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a novel change of pace

This is NOT a CDC testing center.

Wow. What a time it has been since my last post. In said post, I talked about our plane ride. We weren’t worried about flying. Now, we can’t travel really at all because of shelter-in-place orders at both origin and destination. Plane tickets are unheard-of inexpensive, but it doesn’t matter.

Surrogacy, as we know it, is on pause indefinitely. We are fortunate to be where we are on our journey. If you are going to get stopped in your tracks, ours is not such a bad place to be stopped. Where are we exactly? Allow me to explain.

We were touch and go, ready to fly out to California the third week in March. Every day brought new COVID-19 headlines and restrictions. San Francisco had just received their shelter-in-place order, and our contacts and friends in L.A. feared (correctly) that the same was coming to them in just a matter of days. We were scheduled to fly out for an eleven day trip that would have included some blood work and a fresh egg transfer. We got really close to doing this trip. It was bumped back by two days once and then indefinitely delayed. Both the rescheduling and the indefinite hold were decided in the eleventh hour each time, so we literally had bags packed that sat for a week at the ready before we knew for certain that we wouldn’t need them. This was frustrating, but manageable.

Our IM (intended mama) was on a similar touch and go standby status. Her trip, though, was allowed to proceed, and for very good reason. Despite all the external turmoil and virus-induced strain on infrastructure, economy, and the collective baseline sanity, our IM was already primed and ready for an egg retrieval. So, they forged ahead. And were highly successful! They were able to collect ten viable, good quality embryos; a big victory in light of the last attempt rendering nine embryos that all ceased development just days after retrieval.

The rest of this is based on no certain science, but rather the most conservative, risk-minimizing evaluation of current events. We are not pregnant. Our transfer trip did not happen. We are not planning to travel until we, at the very least, see a downward trend in the number of reported cases and deaths of COVID-19. This is driven by 1) the lack of data surrounding how COVID-19 affects pregnant women, 2) the lack of data surrounding how COVID-19 impacts pregnancy, delivery, and child development, and 3) how deliveries are being handled at the moment. Strangely enough, number 3 is perhaps the most immediately pressing. Delivering mothers are only allowed one support person, so this has changed delivery room dynamics; does surrodad or an IP (intended parent) attend delivery? I’ve spoken with people in close proximity to or working in medical facilities across the nation over the last several days. COVID-19 can be a medical system back-breaker. Dwindling supplies, reused paper surgical masks, documented unexpected interactions between COVID-19 and the female reproductive system; in this surrodad’s opinion, it is too risky to start a pregnancy if there is any control to be had over one. Fortunately in our case, there is.

For international surrogacies that are already in motion, it gets far more complicated. COVID-19 tests in California as of a few days ago were taking about 2 weeks to process. Requirements around international travelers visiting hospitals were reported to include not one but TWO negative COVID-19 tests, so 28 testing days total (no idea if the days can overlap). And as of a week or so ago, it was near impossible to get just one test, let alone two. So IP’s were most probably missing labor and delivery on account of the COVID-19 testing situation; discussions about “parking lot babies” have been had, some in jest. But I’m not convinced there wasn’t at least a thread of genuine contemplation woven into such half-hearted jokes somewhere. Again, this is not a boat we are in (yet?), thankfully. No one can say if or when that may change, however.

The next several weeks will be telling for all of us on so many levels. We have friends and family who work in hospitals and nursing homes. We can’t thank you enough for your grit and courage. We pray for your safety and strength daily in the face of the unknown that threatens to be very, very costly. Be as safe as you can. Wash those hands. Cover those coughs. Sleep. Don’t go into work sick. We are rooting for you. Every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We have friends and friends of friends who have and have had COVID-19. It’s a sniffle at best and dying, suffocating, alone, away from family, at its worst. We have been very fortunate to not have been touched in that way; to have lost someone to it. We are grateful for that. We mourn for and with those that have and ultimately will.

It is a dire time in the world, to be sure. But we are not without hope. And joy. Some days, we have to choose those things, but they are not far off. A quote by C.S Lewis has been making the rounds on social media, suggesting a simple replacement of “atomic bomb” with “COVID-19”:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Hmm! A lot to think about. A lot of existential-pondering things to think about. For a more thorough discussion on that quote and, critically, how it doesn’t suggest that Lewis would ignore governmental directives like social distancing check out this blog post.

