Family traditions we’re excited to pass down

This time of year, aside from being incredibly busy, always brings me a childlike sense of joy. While I am not a big fan of cold weather (if you are, can you tell me your secret?), it warms my heart to take part in the many annual traditions I grew up with.

Zane and I are currently celebrating Hannukah, and I can tell you confidently that lighting candles and eating latkes for eight days straight does not get old. Any excuse for fried potatoes, especially in the name of family tradition, is a win in my books. A few years ago my Dad passed down a hand-crafted family menorah to me, originally gifted to my paternal grandparents as a wedding present. Placing it on our table each night of Hannukah and watching the flames makes me reflect on how my late grandmother, how I never got to meet, must have felt as she lit the candles as a young bride and mother. Despite never knowing her, it’s in small moments like this that I can feel the connection between myself and generations past. Traditions, no matter how small, matter. I wonder how my own children or grandchildren might look at this menorah, and what memories of me might come to mind for them.

We’re also gearing up for Christmas with my Mom’s family. Yes, we are one of the lucky families who gets double the celebration! My maternal grandparents always made Christmas a magical experience, and I grew up leaving Coors Light and homemade chocolate chip cookies out for Santa. In case you were curious, my Papa told me Coors Light was Santa’s drink of choice. While I may tweak this tradition a little in the future (my Grandma’s cookies can stay, but perhaps we won’t encourage drinking and magical sledding), this is another fun tradition I can’t wait to watch our kids partake in.

Ultimately, my favourite part of the holidays is spending time with family. The idea that by as early as next year we could be celebrating as a family of three – well, there’s a whole new sense of wonder and magic in that. Giving the warmth of family, of tradition, and of culture to our future baby is something that brings me more joy than any present could.

Baden

Ontario IVF funding

We are so fortunate to live in Ontario, which is one of the few places in Canada that has partial coverage for fertility treatments including IVF. While healthcare in Ontario is publicly-funded, fertility treatments are usually not. Surrogacy demands IVF, and our IVF journey has not been an easy one. Here we share with you the ins and outs of using provincial funding for your fertility journey.

What program covers IVF in Ontario?

In Ontario, IVF coverage is offered through the Ontario Fertility Program (OFP), a public-private-partnership where a pool of funds is distributed to private fertility clinics. Unlike the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), which is universally accepted socialized medical care and accessible through your Ontario Health Card, the OFP funds are distributed only to women seeking coverage. Typically, the coverage is available for unlimited Intra-uterine inseminations (IUIs) as well as one round of IVF or fertility preservation (FP) for those in medical need. Every woman in Ontario is eligible for a funded cycle if she will be carrying the pregnancy herself, and an additional cycle if acting as a surrogate.

How do I access the funding?

Nearly 50 clinics in Ontario are able to distribute the funds to eligible patients in the method of their choice. Some clinics have a ranked waitlist, others use a lottery system. Our clinic, CReATe Fertility Centre, distributes funds on a first-come first-served basis each year. Funding arrives in April and can be accessed until it runs out, typically in late fall. While we were able to get a funded cycle of IVF in October, in a future year or at a different clinic, your experience might be different. It is best to confirm all of the details regarding that year’s funding with your clinic manager or finance office.

How does funded IVF differ in a surrogacy journey?

IVF offered through OFP funding is tracked through the person getting pregnant and not the Intended Mother of the child. In our case, Baden and I were listed at ‘secondary patients’, with the primary patient being our surrogate Sarah. The government looks at us as ‘egg and sperm donors’ on her funded cycle. Since we needed the name of our surrogate to access her funding, this was the reason we couldn’t begin IVF until after we had matched.

Being considered third-party egg and sperm donors on our surrogate’s funded cycle, we were required to undergo additional testing in accordance with Health Canada’s Suitability Assessment of Sperm and Ova Donors. These tests are only required when you are creating a new round of embryos with the intention of using them with a surrogate. These test were expensive (several thousand dollars) and not covered by OHIP, OFP, or any other provincial funding method.

Although our round of IVF was funded, it by no means covered all our costs. The funded cycle covers the cycle monitoring, retrieval, fertilization (via ICSI), freezing, thawing, and transfer. It did not cover storage, biopsy, embryoscope, testing, or things like supplements, medications, or clinic parking, all of which add up quickly.

