It's National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) in the US.
Facts from Resolve:
"1 IN 8 COUPLES STRUGGLE TO BUILD A FAMILY.
The CDC tells us that is 15% of couples in America. Infertility does not discriminate based on race, religion, sexuality or economic status. You never know how badly you want something until you are told that it may not be possible."
Motherhood is difficult. But for some the path to motherhood is even more difficult. I was born with MRKH, which means I have Ovaries, but was born without a Uterus, Cervix, or the top portion of my Vaginal canal. My path to motherhood included an IVF cycle to retrieve 11 eggs, which turned into 8 fertilized embryos, a gestational carrier/surrogate, inducing lactation to provide milk to my baby.
My infertility story starts at birth. I was born with a vascular malformation in the left side of my abdomen. Over the years, through puberty and hormonal changes, the malformation grew. It grew so big that it eventually took over half my abdomen. My spleen, the outer lining of my stomach and all of the abdominal muscles, both internal and external, were taken over by feet of extra veins. Growing up I'd have outward bleeds regularly just from playing as a kid does. Eventually it was removed from the surface, but it continued to grow inside. It got so large that in my 20's I looked to be 9 months pregnant on half of me, the other half being a size 5.
Our adoption story didn’t go as we had planned. As a matter of fact, it didn’t go like anyone had planned. It was the worst and best time of our lives. Cameron’s story (our adoptive son) has changed my life forever and has given me a clearer and better picture of my purpose than ever before.
I won’t divulge too much into my MRKH diagnoses so I can tell more of our adoption story. I was diagnosed at the age of 18. Mine wasn’t an awful experience. My doctors were smart enough to know they were unable to diagnose me and therefore sent me to a specialist at the University Of Minnesota. Dr. Nagel was a kind and caring doctor who told me I wouldn’t be able to carry my own kids. The news was hard to digest but growing up with five brothers, I learned to be a fighter. It was a struggle more from the outlook of; I am the only one with this and what kind of freak am I. It wasn’t until I found other MRKH sisters, that I was able to accept that this is who I am and these other sisters, are amazing and I can be too. That is the very short version, but I believe the most important and best part of my MRKH story, is Cameron.
Heidi Ritter of Courageous MRKH
I was born the middle child, and I have 2 brothers. I was the first girl born on my dad’s side of the family in 5 generations – so I was a very welcome surprise to my family. When my younger brother joined our family I was 5 years old so the PERFECT age to play with a real life doll and wanted to do everything I could to help my mom with my baby brother. My entire childhood was spent playing with dolls, sticking my tummy out to be “pregnant" and planning names for my future children. I was, of course, going to grow up, get married, and have 3 kids of my own and my life would be perfect!
Most teenagers are not thinking of the future. Most are day dreaming about Friday night football games, the newest fashion trends, cars, and prom.
At 17, that all changed for me.
It was then I had my first gynecologist appointment. And as the doctor began to push around on my stomach, I just knew something was wrong. (I was too naive to ask questions, and they didn't offer any words of encouragement.) I was immediately sent for an ultrasound. I laid clueless as the first...second... and then a third person came into the room.
If you're just starting your surrogacy research there is a great new tool that will help you navigate the process. I worked with All Things Surrogacy (you'll notice a lot of the images are from my own journey) to develop a "Surrogacy 101 Online Workshop" The cost is $49.99 which is a great price for the wealth of knowledge you will gain. I do get a referral bonus (planning to donate anything I receive), but even if I didn't I would still suggest it because it's just that good. Janae the founder of ATS went into great details in all areas of surrogacy, and you can watch just whats important to you and skip others, or watch it all.
Here are the units that will be discussed:
The Cade Foundation hosted a Multidisciplinary Grand Rounds at the University of Maryland School of Medicine recently discussing the Ethical, Medical, and Emotional risks of uterine transplants. It's very interesting to hear from various medical professionals and the first US transplant recipient, a fellow MRKH Warrior. Unfortunately that transplant failed but its still a pioneering event.
After Bram was born and all the checking up on afterbirth stuff was done, we were moved to separate rooms, but right next to each other. I was so excited to get some rest (after I got something to eat!). I waited patiently for Stephanie to bring our son Liam to visit. I thought it would be so nice to get some sleep! After my mom, Stephanie and Liam went home, I realized I didn’t actually want to be alone and had myself a nice little 5-minute crying session. I also forgot how often I would be checked on at night!
