By Kerrie Olejarz
Recently I wrote about the bumpy road of IVF and surrogacy. It came from a dreary place in me, because we had just received the news that our latest attempt in India did not work. My trip to Delhi in July was an amazing trip. Sadly I left my husband and daughter at home, yet was fortunate enough to have my sister accompany me. Leaving Cailyn and Mark was heart wrenching, I cried a lot, and then cried some more. I knew this trip was worth it as it could potentially give Cailyn a sibling which we feel is super important. We departed early evening from Toronto, heading to Montreal, then Brussels, then Delhi. The trip to India was smooth, no issues or delays. We were off to a good start! My best buddy Rahul picked us up at the airport and whisked us off to the hotel and in no time, we were checked in, and officially in Delhi! I immediately Skyped with Mark and Cailyn and cried alot. Cailyn is still so little and could understand that this was my voice, but the video aspect of Skype was yet to be comprehended. The first day in Delhi consisted of a trip to see Dr Shivani. We grabbed a rickshaw and flew over for my first appointment. This was my first experience at the ISIS IVF Hospital that Dr Shivani opened about a year ago. The hospital was great, as were the staff. And, of course, it was really great to see Dr Shivani again. My scan showed good follicles, lots of them too! Dr Shivani instructed me to come back in two days for a scan and to keep doing what I had been doing. Each day away from home was a little bit easier, as long as I was busy, and boy oh boy, were we busy. The jet lag and heat are a killer but we plowed through that easily! There were loads of surrogacy clients in Delhi that I knew and we spent the bulk of the trip visiting them and organizing nights out. It was great to see my sister really enjoy Delhi and see why we love it so much. It is a bit chaotic and can be tricky to navigate through the streets and blocks. While we were in Delhi every one was praying for rain as the monsoons were late and the people of India were desperate. The roads were dry and dusty and every one you met talked about the need for rain. In between Dr’s appointments we did some sightseeing, we shopped, and we ate. It was hot, 50 Celsius every day so our time outside was always planned and time limited. As the days went on, I started to feel full – IVF full!! My belly was growing as my 20 or so follicles plumped up and matured in preparation for egg retreival. My sister took an afternoon trip to the Taj Mahal which is about a five-hour drive from Delhi. Her trip was a good omen for India as she got stuck in the villages during the first monsoon rain! They could not leave the village of Agra because the roads were washed out, her driver did not speak English, and after 14 hours she returned to Delhi slightly frazzled and completely understanding why I had no desire to do this trip to Agra again. While my sister was on her trip from hell, I had another scan and later in the day received my two surrogate profiles. I opted to let Dr Shivani chose our surrogates on Thursday based on the scans and blood work they had. I wanted the best chances so leaving it to almost the last day was ideal, medically speaking. That evening I skyped with Mark and we reviewed the profiles. Our hopes and dreams of a sibling for Cailyn were trapped inside these two Word documents. Mark was relieved that I was doing well. He was a nervous wreck and when I told him I had just come back from dinner with our friends from Canada, Australia, and Europe he was very happy that I was enjoying my time despite missing my family. Finally at 2am my sister arrived and as I previously mentioned, she was frazzled. She had quite the trip to Agra and the rains added a whole new element of chaos and wonder.
When you venture down the IVF and surrogacy road, it tends to add a whole new level of anxiety to the baby making process. IVF pregnancies are higher risk in general and there is typically more monitoring done in the first twelve weeks than with a normal, conventional pregnancy. Add to this a surrogate, an agency, and a whole lotta money and it becomes almost too much to comprehend!
It should be noted that the woman who decides to be a surrogate is an amazing person. To carry someone else’s baby, knowing the higher risk that comes with the pregnancy and also that at the end of gestation she no longer has any rights to this child, shows how immensely selfless these surrogates truly are.
