Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Biology - part one

I follow a handful of embryo adoption blogs and know that there are a variety of things that the donating couple could be called without incurring much debate:  genetic parents, donating couple, donors...  With embryo adoption, unlike the other traditional forms of adoption, the genetic parents are not the birth parents.  The adoptive parents are the birth parents and that's so cut and dried that there's no grounds for debate on that terminology.

And then you get to the word "biological".  Que discussion.

Option A:  "Biological" can be used interchangeably with "genetic".

Example:  Cora and Mac are not my biological children.  They do not share my genes, my DNA.

Option B:  Biological is tied in with the gestational experience and birth.

Example:  Cora and Mac are my biological children; we shared the biological experience of gestation and birth.  They are who they are today in part because of how my body grew them.

The distinction is not quite as clear cut as one may believe due to a concept called "epigenetics".  Essentially, the woman who carries the pregnancy is more than just a vessel.  In the somewhat recent history of scientific discoveries, researchers have discovered that there are connections formed between the child(ren) in utero and the mother, beyond the inherited DNA.  Everything put into the pregnant woman's body influences the development of the embryos.

I know that we adopted embryos, but I've found clearer wording from egg donation sources.  The following quote is still relevant because in both scenarios, material is introduced in to a woman's body that is genetically foreign. 

Freedom Pharmacy has a booklet about egg donation (p. 10):

“Perhaps the greatest myth surrounds pregnancy. Many believe the uterus is simply an incubator. Nothing could be further from the truth. The most important aspect of all pregnancies- including egg donation pregnancies- is that as the fetus grows, every cell in the developing body is built out of the pregnant mother’s body. Tissue from her uterine lining will contribute to the formation of the placenta, which will link her and her child. The fetus will use her body’s protein, then she will replace it. The fetus uses her sugars, calcium, nitrates, and fluids, and she will replace them. So, if you think of your dream child as your dream house, the genes provide merely a basic blueprint, the biological mother takes care of all the materials and construction, from the foundation right on up to the light fixtures. So, although her husband’s aunt Sara or the donor’s grandfather may have genetically programmed the shape of the new baby’s earlobe, the earlobe itself is the pregnant woman’s “flesh and blood.” That means the earlobe, along with the baby herself, grew from the recipient’s body. That is why she is the child’s biological mother. That is why this child is her biological child.”

Another source elaborates further on the impact of epigenetics and well, egg donation, but, as I said earlier, it's relevant in the discussion of embryo adoption too.

"Genes must be ‘expressed’ within an individual in order to have an effect.

"The same gene or genes can express in a number of different ways depending upon the environment. A gene can remain ’silent’ or unexpressed; it can be expressed strongly; it can be expressed weakly, and so on. There is also an entire field of study called imprinting having to do with which gene you ‘activate,’ the copy you received from your mother, or the copy you received from your father.

"The field of epigenetics studies these phenomenon, and popular journalism is just starting to write about it. While the Human Genome Project was still underway, we usually heard genes referred to as ‘the Bible’ of the human being, as a kind of absolute truth concerning the fundamental nature of the

"That is now changing.

"In a donor egg pregnancy, the pregnant woman’s womb is the environment.It is her genes, not the donor’s, that determine the expression of thedonor-egg baby’s genes.

"A donor egg baby gets her genes from the donor; she gets the‘instructions’ on the expression of those genes from the woman who carries her to term.

"This means that a donor egg baby has 3 biological parents: a father, the egg donor, and the woman who carries the pregnancy.

"The child who is born would have been a physically & no doubt emotionally different person if carried by his genetic mother.

"In horse breeding for example, it’s not uncommon to implant a pony embryo into the womb of a horse.  The foals that result, are different from normal ponies.They’re bigger. These animals’ genotype – their genes – are the same as a pony’s, but their phenotype – what their genes actually look like in the living animal – is different."

I kind of have mixed feelings about all of this but am struggling to put my thoughts into words.  So, for now I'll ask, what do you think?

Friday, August 16, 2013


Bryan and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary in May.  And apart a few months at the very beginning of our marriage (when we used NFP to postpone a pregnancy), we've been open to life the entire time.  We have never ever had a surprise pregnancy or even an occasion for me to buy a pregnancy test (I'm talking other than after embryo transfers).  Things are just like clockwork for me.

And yet I still occasionally dream of one day getting a positive test. 

Hope does not ebb and flow like it used too.  I don't dissolve into a heap of tears with every cycle day one like I used to years ago.  I'm not expecting us to get pregnant.  A natural conception would truly be an act of God.

Regardless of how impossible that may seem to the human brain, my heart still has a place for hope.  To be honest, my recent daydreaming kind of caught me off guard.  I didn't expect to still yearn for what should be viewed as an impossible feat.  It put me in a odd place, experiencing hope yet not feeling any bitterness or disappointment when cycle day one rolled around once again.  It was, in a sense, a child-like hope.

I was sharing our "how we met" story with a woman at church.  She had a good laugh at the origins of our relationship and pointed out how clearly God has had a plan set aside for us.  Yes, so what if Bryan had planned on being a priest from when he was five until he was eighteen.  God clearly had other plans for him and made those plans abundantly clear.  Army life in all its trials and tribulations seems like a breeze compared to the unemployment and despair experienced early in our marriage.  God set a path before us and made it abundantly clear.  Isn't it funny how hindsight works? 

