Director of Client Relations for Agency B...
Wow. That was fast! Tara thanked me for my interest in Agency B and attached two packets of information, one was an Intended Parent Introduction, which provided an overview of the agency and gestational surrogacy program. She made sure to reiterate that all of the carriers are pre-screened before they are entered into the database. The screening includes medical, psychological, insurance review (to see if the carrier's plan covers surrogacy) home study and more. The second attachment was a Cost Information sheet, explaining the fees we should expect. What stood out right away was that the agency fees were all-inclusive. With the exception of separate legal fees, and the carrier fee, there wouldn't be any hidden costs that would surprise us five months into the pregnancy. Tara wrote that I should take some time to read the attachments and then let her know if I wanted to set up a time to talk. I'm pretty sure skimming the documents took about four minutes then I wrote her back and asked, "Are you available tomorrow?"
Our call was scheduled for the next day, May 8, 2013, at 1:30 PM. Not gonna lie. I was so excited but so scared I'd be let down again. Agency B really seemed too good to be true. There had to be a catch. Maybe they had a three-year waiting period. Or maybe they only posted photos of the few healthy-looking carriers they had online, and the rest would turn out to be just as unappealing as the ones from Agency A. What if Agency B really WAS all that but they wouldn't work with us because we'd signed a contract with Agency A? Should I even tell Tara about that? Should I lie? I told myself I'd figure it out after getting a feel for how the conversation was going, and that was the end of my over-obsessive thoughts. Well, at least for that day.
May 8, 2013. I hadn't been that nervous just waiting for a phone call since after my first date with Jimmi! At 1:30 on the nose, the caller ID announced an incoming call from Agency B. I took a deep breath, cleared my throat and, in my most chipper tone, answered, "Hello?" Tara barely got her greeting and introduction out of her mouth before I busted in with, "Before we get into this conversation, I need to be completely honest with you," I felt like I was explaining my infidelity to an unsuspecting partner. "We've been working with another agency and we have a contract. I asked them if we could look elsewhere since we aren't having any luck with them and they told me we could. Is that ok? Do you have a problem with that?" I was able put a cork in my verbal diarrhea long enough to let her answer, "Oh, I'm sorry you haven't had a good experience with this journey so far. Let's fix that!" And that was it. From that sentence on, every word out of Tara's mouth sounded like I was about to win the MegaMillions Jackpot. Sure, we'd still need to fill out papers and wait for a carrier, but something about Agency B just seemed so perfect.
Tara gave me some information about the pre-screening process for the carriers and explained that she performs all of the home studies herself. That means she travels to each carrier, no matter where she lives, and checks out her house, her family, the food in the pantry and the refrigerator, the nearest hospital, the airport and the neighborhood herself so that she can report her findings to the Intended Parents, without hiring an outside agency to do it. She also told me that Agency B would not take any money from us until we find a potential match. She didn't think it was right to take money when she hadn't done anything for us yet. Bonus!
"How many approved carriers do you have in your database right now?" I asked, hoping for a really high number. "Let me look. Well, right now we have five," That's definitely not high. "But," she continued, "there are currently six others in various stages of the pre-screening process. Once they pass the medical review and background checks, I have no problem starting to talk about them with Intended Parents, as long as they understand that the screening isn't completed yet." That seemed fair. "How long does the matching process usually take?" I asked, knowing this would be the heartbreaker. "Well, let me think. The longest one took about five months, but that's only because the Intended Parents wanted a strict vegan who ate all organic foods."
"Five months? That's all? You found an organic vegan in FIVE months?!" Tara giggled and I continued, "I've been waiting five months with the other agency already, and I've only seen two profiles for women I wouldn't want to babysit my cat, let alone carry my child!" Tara said, "Oh dear. You know, there was another couple who came to me on, let me look...March twenty-ninth. They'd been working with an agency called Agency A..." "That's the same one!" I interrupted. "Yes, well, the woman called me so upset that she'd been with them for a year and she'd gotten matched three times. Each time she was matched, something fell through in the screening process since the carriers aren't pre-screened. She finally came to us and we matched her two weeks ago." I started doing math in my head, which is no easy feat for me. Let me see...March 29th to May 8th is six weeks, minus two weeks..."You matched her in FOUR weeks? Are you KIDDING?" "Not at all, " Tara assured me. "Would you want to speak to her? I'm sure she wouldn't mind." I agreed to that and told Tara to give this lucky woman my email address and phone number. We ended the call with Tara promising to send me the Intended Parent Profile for Jimmi and I to fill out and send back so she could start looking into matches for us, and I hung up the phone smiling. I had that weird feeling again.
