Disclaimer: I am petrified to hit publish on this post. I can't imagine a greater emotional landmine than how and why and with whom we build our families. I'm baring it all here, even the unflattering bits, as part of my own process of sorting through it all. If you feel the need to check me on something, please remember that I'm in a fairly raw space right now and be gentle if you can. And also, please believe me when I say that I genuinely value and respect all of you and just because I may feel on a gut level that one path is a better or worse fit for me and my own family, it doesn't mean I think I'm "right" or that anyone else should feel the same way. I LOVE the way the glbt and infertility communities I am a part of have quilted families together in the most diverse and wondrous and creative and resilient and loving of ways. Please don't revoke my membership card when you see where I am struggling. OK, enough fine print. On to the post...
If you'd told me a week ago I'd be writing this post today, you'd have been able to knock me over with a feather.
I think we might skip the appeal to KD and proceed with anonymous donor sperm. I'll pause while you pick yourself up off the floor. Oh wait, that was me that just fell out of my chair, not you.
Our WTF appointment with the RE isn't until tomorrow and we're not sure what she will present to us in the way of options, but here are the four courses of action as I see them now:
1. We cut our losses and embrace the idea of raising Elliot as a single child. We accept that while we will always be smaller in number than we hoped, we will have more available money, time, and other resources with which to enrich our lives in other ways.
2. We pursue fostering and/or adoption. While I think being a foster parent is possibly the highest calling that there is, I can say without a doubt that I'm not cut out for it. My parents fostered for a while after I left for college so I know whereof I speak. 99% of what I know of adoption I have learned from my blog friends and what I have taken from them is that the process is hard and expensive and risky and hard and long and hard. I exist in constant awe of adoptive parents and those waiting to be matched. I just don't know if I have the strength (or the finances) to do it myself.
3. We approach KD with our hearts on our sleeve, pleading with him to undergo MESA in service to our family. We commit to out-of-pocket IVF ($10000) plus meds ($3000) plus MESA ($3000) plus ICSI ($1250) and hold our breath through the highest stakes IVF cycle one can imagine. Hopefully we'd get snowbabies, but there are obviously no guarantees. Speaking of no guarantees, it's possible they wouldn't even get enough viable sperm from him to complete the cycle and since they prefer to do MESA at the same time as the egg retrieval, we could get all the way through stims and retrieval and then have no transfer to attend. There is always a chance an IVF cycle will fall apart at any stage, and this just adds one more major hurdle for the cycle to trip over. Yes, this risk can be mitigated by doing the MESA in advance and freezing, but then we are further compromising the quality of already iffy sperm. We have a lot of questions for the RE about all of this and it's very possible Dr. Google has steered us wrong in one or many ways. Lord knows we are not experts (or even amateurs) in the male factor arena.
4. We buy some sperm off the internet and continue TTC with that. My official infertility diagnosis is Unexplained, but everyone's "hunch" is that I had endometriosis. Since E was born, my periods have been dramatically lighter and less painful, which adds credence to this theory since pregnancy can reverse symptoms for a while. With that in mind, we could ask the RE (I can't believe I'm about to type this) if it would be a worthwhile exercise to go back to IUIs. Don't get me wrong - I would NEVER retrace the steps we went through to get to Elliot. I'm talking about 2-3 cycles, tops, just to rule out the possibility that it could be that simple. It would certainly be nice to pay $1000 for a BFP via IUI versus $15000 for the same outcome via IVF. This wouldn't be an option with KD because MESA requires the use of IVF with ICSI (again, per our internet research, which we would love for the RE to contradict us on).
