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a teeny tiny little bomb

L.A.’s outskirts are on fire. But we are safely headed home. We didn’t see anything more than smoke everywhere. We are thankful to have never been in harm’s way. Our hotel room was a welcome sanctuary in the evenings of this trip, however; the smoke outside made us deeply appreciate the at least clean-er air inside.

This was our transfer trip!! As I had previously mentioned and hoped for, this appointment was a pleasant one. The only “whoops” on the part of the clinic was not offering Amanda the planned-on dose of Valium prior to transfer. It’s just for relaxation purposes, not for pain, but we’ve done this before and were not in any way nervous. Excited, yes, but in more of a focused and determined way than a “feel all the butterfly feels” kind of way. So, not a black mark against the clinic for experiential reasons, but I’d say at least a gray mark for such casual handling of a controlled substance reasons.

But Amanda, as per her usual, dominated this whole event. She was cool as a cucumber and made everyone around her calmer. What a babe I married. #luckiestboyinthistown

We got to watch the transfer this time! Not live (ick!), but on a screen. Suuuuuper interesting. A little dot in a dish gets sucked into a tiny tube and then from there it’s pretty easy to fill in any mental blanks. Turkey basters in sitcoms aren’t all that far off. 🤣

But what I didn’t anticipate was a tiny flash on the ultrasound when the embryo is actually inserted into the uterus. At a microscopic level, there’s a tiny bomb going off as a baby hopefully starts settling into a snug spot to endure a punishing Minnesota winter. Life is too neat.

And complicated.

In my experience of such things as a surrofather, this stage is perhaps as emotionally taxing as delivery. Here’s why. A successful transfer is built on a foundation of countless, searingly painful failures. Doctor appointments gone not-to-plan, soaring expectations shredded by bitter disappointment, plans made and readjusted. And readjusted. And readjusted. And so on. A blithering cycle of crushed hopes and fierce resolve.

Our deepest privilege is to step into this cycle and break it. With a squishy baby.

And now is when we *might* be at the beginning of the final lap of this infertility journey. The next several days are frustrating. Up until now, our efforts have been strictly on schedule to control a myriad of variables; to encourage perfect conditions for life to develop. We’ve done all we can. After months of playing a perfect game, of turning in flawless completions of tasks and med cycles and paperwork and flying and being on time for so many things, there is nothing else.

Now we wait. And pray.

There’s a chance this won’t work. And it’s more than anyone involved ever wants to be reminded of. It’s not higher than fifty, but it’s definitely somewhere around one in three. If you implant enough embryos, every third one fails.

That’s why this stage is tough. Because of what’s been endured to reach this taste of success, there’s so much more that could go wrong that it’s scary to hope. What makes this a no man’s land is that it’s also suffocating to not allow yourself to feel. So if you go all in and you’re right and there’s a baby at the end of this transfer, then you win. All the joy, none of the baggage. But that’s a hefty risk to gamble against. Even if the transfer works, one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. On the flip side, if your fear dictates your responses, you will miss such unique joys associated with literal once in a lifetime moments. That sounds perhaps negative in connotation, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s not fair to expect someone who has travelled the road of infertility to not be subject to different fears than the rest of us know. Perhaps stronger. Perhaps not, but as real as they come, nonetheless. I’m not sure how much choice there is at the surrogacy stage of infertility as to how you deal with fear and pain.

But that’s why we do what we do. We fight fear with frailty. And an embryo is a teeny tiny little bomb.

Bombs away.

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turning points

Tomorrow is transfer day. I almost said tomorrow is the first transfer day of this journey, and that’s technically true, but I’m not going to actually say that because it implies there might be a second. For all parties involved, I really don’t want that to be the case, so let’s just go with tomorrow being transfer day and go all in on it being the only one for this journey.

I like transfer day. Or at least I did last time. Everyone was so happy and friendly; moreso than a bloodwork appointment. People aren’t necessarily unfriendly for non-transfer appointments, but the nature of an embryo transfer appointment makes everyone a little cheerier. A lot of failures have been endured by a lot of people even just to get to transfer day, so it’s worth it’s own little celebration.

