MicroblogMondays: Private Life

I am more into documentaries these days than feature films.  So when my friend urged me to watch “Private Life” on Netf.lix, I was a little hesitant.  One day last week I finally started watching it, but within the first six minutes I already complained to Bob multiple times about medical inaccuracies.  My friend kept on telling me to ignore these and focus on the movie itself, I obliged and eventually finished the movie.  I actually liked it.  If you are going to watch the movie and don’t want a spoiler, come back to this post after you are done.  This can wait.

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What I like the most about the movie is its realistic portrayal of the emotions of this 40-something couple who started trying to have a baby later in life.  Of course there were exaggerations for the sake of storytelling such as the accelerated timelines of TESE, donor eggs, etc.  I ignored all of that, and found myself nodding constantly when the characters expressed their feelings as well as when seeing the disapproval and insensitivity of those around them.  At a few points, I felt a little weepy as I saw parallels between my life (prior to my twins) and this couple’s lives.  The couple was pursuing adoption simultaneously with fertility treatments.  They were describing to an adoption social worker about a failed adoption which involved a birth mother who was matched with them but disappeared.  It wasn’t clear if she was actually pregnant or was just pretending to be, but something that the social worker said stuck with me: “The emotional scams are really, really tough.”  I found myself nodding nonstop.  It reminded me of our experiences of our second donor disappearing after meeting with us, and about our current donor who was tested positive for cocaine during our cycle.  It was already such an emotional roller coaster for us, and to have others kick us when we were down was almost unbearable.  Watching this part made me relive that time of our journey.  After the couple failed their first IVF, their RE pragmatically suggested egg donation as an option for financial reasons.  The couple’s fight outside the clinic brought out a very common concern of female partner of losing their genetic material vs. the male partner’s ability to conserve his genetic link to their child.  I wish the movie did go more in depth about the struggles and emotional turmoil a woman may experience before she says yes to pursuing egg donation, as the wife almost immediately dove into the world of donor profiles online after her initial struggles.  But you know, some people get over that part quickly and some don’t, so it could still happen in real life.  Regardless, I was almost teary-eyed when the wife scrolled through the donor profiles on her computer screen and read the details aloud to her husbands.  That was us when we were trying to decide on a donor.  We looked at countless profiles and tried to pinpoint what traits were important to us for passing on to our child.  I remember how difficult it was to decide how to choose.  I can’t say I totally understood the couple’s choice of donor, as I don’t know if I’d choose a family member myself if I had the choice, but nevertheless I was really rooting for them to finally have a baby.  No such luck with that transfer as the fertilization rate was low and the niece was trying to be helpful and increased the drug dosage on her own.  I could just see the numbness of the husband and the wife going through the motion of everyday life.  That night, the couple had a conversation in bed.  The husband expressed that he was actually relieved that it was over, that he didn’t have it in him to do this anymore, and that he didn’t even know if he wanted a kid anymore. He knew that he should console his wife, but he just didn’t have the energy to do that himself.  I feel that it was heartfelt and realistically depicted how one would feel after trying so many things for so long without success.  It also shows that IVF or DEIVF is not foolproof.  Often times both of these fail and leave people with an empty bank account and no baby.  As sad as I was for them, there was a glimmer of hope at the end of the movie when the couple got a phone call regarding an adoption and sat in a diner to meet with an expectant birth mother.  It showed how the husband who originally sat across from the wife crossed to the other side to sit next to her and hold her hand.  They were in this position and waiting expectantly facing the door of the restaurant.  That was the end, and I love it that we don’t get to know what happened next.  We don’t know if the expectant birth mom was going to show up, but it was so encouraging to see that 1) there is a chance that they will become parents and 2) regardless of the outcome, this pair who has gone on this incredibly difficult path together will be okay, as they are in this together.  That was me and Bob, that regardless of the outcome, we were in it together.  That has always been such a comforting thing for me, and I hope that those who watch this movie and are walking the same path of infertility also find comfort in that.