When we tell people we have had ten tries at surrogacy and one live birth, they say to keep trying for that sibling. Of course, if we had it our way we would try try try again until it worked, but sadly, the financial aspect of it is just too much. If we were trying to get pregnant the conventional way, there would be no cost and whole lot more fun! It is not easy to keep trying, with IVF cycles, choosing surrogates, and waiting and wondering. As much as you have your angel surrogate ready and willing, the fact of the matter is that you might not get pregnant, and if you do, hopefully the pregnancy will result in a live birth. To an outsider it might seem exciting to go through a surrogacy attempt; and of course, it is very exciting, but considering the challenges you are up against, it is also very stressful. There are so many details to consider, the timing aspect of it, and of course, the money. Once you get this all worked out, you put so much hope and faith in the process that sometimes the reality of what you are doing gets clouded.
Sadly, when you get a negative pregnancy result, you are out a whole lot of money and you will feel heartbroken. BUT, when you do get that call with a positive beta test result, it is all indeed worth it! We have had 9 out of 10 negatives and are old pros at dealing with the news. We always try to figure out our next steps, and also we stay very positive about the surrogacy journey and all it has to offer. If you know someone who will be or has been trying surrogacy, understand that there is a huge hesitancy in celebrating until the baby is born. The emotions that come with having another woman carry your baby can be challenging to get a handle on. Many thoughts swirl around in the heads of intended parents, most commonly fear –fear that the pregnancy will not survive, and that, yet again, hopes and dreams will be shattered.
Once the baby(ies) is(are) born, let the full on celebration and joy begin!! There is nothing better than holding your baby after the years of heartache that led to this.
By: Kerrie Olejarz
Aside from everyone guessing who Cailyn looks like -Mommy or Daddy -it seems everyone is concerned with milestones. There is an ongoing comparison of who’s child has hit which milestones, whether the child is early or delayed. Cailyn has reached most milestones early, like grabbing toys, rolling, using her thumb and pointer finger as a pincer grip, and talking. (Yes, she has been saying words since she was four months old.) She did however seem to crawl late, based on all the books and recommendations found online.
As parents, I think we secretly panic when our child seems behind the ball compared to other kids. I am a new mom and a first time mom so my credibility has been questioned. Other moms doubt me when I say Cailyn was saying “hi” at four months. They assume I am just hearing what I want to hear, despite the fact that others have heard it, even Cailyn’s physician! Being a new mom certainly has challenges, and there is an assumed pressure over these crazy milestones. For me, milestones are merely reminders of child development, just guidelines. If a child has not hit a milestone at the suggested time it is not necessarily cause for alarm and can be discussed with the doctor at the baby’s next visit. Parents want the best for their child’s development and therefore there is a lot of pressure. God forbid you do an Internet search on “infant milestones” – the thousands of pages you’ll pull up will make you feel inadequate and as though something might be wrong with your baby! There is enough to worry about as a new parent; why put more pressure on yourself about your baby not babbling at exactly nine months?
We try to enjoy every moment with Cailyn with only a background awareness of milestones. She has developed at a “normal” rate and as a result we have the luxury to enjoy every day with her without any concern.
People often ask us why we chose India to do surrogacy and we have polished and fine tuned our answer. We quickly realized that going to what some consider a developing country to have a baby can catch people off guard. For us, and this is our unique opinion, we chose India for cost because the US or Canada were indeed cost prohibitive and secondarily we did not desire a long term relationship with our surrogate. Everyone is different and some people really wish to bond with their surrogate, which of course we totally respect. Our surrogates in India are wonderful women who sign up to be a surrogate with not only their uterus, but their brains. These are women who come for a lower level of education and may not have the financial means to have some of the things in life they desire. Most clinics obtain a surrogate pool through word of mouth, similar to North America. The surrogates in India are really selfless if you think about it. They opt to partake in a program and make a huge physical commitment to help someone from somewhere else in the world. There is a substantial financial compensation for these women, and there are no bones about it, this is a definite draw. Very few surrogates in India speak English, so most of our communication with our surrogate was through a translator provided by the clinic. For us, this was ok. We had an understanding going into this that we would not be communicating freely with our surrogate based solely on the language barrier. And, this was ok by us. Some clinics in India offer skype time with IPs and surrogates which is wonderful if this is what you desire. All of our surrogates, all 8 of them, were lovely, courteous, and shy women. Each had her own personaliy that shined through when we met, and each had her own reason for wanting to do this. Like North America, the surrogates in India must go through psychological evaluation and counsel. The doctors want to ensure that the surrogate is on board with this without outside pressures and that they fully understand what the process involves. We felt that the medical and psychological screening in India was top notch, and then Dr Shivani also shared with us that there are criminal checks run on both the surrogate and her husband. This satisfied our need to ensure this was all above board and that we were all coming together knowing what was going to happen, and hopefully have a united success.
