The first ultrasound

This week was, yet again, filled with ups and downs. I am finding that this journey is exceptionally good at testing my emotional strengths and revealing my emotional weaknesses, some of which I didn’t even realize I had. I have cried more in the past few months than I have the past few years. (Luckily for me, I can blame most of my emotional breaks on the hormones, and I will continue to do so throughout this pregnancy.)

Thursday my husband and I had left the kids with grandma and gone up to Blackhawk, CO for the evening. I was on spring break and was looking forward to having time for myself, catching up on sleep, relaxing, and maybe winning some money while I was at it. I had sat down at a Blackjack table (my favorite) and started having really severe lower back pain, but attributed it to the chair and my horrible posture. After about 30 minutes, the pain was getting worse and I was starting to have some cramps. I went to the restroom a short while later and I was bleeding.

My first thought was of my IM. She is doing incredibly well after her first chemo treatment and I didn’t want to have to give her more bad news. I have had two miscarriages of my own, and when you are pregnant and see blood it’s impossible not to panic. I was terrified. I immediately called my nurse and explained what was going on to her and she kept telling me to stay calm and not panic because with IVF there could be a million reasons for bleeding. She asked me if I could come in the following morning for an ultrasound so they could investigate the source of the bleed. I asked her to call the IPs because I knew I would cry and wouldn’t be able to explain any of the possibilities she had just explained to me.

I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I was still having pretty severe back pain and mild cramping. I couldn’t get comfortable. I was hot. I was restless. I couldn’t settle my mind. The bleeding got much lighter through the night and by morning it had stopped but I still had some cramping. I tried my best to stay positive and focus on the fact that the bleeding had stopped because with a miscarriage it most likely would not stop and would instead get much worse.

Our IPs were able to meet up at CCRM for the ultrasound and there was definitely a little tension and fear in the air. The ultrasound tech was so nice and explained everything she was measuring and seeing and really helped to calm me down. She found a subchorionic hematoma (SCH) which was causing my bleeding. They can’t really be sure what causes it and I’m under strict instructions not to Google it as it can be quite scary. My bleed is fairly large, but they are hopeful it will clear up on its own by the end of the first trimester. She told us they are very common and not a huge cause for concern. They reiterated all my restrictions (no exercise, no lifting, no sex, no strenuous anything. Just lots of rest.) They are going to monitor me weekly to make sure the bleed is clotting and getting smaller, but everything else looks great.

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You can see two dark gestational sacs with a little tiny baby in each. The upper left blob is the bleed in my uterus.

After all the scary stuff, we got to see two heartbeats! We are expecting TWINS! I am over the moon excited for my IPs as my IM had told me she’d had a dream about holding twins, a boy and a girl. I could tell the IF was a little shocked, but still so excited as well. I can’t even begin to tell you how good it felt to see those two heartbeats on the monitor. The babies are measuring great and both had really strong heartbeats.

I can admit I’m a little nervous to carry twins. I know it’s going to be a little more challenging physically, however I am so so excited for the new experience. I know I’m going to continue to learn so much about myself.

Despite all the ups and downs thus far, I can honestly say that this journey is changing me for the better. I am learning to look for the positive in situations and give myself something happy to focus on rather than the more difficult aspects. I am learning, very quickly, that I have absolutely no control over what happens and that, to me, is terrifying as I am quite a control freak in my normal life. I think it’s good and bad that I have no control because I’m learning to let go a little and just take what I can from each twist and turn and it’s also teaching me to better handle my fear. I’m having to face the fact that anything can (and will) happen. Que sera, sera.

When it rains…

…it pours. This past week has been quite an emotional roller coaster. When I began this journey I had no idea how much it was going to test my emotional strength, especially right out of the gate.

I had texted my IM with my first set of Beta numbers on Wednesday and was so excited that I was officially pregnant. She had responded saying they were also so excited and that she’d love to talk on the phone later. I told her I would call her after work. I left a voice mail but I didn’t really hear much else from her which had me a little concerned as the last time I didn’t hear much it was because she had found out she had breast cancer. I tried not to think too much of it as I knew she had a crazy week because she was starting chemo and we would talk again soon after my second beta on Friday, March 13.