We’re incredibly grateful for the funding currently offered in Ontario, but have quickly learned that it is not a perfect or an equitable system. Women on surrogacy journeys already face immense emotional and financial strain, and to deny them access to a funded cycle of IVF as a primary patient can make their journeys even more challenging.

Each case is different, and this blog holds the most accurate and up-to-date information we’ve received as of November 2021. If you have any questions about the OFP, or funding for fertility treatments in your jurisdiction, feel free to reach out to us. We would be happy to help answer any questions we can or point you in the right direction.

Zane

The results are in: our embryo update!

Today is Day 7 post-retrieval and I just received the call from the clinic about our final number of frozen embryos. I won’t lie – the past 24 hours have been emotionally taxing. I’ve probably felt this way thanks to two things: unrealistic expectations I had for how many embryos we would end with and not preparing myself for the crushing feeling of losing embryos.

Let’s backtrack:

On Day 1 post-retrieval, a cheerful nurse called to let us know that a total of 40 eggs were retrieved, 30 of which were mature. Of those 30 eggs, 21 had fertilized. Needless to say, we were delighted.

On Day 3, I braced myself for the number to be lower. To my surprise, the nurse called and confirmed that all 21 of our fertilized eggs were growing and developing normally. She did mention that two were a little slower than the rest, but ultimately the fact that all 21 were still moving forward had me ecstatic. I finally started to breathe easy again.

Day 6 is where things took what felt like a turn. Like the other days, I was glued to my phone all morning. In fact, the only time I put my phone down was to prepare to take a photo to post about our exiting results so far. Of course it was in the 45 seconds that my phone was facing down at the table, on silent, that the call came through.

Trying to call back the busy clinic was futile, so we had to rely on the voicemail left for us by the nurse. In her voicemail, she shared that nine embryos had been biopsied and safely frozen. She also mentioned that this was not to be construed as a final number or final report, stating that they were watching ‘a couple’ more to see if they would make it by Day 7. The emotions that rushed in with this news were overwhelming.

I don’t think I was emotionally prepared for the feelings that would come with being told that we’d lost embryos. I knew ahead of time that it was an expected part of the process, but for whatever reason it just didn’t click. Knowing that 19 unfertilized eggs didn’t progress didn’t phase me. Being told that some embryos failed to progress… that hurt. It left me wondering what happened and why. Was there something I could have changed? Was this something predestined and out of everyone’s control? No amount of rationalizing it made me feel better. It served as a sobering reminder that this journey is going to be tough, and we will likely face hurdles far worse than knowing some of our embryos have arrested their development.

That brings us to today, Day 7. As I waited, the pit in my stomach grew and grew. Nine embryos, I told myself, was a great result. (Telling myself not to feel a sense of defeat was not very effective.) Then the call came in: the nurse told us we had a total of 13 frozen embryos! For reasons we’ll never know, four additional embryos heard the rally cry and got to blastocyst stage just in time. Unfortunately, upon discussion with our doctor, we found out that two of the 13 embryos had poor grading, and were unlikely to be viable. This left us with 11 embryos to move forward with. This is still wonderful news and leaves us incredibly hopeful!

The next step in our little embryos’ journey is to undergo preimplantation genetic testing. This testing will let us know about which embryos are healthiest to progress to a transfer. They will also be screened for a hereditary genetic mutation within our family, likely resulting in 50% of our embryos being deemed abnormal.

In the spring, we met an Intended Mother whose surrogate was due in just a few weeks. When I asked her how relieved she felt to be at the finish line, she said something that struck me as odd at the time. ‘I won’t feel the relief until my baby is in my arms.’ I think I understand what she meant now. I am so excited to know how far we’ve come, and before we had matched with our surrogate or had completed IVF, I thought that I would feel immense relief once we got to this stage. Instead, I feel more anxious than before.

I’m incredibly grateful for the 11 embryos we know have made it so far. I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about what they represent than I thought I would at this stage. Each one provides me with hope in our dreams of building a family, wonder at who they might become, and a newfound sense of fear, because I desperately want each one of them to be healthy. Is this a sneak-peek of what parenthood is going to feel like?

