Saturday, December 21, 2013

We haven't been here before

It's been an exciting few weeks and we hope it continues.

At the end of our 2 week wait, we finally received the news that our surrogate had a positive HCG test with a result of 242.2.  Last Tuesday, the test was repeated a second time (1 week after the first test) and we received advice that the SM was still pregnant, with the HCG number having increased to 1518.2.  Based on the HCG calculators all over the internet, the little nugget was doubling it's HCG every 63 hours - well with in the 48-72 hour expected time frame.

So Monday brings us to the 6 week pregnancy mark - and all things going well will see the first ultrasound being done on Tuesday to see if a heartbeat exists. The results of course will probably come through the next day on.... yes, you guessed it, Christmas day.

We've been reluctant to write anything over the last few weeks as we didn't want to tempt fate and tell the world only to write one of those dreadful posts saying that the pregnancy was no more.  But the community has been so supportive and a number of readers following our journey have wanted to know what happened.

So there it is.... we never thought we'd get to this point.  It's taken such a long time but things are good.  We realise there is a monumental distance to travel still and we're not out of the woods by any stretch .  But each day further is another step in the right direction.

Thanks for your ongoing support and hopefully we'll have a heartbeat on Wednesday.

We hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a happy and safe new year.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Well here we are again in the 2ww!

This is the 5th time we've been in the two week wait (2WW) - although more correctly it will be the 10 day wait this time.

We arrived back from Bangkok this morning after a very long, but largely uneventful flight.  I always hate overnighters.  I am one of those people that just can't sleep on planes - even with chemical intervention.

Our egg retrieval was scheduled for Monday the 25th of November.  To provide us with plenty of time, our flights were book for the 23rd - ensuring we built in plenty of time for any delays that may arise.  However, on Thursday the 21st the clinic sent us into a panic as the ED was showing signs the egg pick may be sooner than scheduled - perhaps on the 24th - with her 25 follicles (per the Thursday scan) suggesting the right time might be on Sunday.

Naturally, we started looking at changing flights or re booking new flights as if we had to be there on the morning of Sunday the 24th - our arrival on Saturday night (actually 1 am Sunday morning) would result in a very slim margin of error should our flights be delayed.  Particularly given we had to transit through Sydney and do the hellish domestic-to-international transfer with a 1 hour 45 minute window.  After getting a bit frantic and stressed, the news arrived late Friday afternoon that Egg Retrieval would be Monday 25th as scheduled.

We stayed at The Eastin Grand Hotel in Sathorn/Yanawa - joined by a pedestrian bridge at Surasak BTS station.  It was an exceptional hotel - and we're pretty hard to please.  Here's a pic of the infinity pool on the 14th floor.

Pool at the Eastin Grand Sathorn Bangkok
This hotel is one stop away from NewLife - but also has easy to access the All IVF clinic (where the "magic drop" happens) which is near Phloen Chit station.

On Monday morning we headed to All IVF.  Unlike our Indian experience, this was a far more organised, clean and sleek operation.  The staff were efficient but pleasant - and were very informed of what was going on.  Our details were on hand, they were expecting us and they had things moving along well. They seemed to be in control.  When we were in India last year - the only person who actually knew what was happening was Jay from SI.  I know in India the doctors had no clue what was going on or who they were "treating".  In India we never really knew what was happening next - but Thailand has been a completely different experience. 

So following our ED's retrieval on Monday, the numbers were as follows:

Astonishingly, 49 eggs were retrieved.  Of these
  • 3 were GV (germinal vesicle) stage (very immature)
  • 44 M2 (mature)
  • 2 MI (less mature)
The next day, we were advised that 41 eggs had fertilised.

