When I first started out on surrogacy almost five years ago, I was pompous enough to think, "Sure, I had trouble conceiving naturally. I won't ever forget what that felt like. But once the problem was figured out, pregnancy came easily enough with just Clomid. Surely I will be able to get pregnant easily via a measure as invasive is IVF!" Of course, I never voiced this thought aloud knowing full-well how painful fertile boasting is. I did have some degree of fear that the transfer wouldn't work. I was smart enough — and bruised enough — to be wary of any efforts to try to conceive. Still, there was a particular degree of haughty, unwarranted over-confidence present. The next time you hear Smack My Bitch Up, dedicate it to Dumb One Moxie of 2004, mmm'kay?
What a fickle bitch infertility is. I should have known better. I ended up with a chemical pregnancy (positive tests through the 2ww but a negative beta at 14dp3dt). I also ended up with a full diagnosis for my personal subfertility – PCOS with insulin resistance. I always knew something was obviously screwy with my body, but if there wasn't a real name for it, then it wasn't a major problem, right? Wrong. The diagnosis scared the shit out of me, and though I remained confident, an increasing part of me was terrified that my body would be the cause of the transfer not working. So when the transfer didn't work, to say that it messed me up would be an understatement. I know I took it harder than I would have had I not been given the PCOS/IR diagnosis. Then, an endometrial biopsy prior to cycling for a second FET resulted in a horrible cancer scare. Though testing revealed that I was cancer-free, the PCOS/IR diagnosis, the failed FET, and all the talk of hysterectomies and radiation was too much to handle. I wasn't in the right mental space to proceed with that journey. As hard as it was to do, I knew that I should not continue with surrogacy at that time. So, I didn't.
The collective whole of those events sent me into an emotional tailspin straight down into the depths of the worst moments of my inability to conceive naturally. The grief I felt then was infinitely worse than anything I had previously experienced through my struggles. The difference was the tar-thick, rancid coating of guilt that coated the familiar emotions of failure and defeat. Several doctors, including the treating RE, explained that my PCOS/IR was not the cause of the failed transfer and that I was clear to try again. With all the tar in my ears, I couldn't hear that, much less accept it.
Surrogates are supposed to be the answer that makes everything right. When things go wrong, it's hard not to feel responsible. Given the fact that I'd already been through some degree of infertility, it was like reliving that nightmare all over again. I was flung haphazardly and rudely back into my own messy history. It was infertility to a personal degree all over again. When Bad Things happen to surrogates with no previous infertility (which is vast majority of us), they begin to realize that they are experiencing feelings that are similar to the wretched emotions their intended parents have already lived through.
What lies beneath the warm and fuzzies of surrogacy is that whether they realize it or not, surrogates are volunteering for a type of infertility. A few surrogates are lucky – insems, IUIs, and transfers work on the first attempts and they sail through pregnancy without the slightest complication. I don't begrudge these surrogates their successes and I am overjoyed when journeys move this smoothly; beside every surrogate is an intended parent, and success for surrogates means success for the intended parents. After going through whatever it was that brought them to surrogacy, it is a relief for the journey to not have a single problem.
Bad Things happen, and unfortunately, they happen in most surrogate journeys.
There's a wide spectrum of crises on the scale of Bad Things. The continuum ranges from failed transfers and insems, increasing in severity to severe prematurity and late-term fetal demise. For surogates, there is awareness of these risks. We know of the possibility that these things could happen, as our contracts have provisions which dictate how these events will be handled — but what surrogate really goes into a journey expecting such tragedies to befall them?
The past couple of months have been rough on Surrogate Mothers Online (SMO). It seems that there has been an usually high rate of Bad Things. Very Bad Things. While my heart breaks for the intended parents who have had their dreams dashed yet again, I also grieve for the surrogates who are experiencing the loss of innocence. Rather, the theft of their innocence. I ache for my fellow surrogates who are now learning first-hand that infertility is the worst type of thief.
Last night, there was a delivery at 29 weeks. There were several beta hells which ended in early miscarriages in the past two weeks. Three surrogates had first trimester ultrasounds which revealed loss of cardiac activity. Last week, a surrogate's Level II ultrasound at 24 weeks revealed a baby with several deformities that were incompatible with life. She was scheduled for an induction and by the time she delivered, the baby had already died. Another friend of mine is just one month past the delivery of twins. She had spontaneous rupture of the membranes and the doctors had no choice but to deliver. She was just 16 weeks along. Another surrogate lost a pregnancy last week at 16 weeks. Two surrogates were pregnant with twins, and both surrogates each lost one between weeks 16 and 18 weeks of pregnancy.
A very close surro-friend of mine, Former IM, is 16 weeks along with a singleton. I'm holding my breath with her as she approaches her 18th week. A year and a half ago, she lost twins at 18 weeks. I'm sure you know the demons that are nipping at her heels.
Though I knew what her answer would be, I asked her just this morning, "Even though things ended horribly wrong with that journey, would you still say it was worth it?"
Without a moment's hesitation, she answered, "Yes, it was." Former IM continued, "It was worth it simply for the journey. It gave me a better understanding. I can't even begin to understand what it is like to not just be able to get pregnant. I now understand what struggling feels like, and I can totally understand now what a loss is like."
I think most surrogates who've been through hell and back feel
similarly. Of course there are different factors which attribute the difference in
the shape of a surrogate's grief and that of intened parents. But,
grief is grief. Many surrogates find themselves with heavy baggage full
of tragic history.
Is it worth it, volunteering for this strange type of infertility? Yes, yes it is. Just having the chance to help build a family makes it so.