Baden

My experience with IVF (part 2)

I’m sitting writing this on the eve of my egg retrieval. My ‘trigger shot‘ was last night at 11pm. It’s wild to think that after so much time waiting to see what the IVF part of the journey would be like I am finally nearing the end of it. Right now I am filled with a lot of feelings – I’m equal parts nervous, excited, and bloated. Okay… more like 25% nervous, 25% excited, and 50% bloated.

The emotions

While I know the next part is out of our hands, it’s been hard for us not to feel a little anxious about how things will turn out. It’s hard not to internally hope for a certain number of mature eggs during the retrieval. I know that fixating on a number isn’t healthy. So far my follicle count is high (around 30), which suggests we may end up with a large number of eggs, but like everything else in a fertility journey there are no guarantees. It’s also difficult not to compare myself to other IVF journeys I have seen online. I think comparison is a normal thing, but it’s also a great way to set yourself up to be disappointed.

I know we’ve done the best we can and that we have an excellent team at CReATe that is ready to do the rest. Overall I am feeling hopeful, and I know that the nerves I feel now probably won’t go away until we bring our baby home.

Ovarian hyperstimulation risk

I had been informed prior to beginning my IVF cycle that I would be monitored closely for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, something my doctor felt I might be at an elevated risk of developing. After speaking to my nurse about my excessive bloating, it was suggested that I go onto a high-salt, high-protein, low potassium diet until a few days post-retrieval in order to reduce bloat and make me feel more comfortable. Items on the suggested menu have included cheeseburgers and chips, and as a good patient I have dutifully complied.

Zane suggested that I close out this blog post by offering practical advice about IVF, but I don’t think I’m the right person to do that. There are women (warriors!) who have done multiple rounds of IVF and who know this process inside and out. I’ve been incredibly lucky to draw on the advice of many of these women, some who I know in real life and others who I’ve connected with in patient resource groups online. If you are going into IVF for the first time I strongly suggest searching for a patient group associated with your clinic on Facebook and connecting with other people there. This community is warmer, more welcoming, and more resilient than you could ever imagine.

Baden

My experience with IVF (part 1)

When most people think about conceiving their children, they think of romance with their partner. In a surrogacy situation the process is decidedly more clinical. Enter IVF.

For those who are unfamiliar, IVF stands for in-vitro fertilization: the process of retrieving a woman’s eggs, fertilizing them with sperm, and creating embryos which can be transferred back to her (or a surrogate) at a later date to create a pregnancy. In our case, our embryos will be transferred one-at-a-time to our surrogate Sarah when the time is right.

IVF is a common fertility procedure, with people seeking medical help conceiving for a variety of reasons. Chances are you know someone who’s been through it – I certainly do! Even so, knowing what to expect didn’t make me less nervous to begin.

After matching with our surrogate, I called the my doctor, Dr. Karen Glass at CReATe Fertility Centre in Toronto, to find out next steps. Based on my cycle day, they were able to bring me in immediately to begin a round of IVF.

My trips to the clinic have followed a similar routine each time:

  1. Arriving and complete a COVID-19 screening at the front
  2. Adding my name to the various waiting lists for bloodwork, ultrasound, and a visit with the doctor
  3. Completing bloodwork
  4. Completing my ultrasound
  5. Checking in with the doctor, who interprets the results
  6. Meeting with the nurse to receive medication to last until my next visit

There is a lot of waiting involved – I had been told by friends who have been through IVF to prepare for 1-2 hours at the clinic each morning. Instead, I found I was typically there for at least 3 hours, if not more. CReATe is a busy clinic, so the waiting room and I have become good friends. Occasionally I will run into people who recognize me from our Instagram, so I’ve struck up some fun conversations about surrogacy to pass the time.

Is the ultrasound awkward?

If you’re a naturally shy person, you might find your visits with ‘Wanda’ a little unnerving. (Wanda is the nickname used for a transvaginal ultrasound. Think magic wand-a). You’re stripping from the waist down in front of a stranger, and that can be weird. Don’t worry – they provide a sheet to protect your modesty. Pro tip: you can keep your socks on in case it’s chilly in the room! For the first few days I found that ultrasounds were relatively quick and easy, but as my treatment has progressed and my ovaries have grown I’ve noticed a bit more discomfort.