That same day we went to the NewLife offices to meet with Stephanie and Na to finally put some faces to names - but also have the privilege of meeting our ED and SM.  Our ED was lovely, had a wicked sense of humour and was just a lovely girl.  The SM was somewhat more shy, but assured us she was very confident of getting pregnant and was so pleased to be doing this.  Let's hope she's right. Both were elated when we presented them with some gifts of perfume.  If anyone reading this is going to Thailand for Surrogacy, a gift of perfume (we gave them both CK) will be a guaranteed winner. Here are some pics:

GB and the ED

GB and our SM
By Thursday (Day 3) the embryos were still trucking along, with a total of 27 embryos exhibiting a combination of grades 1 & 2.  The other 14 were still growing with good grading, albeit at a slower rate.  On Saturday we were informed that of the 41 embryos - 27 had reached blastocyst stage - with the 2 best being transferred and 25 frozen.
We're trying to steer clear of google as studies around the probability of success against number of eggs retrieved throws up some interesting results.

This time we're just relying on the skill of the embryologists and the luck of the universe that this time will be the one.

After our Bangkok duties - we headed down to Hua Hin for some reflection and R&R for the remaining few days in Thailand.  I don't think we'd go back to Hua Hin (for the simple fact that there isn't a great deal to do there and the beaches there are nothing compared to Ko Samui and Phuket), but at only 2.5 hours from BKK it offered a nice way to spend our last few days before heading home.

Devasom Resort Hua Hin (actually Cha Am)

So - once again, we wait for the outcome of our latest transfer. 

Fingers crossed!!!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A new direction

It has been some months since we last posted.

This was partly because we were unclear about which direction we were going and partly because we were a little disenchanted with the whole process of trying to have a baby.

Financially we were very hard hit by the failure of India.  All up there wasn't much change from $40k AUD. 

During the months waiting to see if anything would change in India, we decided to look at options domestically.  Having been lucky enough to have a close friend willing to be an egg donor here in Oz, we proceeded to get cost estimations from a number of Australian IVF clinics to see how much it would be to do "altruistic surrogacy".  If you think international IVF clinics are expensive, Australian clinics blow them out of the water.  Not to mention to the two tier pricing structure for infertile couples vs couples pursuing surrogacy!  And that's before taking into account any Medicare rebates, legislated counselling, legal fees and court costs.  Their profits also maximised by not allowing more than one embryo transfer at a time (not without significant reason to do multiple embryo transfer).  Nevertheless we continued to research with the final barrier being to find a willing surrogate.  This proved to be the most difficult part and eventual failure of us deciding to undertake surrogacy in Australia.  Despite the apparent "altruism" aspect of surrogacy in Australia (as commercial surrogacy in Australia is illegal in all states except the Northern Territory) our estimation of costs would have exceeded $60k.  Sadly, the only people making money out of surrogacy in Australia are the IVF specialists.  The selfless women doing all the hard work stood to gain very little - and in a number of cases, were actually out of pocket for doing someone else a "favour".

So we looked abroad again.  The US was still out on financial grounds as were a number of European countries only offering surrogacy services to married couples. So our final option - like most same sex couples - was now limited to Thailand.

In previous posts, we touched on concerns and our reluctance to go to Thailand mainly because of the influx of clients following the visa changes in India and the absence of IP protection afforded through legislation.  However, the visa situation in India has taught us that the situation around surrogacy can change quite quickly.  Given Thailand has a draft bill on the table, so to speak, we thought now is a good a time as any to move forward with our plans before we were pushed out of the market altogether.

We have chosen NewLife as our clinic.  They have a number of years' experience doing ART in India, Georgia and the Ukraine and a solid history of making IPs become parents.  So in November 2013 we, once again, embark on the surrogacy journey and head to Bangkok.  This time it will be in a country we're familiar with, a process we know all too well and have the benefit of hindsight to guide us on our way.  So far, the experience with NewLife has been entirely different than dealing with Surrogacy India.  The simple fact that we're not berated for asking questions and responses don't come from their receptionist is a good start.  The responsiveness is very good and their process and pricing structure appears far more transparent than SI's.  Here's hoping the next part of the journey goes just as well.

So here we go again.  Let's hope the second time around is far less disappointing than our first experience.

xx GBLC.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Which way now?