I can't believe its been a year since our miracle baby was born. He's a full on toddler now which comes with its challenges and moments of fun and excitement. But OMG my baby is one!!! Cue the waterworks…. “They” say kids grow up fast and boy oh boy are they right! This summer has been a blast, so many activities and milestones. I’ll try to summarize some for you.
I've recently been featured on two amazing Podcasts. Check them out!
Bram is 6 months old! Time is seriously flying by! I've been back at work since late December and while it hasn't gotten any easier being away from him, I think I am able to handle it a little better. The past month he has really become such a little personality! He can sit up on his own, he constantly laughs. Loves being tickled and scared. And is starting his journey into real food! Lee is loving making foods for him and watching his expression the first time he tries something new. Seeing Lee make the airplane noises and feeding Bram with a spoon makes me emotional and so much more in love with him each time.
The past 3 months have been a whirlwind. We FINALLY got our miracle baby. There is a saying that the first 3 months are "The Longest Shortest Time." Meaning in the moment it seems like it will go on forever... the crying, the diapers, the lack of sleep...then in an instant its over and it seems like it was the shortest time, blink and you missed it. Oh how true this is.
We were all discharged about 30 hours after Bram was born, which may seem early, but since he had no difficulties after delivery we were eager to get him home. We kept the dogs at the boarding kennel for a few days so we could get acclimated to our new life before we introduced them. That night Lee offered to take the first night shift since we had all been up for nearly 2 days at this point with very little rest, and would wake me when Bram needed to nurse.... well being the amazing father and husband he is, he decided not to wake me up and used some of the extra milk I had pumped to feed him, I got 6 hours of uninterrupted...and much needed sleep that night. And to boot I woke to the delicious smell of banana bread baking!
On September 29, 2015 at 8:43am our son Bram Hopewell was born into this world. Our lives changed in an instant, it was love at first sight and the beginning of a new journey in our life.
On the morning of the 28th we had our 39 week midwife appointment. When they checked her and she was 2-3cm dilated. Heather requested the midwife “sweep her membranes” to help possibly induce labor as we were all a bit concerned with his estimated large weight causing a difficult labor if she stayed pregnant much longer. Well it worked! Her contractions began around 2:00pm that day. By 8:00pm she was taking them seriously and by 9:00pm we were on the road to her house (its an hour long drive... but somehow Lee made it there in the longest 40 minutes ever). We waited for Heather's Mom to arrive to watch their son before heading out and we arrived at the hospital at 11:11pm.
*This post is written by Heather, from her point of view as a Gestational Carrier
My wife and I started talking about the idea of carrying Chrissy and Lee’s baby as soon as we found out they were going to need a surrogate. That was probably right before we became pregnant with our son. I even said something about it to Chrissy when I was about 3 months pregnant at a friend’s birthday party. I’m also sure many people said in passing to Chrissy that they would love to carry for her, “but….”so I didn’t blame her if she didn’t think much of it.
When I first started looking online to read about surrogacy, I read a few places that asked “Do you love being pregnant, but are done having your own children?” Yeah, that wasn’t exactly me. My pregnancy with our son was good, but I didn’t “love” being pregnant. I also wasn’t the little girl who always just knew I would have no problem getting pregnant. In fact, during my college years I had this nagging thought in the back of my head that I would have problems getting pregnant. There was nothing going on with me to make me think this, but I just always worried. Getting pregnant with our son was pretty easy, as it turns out, and worked the second time we did an IUI.
I have now been pumping for 6 weeks! I have pumped over 170 times (averaging 7 pumps per 24 hours) and now have a "freezer stash" of over 150 ounces of milk!!! WE ended up buying this deep freezer!
I am now getting around 1.5 - 2oz per pump. My Lactation Consultant said if I'm at 2oz per pump by the time he's here I have a great chance at being able to exclusively breastfeed him (without having to supplement with formula). So I have done everything I can to make sure I pump as often as possible, and eat as healthy as possible to make sure I can get enough milk every day.
8/20/15- After strategically avoiding all baby showers at my work for the past 8 years....a la "I'll cover the front desk!...so I can avoid crying in front of my coworkers....", it was time for my own. I pleaded with the planner to have it not be a surprise and to not have any cheesy games. Luckily Lee was able to attend and without any prompting the planners picked the PERFECT theme! They had no idea we were planning those colors and safari as our nursery theme...or that giraffes are my favorite!
