This is Part Two of our Embryo Donation story. Get caught up on Part One here.
When I left you, I had just told Samantha (our matchmaker) that I wasn’t keen on any of the couples she had sent me so far. Samantha assured me she’d keep taking applicants until we found a couple we liked. I expected to wait days or weeks to hear back. I was laying in bed late that night, farting around on my phone, when my email pinged with a new message:
“Lydia, I have a new applicant that I wanted to share with you. Let me know what you think. She is pulling together photos and I will have those tomorrow. Happy reading! –Samantha”
I opened the attachment.
And fell in love.
Okay, not really. But I will admit that the more I read about L & J (not their real names), the more excited I got.
A couple in their 30s – check. Midwesterners like us – check.
L mentioned bike rides around the lake near their house (we ride bikes too!), and the fact that her husband played on a summer slowpitch softball league every year (I play slowpitch all summer too! OK, played, before kids).
They were new homeowners of a fixer-upper. No five-bedroom estate in a gated community for them. It reminded me in that way of our home, a fairly modest house in an affordable neighborhood.
She had an Etsy shop where she sold hand-made products to raise money for their many infertility treatments (something I would totally do). And they had met online (I also owe the internet for helping me meet my husband).
The letter was genuine, well-written (which set my mind at ease about their intelligence level…or maybe just their editing skills, lol), and with a bit of humor. She talked about her fertility struggles and all they’d gone through to try for a baby, something I could relate to well. (Surprisingly, few of the couples went into that detail, but it was something I wanted to know about anyone we were considering to receive our embryos. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m just snoopy.)
I especially liked that L didn’t spend a lot of time trying to convince me that they were going to give the baby everything it ever wanted. They were a couple of modest means, like us. But their love and desire for a baby practically oozed from the screen.
“We truly cannot wait to be parents,” she said at the close of her letter. And I believed her.
The next morning, Samantha emailed me a few photos. They were a nice-looking couple. Not beauty queens. Not freakishly short, tall, tiny, or large. Nice and normal. Midwestern nice!
We peppered them with questions, even though I felt silly asking some of them. Including this doozy: “What are your thoughts on gay rights, and particularly gay marriage?”
She answered the question with another photograph: three women standing at an altar, in the midst of a wedding ceremony. Officiating the ceremony was L, laughing heartily, while the brides smiled at each other. In that case, a picture was worth a thousand words.
Our next task was to write up a bio about ourselves to share with J&L. In it, I mentioned that we love to write, and both of us have a blog. I sent it to Samantha. She wrote back a few hours later: “They loved your bio. A lot. PS – She is also a blogger, with quite a few followers!”
My friend Google and I were on the case. I took what I knew about her and quickly found her blog (because Google bends to my will, mwa-ha-ha-ha!). It was an infertility blog, just like mine! I was delighted… and a little scared. Would I learn something in the blog that would change my mind about them?
As I read through her many posts, my anxiety disappeared. She was funny. Like really funny — I found myself laughing out loud over and over. She was smart. Creative. And most importantly, very open and honest. Just like me.
(Sensing a theme here?)
They asked us questions in return, too. What were we like as children? Did we have any crazy allergies, or chronic conditions? What were Peanut and Squeak like? Were we [shudder!] Chicago Bears fans? (Thankfully we are not, because I think it was going to be a deal-breaker.) I answered the questions happily. It was like a really fun job interview, except via email.
After just a few days, we had both exhausted all our questions. I wanted a few days to think it over, and talk to my therapist. It had all happened so fast. Less than a week had gone by since I first emailed Samantha. But I didn’t really need it. My mind was made up. We had found our couple. (I learned later that it was the fastest match Samantha had ever experienced! Most take months or even years!)
I told Samantha the good news, and she called to tell L, and shared my contact information with her. That started a texting frenzy that lasted for about five days straight.
It was almost scary how well L and I connected, and how similarly we thought about many, many things. We talked family, infertility treatments, and about 94,337 other topics. Nathan kept telling me to put the phone down and just marry her already.