I’m thumbing this post out on my phone at several thousand feet above the ground somewhere halfway-ish between Minneapolis and Los Angeles. If you don’t count one of the flight attendants getting super mad because a passenger absolutely reeks of marijuana, it’s been a relatively uneventful flight.

The preparations for this trip went about as smoothly as possible; moreso than they did for our recent vacation to South Carolina with the kiddos when Amanda got all the way to Bloomington (20 min. from home for those less familiar) before realizing she had remembered everything for our trip except her cell phone. So we turned around and went home. And then we turned around and went back. We made our flight, but with no time to spare and our recent signup for TSA pre-check that was processed in an incredibly short amount of days (4 or 5) absolutely saved us. We zipped past a line of approximately 200 people while passing through the pre-check line of just a dozen or so. It was an adventure, to say the least. Our eldest’s backpack got pulled aside by a TSA agent who dwarfs me at six and a half feet tall. He put on a scary face and voice and asked her if anything in her backpack would bite his fingers if he opened the bag to search it. Eva was not having any of his teasing and answered in a more than mostly terrified tone to tell him no, she didn’t have anything in her backpack that would bite him. No games about it. She took the TSA verrrrry seriously and apologized profusely for the half bottle of Gatorade he removed from her pack. She then proceeded to rake Amanda over the coals for not checking her bag better before we went through security. 😂 Good times.

Nothing anywhere near that entertaining this morning. We had an entirely uneventful airport experience. Sunrise over the Rockies is one of my favorite things. We haven’t had clear enough weather in several flights to see it, so I’m glad we were able to today.

We don’t have any plans today. Maybe a nap later? Getting up at 2:45am is early. And the day only gets longer when you add two hours to it.

We are here until Wednesday, this time, because we have to wait 48 hours to fly after transfer. Also, no roller coaster riding. Or bull fighting.

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the medicine is winning… again

This stunner is my everything, and she knows it. So that’s my get out of jail free card to say whatever incriminating things I want to in the following sentences. 😏

This go-round of surrogacy is a lot more ho-hum than the last time; definitely less novelty. Interestingly enough, though, we’ll be in California probably as many times for this one upcoming transfer (ETA: Septemberish if nobody important goes on vacay) as we were for our two transfers during the last journey.

Sidebar: speaking of last journey, we still get pictures and videos of that squishy baby and she is *such* a beautiful child. I still don’t quite have my head wrapped around how we (read: mostly Amanda) helped make that sweet bundle of squish. Unbelievable, truly.

Okay, back. The novelty of this thing is worn off a little, but I don’t enjoy it any less. We are matched with some great people that I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with a bit and, though it was brief in the broader scope of things, based on that time, they need a baby the world will be better place with a kid they raise in it. Consider that my vote of confidence.

We are in the thick of meds (remember that disclaimer from before?) and that means all kinds of ludicrous behavior. Crying while talking about our kids? Check. Crying to a banker over the phone? Check. Crying for no reason at all? Check. Crying for good reasons? Weeelllllllll…… 🤔 I’ll get back to you.

Other news: we wrapped up contracts a few weeks ago and had just the best time with our attorney. She’s a great lady. Not one I’d want to cross, though. Like, ever. We spent one day with her on our last journey and have probably spent our only day with her as part of this one, but they are, honestly, two of my favorite mornings of the entire journey and a half so far. Lots of sarcasm and crass implications. A hoot and a holler, that one.

In a future post, I’ll discuss at length the only trouble we’ve had thus far in this journey. Nothing medical (Amanda is in perfect health aside from the partial insanity brought on by the meds she is taking to prepare for transfer). Purely administrative woes. Stay tuned.

And maybe send my wife a reminder text tomorrow that it’s Thursday. There’s a strong possibility she’ll forget. 😁

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thirty-eight hours in LA

I only fell off my bike really hard once when I was a kid. I skinned my knees badly and embedded some small rocks and sand deep into the base of my palms. I bled more than a little and walked my bike home several blocks, too rattled to get back on. It wasn’t days and days until I tried again; I was a kid with places to go! But I do remember mentally committing to trying again. It hurt to hold my handle bars and my knees were big scabby knobs. I thought for a moment about not doing what I was doing. And then I kicked that fear my kickstand aside and flew down the block.