IVF needles sound painful! Are they?

I wouldn’t say painful, no, but depending on which medication you are given it can sting. I’ve heard many people will ice the area around the injection to numb the skin before doing it, but I didn’t and was fine. I did end up with some bruising after one of the shots, but overall I would say injections weren’t as bad as I anticipated. I have a thing about needles, so Zane and nurses at the clinic have done all of my shots for me. I can’t really offer advice on how to self-administer, but there are plenty of YouTube videos out there if you’re curious!

Was there anything you weren’t expecting?

I was NOT prepared for the discomfort and physical change to my body from IVF bloat. Ariel Taylor (@carried.with.love) shared her experience with IVF bloating on her Instagram a few weeks ago, but save for that I had never really heard or read about it before. While every body reacts differently to IVF, I found that this was the side effect that challenged me the most. I look about five months pregnant, and simple walking causes me discomfort.

As I finish up my round of IVF I will share another ‘part 2’ blog of my experience, which will include details of preparing for the egg retrieval. Stay tuned and wish me luck!

Baden

We found our match!

Team Baby Colt is complete – we’re so ready for this journey!

After months of searching, we have finally found our match! We are so incredibly grateful to have met Sarah, and humbled that she would like to act as a gestational carrier for us. The feeling is overwhelming. We are elated, relieved, and anxious all at the same time. We are eager to begin our next steps and grow our bond together.

How did we meet?

Sarah reached out to us on Instagram! She was interested in surrogacy and Zane and Dodi’s recent reel caught her eye. We started chatting and felt the chemistry right away. We introduced her to our agency, 4U Surrogacy Canada, to begin pre-screening before we had a formal video chat.

What is she like?

Sarah and her family live about two hours away from us. They are kind, sweet, and caring people. We were looking for someone trustworthy and warm who was 100% on board with bringing home Baby Colt. Sarah is all of that and more!

What happens next?

It just so happens that Baden’s cycle is perfectly aligned to begin IVF at CReATe Fertility Centre THIS WEEK! We are starting a pretty standard short protocol, with about 11 days of shots and pills. We will be explaining lots more as we go through this process.

While the eggs are being retrieved and the embryos are created, Sarah and her partner are being screened medically. After that, our embryos will be tested while we start to discuss contracts. Once all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed we could be looking at transferring an embryo before the end of the year. That is really exciting and very scary!!

We’re so excited to share this big milestone with our friends and family. We look forward to keeping everyone up-to-date as we clear each hurdle!

Baden and Zane

Opening up to the world about our journey

Yes, we put it ALL out there.

Despite me being a pretty confident and outgoing person, making the decision to go public with our surrogacy journey was not easy. In fact, it took us several months of strong deliberation before finally decided to start this blog and our Instagram account @notmytummy. Putting our lives on display, particularly something so sensitive as our family planning, was a frightening concept. Actually, it still is.

Writing what feels like a public diary, or going live on an Instagram story, can feel awkward. That said, we were determined to chronicle our experience in a way that wasn’t available to us when we started our research into Canadian surrogacy journeys. Mapping out this experience for other Intended Parents, as well as sharing and normalizing an atypical experience for Canadians at large, felt like an important thing to do. And so we write, we talk, and we share.

I had a few initial concerns about opening up our lives online:

  1. I was worried about the rude messages we might get from strangers on the internet.
  2. I dreaded that our let downs would be public.
  3. I thought that the people we know in real life would think we were being over-sharers.

We did receive a handful of rude messages – but what I didn’t expect was that for the handful of negative comments there would be a groundswell of positivity and love from total strangers. Our let downs have been public – but in return, we have gained a network of people to pick us up when we’re down. Lastly, we probably do share a little too much sometimes – but people from all over the world have reached out saying that our experiences mirrored theirs, and that they feel a little less alone reading what we have gone through. So…I was right, but not how I expected to be.

An added benefit to putting everything online? Rarely do I speak to friends, colleagues, or acquaintances and have to mention my surrogacy journey as a new topic for them. People already know, they have a basic understanding of how it all works, and the questions they do ask are thoughtful and kind. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live in a world where so many people around me know so much about how surrogacy works – but I love it!