Thursday night I got a phone call from her while I was at work. I stepped into the back room to answer as I had been anxiously awaiting her call! We talked about how excited we both were and I congratulated them. I told her I was exhausted, but so so excited to have had such great beta numbers and that I was looking forward to bigger numbers on Friday. We both laughed about the fact that she kept saying “babies” and that all my friends are secretly hoping it’s twins as well. We also laughed that our case manager has repeatedly mentioned that our story is unfolding like a movie.

Then came the bad news. My IM had found out, two days after transfer, that her cancer has spread to her liver. I was speechless. I was so angry as my IPs were finally getting such wonderful news that we were expecting, only to turn around and have life throw them yet another curve ball. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. She explained that she had started chemo that morning and treatment would be the same as before. She will be doing chemo for about 4 months and will have surgery in July. The prognosis is just not as good as before. There is a higher likelihood that her cancer will return throughout her life and she may have to endure treatments again. She had told her doctor about the surrogacy and that she was expecting and the doctor told her “then you WILL be fine.”

I am a very strong believer in the amazing power of our minds, especially when it comes to healing. I think this baby (or these babies) will be a strong motivator for her to get through her treatments and to get herself healthy so she can love on them as much as possible, and I will be there for her every step of the way. But, I can’t help feeling so frustrated and helpless. They are such wonderful people and they have been through so much to get here, they don’t deserve anymore bad news.

I hung up the phone feeling heartbroken, distraught, exhausted, frustrated, helpless, confused, and just all around emotional. I am so grateful to be able to help such wonderful people and it’s so hard for me knowing there’s not more I can do. I just have to focus on keeping myself healthy and giving this baby (or babies) the best pregnancy ever.

I am also so grateful to have such an amazing and supportive staff at work. They were waiting for me to get off the phone and just gave me this huge hug and said they were there for us no matter what. I’m very thankful for all the amazing support I’m getting from those close to me. And I’m so thankful to have my IPs to share this journey with. I’m so glad that my IM and I can support each other through the next several months.

This is nothing like I thought it would be. Early on in this process they tell you to try not to expect anything because you really never know what’s going to happen. Boy does that hit home for my journey. I had no clue things could wind up the way they are. I had no clue my journey would be quite as emotional as it’s turning out to be. I had no clue I could be so incredibly happy and so scared at the same time.

I do know that I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am so incredibly grateful to be on this journey with such amazing and deserving people. I am learning so much about myself and it’s still so early. I know this is going to be tough for all of us, but we are so lucky to have each other and it’s going to make the end result so much more special to us all.

FINALLY, some good news: Friday morning I went and had more blood work done and went to work like normal. I found it much harder to keep myself distracted this time as I had so much going on in my mind. IT WAS A LONG DAY! The nurse didn’t call me until after 5pm, but she had great news! My beta had more than doubled in two days and had gone from 300 on Wednesday to 616 by Friday morning! I have MORE blood work scheduled for March 23rd to check hormones, and my first ultrasound will be March 30th to see how many babies are hanging out in there! Let the countdown begin.

The positivity behind the “+”

Nine days does not seem long. Nine days is just over one week. Nine days is nothing….unless you are waiting for news. Good news. Bad news. Medical news. Waiting is the hardest part of this journey. Patience is something you must learn very quickly because waiting can be terrifying, especially if you’re waiting for the official news on whether or not a transfer took.

They tell you not to take a home pregnancy test, but who are they kidding? They expect us to wait nine days for the most important news of this entire process? I tried. I mean I really tried to wait, to be patient, to not over analyze every possible symptom I was experiencing. I lasted 4 days.

Transfer was Monday, March 2nd; I peed on a stick Friday March 6th.

I knew it was SUPER early and there was very little possibility of anything showing up on a hpt. In a regular pregnancy I wouldn’t have even missed a period until the following week. BUT, when you are waiting for good news, you will do anything to get it early. So, I peed on a stick.

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4 days after transfer

A co-worker had a leftover pregnancy test so she brought it in for me and I took it right away. You could only see a second line if you turned it just right in the light, and it didn’t show up in the picture at all. I was slightly disappointed, but I knew I was being insane because it was WAY TOO EARLY to see anything. My husband was grocery shopping that day so I instructed him to buy me another package of home pregnancy tests. All I knew is that I was beyond exhausted. I couldn’t seem to sleep enough and that is really challenging when you’re working full time, going to school, and chasing around two kids of your own. All I wanted was sleep and coffee, and I couldn’t have either.