Cost of the surrogacy program at our clinic in India is substantially less than North America, and this is solely based on cost of living variances. I detailed our cost and experience on a Canandian surrogacy website. Please feel free to click here to visit this.
In the end, when we had success and saw our surrogate after the birth, she was most concerned that the baby was healthy and that we were happy. Our surrogate is an amazing woman who we thank god for everyday. She gave us a gift that no one else could, and our baby girl is healthy and happy all thanks to the wonderful care our surrogate gave to her for the 9 months’ gestation. Even though we did not want our surrogate in our daily lives, it is funny how she actually is and will forever be. Our baby girl reminds us everyday of our surrogate Sumita and we hope to one day return to India to reunite with her.
As I inserted this picture into the post, I was emotionally taken back to Week 23 of our pregnancy, when we received it. This was the most beautiful and amazing picture we could have ever had come into our lives at that time!
By: Kerrie Olejarz
Isn’t it funny how commonality brings strangers together? In the world of Indian surrogacy you become immediately ingrained in similar people’s lives. You find blogs and forums on the most important subject in your life: having a baby in India. Most of our Indian surrogacy bloggers are putting their story out there for the world to read. Many assume an alias, but their stories of years of heartache are very real, and as we follow along on their journeys we begin to feel connected, almost as if we knew them personally. I never imagined myself a blogger, but here I am four years later having grown in readership, all as a result of new readers looking for a glimmer of hope in India. I know there are a million blogs and forums on the web, but once you narrow down your key subject matter and find places in which you feel comfortable, it shrinks down a bit. Initially you are a lurker, reading stories and forum posts, trying to understand the lingo, the location, and the general goings on of the people. Soon you find the courage to introduce yourself, maybe disclose a bit of your history and eventually you will be sharing with these virtual friends details that you have not told your family or closest friends. The friends you make online in this situation are very real and very supportive of your unique circumstances. Then, maybe, you find someone who lives close to you and you meet for coffee, and if not, for sure when you hit Indian soil, you are sure to meet up with someone from a blog or website, or the non-techies who are in India doing the same things as you. When I walk into Dr Shivani’s office or hospital, I find others in the waiting rooms, and we immediately start a conversation, sharing infornation about our home cities, then whether or not we are self cycling or using an egg donor, or here for baby pick up. We might even recognize one another from blog pictures. Eventually, we make plans to have dinner and then a friendship is built. It is exciting to meet intended parents in the same part of the process, as you can imagine reconnecting with them in nine months. For me, every time I have been in Delhi I have spent time with the same Aussie woman. These were not planned meetings, it was just fate. We continue to keep in touch by email and sharing blog stories. We love to see each other’s babies develop and grow, even though it is all done by the internet. I think the bonds we make through this journey are positive bonds and more than likely lifelong. The original crew we met in Mumbai years ago is all planning a trip to Thailand together. We now plan for kid-friendly places and not adult-based holidays. If you are working on a baby via surrogacy in India, I encourage you to reach out to others through blogs and forums; you will gain great knowledge and hopefully a new lifelong friend.