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MicroblogMondays: Great Beta Levels

It’s been interesting to support my cousin alongside her on her fertility journey.  Although she has been trying for more than a couple of years, she hardly ever reads any blogs or joins any online groups.  In those 5.5 year of trying to become parents, I was on many online forums, joined many FB groups, and was a regular reader of many many blogs.  Because of that, I feel that I have a lot more knowledge regarding things like the IVF process.  Many of the questions that she has asked me are ones to which she’d know the answers if she had been following infertility blogs.  I am happy to answer them.  It is just interesting to see the differences in our approaches dealing with our fertility issues.  And now that she is pregnant, it feels even more obvious that she doesn’t know much.  Every time she gets her beta results, she’d ask me if they numbers are good.  I have to reassure her that the numbers have been beyond good.  Here is the lowdown:

Initial beta on 7dp5dt: 80

Second beta on 10dp5dt: 577

Third beta on 16dp5dt: 5582

Those are crazy numbers, aren’t they?  When I saw that her second beta was over 500, I couldn’t help but wonder if the embryo had split.  This value was even higher than Annie’s second beta of 464 on 10dp5dt, and Annie was carrying twins for us.  Dr. E, my RE, said that there is a 1% chance that the embryo would split, so it could still be one very strong embryo.  One day my cousin was scaring me though.  She messaged me to ask if she should do an injection of progesterone in oil that evening.  It was already 11pm her time.  She was supposed to insert one progesterone suppository in the morning and two in the evening.  She only had one left in the evening.  A shipment was supposed to arrive that day but didn’t get delivered on time, so she ran out of the suppositories.  She still had PIO at home from previous cycles so she asked if she should inject some.  I asked Dr. E who answered me right away (you got to love her for her fast response).  Dr. E said that missing one dose of progesterone could cost her pregnancy, and urged her to inject the PIO right away.  My cousin did.  Then she told me that she wasn’t too worried about not receiving the shipment since she still had PIO at home.  It was just that the suppositories were not covered by insurance and would cost $1100, so she asked around and someone was willing to order some for her and ship them to her.  Of course the shipment was messed up.  And now knowing that skipping a dose could cost her pregnancy, saving that $1100 doesn’t sound like it’s worth it at all.  I just told her to always have progesterone around until her placenta takes over.

It does look like her pregnancy is going well.  I can’t wait to see how many babies they see on her first ultrasound!

MicroblogMondays: My Cousin

My favorite aunt, my mom’s younger sister, died of cancer at 52.  Her older daughter is a couple of years younger than I am.  I’ll call her Jeannie.  I always think of her as very young, but of course it is no longer the case since I am already in my 40s.  She lives on the east coast so I don’t get to see her much, but I love her dearly as I loved and will always continue to love her mother dearly.  Jeannie disclosed to me a while ago (when we were expecting twins via gestational surrogacy) that she had not been successful in getting pregnant with her partner for quite some time.  Her fertility issues are similar to mine (minus the uterine problems): diminished ovarian reserve.  She had tried a few cycles of IVF using her savings.  Since she and her partner are both small business owners, it has been hard for her to come up with more money for more cycles after spending her savings.  It has been extra hard knowing that each cycle she may or may not make an embryo (you know, that’s the nature of diminished ovarian reserve).  She knows the details of our journey and knows that the twins were conceived via donor eggs, so she knows that it is within the realm of possibility.  With limited funds, she had to figure out with her partner how to proceed with treatment: continuing with her own eggs, donor eggs, or donated embryos? Or adoption?  Everything cost money and she wanted to be pregnant and have a baby like.. yesterday.  So how does one move forward when money is short?  Being disappointed over and over again with her own eggs (just like me), she was more and more open to third party reproduction.  Her friend’s friend offered her a frozen embryo for donation but she later found out that it wasn’t good enough for a transfer.  Dr. E (my RE)’s patient had a set of Caucasian/Asian mixed embryos available but for various reasons that didn’t work out either.  Watching her walk this path and walking alongside her every step of the way brings back so many memories of our journey.  There are so many similarities, and it does pain me to see her on the same path as well.  At the same time, because I have walked this path, I am so glad that I can be here for her whenever she needs me.  I know the emotions behind it and I have practical suggestions and recommendations for her.  I analyzed the pros and cons of fresh vs. frozen donor eggs for her.  She eventually decided to go with a set of 6 eggs from a local program because the cost is lower.  Bob and I offered to gift her a sum to cover a part of the cost but she graciously declined.  She chose a first time Chinese donor who hadn’t started the cycle yet so there was a chance for Jeannie to get those 6 eggs fresh.  To me, having fresh eggs to fertilize is better than thawing frozen eggs.  It’s amazing that with her young donor, 4 out of 6 eggs fertilized normally, and three became blastocysts.  Out of the three blastocysts, two were normal.  I can’t help but be very happy and relieved for my cousin.  We had 18 (out of 23) mature eggs, 17 fertilized, and we had 6 blastocyst at the end.  Four were normal.  So compared to our stats, my cousin’s donor eggs did fabulously.  Jeannie just had a transfer of a 512 (5AB) embryo a bit over a week ago.  Her beta was last Friday, which was 7 days past 5 day transfer.  I don’t know about you.  I find it a bit odd that beta was so early for her.  But no worries, as she got positive results for the first time in her life!  Her hCG was 80, which was a fantastic number for an early beta.  When I heard the news, I was so excited for her and at the same time emotional. I’m just so relieved that the first hurdle is over. Her second beta will be today some time.  I can’t wait to see how it progresses and I can’t wait to see my cousin become a mother finally.  I hope that this pregnancy will be smooth sailing from this point on.