I played a slide show of pictures from our journey thus far and people asked a bunch of questions. And then everyone wrote down their best parenting advice on cards. I was amazed at the generosity of my coworkers, we were showered with gifts, gift cards and cash! It was unexpected. Everyone could tell how excited we are to finally become parents!
We had an ultrasound at 32 weeks gestation to measure growth and confirm baby is in head down position. As expected he did not want to cooperate and was constantly kicking and punching the sonographer and the probe. But they were able to measure everything...and well... he's a big boy! He was measuring around 36 weeks in size and about 5lbs!! and although ultrasound is notoriously inaccurate, he is going to at least be a big boy.
Due to the size they are worried about gestational diabetes (she already passed her glucose test once) but they are requiring a second test, and weekly monitoring to look at the placenta and fluid level. The first one was this week and all was well! We have another growth scan at 35 weeks then weekly midwife appointments!
You might be saying "Inducing wha???" and I can understand your confusion. I had never known this was possible until a few years ago either.
"Inducing lactation refers to the process of making milk without pregnancy and birth."
It has been going on since the beginning of time... and yes even men can do it.... if they really wanted to! Women do it for a multitude of reason including having children through adoption, surrogacy and non-gestational mothers (lesbian couples).
This week is World Breastfeeding Week, what perfect timing to start my "breastfeeding" journey and share my journey with everyone!
And let me just add a disclaimer here... this post will be about boobs, milk coming out of boobs and other personal stuff, so just navigate away if you're not comfortable with that sort of stuff.
We had our Hospital Tour this weekend. Heather, Stephanie and Liam came along, and there was one other couple there as well. The hospital is very nice, the labor rooms are insanely huge and include a whirlpool tub and yoga balls and all sorts of other tools to promote labor.
I asked the nurse that was leading the tour many surrogacy specific questions and she suggested I call a social worker later this week as she didn't have answers for me. Since they are so flexible in many other aspects I'm hoping they are understanding and flexible in our situation as well.
We're in the 3rd trimester! Some resources say the 27th week starts it, and others say the 28th week... either way, we're in the final stretch now!!!
Heather took her 1 hour glucose screening test and passed perfectly!
We also scheduled our next and final ultrasound (a "growth scan") for week 32. We were hoping not to have any more scans but the Midwife highly suggested one, so we trust her.
My Mom and Stepdad come to town last week from Florida, so I invited them and Heather, Stephanie and Liam over for dinner. It was a fantastic time. Telling of lots of childhood stories and laughs all around.
My mom showered Heather and her family with love and continued to express how thankful she was Heather was doing this for us.
We got to feel him move!! We went over to Heather and Stephanie's for one of our regular dinner nights and Heather was determined for me to feel him move. She had been feeling him move around for about a week now and didn't want anyone else (even her wife!) to feel him until I could (how sweet!!!). So after dinner we sat on the couch and I read him a bedtime story. I honestly never realized before how morbid and down right creepy traditional bedtime stories and nursery rhymes are though! I read part of one about The Dog with No Voice, and another about a Squirrel and I then felt him kick (or punch) and then also a limb or something slide across the whole front of her belly. I was glowing, completely amazed. I quickly grabbed Lee's hand and he also got to feel some movement!
On Wednesday we had our 20 week "Anatomy Scan" which is basically a very thorough ultrasound where they look at all of the baby's various structures and organs. At first the little bugger was not being cooperative and wouldn't unfold from his comfy position for the tech to get many good pictures. Then the tech started bouncing/pushing the probe deeper into Heather's stomach to try to wake him up or make him move and Lee and I both grimaced, but Heather assured us it didn't hurt and the tech kept telling us it was fine, the baby is well insulated in there.
Bram's Birth Story
Ways to Save Money
Things not to say to IPs
Tips for newly diagnosed
Mothers with MRKH
Our Gender Reveal
2000- Chrissy dx w/ MRKH
2002- Chrissy & Lee meet
2007- Chrissy & Lee Marry
2009- Chrissy 'hysterectomy'
2013- Awarded Cade Grant
7/3/14- IVF egg retrieval (5)
1/18/15- Embryo Transfer (1)
9/29/15 - Bram born!