By: Kerrie Olejarz
After all we had been through it was difficult to feel like a mom, whatever that was supposed to feel like. I cared for this little girl with love and concern, but did this make me a mom? I often felt like Cailyn was on loan to us, not ours to keep. Finally at the six-month point we decided to have professional photos taken of Cailyn and us. It was at this point, seeing the final photos of us as a family, looking so happy and complete that I think…I felt like a mom. Upon receiving the online proofs, I would sit and stare at the family shots in awe. This was it, finally, we were a family. But is being a family and feeling like a mom one in the same? Despite being a family, what was a mom? I decided not to wear high-waisted mom jeans and white runners. I didn’t drive a mini van and not every conversation I had was about the baby. Sure, I looked disheveled and didn’t bathe for days on end, but did that make me a mom? I proudly wore clothing covered in spit up, my hair was always tied back, and I didn’t care that the crotch in my yoga pants was full of holes. I don’t think moms give up on their appearances, maybe just go on hiatus for the first few months with baby due to lack of sleep and routine. I am not sure, other than in the dictionary, that there really is a true definition of a mom. When I googled the word mother, I find ” a term of address for a female parent or a woman having or regarded as having the status, function, or authority of a female parent”, so by this definition I was, and am, a mom/mother. I guess I struggled with becoming “mom” because I didn’t have the nine months to feel this little one grow. Instead, I received frequent emails from India with ultrasound pictures; I was having a baby by email! I held off on all things baby until 32 weeks in fear that something would go wrong. I spent almost fifteen years shielding my emotions and covering up how desperately I wanted to be a mom. The turning point for me was when Cailyn reached for me randomly one day; this meant she wanted or needed me, and it was at this moment that the reality of who I now am was very clear. I am a mom, I feel like a mom, and my baby calls me Mama.
By: Kerrie Olejarz
Cailyn was now 11 weeks old and started to laugh, a real hearty melt-my-heart-kind of laugh! Every new parent looks forward to the firsts, and the first laugh was just so enjoyable for Mark and me. The days started to become challenging as Miss Cailyn decided she was a girl who did not need naps. Some days I wished she would nap for at least an hour so I could either nap with her or get some things done around the house. No such luck with our busy and growing girl, she never napped yet continued to sleep through the night, so how could I complain! We finally purchased the new vehicle which would accommodate the car seat and all our baby gear with comfort -unlike my original car. Every day we tried to work on tummy time which was always fun for us and sometimes frustrating for Cailyn. She was magically able to throw her legs in the air at this age and roll over. We were noticing that she seemed quite long in length and that the typical 3-6 month sized jammies were a bit snug in length. At around week 13 Cailyn discovered television and this became her new obsession; if the tv was on she would contort herself in whatever way needed to look at it. Our new parent insecurities kicked in worrying about too much television and the effects on children, then, we decided to not worry about this and that in some way it provided visual and audio stimulation for her. It is so easy to get caught up in the must and must not do’s of parenting, and I think the best approach is to do what feels right in the moment, or figure out what works for you and your new baby and just go with it. We continued to be bombarded with unwanted advice but had gotten much better at laughing it off. We often joked about some of the crazy advice we were given which I think actually helped keep us sane! It was mid November and starting to get cold here, not cold like most Novembers, which was great as it allowed us to go out for a walk every day. Cailyn was still very young but seemed to enjoy the great outdoors, the cool winds and the sunny days. Every day was the same, but different. The same routine stuck around and it seemed to work. Cailyn continued to have gas and fussiness and spit up after every feed. The differences in the routine were where she would spit up in the house and what part of my body was splattered with semi digested formula. My two least favourite landing spots were 1. down my v-neck t-shirt into the cups of my bra and 2. smack dab into my crotch – nothing like warm formula puddled into your crotch as you continue to pat and rock a gassy baby! Not a day went by where my wardrobe was safe – every day I was covered in dried up spit up in some not so appealing spots! Between my spit up on clothes, Cailyn’s 10 outfit changes a day and Mark’s daily clothing plus his spit up clothes we seemed to have a fair bit more laundry than life before baby. I prayed for these days and as much as I hate doing laundry, it was always a pleasure to pull out tiny little socks or undershirts from a hot dryer. By the end of November Cailyn was finally starting to take a power nap during the day. It was 20 minutes on the dot; no less, no more. Barely enough time for me to pee or shower! These days are looked back upon with great fondness and love. As stressful as the gas and spitting up were, we would not change a thing. Christmas was fast approaching and I wondered how I would finally feel, being a mom at Christmas? Most Christmases for me in the past felt empty and dreaded. I typically hate the holidays and I was anxious to see how this one would play out emotionally. To circumvent any old feelings we decided to actually put up a tree and add some lights to our gardens outside. If getting into the spirit needed a push then we were on it , hoping and praying it would help break the painful memories of the past. The weeks were flying by at this point and we were enjoying every moment of having Cailyn in our lives. It was hard to believe that Cailyn was almost 14 weeks! Being home with her was not about surrogacy anymore, it was about enjoying her and our days as a family. It is hard for me to disconnect from the world of Indian surrogacy as I had spent almost 4 years engrossed in it. Everyday I would get up before Cailyn, make a coffee and catch up on all the surrogacy in India blogs and forums. I continued to cheer on the ever hopefuls, console the folks who had received negative betas, and congratulate those who finally met their firstborn. I chose to stay connected and others choose to close this chapter of their life and not look back. For me, I wanted to continue to share my experiences and knowledge and also enjoy watching all these international babies growing in India.