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5 days after transfer

The following morning I took another hpt first thing after waking up. It was now 5 days since my transfer. (Still too early, but I’m not really a patient person.) There was a slightly darker line, at least enough to barely be seen in a photo. I knew it was still early, but being able to see a line did help relieve a little bit of my nerves. I can’t even imagine what my IPs were going through as I had told them nothing of my shenanigans. My husband certainly wasn’t helping either as every time I yawned he’d say “it’s because you’re growing babies” or if I was hungry he’d say “it’s because you’re eating for three now.” At least I was getting lots of back and foot rubs out of him!

I decided to try to wait until Monday, March 9, before taking my final test. I tried to keep myself occupied on Sunday so I wouldn’t think too much about it, but I really just lazed on the couch, attempted and failed to do homework, and watched a lot of Bones, all while trying not to fall asleep every ten minutes.

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1 week after transfer

Monday morning I got up and took my final pregnancy test. It took a minute or so, but this time there was a definite line! I was so excited! I even rushed into the bedroom to put the stick I had just peed on into my husband’s face so he could see the line. I knew it didn’t mean anything for sure as chemical pregnancies are somewhat common with IVF and surrogacy, however the lines were getting darker which meant my HCG levels were rising and that gave me some peace of mind. I sent a picture of the third test to my IM and said “I didn’t know if you would want to see this and I know we won’t know anything official until Wednesday, but here’s some good and positive news!”

Waiting two more days for my blood test was challenging and I really just tried to stay busy, focus on school, and not think about how tired I was. I also was struggling to make it up the three flights of stairs to my condo without getting super winded. All my friends and family kept pestering me…”Do you know yet?” “How are you feeling?” “Do you feel pregnant yet?” It made it very difficult not to think about Wednesday.

Today is Wednesday. (I survived 9 days of waiting!) I went in early to CCRM for my blood work and went to work like normal. I knew I wouldn’t hear anything until late afternoon and was just hoping it would be busy at work so time would fly by. I got a phone call from a co-worker (I call her my 2nd mom) wishing me good luck and to just relax and stay positive because she was confident I was pregnant. My husband also said he knew I was pregnant but wished my luck anyway. (He knew before I did with both my girls!) I also got a text from my IM saying she was excited to hear the news.

Work was SO SLOW! It was impossible to think about anything else because I got text message after text message asking if I’d heard anything yet. Every time I looked at the clock it had only been two minutes since I had previously looked. Finally, about 1:15 I got the call from my nurse. An HCG level over 5 is considered pregnant and they like to see somewhere around 50. Mine was 300!! She said “You are VERY pregnant.”

Amazing news! The feeling of relief was instantaneous. I was so absolutely relieved to be able to give my IPs some GREAT news and so overjoyed for them to be expecting! I will go back in Friday morning for more blood work to make sure my HCG is still rising and then the countdown to the ultrasound begins. I am now 4 weeks pregnant. I can finally be excited to be pregnant, but now I have to wait 2 and a half more weeks to find out how many peas are in my pod.

And so it begins…

So I want to back up a little and explain what a horrible and traumatic month February was for us because it was rough.

My husband had some stomach problems at the beginning of the month but we just blew it off as food poisoning as we had eaten out the night before and figured he would be fine in a few days. When he hadn’t started feeling better 5 days later he went to see his doctor who ran urine and blood tests but couldn’t find anything wrong so they scheduled him for an MRI on Thursday Feb 5. We went to the MRI that morning and didn’t think much of anything but almost immediately after they had finished his scan, they came out and explained that he had appendicitis and we should go straight back to the doctor. We rushed over to the doctor’s office who immediately sent us over to a surgeon’s office who then immediately sent us straight to the hospital where they rushed him into surgery within two hours. It was an extremely exhausting day, but I’m happy to say he recovered great and is feeling a lot better!

About two weeks later, I experienced some car trouble and lost power steering on the highway. I managed to make it to a shop where they explained my A/C compressor has seized which broke my serpentine belt and an idler pulley ($1600 to repair). The car was inoperable and I had to have a friend come pick me up and drive me to a rental car agency as that was our only car. We had it towed back to our condo where it is still sitting, but we have plans to get it repaired in the next few weeks. The good news is that I got a new (well, used, but new to me!) car and I’m loving it.