Within about an hour of hanging up with Tara I received an email from Sally, the woman who had been matched through Agency B in four weeks. After a few exchanges back and forth, I finally picked up the phone and called her. Sally reminded me of myself in so many ways. She was bubbly and outgoing and totally open about her experiences with infertility and Agency A and Agency B. Her views of Agency A were very similar to what mine had become, only she'd been through much more drama than we had. "Do you get the feeling they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for their carriers?" she asked me cautiously. "Oh my GOD! Yes! I'm so glad you said that because I thought I was just being picky!" She told me about the terrible profiles she'd seen and all of the problems she'd had the three times she'd actually been matched through Agency A. One of the carriers had a partner with a history of violence, once lived with four adults and seven kids in a one-bedroom apartment and I can't remember what happened with the other. Bottom line was that because the carriers weren't pre-screened, each time she was matched, she and her husband would get their hopes up, pay the matching fee (nonrefundable, of course) and have to wait for the screening to be done. Each time a carrier failed more time and money was wasted. But then Sally started to tell me about her experience with Agency B and Tara. She praised them on every level, even comparing Agency A to an iPhone 4 and Agency B to an iPhone 5. Yes, the 4 works and it's cool and all, but when Apple made the 5 they fixed everything that was wrong with the 4, added even more features and made it work so much better. I liked that analogy. During the conversation Sally sent me a picture of her carrier, who she'd spoken to on the phone and over email and was planning to meet in a few weeks. The woman was BEAUTIFUL! Her husband and her kids were beautiful! The description of her life was beautiful! Was this a fluke or would Tara be able to perform the same miracle for us?
Jimmi had barely gotten through the door at 11:00 that night when I shoved the paper under his nose and instructed him to, "Sign it!" "What is it?" he asked. "It's for Agency B! Just sign it!" He smiled, shook his head and did what he was told. I quickly ran off with the fully completed and signed Intended Parent Profile in my hand and faxed it to Tara before Jimmi could change his mind. I watched the pages go through the machine, catching some of the details I'd written as they went by. We were music lovers, we had cats and dogs, we wanted a carrier who would allow us to be completely involved in the pregnancy, we wanted a healthy woman who would take care of herself, etc. And then the beep! beep! beep! told me the information had been received and our new journey had officially begun.
At 10:44 the next morning, I was hanging up some clothes in my closet when I heard my phone vibrate. It was an email from Tara, which I'd assumed was a confirmation that she'd received our completed IP Portrait. Well, I was half correct...
Good morning, Suzanne,
I was wondering if you had a moment to talk. I read over your Portrait and wanted to discuss a possible candidate with you. :-)
Wait. What? I had to be reading that incorrectly. She had a WHAT? I checked the time. It hadn't even been 12 hours since I'd sent back the forms, and logically, about 8 of those hours should've been spent sleeping! This could not be happening so quickly. No way.
I'm free right now if that works for you.
"Hello?" "Hi Suzanne," Tara said with a giggle that told me she probably knew she might have someone for us yesterday, but wanted to wait until she'd read our profile before mentioning her to me. "Before I discuss this candidate with you I want to make sure I'm not moving too fast for you." Are you KIDDING me, lady? "No, not at all. I'm actually shocked to hear from you this quickly. Tell me everything!" Tara went on to give me an overall, basic description of this woman, which made me wonder if maybe I was still asleep and dreaming. "Ok, so, after reading your Portrait, I immediately thought of Lily for you. I want you to know that she's still in the middle of the pre-screening process, so she's not officially approved yet. But she and her husband passed the background check and I received her medical records today. I'm not a doctor, but my review doesn't send up any red flags. I've sent it on to the fertility clinic for a full check, which should be done next week." Sounds good. Keep talking! "Lily is 30 years old, she's been married for eight years, she has a 3 year-old and a 5 year-old, she's a nurse and she actually carried a baby for her cousin last year. Her BMI is currently 28, but it's only that high because she's still carrying some of the baby weight." 28 is high? In five months I haven't seen anything under 33! "What do you think so far?" There had to be a catch. "She sounds great!" Then Tara said, "But there is one thing you should know." Oh, ok. Here's the catch. What's wrong with her? "She's currently using an IUD as birth control. She's agreed to have it removed as soon as her medical review is completed, but your lab will require a two-month waiting period from the time it comes out to the time she's implanted." That's it? THAT'S the catch? I let out a sigh and said, "That's actually perfect. It'll give Jimmi time to get his panic attacks under control and it'll get me through my next CT scan at the end of July." Oh, how I hate having to plan my life around scans. "Great!" Tara said happily, "I'll keep you posted, but don't hesitate to call me with any questions." And we hung up.
I stood there, still in my closet, with the phone in my hand. What just happened? Did we really just find a potential match in TWELVE HOURS? Can't be. Should I call Agency A and tell them how much they suck? No, I need to take a few steps back and wait it out a little bit. Lily isn't even fully screened yet. But I should call Jimmi and get his heart attack out of the way.
"She matched us!"
"Hello?" I said.
"Hi. Are you kidding? Already?"
Poor guy sounded like he was gonna throw up.