It's been 3 months now since our 4th and final Indian attempt.  The Indian bureaucracy machine is working as expected with the prospect on any resolution regarding unmarried couples access to Indian surrogacy a distant reality now.

Each day, we are glad of our move away from SI.  After our last attempt, we received no correspondence from them until we received this e-mail in early April:

Dear GB & LC,

Greetings of the day!

We have been referred about your blog through a couple and have gone through it. There are some points that we agree upon and have noted it and working on it and some point that we have a different perspective. We wanted to know how you would like to proceed as we have your frozen embryos. If you are confident that you would not like to proceed with us then we would request you to fill up the embryo and semen discard forms.

I think this e-mail sums up the clinic in a nutshell.  Reading between the lines:

1.  We've read the blog and don't care to provide any apology or comment about your claims because we have done nothing wrong
2.  Are you going to pay us more money to cycle again?
3.  If not, fill out the forms to dispose of your embryos/sperm so we no longer have to correspond with you.

At no time have we been contacted by either Dr Yash or Dr Sudhir to discuss our comments or claims.  Their ambivelence is deafening, arrogance obvious and disinterest in their client welfare very clear.  Again, it makes me wonder how SI treat their Surrogates if this is how they treat the "gravy train".

We're not prepared to go down the Thailand route just yet.  The influx of IPs that would have otherwise gone to India worries us about corners being cut and fly-by-the-night operators out to rip people off.  So we're considering domestic options of altrustic traditional or gestational surrogacy.  It might be a little more tricky and time consuming, but at least we'll know that if we do get pregnant the Surrogate will have access to the some of the world's best healthcare and we'll know with absolute assurance that she is not living in a share house or be away from her family.  I'm not saying whether this is good or bad, or if clinics in India are doing anything dodgy, but for our piece of mind it means a lot.

It's great to see that everyone that started blogs around the same time as us, now have 3-4 month old babies exceeding any expectations they ever had of being a parent.  Congratulations to all those that have come before us and endured this incredible and emotional journey.

I am sure our time will come and when it does, I'm sure all the trials and tribulations to get to final destination will become distant memories and parenthood will exceed our expectations too!   


Monday, February 4, 2013

More than four reasons not to use Surrogacy India

Four is sometimes associated with luck - such as a four leaf clover.  In Chinese culture, the number 4 is considered unlucky.  And then there is the four elements of existence - earth, air, fire and water.

Whatever the significance of that number, today we got the results of our fourth attempt (third FET).

Once again, we received a negative result.  We're generally okay.  As you would expect, it is disappointing.  But surprisingly, it is a massive relief.  Why?  Let me explain.

Although it is easy to blame the clinic for negative results in a moment of emotionally fuelled disappointment, I can no longer overlook the glaring incompetence of dealing with this ART clinic - and let's use that term fairly loosely.  And just to clarify; I'm not necessarily assigning blame here - but I honestly believe that ART pregnancy is a combination of luck, fertility and professional medical intervention and assistance.  I think there are plenty of other clinics in India that provide this service better than SI.

For months I have posted about our journey, alluding to our struggle with trying to get pregnant, but never fully conveying or explaining about how difficult it has been working with Surrogacy India (SI).  Most of you out there will have been on a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding what everything meant when you received e-mails from your clinics explaining a test result of x or the endometrial lining is y thick.  SI provided little to no explanation of anything.  Of course I asked the interweb, but when asking medical questions directed to SI about certain results, the response from their admin staff (the doctors pretty much don't talk to you at all after you've signed up) was utterly abhorrent, usually incorrect and frankly quite reckless when running a business providing medical services.  Although I am not a clinician, I work in health and the information provided to clients by SI is disgraceful.  I recognise that we are not talking about the same levels of health care as Australia, but describing our experience with SI to a number of friends going through IVF in OZ was met with utter disbelief and profound sorrow for us.  Perhaps I was being overly dramatic?