Let me pause here for a moment to sound like a spoiled child and state that I want NO PART in ANY of these options. None of them. I am filled with a mountain of grief and a streak of rage that this is the crossroads we are at. I have spent the past couple of weeks mourning the fact that I have to walk down any of these paths, but walk down one (or more) I must because as you probably noted, doing nothing isn't actually doing nothing. There are many times in life that you can legitimately avoid a situation by remaining still. This is not one of those times. We have to do Something or Nothing and every single pathway has lifelong outcomes attached to it. And from where I sit today, I hate them all - giving up on a second child altogether, subjecting ourselves to the gauntlet of fostering or adoption, imposing upon KD and taking on $17000 in IVF debt when we still haven't finished paying off Elliot, and walking away from our chance of a bio-sibling for E. I'll pass, thanks. Here is what I want: I want to go back in time to before KD's vasectomy to bank a dozen vials of sperm so that we could proceed with the conception of a bio-sib for E in our own way, at our own pace, and with plenty of reserves to take the pressure off. But the door has closed to that possibility and I am left with four alternatives that pale in comparison to the option that was lost. My job now is to pick the one that makes me feel the least eviscerated, even if only by the narrowest of margins. I know I won't always feel this way and I'm slowly easing myself over the hump. Really, I am. I'm just not quite done being sad and angry about it yet.
Here comes the shift; the lemonade, if you will...
M and I had a good talk on Friday night in which I rattled off every stream-of-consciousness thought that had run through my head since we'd last discussed the situation several days earlier. It was a bunch of "And then I think.... but then I feel like... which leads me to.... but on the other hand..." The initial crack in my reasoning came when I said "I just don't want a future child of ours to approach KD in 20 years and ask why he was the donor for Elliot but not for him or her, and I can't imagine that KD wants that either," followed almost immediately by "well actually, that doesn't really hold water considering any future kid who would be in a position to ask him that wouldn't ever have existed if KD had continued to be our donor." Hmmm...
In the end of that conversation, the plan was that M and I would collaboratively draft an email to KD laying it all on the line - our myriad reasons for asking him for something that was very possibly unreasonable to ask for as well as the financial and logistical hurdles we were prepared to take on to make it happen - and if he said yes, we'd find the money (read: credit) somewhere because we agreed it was worth it to us. One of the (many, many) things I said that night was that the decision came down to what we wanted the story of our family to be. It was a quick comment and, if I'm honest, was used more in relation to what I did NOT want the story of our family to be, but it planted a seed that grew roots overnight and on Saturday afternoon, I told M I'd changed my leaning.
A big part of me honestly believes that everything happens for a reason. The rest of me believes that our psyches generate meaning for whatever happens to us. Either way, the end result is that everything ends up feeling As It Should Be, and I know that will be the case with whichever path we choose. This is cemented all the more by the fact that there will - hopefully - be a living, breathing child at the end of our road (yep, option 1 is sooo off the table, but I'm guessing you knew that already) and that child will provide the ultimate meaning and purpose for whatever path we choose. That particular end will justify any means. So knowing that, and having faith that whatever option we choose will feel right in the end, the questions become: What do we want our story to be? What do we think our story is meant to be? What decisions can we make now to ensure that our story is one of empowerment and choice and not just extra struggle?
Is it meant to be that we just have to cry more, work harder, and go deeper into debt to have the full bio-sib we we're meant to? Are we simply supposed to have to overcome more hardships to strengthen ourselves and/or our relationship, or to affirm that building our family the way we always envisioned it is worth any cost, no matter how outrageous? Can that really be the answer? Maybe, but it just doesn't seem right somehow. Alternatively, is there a completely different child out there waiting for us and KD's vasectomy is simply the signpost for the detour we need to take to find him or her? If that is the case, we can beat our heads against the signpost and maybe even get around it, but at what cost? If we can find faith enough to follow it, what great rewards await us then? Perhaps our story is that we had to let go of what we hoped our family would be to make room for something even better. Perhaps my story is of challenging my own misguided notions of Normal and Perfect to find the family that is actually perfect for me. Another thing my mom has always said about me is that since my personality first emerged, if I decided 5+5=10, then 5+5=10; not 4+6, not 7+3... 5+5, and only 5+5. It's not a good quality to have, and maybe the universe is pushing me to evolve past it.