"I swear! It's not a done deal yet, but she's been marked for us if she passes everything. She sounds so great!"
"Wow," was all Jimmi could manage at that point. Guess he thought he'd have a little more time before he had to put on his big boy pants!
After Jimmi and I hung up, I shot a quick email to Tara. I wondered if she'd be able to send us a picture of Lily, just so I could get a visual of the woman who may hold the key to our dreams in her uterus. Within minutes a photo of a happy, blonde, blue-eyed, totally wholesome-looking, normal woman popped up on my screen. From what I could see, there was absolutely nothing wrong with her.
Over the next week or so I noticed my entire mindset about babies had changed. Before the call to Agency B, I had become very bitter towards pregnant woman and new mothers. Just looking at a protruding, round belly or a cuddly newborn would send me over the edge. I'd leave the room to cry or scream about how unfair life had become. But the promise of Lily changed all that. I immediately called my very pregnant friend and invited her out to dinner. I spoke to her with genuine interest in her impending adventure into motherhood. I felt the baby move inside her without the urge to jump in front of the next truck I saw driving down the road. This hope thing was really working for me.
As I've mentioned many, many times, I am NOT a patient person. The weeks I had to wait for the screening to be completed dragged on in my mind, though it really hadn't been that long. Then, on May 23rd, I received an email from Agency A. "Profile for you," it said. I never bothered to tell Agency A that I didn't want to work with them anymore. I mean, what if something went wrong with Agency B? I wanted to keep all of my options open until a contract with a carrier was signed. I opened the profile from the first agency and this is what I saw:
Marital Status: Single/Never been married
Current City: Las Vegas
Number of Children: 4 (between 2 and 9)
Health Insurance: No
Main Reason for Applying: Need the money
Ever Been Arrested?: Yes. Spent 2 nights in jail.
Ok, so what I'm gathering here is that this woman is basically a prostitute. Never been married, 26 years old and FOUR kids? How can she support four kids on her own without health insurance?! But, hey, at least her BMI was only 18.2!
Then I continued to read, just to see what other fun facts I could find.
**Not willing to carry multiples due to her small size**
Really? First they send me carriers who are five times my size and then they send me one who is so small I'd have to abort one of my kids if she ended up pregnant with twins? Awesome. I wrote back, "Sorry, but I can't accept a carrier who will not carry multiples." Back into the pool she goes!
And then, on May 29th, I opened the email I'd been waiting for. Lily had cleared all of her pre-screening process, with the exception of her home study which was set up for June 5th. If we felt comfortable, we could sign the agency agreement, speak to a recommended attorney and get things moving for real!
The events of that afternoon went so quickly and so much was accomplished. Unfortunately, Jimmi was in TN recording a drum video, so he wouldn't be able to sign anything until the following day, but that didn't stop Tara and me from jumping on the horse and riding the trail without him! Tara asked me to send over a ton of photos of our family so she could add them to the profile she was making about us that she would send to Lily and her husband. She also sent an introduction email to a surrogacy law attorney, who then called me to get things rolling on that end. Tara then completed our profile and sent it to me for proofreading and editing before sending it to Lily. I also received Lily's profile with photos of her family and a more in-depth description of their lives. Tara and I went back and forth until 9:00 that night until we were both happy with everything we'd accomplished. And the next day I received another profile from Agency A:
Number of Children: 2 (had the first one at age 15, had the 2nd at age 17 but gave him up for adoption)
Marital Status: Single
Do You Currently Have a Sexual Partner? Yes. We're just friends for now, but we're talking a lot so it might become more.
WHAT!?! Holy GOD! Does this agency even read what these women are writing! I didn't even bother sending a reply to that one. I am SO done with Agency A!
Jimmi came home from TN on the night of May 30th. Within minutes I had his signature on the official agency agreement and into the fax machine it went. The next day Tara emailed me to let me know Lily had had her IUD removed.
And the two-month countdown began.
Woohoo! We're finally caught up to today, June 3, 2013. So now what? How does this process work? Well, let me explain the next steps. On Wednesday, Tara will head out to MN, where Lily lives, and perform her home study. If all goes well, on Thursday, Jimmi and I will have a conference call with Lily and her husband to see if we all feel comfortable enough to have a baby together. If we still agree to move forward, we'll have the lawyer draft up a surrogacy agreement so everything is legal. Then we'll set up a time to fly Lily and her husband to NJ to meet them and then we'll all need to go to the fertility clinic for "Clinic Day." Basically they'll do a bunch of testing and talk to all of us about what to expect. If THAT goes well, Lily will start injecting herself with hormones to get her body ready for the embryo transfer. And that would be the final step. We'd fly her back to our lab to have our buns transferred to Lily's oven, where, hopefully, they'll grow into healthy little babies! Hmmm...I keep writing babies instead of baby. Wonder what that's about? ;)
So that's the plan! Just a few more steps and one more CT scan to get through before we make our first attempt at knocking up our baby mama!