To paint a further picture of the integrity of SI, the evidence:

1.  Surrogacy India pretty much outsource all of their IVF, embryology and imaging.  The latter is not unusual or unexpected - but the former came as a surprise to us after SI claimed during our initial investigation of clinics that they performed IVF "in our lab in Mumbai".  The fact is, it is not their Lab at all.  They outsource this entirely.  And buried in their contract they outline that they would not take any responsibility for third parties "including, but not limited to, the IVF lab.......".  Obviously this sparked confusion for us - particularly when presented with the written confirmation that they did everything "in our lab in Mumbai" - and how they could say that they don't take responsibility for what we are paying them to do.  After no fewer than 20 e-mails with their qualified (severe sarcasm when saying that word) legal team, did we manage to resolve the issue with GB's contract to make them take responsibility for actions of the IVF lab.  After negotiating this term with GB's contract it was near impossible to get the same passage changed in my (LC's) contract as the admin staff that were working in the "legal team" that week, were unaware of GB's contract as well as being unfamiliar with general legal terms or contracts.  This quality service was charged at $1,800 USD per surrogate. Initially believing that they take care of the ART process and take responsibility for our genetic material, it became quite unsettling when we found out the truth.

2. On departing India, an Australian couple who had visited SI earlier that week had to leave the original copy of their SM/IP contract behind while SI tracked down the SMs husband to sign the contract.  They had subsequently done this and when we visited the SI offices they asked us to take the original copy back to Australia with us and post it to the couple once back in OZ.  Apart from being appalled by the absolute lack of confidentiality, we strongly declined and explained how inappropriate that was.  What came as more of a shock was when the same situation arose 5 days later when we went to leave (regarding the SM husband not having signed), they proposed sending it home with another Australian couple.  Needless to say, the contract arrived a week later FedEx'd from Mumbai after some very honest words were had with Dr Ajja before leaving.  They advised that they had done us "a favour" by not charging us for the courier service.

3.  On our second attempt, we innocently asked when the FET would take place.  The SI team had advised that the surrogate had finished her menses (at around the 3rd of the month) so I thought it would be around the 14/15th of that month.  To our shock we were told that it was going to be around the 21-23rd from the trusty receptionist (again no contact or QA from the doctors at SI).  Obviously this seemed strange, so we pursued it further and were then lectured about how the doctors know what they're doing at that have delivered XXX number of babies.  After becoming exasperated dealing with the SI admin team (they essentially don't answer questions properly), we decided to leave it - until 8 days later when we were told that the scan had been done for our SM's lining and the transfer would occur on the 16th of that month.  We then asked to speak to the doctor as we were very confused by now; and they simply refused to speak with us.  The result came back negative and we heard nothing further from SI team until we approached them for our 3rd transfer - to which we received an invoice before any further details would be discussed.  Again, no further medical contact since signing up.

4.  On our third attempt we chose a 25 year old surrogate, that defied the theory of relativity and was a few months off 27 when her HCG test was e-mailed to us.  The age on her initial blood test results and the Surrogate Mother profiles all showed 25 years of age - which was one of the key reasons we chose here; apart from the fact she had been an a successful surrogate before.  On her hCG results her date of birth showed that she was nearly 27.  The error was explained by SI as a "technical error".  Happy for anyone to explain what that means?

5. In addition to the incorrect DOB on the HCG report, we also discovered a different surrogate name on the test result than the SM we chose.  This was also explained as a "technical error" to which their solution was to change the name on the report.

6.  Experienced surrogate fee - SMs that have been an SM before.  This was another exhausting issue that remains unresolved.  SI have information on their google site that provides the following in respect of experienced surrogates:

"They [Surrogate Mothers] normally prefer to offer services at $2500 - $3000 more than a fresh first time surrogate.  This is not included in the package price quoted".  

This cost is passed onto the IPs with the clear wording that this extra fee is determined by the surrogate - which I thought would then be payable to the surrogateWhen I received the SM/IP agreement, this was missing from the SM payment schedule and despite numerous e-mails to their legal team (23 emails in fact), they would only put the following clause into the contract

"2.4  In case of experienced surrogate, an additional amount of USD 3000 shall be made by the Intended Parents".