The days are indeed strange. There is a novel virus floating about. For some, it is a transparent condition with no symptoms. For others, it is deadly. Each life lost is a tragedy, a freshly broken family blasted with grief and fear. It’s easy to read headlines and take comfort in falling fatality projections. That’s weird to type. It *should* be hard, breathtaking even, to see (United States) numbers like 94,000 or 85,000 projected dead. Those numbers are lower than the 240,000 that was originally projected, but still–that’s so many people in the course of several weeks; a far quicker rate than most any modern conflict. And that’s just the U.S. This week, we crossed the official 80k mark for COVID-19 casualties. And we aren’t done yet. The days will be, for a while, bleak; touched by death.

But we can do this, beat this. Together. To invoke the spirit of Lewis’ point, we need not live in fear. Our mortality is fixed, but not more so now than it was yesterday. A simple reality faces us: we can live, differently yes, but we can still live. Many of us will face grief in the days ahead. Many more of us will be there to comfort those who mourn. While we can (because none of us knows when we’ll take our last breath), let us make a point to do just that: live, intentionally, on purpose, with a healthy hand-washed and mask-wearing abandon, without a phone constantly in hand; helping, volunteering, encouraging, fighting, recovering, thriving.

My six year old is a very smart kid. Moreso even than most adults I know, she is very tuned in with the emotions of those around her. Her intuition to give a warm hug or offer a sweet word is stunning. It has not escaped her that the world is a little bit darker than normal right now. She knows what COVID-19 and coronavirus are and that people are dying. She knows that her grandma and grandpa and probably her favorite auntie are all on the front lines of a dangerous global medical crisis. She sees the tangible worry around her manifested in store and school closures. She doesn’t like learning on a computer. It’s hard for her to have her dad home all day every day and not be able to talk to him while he’s working; he’s home, but not able to fully be there.

Recently, that same sweet, sweet first grader said, in the thick of a government-mandated stay-at-home order, with her normal so diametrically ripped out of its usual stable existence:

You know the great thing about life? You never know what’s gonna happen next.

Naomi, 6

Inimitable joy; precocious perspective. I’m over here taking notes, to be honest. I receive reminders often from this little sage to be thankful that I have a home, food, and a job. And her; I am oft-reminded to be thankful to know the wonder that is her. We’re working on humility. She is abundantly confident. 🙂

My hope is this, then: when we are looking back on these days from the other side, we will never forget; those who were ruthlessly taken from us, the heroes daring death each time they just went to work, how we united as communities, nations, as human beings, and how we ultimately overcame.

Because you can bet we will.

And then we can get back to things that a global pandemic puts on hold…

…like making squishy babies.

Wash those hands, don’t hoard, and check in on your family and friends often.

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a very strict plane

This is my “ready to facilitate the exit row procedure” face. I’ve sat in a few exit rows in my time. They are not a substitute for front row seats. No, those seats are built for humans. Exit row seats are an airline’s way of charging more for a tiny bit more room and outsourcing a lot of responsibility. If your ticket says “EXIT ROW” on it, as many of you know very well, the airline staff stops you and your brave few exit row companions before you even get on the aircraft and asks if you will help in the event of an emergency. This is normal. Today was less so.

A flight attendant showed up seat side to deliver a second exit row speech and thoroughly explained how to open the door, find the instructions for doing so in two different places, and would not leave before receiving a VERBAL CONFIRMATION from each exit row member?!! This is a very strict plane.

I said “yes” because my millennial flight attendant is super intimidating I’m a good person and feel confident in my abilities to rip a hole in the side of the aircraft on a whim follow the instructions of my flight attendants and read the placard on the door after thoroughly studying the instructional pamphlet in the event that the plane is being eaten by Godzilla experiencing an emergency.

EDIT: My wife tells me that exit-row verbal confirmations are normal. I guess I’ve just flown with a lot of flight attendants who don’t care if I live or die are not very good at following FAA regulations. See if I ever help them in the event of an emergency. Godzilla can have them.

We are California-bound again. Should be sunny and 78 degrees Fahrenheit today. Another trip, another doctor appointment. I would be more optimistic if I didn’t have a long list of reasons to doubt the just barely scheduled processing care we are set to receive. What I know after the last several run-ins I’ve had with other doctors recently is that self-advocacy at a medical institution is imperative. And paying incredibly close attention to and double or triple checking your doctor’s work and that of their administrative staff is so critically important. That’s part of my job on these trips and in the several days and weeks leading up to them. I ask a lot of questions to make sure that my best girl is treated well; no funny business. Sometimes these California yokels need a little taste of Minnesota nice.