One of the things I have struggled with a lot since learning of KD's vasectomy is the certain knowledge that I would not have agreed to use him as our KD had I known this would happen. We were clear with KD from the first conversations we had about him being our donor - we wanted at least two children and, barring some unforeseen tragedy that would leave he or I unable to reproduce, we wanted them to be full bio-siblings, so if there was any sliver of doubt in his mind that he wasn't in this for the long haul, we wanted to know up-front. The awareness that his vasectomy would have been a deal-breaker for me is a bone-chilling thought when I consider what would have been lost. We would never have had Elliot, and what an unthinkable tragedy that would have been. We'd have a different child that I'm sure we'd love just as much, but it would not be him and so yet again, I am reassured that everything happens for a reason. We needed to not know KD's vasectomy was in our future in order to have Elliot, and now, perhaps we need KD's vasectomy (and my chemical pregnancy) to have occurred to steer us in the direction of our next child.
I realize that my obsession with bio-sibs is uncomfortable for some of you to read and I want to clarify a few things about that:
(1) I don't think full bio-sibs have any inherent importance, but in our specific scenario, I do believe they could serve a unique purpose. We're in uncharted territory with the "special-uncle-slash-KD" situation we've embarked upon. I don't have any murky feelings about it myself and we have always planned to be open with Elliot about how and why we did what we did. I trust that in the long game, he will be able to see the beauty and love in his conception story and I hope he will always feel positively about it, but realistically, I'm sure there will be one or more times in his development where the weirdness factor will win out. In those times, I wanted to be able to give him the gift of at least one other person on Earth who is in his exact shoes, and he in turn would provide that for them. I wanted our children to know no matter how much confusion or anger they felt toward us or how isolated their unique origins might make them feel at times, there would be someone else in their family to lend just a little normalcy to their experience, and to make them feel less alone.
(2) I am not against anonymous donor sperm. When we switched to it for a couple cycles while TTC Elliot, it was a non-event for me emotionally. In fact, the prime emotion I recall was relief to be trying something different that might finally WORK, damn it. If one of those cycles had worked, then yes, my preference would be to use the same donor for future children, but I do not believe it would feel as critical to me as it does in this case. However, given where we stand today, I have this persistent discomfort with the thought that for one of our children, we can facilitate access to any shred of family history he may wish to inquire about, but for our other child, all we'll have is a detailed medical history, an interview transcript, and a baby picture. It's not the lack of history I can't get past. Again, we rolled the dice on that a couple of years ago and it was no big deal. What I'm hung up on is the injustice of being able to give something to one child that I can't give the other. Not insurmountable by any means, just something to come to terms with.
And finally, (3) I will fully admit that I love to notice how Elliot's jawline is identical to M's fathers, how E and M have the same hair color down to the last reddish-blonde highlight, and how I sometimes catch expressions fleeting across E's features that I have seen before on M's. And you know what? I am not going to apologize for that. I'm not saying it carries even an ounce of weight in defining our family and none of those things make M "more" E's mother than she would otherwise be, but it's fun. Who among us doesn't enjoy seeing resemblances of themselves or their loved ones in their children? Can't we all agree that in an ideal world, we'd love to conceive a child that was a direct biological descendant of both ours and our partners? This isn't a possibility for so many of us for so many different reasons, but is it really wrong of me to like the fact that M and I - through nothing but pure luck - were able to get pretty darn close the first time around? Yes, seeing those traces of M and her family in Elliot are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it's something I treasure and will miss when we do things differently the second time around.
Did you catch that? I said when. I'm waiting to talk to the RE tomorrow before officially moving all of my eggs to the other basket, but I think I have a good idea where we are headed. There is a very real possibility we'd be forced into anonymous donor sperm anyway if KD said no or our cycle with him was a bust. Rather that run that risk, I'm inclined to proactively heed the cues the universe is sending instead of waiting to be steamrolled by them. Yes, our options have already been restricted somewhat, but there is still power to be claimed at this point. If we decide now to skip straight to anonymous donor sperm, it will be our choice, and we will always know that, instead of feeling like it was something we were forced into when we literally had no other options left on the table.
This doesn't mean I don't have moments of looking at Elliot and realizing we'll never get to meet the reshuffling of his gene pool that feel like a white-hot poker right through my gut, but I know they are simply part of the process of getting to where we need to go. The bottom line seems to be this: When we look back at the decisions we made at this all-important juncture, do we want to say that our family was built on a foundation of genes and money or flexibility and love? Put that way, I don't even feel the need to dignify the question with an answer.