Even now, almost two months later, we still text or email daily. Sometimes it’s about the details of the embryo hand-off. Sometimes it’s because one of us saw an article we knew the other would like. And on Monday nights we talk trash about those dirty whores on The Bachelor. 😉
Our connection wasn’t a complete coincidence. The matchmaker, Samantha, somehow knew that L and I would get along like peas and carrots. At the same time I was reviewing profiles and feeling unmoved, Samantha was convincing L to write an introduction letter. They’d talked for over an hour a few weeks earlier; an introductory phone call as L dipped her toe in the idea of embryo adoption. When I emailed Samantha saying I had embryos to donate, she immediately knew it would work. I’ve never met Samantha , and at that point, I’d had even less contact with her than L. But somehow, Samantha knew. (Bravo! Job well done!)
We are still working out the details of the embryo transfer, even though we sealed the deal back in November. It’s more complex than I had guessed. I had wanted the transfer to take place at my home clinic, because transporting the embryos makes me nervous, knowing that any small temperature fluctuations can harm viability. Then we discovered that my clinic is several thousand dollars more expensive than most others.
Once that came to light, I decided I was OK with shipping them, but as it turns out, my home clinic is going to be the easiest destination. We’re running into issues with other clinics refusing to store the embryos because they weren’t created there, which is a dick move. Handling the transfers at my local clinic, although more expensive, is going to give L and J the best chances for a successful transfer. There’s an advantage during thawing if they are thawed in the same clinic where they were frozen, using the same tools and methods. How significant an advantage is unknown, but a very smart embryologist told me it’s a real factor worth considering.
There are other details, too: we need lawyers to draw up a contract… there’s testing that Nathan and I need to do, plus mandatory counseling… we have to promise we aren’t accepting any money for the embryos, nor being coerced by the Mafia. This is not a fast process.
The bright side of this is that I feel like I’ve gained a friend (admittedly, I gained this friend unconventionally). She gets the infertility struggle and is an impartial ear that I can vent to when I have a bad day, or someone to celebrate with when good news comes my way.
We’re aware that known-recipient embryo adoptions can turn out badly, with fractured relationships and icy communication (the nurse at my home clinic was unpleasantly forceful about this… yeah, thanks, we get it, now zip it, lady). We established boundaries early on, to ensure no one’s feelings would easily be hurt. If I need a break, we have a code word. We are not Facebook friends nor do we follow each other on Instagram. She doesn’t take it personally. I follow her blog, and she follows mine (HELLO L!). It helps that we’re both very direct communicators, and we never have to wonder where we stand with each other.
Nathan recently performed in a city near L and J, and the three of them met for hot chocolate. Poor L was nervous (like I would have been), while her husband was cool as a cucumber. After the meeting, L texted me: “OMG I think we married two versions of the same man.” The two of us are very similar, and it turns out our husbands are, too.
Might this friendship fall apart someday? It could. I sure hope not. I may not agree with all the decisions she will make as a parent, but why would that matter any more with L than any other friend? Just because I am genetically related to her child doesn’t give me any more right to judge or dictate how she parents.
Through this process, I’ve learned that there’s one big difference between me and many embryo donor women: how we think about our frozen wee ones.
After joining an Embryo Donors group on Facebook, I’ve been startled to see posts like these: “My recipient had two of our embryos transferred today. I can’t stop crying. I can’t believe my babies are gone!”
The embryos are not “babies.” They are embryos. They are not humans. They are clumps of cells that cannot survive in their present state. Potential lives. Potential that will never be realized without their mother, L, who will give them life. Not me. I just got them started.
Do I feel this way because I’m pro-choice, and not religious? I’m sure my belief is in contrast to what many people feel about when life begins. Believe what you want to, or vilify me if you must. In my book, life begins when an embryo attaches to the snuggly warm lining of its mother’s uterus. My babies, fertilized in a petri dish, began their life inside my body, not in that cold sterile laboratory in 2011, under the impartial eyes of an embryologist.
One woman in my donor group asked how we plan to refer to any children that result from our embryo donation. Several women chimed in with “My biological child through embryo adoption,” but that isn’t technically true. They are only my genetic children, not biological. L birthed them, and she is their biological mother. It’s all pretty confusing. I can see why women struggle with this.
Despite how I feel today, I can’t guarantee how I’ll feel once one (or more) of those embryos is at home in L’s tummy. Right now, I can’t imagine feeling anything but giddy excitement for her. I feel some ownership over them today, and I think it’s my job to ensure they’re taken care of right up until they’re transferred. After that, my job is done. It’s in nature’s hands from there.
“We truly cannot wait to be parents,” L said in her letter. I truly cannot wait either.
*P.S. — All names, except mine and my husband’s, have been changed to protect the innocent.