The journey of two guys ( with one cat & lot of great friends) trying to get through life and expand their family through surrogacy in Thailand.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Practical Vs. Shallow

There are times in my life where I have found myself making practical choices: Buying groceries instead of buying video games; Going for a jog instead of using the ab trimmer as seen on TV; Shaving my cat to stop her from shedding instead of just brushing her every day…

And admittedly, there are times where I have made shallow choices: Getting the black car with a higher insurance rate instead of the white car with a lower rate, because the black one was better looking; Buying the Guess button down shirt instead of the Target button down that looked almost as good, because…well, it was Guess; Gluing fur back onto my cat, because sadly for her, bald is not beautiful.*

But I had never been put into a situation anything like what I had to face on this surrogacy journey: Picking out an egg donor.

It’s been about a week since meeting our egg donor, and Frankie and I still feel great about our choice. But you might be wondering, “Out of all the profiles, how did you pick hers?” You might also be wondering, “How many licks DOES it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop?”, but since I’ve never made it without biting, I can’t help you there.

Obviously, this wasn’t a decision to take lightly; in fact it’s quite possibly one of the most important decisions we’ve ever made or will ever make as a couple. I found myself wondering: Is this a practical decision? After all we want our children to be clear of medical calamities and have a good family health history. Or, is this a shallow decision? Because, quite frankly, you also want to pick an attractive egg donor.

Well of course, I don’t like to think of myself as a shallow person, and generally I don’t feel that I am. So, I found myself trying to eliminate donors because of practical reasons:

“Well, she doesn’t have the best teeth, and straight teeth are genetic. I really don’t want to have to pay for braces down the line….so maybe not her.”

“She’s only 5ft. tall? Well, Frankie is just over 6ft, and I’m about 6 ft myself, so I wouldn’t want our child to develop an inferiority complex because he or she is significantly shorter than both of us….so maybe not her.”

“I can’t help but notice she’s a little overweight. Type II diabetes does run in my family…well, okay, it doesn’t actually run in my family, but it could. So, I wouldn’t want my children to be even more predisposed….so maybe not her”

“Are those cut-off jean shorts?  No...”

I was unprepared to admit that physical features had to play a role in this decision, and not for practical reasons; but purely because I wanted someone physically attractive. For a guy who used to look like Jared from Subway before he discovered Subway, it’s really hard to feel like you have the right to judge people based on their looks.  But in this case, I had to give myself that right.

We decided that the process was not entirely practical, nor could it be entirely shallow. We started by narrowing the pool to donors who had a good family medical history, had a college education, had previously donated eggs successfully and shared similar interests to us (although, strangely none of the egg donors listed RuPaul’s Drag Race as one of their favorite TV shows, which we found slightly disappointing). After the playing field was narrowed by practical factors, we then turned our attention to physical features; as like it or not, those had to play a part in our decision.

Frankie and I decided we would both pick out our top choices from the remaining profiles, then compare to see if we had picked any of the same ones. So, I went off to my corner to ponder which egg donor was best suited to us…and also whether or not decent Mexican food exists on the East coast, because I’ve failed to find any thus far.

We compared notes, and came up with our top five. In the end, cut-off jean shorts made the cut. As my surrogacy coordinator and friend put it, “better to go with the fashion challenged as style can be taught.”  Truer words have never been spoken. There was also a Caucasian donor living in Thailand, a girl with an impressive family history of good health, a donor almost as tall as my husband and me, and the donor we ended up picking.

There were several reasons we picked her. There was her medical history, height, looks, educational achievement and answers on her questionnaire. My favorite part of the questionnaire was her response to “have you told your family about your decision to donate eggs?”. She responded with “I make my own decisions.”  She seemed strong, independent, intelligent, and attractive. All qualities I would be happy with any potential children possessing.
But in the end, it just came down to one thing. It just felt right.