We are so ready for the next steps of this journey. We are ready to be pregnant and done with trips to L.A. for a while. You know, scratch that. We are ready to be done with trips to L.A. that involve doctor appointments for a while; I’m always up for a little Sunshine state warmth. This trip out is for another womb check to make sure the room is ready for a squishy baby. If all goes well, we’ll be back in a couple of short weeks to do a live transfer. That term sounded pretty science-fictional to me the first time I heard it, so let me explain. It isn’t sucking an embryo out of one uterus and putting it into an adjacent one with a turkey baster. It’s an egg retrieval and fertilization and subsequent implantation into the carrier’s uterus without any freezing in between, just like a Wendy’s cheeseburger. Allegedly. So it’s not so alien-esque as it sounds, but it still feels like something out of Star Wars. At least to this guy, anyway.

So, at the earliest, we could be 2 weeks and 5 days pregnant by this time next month (🤞🏽)! That would be nice for all parties involved. It’s been a longer road this time as compared to last time. And a harder one. But we have high hopes (literally; we are on an airplane 😂). Something will stick at some point. Here’s hoping it’s this cycle.

Stay tuned.

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sometimes, you just know

I knew this with Amanda.

Despite a lot of people telling both of us we were wrong/crazy/etc., we dated, got engaged, and were married. Along the way, there were naysayers and doubters who pretty much all asked the same question: How do you know?

There are a lot of different ways to fashion an answer to that question, but the purest version is more of a gut thing; a reflex. Some people call it instinct or self-preservation borne of conditioned responses; survival of the fittest, perhaps. Providence. Whatever you choose to call it, explaining it isn’t as simple as choosing a favorite color. Mine’s orange.

We are not pregnant. Or pregante. Or pregananant (a little humor because laughter is powerfully medicinal).

And that is okay. And is going to be okay. It was a blow, for a day. But then the sun set and rose again, like it tends to, and we found ourselves days and weeks removed from that news that we didn’t necessarily want to hear; that no one on a journey toward building a family via surrogacy wants to hear.

Infertility is a monster.

We spent a few quiet days at home reorganizing schedules and thoughts and feelings (lots of feelings; because hormones) and arrived at a place of accepting what’s next.

Together, with our IP’s (intended parents), we are trying again. At breakneck speed, we received the news of a failed transfer by way of a negative blood test and, within a day, an updated timeline for next steps.

Wow. Fast.

So we pressed on. Between the failed transfer at the end of October and today, we have received more sad news in the form of an egg retrieval yielding eight useful eggs that all ceased to grow several days after being fertilized.

More feelings. More processing.

Somehow, I knew. I don’t have any sort of supernatural abilities or clairvoyance. But I prepared for these setbacks, in hindsight, knowing that the outcomes wouldn’t be what we wanted. Don’t ask me how, because I don’t have some secret formula. I just knew. So I anticipated and reacted accordingly. I hoped, but I reasoned. All the odds and numbers and timelines were what they were and didn’t come together. It’s still a little weird to me, but I’m glad that everything wasn’t a complete blindside as a result.

This news changed some plans very last minute. We had trip number eight to California (in eight months) planned for this past weekend. We didn’t go. And despite the temperature difference being something like 80 degrees Fahrenheit between here and there, I wasn’t sad to be home. Especially on a weekend in December. My kids weren’t sad either. My dog was downright elated. Me too, dog, me too.

We have more plans for more trips and more appointments. But not until after the New Year. I’m all in on this grand adventure, but I’m not sad about a lull for a minute. I’m thankful for a small break from what’s been a relatively more chaotic journey this time as compared to last. I’m thankful for my wife who is fiercely committed to bringing her piercing light to the searing void that is infertility. I’m thankful for my kids and their endless wonder and questions and support when we have to leave them for two to three days here and there for doctor appointments that seem (at least some days) to be endless. I’m thankful for our supporters. You know who you are and we love you. I’m thankful for our critics. We don’t have many, but I really enjoy a good argument, so whether I do that in my head or in person, I’m exposed to perspectives I might not otherwise have, so, thank you. I’m thankful for our babysitters and dog-watchers and sounding boards and (perhaps more than most others) our Sunday pizza lunch buddies. All of you play a part in us being able to do this.

As 2019 closes, I may not login here again. In fact, let’s plan on that unless I’m feeling entirely too sentimental come Christmas. I do that sometimes. I’m excited for what’s ahead and perfectly content in the now. Now is so very, very good. Don’t forget to be in the now, with your phone set aside, complete with eye contact and a warm cup of cheer. Or a cold one; what do I care? I drink Nitro coffee (it’s cold) in sub-zero temperatures. Give good hugs, plan on doing nothing with a friend, and do a random act of kindness. And because, for me, the season feels empty without some mention of “why”…

I hope that you find peace that only a Baby can bring; a baby who brought Kings from afar, whose birth summoned a heavenly host and was attended by shepherds who had to be talked out of a panic attack by the same, and whose sinless life and death would save the world.

We’re big on babies around here. Jesus, included.

Merry Christmas.

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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.