The metaphor here isn’t about something awful that I have kept a closely guarded secret from our first surrogacy; to the contrary, that was an incredible experience; beyond words, really. No, my point here is about fear.

Fear is a funny thing. It can keep us alive just as easily as it can keep us from truly living. It teaches us about rules and respect, risk and ruin. I was in some notable pain when I got back on my bike at 7 or 8. I knew I could fall off. I knew I could get hurt again. I did it anyway. The same trait saw me go on more than one first date. Right now, my pride is a little raw because I tried a variation on sourdough that ended with me dumping dough that never rose, a rare failure in my kitchen between myself and Amanda.

But I got back on my bike, asked out other girls, and made more bread because the rewards so far outweighed the risks.

So we’re back on the bike.

In a mind-numbingly fast 45 hours, our alarms went off, we went to the airport, flew to LA, made new friends, ate great food, saw neat things, walked on the beach, slept in a comfy bed, had a very uncomplicated and equally uneventful doctor appointment, got on a plane back home and went to bed.

Surrogacy is a lot of work up front and then nine months of waiting and then you have a baby (a squishy one!). And overall the last journey was pretty smooth sailing. But there are ample opportunities for risk to turn into pain. We’ve been there during a failed transfer. And we were there for a short while during a really scary bout of bleeding that we both thought was a miscarriage. You can only approach this whole experience with hope. Things can go wrong, and one or two probably will. But the risk is so worth it.

Skinned knees be damned.

2

Again

I’m not really sure how it’s the end of April. Or how I’m just a few short weeks shy of having a first and second grader replace the kindergartner and first grader in my house respectively. The last we spoke here, the world was one specific squishy baby less grand than it is now. Minnesota had just finished its pre-winter months. Yes, we have pre-winter, regular winter, and playoff winter, if you will. November and December are just a taste of what is ahead, January and February, together, are fewer days than their pre-winter counterparts while being far longer months in your emotional consciousness. This isn’t all that difficult to understand when you plan your life around how far you have to drive and how many minutes you think you’ll survive in the elements if something does go wrong with your mode of transportation. About two to five minutes is all it takes for frostbite to set in when the actual temperature is -30 degrees Fahrenheit and the windchill is twice that cold. Yep, -60 degrees Fahrenheit a few days this winter. About a week of them combined. And then we went back to “normal” in the -15ish degrees Fahrenheit range. That’s January and February in Minnesota. Playoff winter is March and April, for sure, and sometimes May. March is a lot of frequent, wet and heavy snowstorms to the tune of 12+” a pop with some freezing rain, sleet, and whatever other forms airborne water can take. Yes, it hails in March here sometimes, too. April is the home stretch, with all of the things March does still happening, but alternating with rain every other time. So the ground falls on a spectrum of anywhere between just-frozen-enough-to-walk-on-without-worrying-about-your-shoes to navigable-by-rubber-boots-only. It can get pretty muddy. If it stops freezing on time, we have a few early rising May flowers pop up in the last several days of April. And suddenly, this unforgiving, barren tundra that, at times, is colder than Antarctica (not a typo), is lush with green emerald vegetation, fueled by the melt of several dozen inches of snow accumulation and frequent April showers. Take that, David Attenborough.

We have been sleeping with our windows open and it is glorious. Minnesota in the spring is so naturally musical. I was spoiled to grow up far from a freeway, where car noise is notable because of its sparseness. Living near a major highway, there is a constant white noise of rubber on concrete, but the symphony from the water birds both passing through and nestling in behind our house is far from lost on me. Neither is having the window open and not having to worry about our pipes freezing. That’s not lost on me either.

May is upon us and that means we are 5 months removed from the delivery of a certain precious baby girl. That puts us just one month shy of being medically cleared to…

Start another surrogacy! Full disclosure, we really, really loved helping to create a family. I’m not an old man, but I’ve done at least a few things, and I can say with certainty that surrogacy ranks in the top 3 most awesome things that I’ve ever done. I’ve gotten married and had my own incredible children; those are the top two. I’m torn on number one. Sorry, not sorry, Amanda.