I asked this to be changed to...

2.4  In case of experienced surrogate, an additional amount of USD 3000 shall be made
by the Intended Parents wholly payable to the surrogate.  This is in addition to the amounts outlined in clause 2.3 [the normal payment schedule]"

They wouldn't change this nor would they explain where the additional money went.  They did however, feel compelled to explain how many babies they had delivered and how transparent they were.  Despite the condescending tone of the e-mail, it was clear that the SM would never see a cent of this payment "they preferred" to offer their services at. When I pushed again, they advised that they would be sending my query to the accounts department to answer??? WTF?

7.  On attempt number 4 we received our FET report, which despite being performed on 21st of January 2013, showed 17th December 2012 on the transfer report.   SI's explanation was "Because of new circular came for single father surrogacy, to avoid controversy our IVF lab put December's date instead of putting 22-January"  Alongside this questionable practice (which was done for SI's benefit and not ours) you'll see another inconsistency of the transfer date by 1 day - but I had estimated this was probably due to another one of those pesky "technical errors".

There are many other instances where their responses/practices/behaviours have been pretty unpalatable.  I always tried to rationalise this as "India".  But after 10 months interacting with SI, I can't accept that this is India.  In fact, I think India would be unfairly represented by the actions of SI.  Although cathartic as it is to finally write all of this, it saddens me that we missed our overall objective of having a child and had to learn the hard way.

So maybe we're being overly critical or maybe we're being entirely reasonable after shelling out thousands of dollars and pouring our heart and soul into this process.  All we have to show for this is a trip to India, a hard life lesson and 307 emails from SI sitting in a gmail account.  I realise others who have gone through SI may have had an entirely different experience and I am pleased for them.  But I pity anyone who chooses to go with SI, particularly if they have read details of our experience.

I strongly question SI's integrity as in nearly every transfer we did with them, there were questionable practices apparent. I dread to think how they actually treat their Surrogates. So we close this chapter on our lives and chalk it up to a very expensive, emotional and financial experience.  I do intend, however, on passing the details of their behaviour on to SI's accreditation body (ICMR) to ensure that these practices are stamped out.

We move forward now with some trepidation about where to from here.  As we mentioned in our post 12 Month wrap up India's window of opportunity appears to have closed for the time being, really leaving the USA or Thailand as further options.  The USA is out purely on financial grounds - which leaves Thailand.  We both have very fond memories of time spent in Thailand (we've travelled there 5 times) and I would love to experience the hospitality shown to us a tourists in undertaking ART and Surrogacy.  But this time, we will be asking a lot more questions and going in eyes wide open.

Goodbye SI, it's been well, overwhelmingly disappointing.  To those considering Indian clinics, I would avoid SI like the plague.  Yes they have a history of babies, but don't believe for a second that this has anything to do with their professional intervention or credentials.  It's wholly reliant on the outsource IVF lab, which they're happy to take the credit for the pregnancies the lab achieves, but no responsibility for any actions by the lab that don't result in pregnancy.  

Thanks for readership and we'll appear again in the near future.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lady Luck - you have an appointment!

Attempt number four went ahead yesterday.

3 frosties were taken out of the freezer comprising:

2 x 8 cell Grade 1
1 x 6 cell Grade 1

All transferred into the surrogate as expected.

Hopefully this is the attempt where Lady Luck shows her elusive face.

The hCG test should be done on Saturday 2nd February, with the results available (I'm guessing) on the Monday 4th of February. 

So once again - we endure the 2WW.

And now for the comic relief!

A reality I'm sure I can cope with.... I think!

See you soon!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The 12 month wrap up...

Well here we are 3 months on from our last post in a new year and with time to reflect on the events of the last 12 months.  We hope you all had a relaxing Christmas and ate way too much like we did.  We headed to Bali just before Christmas for another one of those "much needed" breaks following continued uncertainty around rationalisation of public sector spending as well as another negative result in early November.

Here's a few snaps!