MicroblogMondays: How Do I Feel?

A reader emailed me last week asking me a question that I thought would be good to address in my blog.  I am not at the liberty to share the details of her journey, but for various serious health reasons, she needs to use a gestational carrier after needing to use donor eggs.  After grieving the loss of her genetic links, she is now experiencing the loss of not having a chance to carry her baby.  Since I have walked this same path, she is curious as to how I feel now that I have had my babies for the last eleven months.

How do I feel now that I am a mother to my babies whom I didn’t carry or contribute to their genes? I love both of them with all my heart. I feel tremendously privileged and honored that God chose us to be their parents.  Sometimes I look at them and still cannot believe that I am their mother.  They are precious, beautiful, fun, and perfect.  I cannot imagine life without them and I cannot imagine having children other than them.  Does it still hurt that their genes came from a donor?  Absolutely.  Do I still grieve the loss of not carrying them?  Yes.  However, these thoughts don’t come to my mind too often.  Life currently is full, hectic, chaotic, and fun-filled.  On a day to day basis, the fact that I didn’t carry them doesn’t come into my mind too often.  They know me and me only as their mom and it will remain that way.   I think more about having had to use a gestational carrier when the moms in my moms of multiples group talk about breastfeeding or changes in their bodies after giving birth.  However, these topics don’t make me feel overly sad or emotional.  I just can’t and don’t participate in these topics because of the lack of first-hand experience or knowledge.  Not being able to carry the babies doesn’t diminish my love for them.  On the other hand, I do think about our donor from time to time especially when I look at my daughter’s face.  She looks more like the donor than my son does.  My baby boy looks exactly like his daddy and does not remind me of our donor. However, Bunny has the donor’s features, and looking at her sometimes is like looking at the donor.  Her beauty sometimes makes me think about how she’d look so different if she shared my genes.  This is highlighted when people comment on how she looks nothing like me and my husband’s genes are very strong.  These comments sometimes make me uneasy but I have accepted that this comes with the package.  My baby girl looking like the donor does not make me love her any less.  I marvel at the unique looks and personality traits of her and her brother, and I just feel so blessed to be their mom.  A friend of mine who may have to consider the donor egg route tells me repeatedly that she is fearful of not being able to love her future children made with donor eggs.  I tell her that truthfully there is no time to think about these things.  When I have a moment, all I want to do is to get enough rest so I have enough energy to chase after these babies.   Like I said earlier, I do still feel a sense of loss from time to time.  It probably will never go away, but my life is so full now these feelings are far and few between. Does that erase the previous five years’ pains and heartaches? No it doesn’t. The experience and journey stay with you forever. Once infertile, forever infertile. But this history doesn’t define me. It is a part of my life, but so is my life as a stay-at-home mom to my precious children. Fighting so hard to have these babies does make me appreciate them more even when dealing with their crying and screaming in the middle of the night or their tantrums.

