As Shannon mentioned in an earlier post, she was born with a condition named Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser Syndrome. It's much easier to refer to it as MRKH or, as I like to call it, Son of a Bitch. Symptoms vary but all involve incomplete development of the female reproductive tract, excluding the fallopian tubes and ovaries which, as it turns out, develop separately. In our case, the impact is that Shannon and I have all the necessary equipment for making embryos fully derived from our genes but no way of enabling conception or of carrying the resulting baby through pregnancy. This is where surrogacy comes in.
We require a gestational carrier, a woman providing a surrogate (i.e. substitute) gestational environment, not surrogate genetic material. We've found our third party to conception in India but, of course, the selection can be made independent of nationality, religion and any other discriminator other than biology. Interestingly, we were told by our fertility doctor that the uterus doesn't age nearly as fast as the ovaries and that, in fact, pre-menopause, even a woman in her fifties or older could carry a baby for us. This is contraindicated by the rigors of pregnancy on the health of such an older woman but the "plumbing" would be up to the task.
I won't even touch on the specifics of IVF as I suspect many readers of this blog know more than we do - we have never gone through the process and will be doing it all for the first time. That aside, here's the process as we understand it:
- Four weeks or so in advance of a pre-selected egg/sperm retrieval date - somewhat based on Shannon's current cycle - Shannon and the carrier will begin a round of IVF drugs. The goal for Shannon is to stimulate the production of multiple eggs; the goal for our carrier is to prepare her body for receipt of healthy embryos. Typically, with IVF, the embryos are going right back into the woman providing the eggs. For us, the embryos are detoured.
- On the day of retrieval, Shannon's eggs are harvested while I desperately try to ignore my surroundings and provide some sperm.
- The IVF clinic works its magic to induce fertilization and coax the formation of healthy embryos.
- Two days later (give or take, we're still learning) the highest quality embryos are collected and transferred into our carrier. Shannon and I don't even have to be around for this but if travel schedules and bank accounts permit it - or if Shannon's health requires it - we'd love to stay.
- Fingers are crossed. The first sign of success is chemical pregnancy, typically evident about two weeks after transfer. If positive, it's more finger crossing for the next three months to get over the first trimester hurdle.
I can't be any more specific about the process as we have yet to go through it and will likely learn more and course correct along the way. Nevertheless, the above captures the gist, illustrating how, well, mundane the whole process is from a medical standpoint. There's nothing groundbreaking going on; it's vanilla IVF with just a little wrinkle. How wonderful is it to live in a time when such a process can actually be labeled 'standard'? The sobering fact is it's finance, not science, limiting our ability to conceive.