Friday, July 25, 2014

On heartbreak, setbacks and moving forward

Many of you may remember that when I first diagnosed with breast cancer, I chose to pursue fertility preservation in the event any cancer treatments would pose a risk to my ability to have children afterward.  You can read about my decision to do so with my then-boyfriend, now-husband over here.

Long-story short on that decision: I'm glad I made it.  As you know, over the next year my cancer spread to my liver and brain, taking me from "Stage 0" or "just DCIS" to Stage 4/Metastatic Breast Cancer.  I was told last spring by my medical oncologist that not only was I in chemically-induced menopause - and will remain there - but that I also could not carry a child using our pre-baked/frozen "maybe-babies."  The bursts of estrogen associated with pregnancy would cause my cancer to roar back, putting me at almost-certain risk of recurrence and/or death.

Even though, I knew this was my reality, it still hurt like hell to hear it told to my face.  It hurt my heart to hear what my brain already knew.  I would never be a mom in the "normal way."  I took a day off from work to mourn, and then got back to my semi-normal life of working, doctor's appointments, scans, traveling, etc.  I "got over it," I guess.  Gestational surrogacy using our embryos was our only option.  Luckily, we have 9 or 10 embryos that are 100% "Kristen + Michael" DNA, and 10 more Kristen-eggs as backup.

Sometimes I would get sad & "pity party" about my situation -- for example,  reading about acquaintances getting pregnant ("again!") or get a baby shower invitation ("That's so great!! I'm so happy for you!!").  It's not that I wasn't legitimately happy for these other women -- I was, I promise! It's just that some days jealousy is inevitable, and I would let myself sink into the darkness of it. But in these times, Michael would be my light: comforting me, reminding me that I would never have to deal with the morning sickness, the swollen feet, the heartburn...the LABOR PAINS.  "Plus, I can actually drink the mimosas at my own baby shower!" After I while I would always start to feel better again. Those all sounded like good things to did the bit about staying alive a few years longer.

As the months passed, I talked more and more about surrogacy to a good friend.  While she's several years younger than me, she has three kids of her own, had relatively "easy" pregnancies, and we just click like sisters do.  After the birth of her third child last year, she offered to be my surrogate.  I made sure her whole family was okay with this decision...husband, kids, etc.  I mean, it's a very big decision to make!  I was thrilled beyond compare when I had what seemed to be the "perfect" option...someone I was close to (geographically and emotionally), someone I trusted, and someone I didn't have to pay through a surrogacy agency -- saving Michael and me about $30,000-40,000.

We kept this news very quiet because we didn't want to announce anything until a lot of the groundwork was already laid --- legal issues, medical issues, etc. Think of it as the 12-week waiting period that most people wait to announce they are pregnant.  We had, however, scheduled meetings with the surrogacy lawyer and the fertility doctor we used in 2012. We were moving forward, and I began to get very excited!

However, as I've learned over my 36+ years here on earth, life takes you where it goes.  I'm the captain steering this ship, but sometimes the current changes your course before you realize what's going on.  The week before our meeting with the surrogacy lawyer, my friend had an OB/GYN appointment, in which she learned she had two issues that would make it both dangerous and difficult to carry another child...hers or mine.  She came over to my house to talk about it face to face, and we were both heartbroken. She for me, and I for her. And of course....I was heartbroken for myself and Michael.

Our "perfect" option was no longer an option at all.

Again, I let myself mourn for a couple of days.  With Michael's love and encouragement and hours of Netflix binge-watching, I eventually  emerged on the other side, that of acceptance versus disappointment. We kept the appointments with both the surrogacy lawyer and the fertility doctor.  We learned what it would take to go the agency route and use a stranger as our surrogate.  We learned of the matching process, the psychological and medical testing, the IVF transfer process, and the total cost of doing so.

We were told that if we found another friend or family member (or IDEALLY a woman who has been a gestational surrogate before) to be our maybe-baby's "rent-a-womb" for 9 months, we would save significantly. They advised us to look around for someone else, but they also assured us that if we could not find another volunteer that there are many other women out there with compassionate hearts and healthy medical records willing to do it for a fee.

So here we are today...stuck in between a setback and moving forward.  Wondering if another volunteer is out there waiting for us, or if we should go the more straightforward path (or as straight as our crazy path is ever going to get!) and pony up for an agency surrogate which could lead us to a pregnancy in the next 3-4 months.  We've already come so far on this journey, though, and it means the absolute world to us to have a child - OUR CHILD - created in love (& science!) to carry on our love for decades to come. Our heartbreak is healing and blossoming into hope.  We know a child will happen. We just don't know when or how. But all we can do is just keep moving forward.

The good part is next.