These are just my feelings, but I hope this post is helpful for those who are considering donor eggs and/or using a gestational carrier to fulfill your dream to become a mother.  Feel free to write me for any questions at binkymoongee at gmail dot com.

MicroblogMondays: Monkey

Instead of Bunny, my baby girl should’ve been nicknamed Monkey. She has proven herself to be the active one ever since she was a tiny baby. Now that she can crawl, stand, and cruise, it is even more evident how physically strong she is. Just a week ago, I found her half hanging on her brother’s highchair kneeling while being strapped in her own. These are the Ikea highchairs that have the waist belt only. Needless to say, I was half scared to death and was determined to put her in a highchair with a five point harness. Fortunately someone in my parents of multiples group posted these two very old but very functional highchairs up for grabs. They have five point harnesses and can also be folded and put away. The timing was just perfect and nobody had claimed them yet. Bunny now definitely has no way to escape from her new old highchair unless she knows how to push the middle button to unbuckle herself. So far, the only safe places to leave the twins are their cribs, the pack n play, and the baby jail (play yard) in the living room. However, two days ago Bunny showed us what she is capable of. When I was tending to her brother, she was standing in the corner of her crib. Suddenly, I found her hanging half of her upper body with her armpits over the top of the crib corner. Her legs and her feet were wrapping around the slats about half way up the crib. I was too stunned to even take a photo. We hurried her down but she did it at least one more time. Then yesterday, this happened :

Bunny figured out a way to climb up the pack n play half way as well. She is only 9 months old. I have seen friends with babies that are climbers. I just never thought that we’d have one in the house. And I would’ve never guessed that baby girl would be the one. I shudder to think about what lies ahead of me when she is even stronger. She is just so resourceful and her upper body strength and core strength are tremendous. One of the moms in my moms of twins group asked if Bob and I were climbers when we were babies. I was taken aback a little by this question. I haven’t told anyone in this group about donor eggs. And I don’t know if I will. But I totally felt like a fraud when she asked that question. Bob said, just answer the question directly and nothing else. Nope neither one of us was a climber, which is the truth. At these moments, I do think about our donor who was a soccer player and a coach. I believe Bunny inherited her physical agility. I’m proud of my little girl and her determination. You watch her eyes and you see that her brain is working on solving the problems. When she wants to reach something, she’ll do everything to figure it out. I too have that kind of determination but at these moments I can’t help but think that her tenacity (and physicality) was not contributed by my DNA. It does make me a little sad. But at the same time it is so exciting to see her learn and become more and more her own person. I feel so honored and privileged to be the mother of this amazing little girl. I can’t wait to see how she’ll turn out. And I definitely see gymnastics class in the future. I just hope that ER visits won’t be a part of our life.

MicroblogMondays: Fifth Year Blog Anniversary and Being Official

WordPress told me that I started my blog five years ago on June 2nd.  Including this post, I have published 468 times.  I would say I never thought that this blog would last so long and I would write so many posts.  How fitting it is that to celebrate this 5th anniversary, I finally received the babies’ updated birth certificates in the mail last Thursday.  This whole process of getting my name on the birth certificates took forever.  We finally got the orders from the judge in California for the step-parent adoption.  The orders got forwarded to our attorney in Annie’s state.  Our attorney and her paralegal took their time in getting back to us.  And finally we signed some paperwork for vital records to add my name to the birth certificates.  When I opened the envelope and unfolded the two birth certificates, I was feeling a bit emotional.  Although I know and feel like the babies’ mom, legally I was their guardian.  I had no right to apply for a passport for them so I couldn’t travel out of the country with them even if I wanted to.  Seeing my name on these birth certificates on this anniversary week of my blog is a very sweet thing.  It reminds me of God’s goodness and faithfulness for watching over us all these years.  When I started this blog, I didn’t know what was going to happen.  God had this plan for us.  I couldn’t have foreseen all the twists and turns it took us to get to this point.  Here I am.  I am so grateful for having these little ones in our family and to see my name and Bob’s name on their birth certificates finally.