*Just to clarify, no Willows were ever shaved or harmed for this blog. She's way too cute with all her those bald cats freak me out.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Our Fault Vs. Her Fault

So, here in Thailand there is an expression: ความวัวยังไม่หาย ความควายเข้ามาแทรก. (kwaam wua yang mâi hăai kwaam kwaai kâo maa sâek )

In English it means: We’re not done with the cows, and here come the water buffalo…

It has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but it’s kind of awesome. I think it’s the equivalent to “when it rains, it pours”, only it involves water buffalo which makes it infinitely better.  And since it’s currently raining cats and dogs (or cows and water buffalo?) perhaps it is pertinent after all.

In any case, “Frankie” and I are indeed in Thailand, and things are going really well. I've been to Thailand several times before, but this has been a very special trip for several reasons. I suppose I should give everyone a little back story first.

Picture it: California. 1998. An American family hosts a Thai exchange student. The American family consists of a mother, father, sister, and a dorky son. The Thai student was named Toop and quickly became a member of their family. And yes, I was that dorky kid.

After high school, I went to meet and live with his family, and found that they were all as kind as Toop and generally just awesome people. So now when I talk about Thailand, I often refer to my Thai family, as I love everyone here as I would if they were connected by blood. I will say that at first I was apprehensive about telling them I was gay, but the response I got from my Thai brother quickly assured me I had nothing to worry about:  “Justin, you are our family and we will love who you love.” So, this trip was special in that they were finally able to meet the person I love. Frankie and I are staying at their place in Bangkok, and while it’s a bit outside of the city center, the hospitality can’t be beat.

They've also been incredibly supportive of our decision to undergo surrogacy here in Thailand. You see, there are few Buddhists in Thailand…actually around 64 million or 95% of the country.  In Thai Buddhism, there is a belief that people should ทำบุญ (tam bun) or "make merit" in order to bring honor to their family and better their lives. There are many ways to make merit: you can give food to monks, give money or time to monasteries or temples, donate books or supplies to school children, etc.  But you can also give part of yourself in order to give life to others. This can be done through blood donation, organ donation, and yes, even egg donation and carrying a child for someone. So as my Thai family confirmed, donating eggs and being a surrogate mother is a great way to make merit.

Of course, that was the other thing that has made this trip so special; we officially started our surrogacy journey. We had two meetings with our agency this week: one to meet the agency coordinators and then leave our “samples”, and one to meet our egg donor. The first meeting went well, aside from the fact that we were about an hour and a half late. If you've ever been in Bangkok traffic when it goes from bad to worse, you’ll understand why that happened (the expressways can be better described as parking lots); but still, we’ll call that one our fault. But it all worked out in the end as the samples were left at the clinic and the results came back indicating that they are healthy and good to be frozen. In general, we found ourselves happy with the condition of the clinic. We are using New Life Thailand, and the clinical work is done at All IVF center. The facilities at All IVF were clean and the staff was very professional. All in all, they made having to masturbate into a cup in a public location as comfortable as possible. (Of course, there is something about Thai culture that is very service oriented. This can prove to be slightly awkward when the kind nurse walks you into the room, turns on the tv, switches to "naughty girls wrestling", hands you the remote and tells you to enjoy and to remember to lock the door...all with a smile and a polite ไหว้  (wâi) or head bow, as she thanks you and takes her leave....)  

The next day, we were scheduled to meet our egg donor at 11 am. Apparently when she agreed to meet us at that time, she forgot that she had finals this week at her university. So, she was running about two hours late. We’ll call that one her fault. But in some ways, it was strangely perfect. The agency profusely apologized on her behalf and asked us to come in later, and really all we could do was laugh given our tardiness the previous day. But when we finally met her, it was well worth the wait. Thailand is known as “the land of smiles”, and people like her help to cement that title. She had a beautiful smile, great taste in music, described herself as ambitious and strong, made good grades in school and said that she was donating eggs in order to make merit. She also donates blood on a regular basis. I can understand Thai decently and speak enough to get by, but fortunately Na who works for New Life also translates beautifully. We asked the donor many things, but there was one question in particular we were really eager to ask: If we are fortunate enough to have children through this arrangement, would she be willing to meet them one day and give them a sense of where they came from. In response, she paused, smiled, and said “Once I give this part of myself, it is gone, and I would never try to have the children for myself. But if they ever want to talk to me, I would be happy to meet them.” We couldn't have been happier with her answer.

