Paying it Forward

There are still pieces I plan to write about our long road to parenthood through gestational surrogacy. This post is about the endpoint of every thing we’ve been through. I’ll go back and fill in the rest of the major events when I have the chance. As a woman who writes to process the heavy stuff in my life, I’m working through the finality of the most recent decision my husband and I made.

We started with fifteen frozen blastocysts. Our first transfer resulted in a pregnancy, with PiP, and ended in miscarriage. After welcoming our beautiful twins fourteen months ago, The Electrician and I had twelve embryos remaining in cryopreservation.

My husband and I are the luckiest people around. We have bright, strong, healthy daughters, despite the towering odds against us having biological children. Although we have thought so a thousand times already, The Electrician and I are stunned by the gravity of our blessings.

If we were younger. If our pockets were deeper. If we had a potential surrogate volunteer. There are many conditions under which The Electrician and I would love to embark on another surrogacy and welcome another child to our family. Some of those circumstances are incredibly unlikely; some are impossible, so it has been clear to us for quite some time that we will be a family of four.

We’ve been snuggling our daughters, watching them grow, marvelling at the little details of parenting, how Alfalfa is musical and talkative like me, and Broccoli looks exactly like her father (minus the beard). Both girls have curly hair. Alfalfa has seven teeth. Broccoli has cut her molars and has a full dozen, which she’s been using to bite her sister this week.

So many joyful things kept happening in our home. And yet, twelve embryos remained frozen in a clinic downtown. Twelve embryos about which we needed to make a decision and follow through.

When it comes to paying for accommodations, it doesn’t get more expensive per square centimetre than a cryopreservation unit in a fertility clinic. Our most recent update from the clinic declared a 60 percent increase in storage fees for the upcoming year, paid in advance. The Electrician and I decided we needed to make a decision.

Legally, we had four options for our embryos.

We could sign a document directing the clinic to destroy our embryos.

We could release our embryos for use in fertility research and clinician training.

We could continue to pay frozen storage costs in perpetuity.

We could explore the possibility of donating our embryos to couples fighting infertility.

Extinguishing whatever potential our blastocysts might hold didn’t sit well with us. Even allowing them to be used for science felt icky. I’m not sure if it’s ethical dissonance, or something innate and biological, or the indelible knowledge of the hell I went through during the the IVF cycle. For whatever reason, my husband and I decided we could not destroy our last embryos.

Infertility and loss wring people out in ways nothing else can; letting go of blastocysts, given their striking physical, emotional, and financial costs, is a heavy decision. Many couples keep their embryos frozen for years. I understand that decision and I make zero judgment about it.

Before we were parents, even before our IVF cycle, in 2016, was complete, The Electrician and I discussed donating any remaining embryos when our family was complete. In October of 2019, we began seriously gathering information about the possibility of paying our blessings forward.

Another clinic in Canada has an anonymous donor program for unused embryos. (I wince a little about applying the verb “used” to embryos, but it is what it is.) After we contacted that clinic and gathered information, we felt positive about moving forward.

There are stacks of details about enrolling in the anonymous donor program through this clinic. Few potential donors are accepted. One of the limiting factors is the level of intervention possible with current IVF technology. Most couples opt for ICSI, or inter-cytoplasmic sperm injection, to fertilize their harvested eggs. ICSI makes ova more likely to fertilize but resulting embryos are unsuitable for donation. Our embryos resulted from traditional fertilization, which is the petri dish equivalent of letting our cells choose their own destinies. Old-school fertilization meant we were eligible to apply as donors.

The Electrician and I spoke at length with an RN from the clinic running the donation program. We were required to fill out eight pages each of medical history, going back three generations, which we submitted for analysis by the geneticist who advises the program. After several weeks, we were notified by letter that we were accepted, if we decided to proceed.

A delightful psychologist from the other clinic met with us by telephone on Christmas Eve, 2019. Undergoing an assessment about our suitability and readiness to move forward with donation was no surprise. We met with a psychologist prior to finalizing both our surrogacy agreements, too. It is important to treat significant decisions with the care they deserve.

Only couples who have no other treatment options are eligible to receive embryos through the anonymous donor program. Those couples undergo a screening process that closely mirrors the steps for becoming approved as adoptive parents of children that have already been born. Each couple can stay in the program until they have attempted a pregnancy with three donated embryos, or until they welcome a child.

Under these parameters, our twelve embryos have the potential to offer hope to at least four couples. People who, like us, fiercely want to be parents in the shadow of staggering odds.

Those who were aware of our plans had so many questions.

“Can you cope, knowing there are kids out there who are biologically related to you?”

“I couldn’t do it. It’s just too personal. Are you sure?”

“Won’t you always wonder about any children out there that would technically be yours?”

Here’s the thing: The Electrician and I are parents because others sacrificed to give us extraordinary gifts. Our lives are forever shaped by the love voluntarily shown to us–love that can never be repaid. If we became parents the old-fashioned way, perhaps we wouldn’t be able to donate our blastocysts. Knowing how it feels to believe you’ve arrived at the end of the line, where there are no maps and hope can’t find you, we feel strongly about helping others who are where we have been. It is our sincere wish that our embryos help us pay forward our blessings.

We completed the final paperwork a few weeks ago. In the end, upwards of three dozen pages were signed, initialed, and witnessed.

As ridiculous as it sounds, donors are responsible for the $200 fee required for transporting their blastocysts to the clinic that runs the program. At this point, that sum is a freckle on the arm and leg we’ve already spent on infertility.

I learned a few days ago that our embryos have been safely relocated. At some point in the next few weeks or months, one or more may be selected to give others hope. We have the option to call the program to ask about results: they will share the month and year of a live birth and will tell us the sex of the baby if we want to know. It’s too early to know if that’s information we want to know, but it’s comforting to have the option.

I’m not emotionally unattached to the little blastocysts that are frozen and waiting to meet their potential parents. My heart has a little ache from the stretch of letting them go. I don’t know what the timeline is for working through these kinds of experiences, and that’s okay.

two bottles

The Electrician and I feel peace and gratitude about our opportunity to pay love forward. We’ll cuddle our cherished daughters and teach them to be the best humans they can be. Someday, they will be able to understand the love that brought them to us, and the love we decided to chose extend to others.

In the end, nothing is stronger than love.

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