Then, our case manager suddenly decided to leave ConceiveAbilites and we were given a new case manager, who is absolutely as wonderful as our first except she is based in Chicago. I received an email from her on Feb 17 saying that she needed to talk to me and that I shouldn’t be worried, but it had to be that day. Of course I was worried! I hadn’t heard much from my IPs since we were legally cleared and I had already started meds so I was very worried that something had happened. When I spoke to my case manager that afternoon we received the heartbreaking news that my IM had been diagnosed with breast cancer and they needed to know if I was still willing to continue on with the process.

I was in shock. Of course I was still willing to continue on. How could I not want to keep going and give them something positive to look forward to. I couldn’t believe we were receiving more bad news and my first thought was of my IPs and what they must have been going through the past few weeks. The good news is that they caught it early and she will be starting treatments in the next few weeks, but I’m unsure of all the details. (I’ll let her do a guest blog to explain everything from her perspective). I’m just so happy she is going to be ok and they can do treatments and that she was able to continue on with her egg retrieval so we could move forward. We had a transfer date scheduled for March 2.

Wednesday, Feb 25, was my IM’s egg retrieval and they successfully harvested 31 eggs and were able to produce 13 embryos! So exciting!! It was all beginning to feel real.

We all went out to dinner on Friday Feb 27 and it was the first time we had spoken face to face since our first match meeting in July. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it was to get to see them again. We got to catch up on all the craziness of our relation and everything else going on and how excited we all are to have things progressing forward. It was a great night and we are so grateful to be able to help such wonderful people.

The following morning, we received more bad news. When doing the retrieval and fertilization of the embryos, something had come back inconclusive on the IFs blood work. The nurse called each of us separately that morning to discuss the possible risks and concerns they had for a virus called CMV. I asked so many questions but hung up feeling more confused than when she called as she really had no answers for me at all. She explained that both the IF and myself had antibodies indicating a previous infection, but at the time of retrieval, the IFs test had come back inconclusive so they couldn’t be sure whether or not he had a current infection and the worry was that it could possibly be passed on to the embryos. Since the nurse didn’t really have any good answers, I researched the virus (thanks Google!) which was a horrible idea. There are some pretty scary complications for embryos and babies born with the virus including hearing loss and blindness.

Again, my heart broke for my IPs. Especially because it was really difficult for them to get any real answers from the doctors as it was the weekend and our transfer was scheduled for Monday. It was a long weekend waiting to hear if things were going to move forward as planned. I began to feel like someone was against us.

They were finally able to speak with a doctor on Monday morning and after getting all the facts, they decided to proceed with the transfer. I was relieved and ecstatic. I just wanted some happy news for my IPs!!

So, now the good stuff!

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Two gorgeous and healthy embryos

I arrived at CCRM at 2:30, had labs done, and then went up to the lobby to wait to be called back. Our IM arrived shortly before they took me back for acupuncture (it’s supposed to help relax you and your uterus). The room was freezing, but they gave me lots of blankets and a Valium and told me to settle in. After the first round of acupuncture, my IM came in to the room to sit with me while we waited for the transfer to begin. We got to discuss all the chaos of the past week and how excited we both were to finally be doing the transfer. It all felt very surreal to me. About 3:45, the doctor came in and explained the procedure and then the boys got to come in to watch. We got to see the embryos on a screen before the transfer and the IPs actually got to watch the transfer being done on an ultrasound machine. It was amazing to see how excited they were!

The actual procedure only took about 5 mins and then I just had to lay still for 30 mins at which point the IPs said goodbye and good luck. Then I did another round of acupuncture and was definitely relaxed, although it could’ve been the Valium kicking in. (My husband says I fell asleep, but I’m not sure I believe him). After 45 mins of acupuncture, I got to get dressed and was wheeled down to the car to go home.

I’m currently enjoying the perks of being on bedrest for two days which includes watching lots of junk tv, getting homework done, and taking naps. I have also been eating pineapple, including the core, as it is supposed to make your uterus sticky so the embryos will implant. I love pineapple, but the core is…not so yummy. It doesn’t really taste bad, it’s just very chewy and stringy.

Now we just wait until March 11 for my first blood test to find out if I’m pregnant! Here’s to hoping for more good news!