Thank you to our friends and family and readers from around the world for Keeping up with the Colts. Our advice to those looking for a surrogate is simple: don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! You will have far more support than you think.

Baden

Right person, wrong time: our almost perfect match

As Baden mentioned in her recent post, we’re terribly sorry for not keeping our readers up to date on our surrogacy journey throughout the summer. We’ve been busy! We moved into our new home, began renovations, and I recently had a significant job change. Life has been moving pretty fast.

We also met someone special. An incredible woman reached out to us through our Facebook page. She said she’d been fascinated with surrogacy for a while, and we look like the perfect family to help. We were elated!

After chatting with her further, she blew us away. She is smart and funny, kind and warm, and has a loving, sweet family. I posted previously about how we put our family values first, and she checked every box. We could totally see her as an extension of our own family, someone we could look to for mom advice, and most importantly, the kind of person we could bring home to our parents and say, ‘mom, dad, she’s pregnant, and we’re pretty sure it’s ours.’ Needless to say we were smitten.

As it happens, a curveball was thrown our way after a few weeks of chatting quite seriously. Perhaps all three of us fell a bit too hard, too fast. It seems she had loved ones that were uncomfortable with formalizing the match. She did what any good mother, wife, sister, and daughter would do, and agreed to take a step back, in order to put her family first. It was incredibly difficult news to hear, especially after we had begun to create such a strong bond, but we both understood and respected her decision. Surrogacy has to feel rewarding, fulfilling, and right to everyone involved – including a potential surrogate’s entire family.

No agency, Facebook group, counsellor or former IP prepared us for this. Right person, wrong time doesn’t come around often in surrogacy. In fact, the opposite is often the case. Most people who decide to become surrogates typically want to get started right away. I don’t really have advice on how to process it, as we are still coming to terms with things ourselves. I suppose it is just another word of caution in the world of surrogacy: anything can happen.

Last week I was giving some unsolicited dating advice to Baden’s sister, Trinity. Even though the advice was about romantic relationships, I feel the wisdom applies here too. I told her, “People always say relationships are hard. I disagree, when you have found your soul mate, your relationship will take work, but it won’t be a challenge. The hardest part of the relationship, is the courtship.”

Courting isn’t fun. You’re building something deep and special with someone from scratch. You’re learning how to communicate verbally and physically. Everything feels very high-stakes. More and more we are learning that matching in the surrogacy world has been no different. We’re doing our best to be patient and trying to remind ourselves that everything happens for a reason. We have a lot to keep us busy until that right person comes along.

To that special almost-surrogate: we will be here when you’re ready. If it’s meant to be, it will be, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for us together. As for right now, we continue to be positive, optimistic, and eager to find our match. We know she’s right around the corner.

Zane

The waiting game

An Algonquin Park sunset during our recent camping trip

I’ve gotten several messages lately asking variations of the same question: “We haven’t heard an update lately, what’s going on?”.

We haven’t posted much to the blog (or Instagram) lately, so it’s fair to wonder if we’ve been holding a secret close to our chest waiting to share it with the world. While we’ve got a lot on the go in our lives lately, we’ve hit a bit of a lull in the progression of our surrogacy journey. For the past little while I figured that a lack of updates on our end meant there wasn’t really anything to share, but I’m beginning to think I was wrong.

Zane and I are in a common part of fertility journeys that is often neglected in conversation: the waiting period. Is there exciting news we can share? Maybe not. But as I speak to other IPs, each and every one can sympathize with us. It seems that everyone has been there. This oft-forgotten part of infertility has been teaching us the value of patience, and from what my friends who are parents tell me we’ll be needing that learned patience in heaps once we have a child of our own.

Even though I wish we were further along in our journey to parenthood, I know that we can’t pause our lives while we wait. This summer has been filled with so much joy. We’ve gone camping with friends in Algonquin Park, had summer BBQs, weekends at the cottage with our family, and have been turning our new house into a home (renovations and decorating galore!). Zane even began a new job last week – a huge career milestone which I’m so proud of him for. Any Intended Parent knows that infertility can become all-consuming. It’s our job not to let it be.