By: Kerrie Olejarz
Being at home with Cailyn felt like a temporary adventure. The fact that she was with us was surreal and the thought that she was with us for life was difficult to wrap our heads around. It is very difficult to explain this, but others who have struggled for years and finally had a baby understand this all too well. As we continued to share our story on our personal blog, some of our readers shared these feelings. By the mid two-month point Cailyn was almost sleeping through the night, and the tick tick tick of our Angel Care monitor was the best sound ever to hear through the quiet nights. Cailyn rarely woke during the night and when she did it was usually for a midnight snack or a spat of colic. The poor lamb really struggled with gas and abdominal fussiness. We tried switching formulas, we tried all the colic remedies available, and we always kept her upright after a feed for as long as we could. Any parent who deals with a colicky baby knows how exhausting this can be, and we were coupled with crazy moments of spitting up on top of this. Cailyn had a bout of constipation and this was quickly resolved with the addition of flax oil and probiotics to her bottles. Our daily routine included the typical new baby stuff with the addition of dance time. I would lay Cailyn down on a blanket on the floor and put on some good grooving tunes and she would pump her legs and fists and smile a lot. I was typically exhausted after this dancing and baby entertaining episode! Mid October we went to a free car seat clinic sponsored by GM Canada. The program is great; they have coffee and treats and give you 4 litres of windshield washer fluid then install your car seat -or reinstall, in our case. As the guy worked hard on our install and explained in detail the why’s and how’s of the install it became evident that the seat took up a lot of space when installed correctly. By the time it was installed, the front passenger seat was rendered unusable. Oh no, now what!! We asked if the seat could be moved to the centre of the back seat, and the answer was no as there was not enough room. Oh no…looks like we need a new car. We were on the GM lot and I guess part of the program hopes you will walk the lot and maybe find a new car, but, I am not a GM fan so we left with me hunched over in the passenger seat declaring that this cannot be, and we must find a new car! Mark agreed and we set out to start our research. It was close to Halloween and I was inspired by a pic on Face-book, and poor Cailyn became a model in a pumpkin. Mark’s brother came over with his super nice camera and we set up for the first seasonal shoot of our little girl. At first, things did not go too well as you can see from the picture, but after a nice warm bottle and some cuddle time, we captured our sweet pumpkin for her first Halloween. She was definitely our little pumpkin!