However, I think one thing is clear. If we are fortunate enough to have children with our sperm and her eggs, we probably don't have to worry about the baby arriving early. But you know what they say: ฆ่าควายอย่าเสียดายพริก (kâa kwaai yàa sĭa daai prík); While killing a water buffalo, don't feel sorry about wasting a chili pepper.  (I think that one is "don't sweat the small stuff", but you might be on your own...) 

PS....there are also bonus points awarded to anyone who got the Golden Girls reference. Thank you for being a friend indeed. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Now Vs. Later

They say the Devil is in the details. I say the Devil is in the Jell-O. I’m sorry, but nothing good moves in such an unnatural way. In any case, since it’s the details that seem to matter, I thought I would share some with you; particularly those that pertain to timing.

In a nutshell, most Intended Parents (IPs) research their butts off, choose an agency or clinic and then sign contracts, which sets off a huge snowball effect: An Egg donor and a surrogate are selected, the ED is given medication to help her ovaries turn into ovulating machines, then around 6 weeks later the IPs fly out to wherever the IVF will take place, in our case Thailand, and the eggs are harvested, the sperm is…produced, the eggs are fertilized, and after a couple days of maturing, the embryos are then implanted into the uterus of the surrogate. (It turns out that embryos are a lot like the cheese used in Cheez-Its…they’re given time to mature.)

But, our journey is a little different. You see, I’m currently in nursing school and set to finish my program in around, ohhhh, nine months or so. As appealing as it would be to sit through finals knowing my baby had been born across the globe, we decided it would be best not to chance it and wanted to make sure I was done before the big day. Plus, having a baby while still in my program was a little too “16 and Pregnant” for me: “I don’t know how Im’ma get through this schoolin now that I gots me a baby…”  Granted, I’m not going to be pregnant. Nor am I 16. And, I have all of my teeth and don’t refer to my husband as my “baby daddy”. So, I suppose I wouldn’t be exactly like the girls on that show, but we’ll just go with it. (I will say, there have been some intelligent, ambitious young women on that show who simply made a mistake…but most of them, not so much.) But, the problem is that if we didn’t go to Thailand now (in August), we would have had to wait until next year for me to have enough time off from school to make the trip to Asia. After seeing what happened with visa regulations in India, we really didn’t want to wait any longer than we had to lest Thailand change its regulations as well; so in our minds waiting until next year really wasn’t an option.

Knowing all of this, my brain went into over drive. I was determined to make this work. I came up with several “solutions”, and sent them off to my wonderful coordinator, who was kind enough to confirm my suspicions: my ideas were both crazy and just not humanly possible. However, being the surrogacy goddess that she is, she presented us with a much more simple solution…why not just freeze your swimmers, wait a few weeks, then thaw them out? I think we can all agree that this idea isn’t as interesting as my idea of just asking the surrogate to “hold it” for an extra month, or somehow manipulating time in our favor; but it was perhaps a bit more practical. (Believe it or not, I had actually come up with one practical idea, which was to freeze embryos and perform a frozen embryo transfer later. But I learned that as far as quality goes, it’s much better to freeze the sperm than it is to freeze embryos. This makes sense given that our clinic uses Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) to inject a single sperm into the egg. So, even if some of the sample is somehow degraded because of being frozen, we only need about a dozen healthy sperm out of the  180 million or so that will be in the sample. I think that’s doable.)

So, unlike most IPs who start their two week wait right after making their donation, we get to start our two month wait. This time around, we’ll be meeting the egg donor, leaving our samples, and enjoying our time in Thailand. The swimmers will be iced until October, when they will be thawed just before the ovum will be harvested, fertilized and implanted. Is it an ideal situation? Perhaps not; but for us, it’s certainly the best situation possible under the circumstances.  