In the meantime Zane and I are staying the course. Physically, I am working out, taking supplements to support egg quality and general health, and trying to stay in tip-top shape. Mentally, Zane and I are as in-tune with ourselves and each other as can be. We’re both in a place where we’re ready for next steps and our job now is to keep our spirits up.

Baden

P.S. Are you an Intended Mom based in Canada? You don’t have to go at this alone. Myself and a handful of other Intended Moms are building a community of support on Instagram through a private Instagram group chat. Message @notmytummy to request to be added!

Surrogacy journeys and family support

Lately Zane and I have been getting a lot of questions from others considering surrogacy about what our family thinks of this journey we’re on. It’s a fair question – surrogacy is not something people encounter often, and families can find questions surrounding fertility to be intensely emotional and can have strong opinions guided by things like personal experiences, exposure, faith, and more.

We’ve been very fortunate to feel the full support of our families as we begin our journey to parenthood through gestational surrogacy. In fact, my mother was the one who initially suggested surrogacy to me when I came to her crying and defeated from the doctors appointment when I learned that I couldn’t carry. She didn’t miss a beat – motherhood, she told me, has nothing to do with being pregnant and everything to do with what happens once my future baby is in my arms.

Similarly, my MIL made a point of telling me that she was totally supportive of however Zane and I would be giving her grandbabies. Our three father-figures (my dad, Zane’s dad, and Zane’s step-dad) have been equally as wonderful – each has asked many questions, made a point to educate themselves on terminology, and are just eager to be active grandfathers no matter how that happens. Our sisters have plastered their social media with our surrogacy search, as have many of our extended family members.

Now this isn’t to say that everyone understood what surrogacy would entail (or even how it worked!) to begin with. There’s been a huge learning curve, but one that everyone in our circle has been more than happy to dive into. If you’re looking into surrogacy, or if you’ve already decided to pursue surrogacy but haven’t told your family yet, I would recommend this step-by-step approach.

Breaking the news

If possible, I’d recommend doing this in person. I wouldn’t call a family meeting or anything all that formal – it’s a serious conversation, but it’s made much easier if you tackle it in a relaxed setting. Explain your desire to get started on a family, disclose what you feel comfortable with about why it hasn’t happened yet, and let them know you’ve chosen to purse surrogacy. Letting people know that it’s already a decision you made leaves less room for pushback. Offer to explain how surrogacy works and answer questions, and be mindful of your own boundaries. When you begin to talk about anything fertility-related, it can open you up to intensely personal questions. If you’re not comfortable answering them, there’s nothing wrong with saying so.

Provide resources

Find some reputable resources relevant to your situation before heading into the conversation. You can save them on a note in your phone or a draft email and have them ready to share with those who ask. Surrogacy may be a very foreign concept to some of your family and there is a lot of misinformation out there, so it helps to guide them to the correct resources from day one. Good options include experienced surrogates who share their stories publicly, your fertility clinic website, the Assisted Human Reproductive Act, a reputable surrogacy agency, and first-hand experiences from other Intended Parents like us!

Expect to feel emotional

You’re going to have strong emotions as you slowly tell your family members, and that’s normal! You’re being incredibly vulnerable, and you’re mentally coming to terms with ‘giving up’ the concept of carrying your own child. You’re allowed to feel sad (or even defensive). Remember that when the people you love are trying to learn and understand surrogacy, they don’t necessarily know which comments might be intensely hurtful or painful for you. As much as it’s their job to be kind and compassionate, it will save you a lot of heartache to be honest with them if you feel they cross a line or you’re feeling judged.

Don’t offer to be their shoulder to cry on

Some family members may feel emotional or sad about your choice. You have enough on your plate – it’s not your job to make them feel better. If someone expresses a sadness that you won’t be pregnant, or a disappointment that you’re putting your partner through a surrogacy journey, that’s an issue they need to resolve for themselves. The other adults in your family can process their complicated emotions independently, with the help of another family member, or in therapy.  

If you are considering surrogacy, know that despite what your family thinks, you will be welcomed by a wonderful community of compassionate individuals that are here to support you every step of the way—including us!

Baden