Good Ol Bintang, the local brew

Traditional Indonesian boat in sea near our hotel

GB - walking back to the hotel from Legian

Brilliant sunset on the west coast of Bali

While we were away, we discussed and reflected quite a lot the events of the last 12 months.  It was around this time last year that we decided which clinic we were going to go with and started the process of arranging blood tests, paperwork and financing.

It was a time filled with excitement and possibilities.  A year on and those words of our first post back in May are all as true as they were back then.

"....I (and my partner) expect it be frustrating, expensive, exhilarating, stressful and emotional.  But above all life changing."

It was and still is.  I guess to some degree you expect the good with the bad, with equal measures of emotional ups and downs.  I can't say that has really been our experience over the last year; with a larger amount of disappointment and stress than exhilaration and happiness.  It has been life changing, but probably not in the way we had expected.  Knowing what we do now, I realise how naive we were going into the situation and how many things we would change if we were starting over.  Of course this only comes with experience, hindsight and a shit load of money being spent.  We really expected that in a few short weeks we'd be doing the baby pick up in March/April.  3 transfers on and we're no closer to that goal.

We have followed a number of blogs concurrently with our journey, with the vast majority of bloggers now preparing nurseries, buying little people clothes, planning baby showers and on their way back to India to pick up their babies.  I can't lie and say that we're not jealous or don't feel a twinge of disappointment when we read these blogs, but simultaneously it does provide us with the hope that it may happen to us one day.  I know it sounds terrible, but what makes it worse are those who started well after us and are already posting ultrasounds and sharing positive HCG results.  When I thought it would be an emotional journey,these were not the emotions I was hoping to have!

So, again we dust ourselves off and go for round 4 in a few weeks time.  We have a very definitive plan should we not get some positive news.  Complicating the situation now is the enforcement of the visa issue now presenting itself following a letter sent by the Police to all ART clinics on the 17th December 2012.  The letter essentially states that unless you've been married for at least 2 years (same sex marriage excluded) ART clinics should not be accepting clients for surrogacy. The reason being, surrogacy should be undertaken on a 'medical visa'.  Medical visas approved in relation to surrogacy are only provided to those who have been married for greater than 2 years.  Until now, most single people (straight, gay, male, female) would travel on 'tourist visas' - without issue.  The letter from the police has requested that all ART clinics provide client details (passport no's, addresses, names etc) and may be charged or fined if they are found to be accepting clients who don't meet the conditions of the letter.  For the uninformed, the real problem arises when parents go to the police to obtain an exit visa for their newborn.  At this point, the police ask to see any number of documents, including the parents' passports and the visa they are travelling on.  Now the problem is, the visa crackdown conflicts with law which permits people except gay people to undertake surrogacy (gay males usually identify as 'single' males for the purposes of surrogacy).  So two things will resolve this - the law changes to reflect the eligibility of visas or the visa eligibility changes to reflect the law.  Or, both agencies puff their chests, and the situation reverts back to the way it was.  People who aren't married for more than 2 years travel on tourist visas.

I guess if we are successful with this transfer, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  But this is India we're talking about and the conflicting law with another Government department is never a good look.  If it doesn't resolve itself, some personal financial offerings (let's call them 'fines') will probably work wonders.

In light of the Indian visa situation, we are looking at other options such as Thailand, but compared to India it appears the industry is pretty immature and presently unregulated.  USA still remains too expensive and non-commercial gestational surrogacy in Australia (if done above board) is a lengthy and costly process. Apparently Panama is becoming a new medico tourism destination - but seems to have similar limitations to that of Thailand and based on my limited research remains unproven as a surrogacy destination at this point in time.

So lots to think about.  We're off to the USA for Easter to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.  As on most of trips - we'll spend a fair bit of time planning what we'll do with our future without the interruption of the day to daily grind.  We'll be doing a lot of driving - so they'll be plenty of opportunity to discuss things.  So we have a few things to look forward to as well as FET in a few weeks time.

Thanks for your continued readership and following our longer the usual surrogacy journey.  Until next time..take care.

Cheers GBLC