The First Ultrasound – Recap

I almost had a heart attack at our first ultrasound with the twins (how crazy to even get to type “twins”…!!!).

We got to town extra early, so we were at the doctor’s office about 30 minutes before the appointment time.  When I stepped into the office, my first impression was, Wow, this place is very nice.  The OB practice looks nicer than many practices that I’ve been to in the Bay Area.  The receptionist greeted us and gave Annie an iPad to sign in.  We don’t even use iPads here at any of the OB offices or IVF clinics that I’ve been to here.  That was a surprise.

I asked Annie if she felt nervous.  She was actually not nervous at all.  She was feeling excited and just wanted to get the scan done soon to see what we had inside.  But I was nervous.  I’d say 90% of me believed that we would be able to see a heartbeat, but there was 10% of me that was anxious and thought the worst.  You know how that goes.

We were there with Annie, Kenneth, and their two younger kids.  I sat way far from everybody.  Somehow I felt that I needed some space from everyone so I could stay calm.

When the nurse came out to get us, we all stood up.  That apparently threw her off as she didn’t know who all these people were.  She guaranteed that everybody would be able to go in for the scan, but for the first part of the appointment she only had two seats for our group.  Annie indicated that she wanted me to be with her.

We were led to a tiny area with two chairs.  The nurse was training someone else.  We sat down while she typed in her laptop with the information that we told her.  I don’t think she knew who I was.  Annie just answered whatever questions the nurse had for her.  Then the nurse said at one point to Annie, Your husband had a vasectomy….? alluding to the fact that it didn’t quite make sense for Annie to be currently pregnant while her husband’s sper.m supply had been cut off.  At that point, I knew that she was very confused about the situation.  We had to quickly clarify the situation, that Annie was my gestational carrier and I was the mother.  So once that was explained, we went on to deal with last menstrual period.  The nurse asked when it was.  Annie was like… Uh 6 months ago?  I don’t think the nurse knew much about IVF.  She said she had never had a patient who came in who did IVF, so there was no button on her screen to put in a date for a day 5 or day 3 transfer that would calculate the due date.  She didn’t know how to calculate the due date based on the day of transfer.  So she put in the transfer date of January 9, which gave the due date of October 6th.  She knew that it wasn’t right, but there was no way to change that.  She guaranteed me that the nurse practitioner would change it to the most appropriate date.  I told her the due date and she believed that it was right, but we still needed to wait until later for it to be changed.

Here comes the heart attack part.  I said to the nurse that if there was a heartbeat we should be able to see it today, right?  She said, oh not necessarily.  She said that you guys are so early (6 weeks 5 days) that the heartbeat doesn’t always show.  I was like, No no, my doctor back in California said that we should be able to see a heartbeat by 6 weeks 2 days.  She said that Oh not on the bedside ultrasound that we use.

I was panicking.  Uh no… we are NOT only just going to use a bedside ultrasound.  When we booked the appointment, Annie specifically asked for a vaginal ultrasound, and she confirmed it two times with the office about that.  The nice nurse got a little combative and said, Uh no that’s not what we usually do at the first ultrasound.  And I was like… but we confirmed that it WAS going to be a vaginal ultrasound.  She said that this is not your fault but someone at the office is going to hear about it because they shouldn’t have confirmed with you that it was going to be the more detailed ultrasound.  I wanted to cry.  I said, Don’t tell me that I took a day off with my husband and flew all the way over here from California for you to tell me that I will not be able to get a vaginal ultrasound to get a definitive answer on the heartbeat.  I waited for five whole years for this moment.  At that point, the nurse realized how serious the situation was.  She said that they were very flexible and she was going to make sure that we would get to see a heartbeat today before we left.  So basically, whoever made the appointment for Annie did not notify the nurse that this was an IVF case where a vaginal ultrasound was needed.  One wasn’t scheduled.  And in order to get one done, we’d have to be squeezed in between the ultrasound technician’s appointments.  The nurse smiled and told me not to worry.  She’d make sure that we got all the things that we needed done.