So, for now we’ll deal with this. We’ll worry about the rest of the details later.

(By the way...whatever happened to Now&Laters? They're like the rough and tumble cousin of Starburst, but I can never seem to find them any more. These first world problems are brutal I tell ya...)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Two Guys Vs. The World

So, if there’s one thing we all know about life, it’s that it rarely works out the way we plan. Fortunately, humans have developed mechanisms to help us cope. It’s why when things in life don’t quite turn out right, we comfort ourselves by saying things like: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” or “No, if you cook it after it fell on the floor its fine. You only have to worry if it was on the floor longer than ten seconds after you’ve cooked it.”

In the same vein, when we’re faced by yet another cold, gray, rainy day we always justify said gloom with “well, we needed the rain”. But it’s around then that I find myself wondering: “it’s been raining for the last four days; do we really need more rain at this point…really?”  And even after consistently trying to fool ourselves and despite our best efforts to convince ourselves otherwise; it is the destination that matters. Otherwise, we’d just be wandering around aimlessly until we got stopped by the police so they could ask a few questions about our “unusual behavior”... But that’s a story for another day. And since we all insist that it is indeed the journey that’s important, I figured why not document it?

So, how to introduce you to our lives and our journey? Let’s try this, and stop me if you’ve heard this one: “A white boy from California and a South Asian guy from New Jersey walk into a fertility treatment center in Thailand….” Hmmm, no, that’s not quite right.

Ok, how about this one: “How many gay guys and straight women does it take to make a baby?” No, that’s not it either.

Alright: “Knock Knock. (Who’s there?) Justin. (Let me guess, Just in time?)” 

Nope, just Justin, and my husband’s name is Frankie. Well, ok, that’s not actually his name so much as the name of one of his favorite anime characters, but you’ll eventually learn that we currently live in Massachusetts and he’s a physician. Having said that, my name is as common as head lice, but his is a little too unique to throw out into the blogosphere without fear of eventually being stalked. I’m not sure exactly who would stalk us, but I’d like to imagine it would be a wheelchair bound photographer with binoculars who moves in to the building across the street. In any case, I’ll say that one translation of Frankie's name means loving and sympathetic. So in his case, what’s in a name is an incredibly accurate description of the person who bears that name. He grew up in New Jersey and is of Indian and Pakistani origin. I grew up in California and I’m pretty much as white as they come. No really, you can see my veins through my skin. It’s a little sad. Our paths crossed just over three years ago in San Francisco and our first date consisted of dinner at a diner, chardonnay at a wine bar, and bowling. He had me at “Damn! Another gutter ball!” During that first night we talked about a lot of things: our careers, our families, our friends, our mutual love of RuPual’s Drag Race, and of course how we both wanted children one day.

Our relationship progressed, and soon enough, we were with kitten. Willow has been the Queen of our house ever since, and she rules with an iron fist. Eventually we found ourselves moving across the country from California to Massachusetts, so we could live in a state that would allow us to marry. Being married has always been important to both of us, and we were tired of our cats’ judgmental nature. We were almost certain she was giving us dirty looks because we were living together out of wedlock, but it turns out she just does it because she’s an ass. (Who we still spoil to no end.) 

We were married in September of last year, and it’s been the two of us ever since. Just two guys vs. the world; and we’re ready to take on whatever the world may throw at us.

Now, we find ourselves taking the next step, flying across the globe to a country that will allow us to enter into an affordable surrogacy contract and hopefully make a baby. We had originally picked a different clinic, and even a different country to help us make this happen, but like I said earlier, life rarely works out the way you plan.  So, now we find ourselves picking an egg donor, a surrogate, and getting ready to take the journey to Thailand. It’s one of the most stressful, exciting, and overwhelming times in our lives.  I know that this part, the journey, is supposed to be what counts; but if I’m being honest, all I really care about this time around is the destination.