In Hollywood’s adaptation of Tolkien’s The Two Towers, the Battle of Helm’s Deep is almost lost. As the powers of darkness close in and the fortress is breached, the decision is made to make one last stand. King Theoden of Rohan and Aragorn mount up and ride headlong into certain death.

Until Gandalf the White crests the hill at dawn, a sea of fresh, battle-ready cavalry at his back. And in that moment, crushing despair and absolute defeat are shattered by hope.

That is what this surrogate delivery felt like. We got to be Gandalf. And that’s super cool because Gandalf is awesome. But seriously, I’ve never felt anything like it. To call it a “rush” would be to downplay the experience on pretty much every level. During delivery I found out that many of the staff involved with our hospital stay had only rarely nursed or doctored a surrogate and her baby and some of them, seasoned in their respective fields, never had. Everybody was crying. I’ve been to other births. I get it, people cry about new babies, but these were such complex and beautiful tears. Relief. Joy. Disbelief. Exhaustion. Gratitude. Wholeness. And so many other emotions that don’t quite have suitable descriptors. All of those things surging through the room in a handful of moments saturated with a profundity that changes who you are; that brings you to an understanding of family from which there is no return nor desire to.

So we are on a plane headed to Los Angeles. Because while my wife was overcome by emotion and leaking happiness from her face in light sobs, her eyes found mine about three seconds after delivery and she told me with unwavering clarity what I was already thinking:

“We absolutely need to do this again.”

2

a thrill of hope

Are there words to talk through today? I guess we’ll see.

But that’s the thing — today isn’t just about today. It’s about needles and nerves and anticipation and patience and breathtaking sorrow and the unknown and change and a few miracles all rolled into one word.

If all goes to plan, the little girl my wife carries and my sweet daughters affectionately call “Baby Seed” will be born sometime in the next several hours, on this, the anniversary of our first failed transfer. And it’s surreal to be here: at this end of the medications and planning and flights and waiting. But it’s so much more than that.

Some months ago, I was asked about why we would have a baby for somebody else; why we would “run a marathon, cross the finish line, and have no trophy; nothing to show for the effort?” In the words of my Scandinavian ancestors: Uff da. I suppose I could have felt any number of ways or chosen to react in any similar number of ways, but more than irritated or angry, I was just sad. How anyone can evaluate this incredible journey of contributing our piece to making a family as an empty thing, a trophy-less race, is beyond me for a few reasons.

First and foremost among them, perhaps, is that I’ve never won a trophy or medal or ribbon for any kind of race in my life. I grew up in the beginning of the participation trophy era, so I received plenty of “feelings” awards, but knew them for what they were. And it never bothered me. So the whole race metaphor was a poor choice to win over the persuasion of a former band nerd who repeatedly rejected his high school’s football coach’s begging to join the team because there were drums to play.

But the real reason the whole “you’re not a winner for having a baby and giving it away to someone else” thing didn’t carry any weight is because it’s just not true. Just so nobody is confused, I’ll say it plainly: we didn’t choose to pursue surrogacy to win some popularity contest or please anyone or participate in some agenda. We did it for lots of reasons and I’ve talked through those at length. Surrogacy makes families possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. Adoption does, too! And one doesn’t negate the need for the other, in my opinion. They are each their own brand of miracle.

There’s a baby that is on pace to be born today. And I couldn’t be happier! This little girl is going to be *so* loved. She already is, for that matter. A new chapter in this life’s story begins today and getting a ringside seat (to use my own sports metaphor) is pretty incredible.

It’s Christmas. We put up a tree and a stocking for the dog, but that’s about it. We haven’t had a lot of spare energy this late in trimester three. There are presents to wrap once we get this whole baby thing squared away, so you don’t have to worry about our kids. They are in for some serious Christmas fun. They love Christmas. And it’s fun to watch and listen to them process it. They are enamored of the wonder of this baby that was visited by kings and peasants who came for a reason: to run a race with no trophy at the finish line.

Merry Christmas, friends!

And that one word everything is rolled into?

Averie.