I met my husband 5 years ago in Chicago. We knew pretty early on that we were a great personality fit for each other. I always wanted a family with kids, however I wasn’t sure he did. As it turns out, he had the same concern. One evening over a glass of wine we had the kids conversation and realized we both had the same end goal. As a gay couple, we knew the path wasn’t going to be easy but we were both committed to making it happen eventually. We spent a couple of years together, got married, moved about the country and finally settled down before we seriously investigated our alternatives. When it came time to make a decision, we looked at domestic adoption, international adoption and surrogacy. After looking at the risk-reward tradeoffs of the options we decided to do surrogacy – an expensive, but clear path given our location in California.
With same sex couple surrogacy typically one father is the donor and you use an egg donor from a bank. We had had friends that had ½ of the embryos created from both fathers – and they let chance decide which would take. I don’t quite remember how it came up, but one of us suggested it would be better if we could get DNA from both of our families. It didn’t take long until we were considering whether any of our sisters would agree to donate eggs to our cause. It didn’t take a large spreadsheet or decision analysis to come to the conclusion there was really only one of our sisters who could be a potential donor. My sister was young (22 at the time), healthy, very practical, smart (a second year ER resident) and would be able to understand that donating DNA is not the same as being a mother.
I approached my sister over Christmas that year. It barely took three sentences before my sister said yes, she would be thrilled to help. I think she was just happy that we wanted kids and she would do anything to make that work. We offered to store any unfertilized eggs for her in case she ever wanted them. I think she probably would have said yes even without this. I am a lucky older brother. Frankly, none of us really knew what we were asking of her… and we would come to find out, we were asking for a lot.
I asked my sister to take some time to read up on what was required and have a second thought about it in January and get back to us in a couple weeks. She called mid-January and said she would do it. At this point, she had a lot of questions… many I couldn’t answer. I think as a medical professional she was interested to know more about the procedures, and after understanding what was required, wanted to talk to a doctor about the risks. At this point, my sister and I agreed to keep her participation confidential from the rest of my family because it was something private, and if it didn’t work out we didn’t want a whole bunch of questions.
We contacted a lawyer who was recommended to us by a friend, we researched the best fertility clinic in the Bay Area and we got the process started. We flew my sister into town and she met with her own lawyer, the doctors, had tests and a psychologist visit. We had some pretty frank conversations about her involvement after the donation (which is limited to her being the world’s best Aunt), “rules of the road” on which eggs get fertilized and which are frozen unfertilized, and who has ownership of the eggs today and if either my husband or I die. We were pretty aligned on many of the critical decisions, because my sister and I were raised together and have similar beliefs on many topics. One of the more important areas we needed to get alignment on was what we would tell our kids – we agreed that at the right time, we wanted to be honest with the kids and share who their DNA donor was. Some interesting conversations to have that we haven’t quite planned out in our head yet, but I think important. As it turns out, we opted to keep it pretty simple: the eggs are both my husband and my property unequivocally until the point we want to give them up, and we have given her first right of refusal. If we die, then any unfertilized eggs transfer to her.
She left after a two day whirlwind of appointments back to her hometown with a prescription for her IVF medication rounds to start a month later. Before her treatment began, my sister decided to tell my mom the reason she was traveling to SF again so soon. My mom was very happy for us, and grateful to my sister. It wasn’t a planned discussion and so one day I got a call out of the blue from my mom thinking that we were going to have a baby in 9 months, which is just not the case. Probably something I would have managed a little bit better next time. We have always let my sister decide who to tell and how much to disclose… this I wouldn’t change. For instance, I think my grandparents probably have heard through the grapevine, but they haven’t asked any questions and unless they do, we probably won’t bring it up. They will just be happy to have great grandkids.
When the day came for my sister to begin her treatments, she started quite a few of her rounds of medication back in her hometown. She met with the doctors by phone and was able to get a few tests completed in her home hospital. She said that many of her other residents were excited about learning more about IVF and it was fun describing it at work. Not sure that would be the case for everyone. After about four or five days she flew to SF and continued her last couple days of medication before the retrieval here. As it turns out, none of us really anticipated how big of a deal this was.
For quite a few days she was not feeling very well leading up to the egg retrieval procedure. After the procedure, we were informed that she was overstimulated. While on one hand we had 30+ high quality eggs, on the other hand, she was at risk of complications. She ended up staying with us for almost an extra week to ensure that there were no concerns. It took her almost a full 30 days to feel back above 90%.
We are very grateful for the best gift she has or ever could give us. Looking back, I don’t think that I would change anything about our process, we are very happy and my sister is too. I think what made this work was my sister’s very factual and data based analysis, unwavering desire to help us out, her work flexibility (on shifts with breaks) and her commitment to the process this could have derailed at many points along the way.
At the moment, we are still working with an agency to find the right surrogate. We are very excited to continue down the path and finally realize our dreams of having kids. Much more to come on our journey.