By: Kerrie Olejarz
We had been home for a few weeks and it was time for Cailyn’s two-month check up at the doctor. We chose to stay with our family doctor and avoid a pediatrician unless absolutely necessary. We are fortunate that our family doctor does infant care, and that we really like her. I was excited to see Cailyn’s weight and length gains, but petrified of following through on vaccinations. Anyone who knows me knows that I always go to my naturopath for treatments: getting a cold – I go for a vitamin and homepathic IV; feeling sluggish – I go for blood ozone treatments. So, needless to say, I feared vaccinating and Mark and I laboured over what to do. We spent many a night discussing both the pros and cons of vaccinations, and at the end of it we were inconclusive. Before we had left for India I spoke with the doctor about my hesitations and she made it clear that she would support our decision, whichever way we went. After a week home, I packed up Cailyn and headed to the doctor with some anxiety. The appointment went well; we had a general discussion on how she eats, sleeps, and poops. Then we stripped her down to weigh her and I was pleasantly surprised to see Cailyn weigh in at 8.08lbs, up from her birth weight of 6.37lbs. This was a perfect weight gain and put Cailyn in the fiftieth percentile. She had also grown a whopping 4 cm in length, which also landed her in the fiftieth percentile. The doctor did a thorough physical exam on Cailyn who did not make any fuss. After the exam, Dr P asked me what we had decided to do with the whole vaccine drama. She said it was her job to explain to me WHY we should vaccinate, but it was ultimately the parents’ decision on whether or not to do it. I loved her understanding and support! I told her we were still on the fence and needed more time. Fortunately, Dr P totally understood and welcomed my/our hesitation. She told me to take time to consider it further, and if we decided to vaccinate that we would use the standard vaccine schedule, just at later dates than recommended. I felt a huge sense of relief having not been pressured into doing it right there and then. We also discussed the craziness of Cailyn’s spitting up, and as we did so, Cailyn showed off her wonderful spitting up abilities right there in the exam room. I was so happy she did it as she did not normally spit up a just a little bit, it was a lot. The volume that would come out at one time was alarming , yet, not too worrisome. The end result of the discussion was that Cailyn was gaining weight at a good pace and therefore the spitting up, at this point, was more of a laundry problem than anything. At the end of the visit I asked about the Neonatatl heel prick test as this is not standard in India. I felt it was important to have this test to look for any rare genetic or metabolic issues. Dr P was happy to oblige and told me she would find out where we go to do this and get back to me within a few days. Over all the first appointment at home went well, Cailyn was healthy and this is what was most important.
During our pregnancy we had people tell us that they would “help” us when we got home, that we would indeed need help. I took this personally, as in “you are not carrying the baby so how can you care for it?” Maybe taking it personally was my own insecurities and emotional challenges, but, regardless, I was quite fed up of being told we would most definitely need help. I could understand these comments if we were expecting multiples, but we had a singleton pregnancy! As we did it all on our own, with our simpleton minds and lack of uterine ability, in India we were proud and enjoyed every moment of it…then we came home. Despite the fact that we had spent four weeks alone in India and brought home a healthy and unscathed baby, we were still considered by some unable to do the task. It was infuriating to me, and I know all new parents get unwanted advice, but for me, I waited and suffered 15 years, watching all my friends rear and raise perfectly healthy and normal children; therefore, I could do it. The onslaught was like a machine gun, firing at full throttle. It was emotionally exhausting, and to this day I am angry that I had been treated like a preteen mom who could not grasp the common sense of caring for a newborn. Of course I have wonderful friends who I could lean on for advice, or to swap experiences with, and these are the friends that did not bombard me with advice -harsh “you must do this” advice. The worst of it came from Mark’s side of the family, and at some point I assumed it was a cultural thing, and after many times addressing it and being ignored I threw in the towel. I think in their minds they were doing it for the good of us and Cailyn, yet my emotionally damaged brain and heart were in complete and utter chaos. How do you politely tell someone to stay the fuck out of your business when it comes to your child? Thankfully this phase is over and we are on to a whole new phase, but this one is easier to deal with. I think as new parents we should all have the right to do what we think is best for our baby, our child. Before we had Cailyn, I never told people what to do with their children, and I would never bombard them with a flurry of “you are doing this wrong” crap! If a parent chooses to discuss child raising issues with me, I feel this is an opportunity to have a civilized conversation and hopefully spitball some ideas and most importantly, walk away having learned something, or at least understanding where s/he is coming from. I hope that our parenting skills have proven that we are indeed capable of doing this, despite having a faulty uterus. I guess when baby number two comes along we will find out! And to answer the title of this post; for DAMN sure we are!