I have been taking an online course aiming at helping women come up with the best business idea for their season of life. (Eventually I will start bringing in an income again but I will wait to write about it at the appropriate time.) One of the things that the instructor talks about is imposter syndrome, or a feeling of inadequacy or incompetence, or an utter failure or a fraud for a person’s own ability or accomplishment. Many people don’t feel that they can or will be able to start a small business to bring in money, or doubt that they are good enough for others to use their service or buy their products. I don’t actually feel like that with the business idea that I came up with because it is well within my professional field. But this word “imposter” came to my mind the other day. I have been attending a weekly bible study with my kids. I get my me time during discussion with my group of ladies and get fed spiritually with the truths that a teaching leader imparts to us. The kids get their precious time to learn about God, be loved on by their teachers, and play with their friends. Last week prior to the lecture, a video was played to us to show the importance of the children’s program to the existence of the adult bible study class. Afterwards, the lecturer asked all the mothers with little kids in the program to stand up so that the crowd could show their appreciation for their dedication in bringing the kids. I hesitated for a few seconds before I slowly rose from my seat. I felt a tiny bit uneasy and didn’t look back at the rest of the people in the sanctuary since I sat quite close to the stage. The lecture started after that and I went on with my day. However, during the quiet evening hours when I reflected back various moments of the day, I thought about the moment when I stood up as a mom to my kids and I started analyzing my emotions. Why did I hesitate and why did I feel uneasy when the leader asked the moms to stand up? Maybe sometimes I still feel like an imposter. Not all the time, but sometimes. I know that my kids are mine and I am their mother. I love them to the moon and back, and will do anything for them. BUT, the fact that I didn’t get to carry them or share my genes with them still haunts me. Not all the time, but it creeps up at moments like this. At times I do still feel insecure about it and wonder how the kids would feel about their unique history when they are teenagers or adults. I wonder if my love for them is enough for them to feel secure about their special situation being children born out of the tremendous love I and their dad have for them. Deep down, at rare moments, I do feel like a fraud, as if someday someone would come and take them away from me because I am not their real mother. This is all silly talk when I am sane and busy with a beautiful life full of chaos of raising twins, but at times this silly talk is not too silly and consumes me and makes my heart ache for the journey that I had to take in order to become my babies’ mama. Fortunately, I feel secure as their mother 99% of the time, but when that rare moment comes at an unexpected time, I am almost surprised at having these feelings. I guess these emotions will probably never completely go away.
The kids’s comprehension has grown exponentially in the last month or so, especially Okra. He was the one who did not understand as much as Bunny in the past. Now he has caught up and even surpassed her in some areas. It has been a lot of fun and a joy to see that they make connections and associations with concepts and ideas. They do things like following two-step directions (e.g. Go pick up the carrot and give it to mommy) or turning a book right side up when I tell them that it’s upside down. About a month ago Okra showed interest in the pictures of our maternity shoot that are hanging on the nursery wall. He pointed at the photos and I’d tell him that Annie Yee Yee (Auntie Annie in Cantonese) and mommy are in them. From then on, whenever I ask where Annie Yee Yee is, he points at the photos. I figure since the kids know body parts such as tummy, I started telling them about who Annie Yee Yee is. I say, “See Annie Yee Yee’s big tummy? You guys were inside of her when she was carrying you both for mommy. There is Okra, and there is Bunny.” I said that a few times when they were standing in the cribs after listening to their nap time and bed time stories. I didn’t expect them to understand or remember what I said for a while. To my surprise, these kids actually know what’s going on. A couple of days ago, after I changed Bunny’s diaper, I asked her where Annie Yee Yee was. She pointed at the photos. I asked her who was inside of Annie Yee Yee’s tummy. She patted on her own chest and smiled! Wow I was impressed. I thought it was a one off, so I tried it later again, this time with Okra. After their nap time story before putting them down, I asked both of them who was inside of Annie Yee Yee’s tummy, and both of them patted on their own chest. I don’t think Okra was copying Bunny. I feel that they both knew what I was talking about. At a few days shy of 16 months, that was not bad at all! I told Annie about it. It was so heartwarming for her to know that the kids are learning about her. This is our first step of telling the kids about their conception story. By about 18 months, I’ll gauge their comprehension skills and start talking about their egg donor. Hopefully by the time they fully understand the world around them, their conception story of egg donation and surrogacy will be a part of them as natural as breathing in air.
Sometimes Bob and I discuss about our donor; topics such as when to start telling the babies their birth stories, whether Bunny or Okra reminds us of the donor, or how the donor feels about children conceived with her eggs. I am thinking about starting to tell the babies in a couple of months just a very abbreviation version of their donor conception and gestational surrogacy. Sometimes Bunny and Okra sit with me in the rocking chair in their nursery and I would point to the maternity photographs on the wall and tell them about the time Auntie Annie was carrying the both of them inside of her tummy. They seem to start to comprehend my words and would point to the pictures when I ask them where Auntie Annie is. I have yet to start saying something about our donor, and will need to consider how to make the point across in simple terms for toddlers. As for our donor’s feelings about children conceived with her eggs including our children, we would have no way of finding out unless we reach out to request for a meeting with her like we had originally planned for, until the cocaine incident. I had lost my desires to meet with her after her breach of contract and trust. I had always wanted to complete the babies’ conception story by telling them about our meeting with their donor, so we will see if we change our minds in the future. Yesterday I did get some insight from my dear friend who actually donated her eggs to another couple in her 20s. She was in town for the holidays so we met up for coffee. I asked her for her perspective. She said since she donated such a long time ago, the children that were conceived with her eggs rarely crossed her mind until she saw our struggles and our decision to use donor eggs. Because of how it had enabled us to start and build our beautiful family, she felt a tremendous sense of privilege to be able to be a part of a story that completed a family for a couple in need, and felt that she had done the right thing. I know that this is just one donor’s perspective, but it was nice to hear about it. Maybe someday we do get to ask our donor herself about her perspective.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.