The details…

For those of you unfamiliar with the surrogacy process, here is a little bit about how I got to where I am today…

My name is Leslie Mattern, I am currently 29 (I applied when I was 28), I have been married for 6.5 years, and I have two amazing daughters, 5 and 3. I work full time as a store manger and am currently working towards my bachelor’s in Criminalistics.

Probably the most common question I get is why? Why I want to be a surrogate. My answer is: why not? I had such wonderful pregnancies and I absolutely loved being pregnant. I donated my eggs when I was 21, but that was an anonymous procedure so this time I’m really looking forward to getting to know the family I’m helping because they are amazing!

I did some research (thanks Google!) and found several different surrogacy agencies available, but I decided to go with ConceiveAbilities because they have this amazing video talking about surrogacy on their website. (Here’s a link: www.conceiveabilities.com) I filled out the online application and the process began. Within the first four months, I had a phone interview, followed by a home visit, then I had to have the medical records for my previous pregnancies sent to the agency, and then a psych eval (where I completed a personality questionnaire containing 800+ questions!). However, there is a lot of waiting and down time between each step. By this point it was late June and we had decided to move back to Denver from Houston. Luckily for us, ConceiveAbilities has offices in Denver (and Chicago) so the move didn’t effect us at all. Within a few weeks of moving back to Denver, we had a match meeting set up with a couple who had been waiting for a Denver based surrogate.

Going to the match meeting was like going on a blind date. I was so nervous and excited and terrified, but meeting them was like catching up with old friends. A mediator from ConceiveAbilities was present to keep the conversation flowing and to make sure all the important topics were covered. It was a little overwhelming because you’ve just met this couple for the first time and you have to discuss any and all possible scenarios including how many embryos will be transferred, what happens if it’s twins or triplets? Are you ok with selective reduction? Are you ok with termination of the pregnancy if something is found to be genetically wrong with the babies? What happens if there are complications that threaten the life of the baby? What if there are complications that threaten the life of the surrogate? It was nothing like an actual first date would be! You have to answer such intimate questions to people you’ve just met, but I can’t tell you enough how important all those questions are in the long run. You must all be on the same page before proceeding. They were all questions I would have never thought about myself.

It was a little awkward in the beginning, but we very quickly knew they were the best match for us. They explained how the intended mother (IM) had an emergency hysterectomy during the birth of their only son and what had led them to choosing surrogacy. I was surprised how emotional the entire evening was. When explaining to them why I had chosen to become a surrogate I began to cry. I told them about my two daughters and how I couldn’t imagine my life without them. I so badly wanted to be able to give them the same opportunity to grow their family. By the end of the evening, we left feeling overjoyed that we had the option to help such an amazing couple. I think we emailed our case manager before even getting out of the parking lot that we wanted to work with them. But, we couldn’t speak to them again until we cleared legal.

From there, it was on to medical work up, then a mock cycle, then 8 weeks of legal. During this time, I was talking to my husband’s aunt on the phone and just updating her on where we were in the process and some general details about the couple we would be working with. She stopped me in the middle and asked if she could ask their names. I didn’t really know how to respond so she took my hesitation as a yes and correctly guessed their names. She actually knew quite a lot about them which was totally confusing until she explained that the IM is 2nd cousins with my husband! Talk about a small world. We’re not religious people by any means, but sometimes things just happen and it’s incredible. This was definitely one of those times. We were so excited that we were unknowingly paired with family. It makes this journey all the more special to us, but we couldn’t discuss it with them until after clearing legal and that was a long wait!

We got officially legally cleared on Christmas eve and it was the best gift ever. It was so nice to finally be able to communicate with our intended parents (IPs) again after more than five months of no communication! The next two months flew by.

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Med kit
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Needle for the intramuscular injections (the butt shots!)

I received a giant box of medications the end of January and was able to start my meds, which include patches that are applied to your abdomen, subcutaneous injections that go in your tummy, intramuscular injections that go on the outside of your behind near your hip, baby aspirin, and some antibiotics to be taken before the embryo transfer, but my least favorite medication of all are the vaginal suppositories. (Yes, you read that correctly). You begin them the day the IM does her egg retrieval and they are 3 times a day…everyday… up through the first few weeks of pregnancy. (I will gladly take the injections in my behind over the suppositories any day!)

But finally, after a year of the “hurry up and wait” game, transfer day is here! I couldn’t be more excited or happy for my IPs!