Phew.  For a moment, I thought that we would have to go home empty-ended without a definitive answer.  That would have been so devastating for me.

That whole process took a total of 20, 25 minutes.  Next we were taken into an exam room to see the nurse practitioner.  This practice is very interesting.  You don’t see the OB at the first visit.  The expectant mom always sees the NP first.  The NP was super nice.  She reassured me that we would go next door once the ultrasound room was freed up.  In the mean time, she asked me about the transfer and the pregnancy.  The great thing about her was that she addressed me 100% of the time because I was the mom.  She talked to me about the care and she asked me questions.  She was respectful and showed the understanding that this is my pregnancy and not Annie’s.  Truthfully, I didn’t know too many questions to ask.  I know a lot about infertility but I know nothing about pregnancy.  So we discussed a bit about the care.  The NP suggested checking the uterus with the bedside ultrasound before we headed for the vaginal one later.

At that moment I was nervous.  I just didn’t know if we’d see something.  The NP left the room and pulled in a machine.  Annie lay down and the probe was put on her tummy.  Instantly we could see two dark circles.   The probe picked up the flickering movement of one of the circles right away.  It was the most amazing thing to see.  When I saw it, I couldn’t stop my tears from coming.  I was overwhelmed with joy that the heartbeat was so easy to find.  Annie grabbed my hand and kept saying, You are a mommy.  The NP tried to look at the other dark circle closely.  We could see something, but couldn’t quite see the flickering heart like the first one.  It was a relief to see one heartbeat but I was also very eager for the other one to have a heartbeat too.  I stopped crying and asked if I could bring Bob back.

Poor guy.  He had been sitting outside for over 45 minutes having not a clue about what was going on inside.  A nurse went to get him. When he showed up, the look on his face was so worried that I felt sorry to have kept him waiting for so long.  And poor him.  He couldn’t gauge from my facial expression if it was good news or bad news because I just finished crying.  When we showed him the first heartbeat, he was naturally concerned about the other one.

We were then told that the ultrasound room freed up and we were able to get the vaginal one done.  Annie’s husband and kids came in.  We could instantly see the two round circles again.  The tech typed in Baby A and Baby B.  It was just so surreal to see those words typed on the screen.  The tech measured Baby A first.  Like I said, it was 6 weeks 5 days with a heart rate of 128.  The true relief came when she zoomed into Baby B and measured its size and its heart rate.  7 weeks 1 day with a heart rate of 125.  When I saw that, I cried again.  I just couldn’t hold my tears (nor did I want to).  It was one of the most amazing 5 minutes in my life to see the lives that are now living inside Annie.

When we returned to the other room to see the NP, Annie, Bob and I had a group hug with the babies too.  Annie kept saying, You are going to be mommy and daddy!  The NP came in again to congratulate us.  We discussed the next appointment.  We’ll have another scan done at 8 weeks 5 days.  Dr. E basically wants a scan every 2 weeks to make sure that the cervix is long and closed.  The NP also mentioned that they’d still want to see if they could wait til 39 weeks for delivery even when it’s twins and it’s supposed to be a scheduled C-section (due to Annie’s hernia problems).  So as of now, I don’t have the definite due date.  But she said that we don’t need the NT part of the scan at 13 weeks because we did PGS testing.  I plan on attending the ultrasound appointment again at around 12 weeks 5 days or 12 weeks 6 days.

So this is it.  Despite the drama at the appointment, we are so relieved and happy with the outcome.  I know it’s still early, but we feel tremendously blessed to have a chance to have two babies at the same time.  It is still so surreal and hard to wrap my mind around it.  Praise God for the lives that He has been sustaining for us inside Annie.  Now we need the babies to stay put until we see them face-to-face in September.