My college class's tenth reunion is coming up and it's made me think.  Is this where I expected myself to be?  No, not really.  I think the only thing that would not surprise twenty-one year old me is the identity of my spouse.  And since we got married six days after graduation, that's kind of a gimme.  Despite the differences between my dreams and my reality, I can clearly see the hand of God on me, on us.    The heights of joy are only made more powerful by the preceding plummets of turmoil and stress and pain.  Ultimately I wouldn't change anything.

"When we dictate interiorly the conditions of our happiness, our very dreams become an enemy.  We assume that we have a right to have things go the way we planned and when they don't, we feel that life is cheating us:  "I was looking forward to this so much, and now I feel let down."

"In such instances, I try to recall the title of C. S.  Lewis' book, Surprised by Joy, and I try to let myself be surprised by joy.  I think you'll find that the deepest and most beautiful moments in life won't necessarily be those you've planned, but those which are unexpectedly showered upon you like mysterious gifts."                                               Alice von Hildebrand, By Love Refined

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Status Update

Well, it's been a while since I've written about anything remotely related to adoption.  Guess I should get back to the original purpose of this blog.  ;-)

You may recall that way back in the spring we were actually matched with two different families.  We had originally requested one larger set of embryos but that proved to be too difficult.  So instead we were matched with two smaller sets of embryos:  Set A, three day 3's from 1998, and Set B, two day 6's from 2003.

Paperwork progressed flawlessly with Set A and that's the set we transferred in May. 

There were multiple delays in processing paperwork with Set B and so we finally issued a sort of ultimatum through the adoption agency - please resolve all issues by end of July or we may be forced to reconsider this match.  Perhaps this was harsh, but the original paperwork requests went out in March!

In the meanwhile, I did some digging, trying to figure out exactly what our clinic was requiring and why the genetic father was having such a difficult time wrapping up his end of things.  First he just wasn't doing anything with his screening request.  Finally, by end of June/beginning of July, he took his infectious disease screening (IDS) packet to two different locations and was denied the testing.

Our current clinic here requires all genetic parents to submit current IDS results before the clinic will accept the embryos into their facility.  I didn't remember doing this in 2009 with our first transfers, so I got further clarification from the Snowflake Program.

Within the last few years, one of the government agencies (can't remember now which one it was) recommended that all fertility clinics obtain current IDS results from all donating parties for embryos created from 2005 to the present.  Genetic parents already submit IDS results prior to the collection of gametes, so this would essentially be a repeat test.  Our clinic, for the sake of thoroughness I guess, was trying to collect this data from all genetic parents, regardless of the date of origination.  If you'll notice, both of our adopted sets are outside of the recommended window.

Given these difficulties, our agency presented another option:  we, the adopting parents, could sign a waiver and bypass the retesting of the genetic father.  The adoption agency had already cleared this route with the clinic.  It's times like these when I GREATLY appreciate working with an agency rather than trying to navigate all of this on my own.  I may have pulled my hair out in frustration without the agency as mediators!

We are now all squared away on paperwork.  If finances and life in general allowed it, then we could already be prepping now for a September transfer.  We're not.

As much as it pains me to wait, the pressures of Bryan's job and our finances are pushing us to wait a few more months.

I think, tentatively speaking, that we hope to do our next transfer the week before Thanksgiving.  The embryos won't be shipped from their storage facility to our clinic until I start meds.  And, by my estimate, I won't start meds until the cycle prior so approximately early-mid October. 

I hate waiting, I really do.  But I know I had to make some mature adult decisions about the timing of this transfer.  Sometimes, I don't like being an adult.

In the meanwhile, I'm trying really hard to just live in the moment and embrace life as it is now.  The possibility of failure is much more real than it ever was before, so I'm trying hard to just shut that out. 

I'm collecting a group of women to run a women's only mud run at the end of September.  I'm going on walks most days and exercising more.  I'm playing board games and t-ball with the kids while singing loudly to Disney songs on Pandora.  I'm scheming up ways to make a preschool co-op happen with families from church. 

And at the end of each day I'm writing things I'm thankful for in a little bedside journal.  I'm doing my darndest to stay positive, stay optimistic, and have HOPE.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Interviewing kids

I've been trying to formulate a reflective post on the fact that the kids are now three.  And it just hasn't been happening.  I decided to involve the kids in the process and interview them instead.  After asking a question, if I didn't immediately get a response, I'd turn it into a multiple choice question to get some thoughts flowing.

When was your birthday? 
Mac - last month in July; Cora - July 18

How old are you?
Both - FWEE!! Fingers held high.

What are your favorite movies? 
Both - Mulan, Tigger Movie, the Heffalump movie, Nemo.  (Then they went on and listed every movie they could remember in our entertainment center, most of which they hadn't seen:  Bugs, Cars, Incredibles...)

What's your favorite color?
Mac - blue, like firemen wear; Cora - blue

What's your favorite thing to eat?
Mac - noodles; Cora - yogurt (decision possibly influenced by the fact we were eating yogurt at the time)

What's your favorite fruit?
Both - all fruits!

What's your favorite veggie?
Mac - NO!  Cora - salad, green beans (she likes them raw), french fries  :-)

Mac, describe what Cora looks like.
She has green eyes, brown hair it's straight and curly and long.  She's tall.  She's kinda loud at nighttime (she's been snoring terribly lately)

Cora, describe what Mac looks like.
He has blue eyes and light brown hair.  It's short and curly.  He's tall.  He has loud feet and a loud mouth.

Note - both kids are about 41 inches tall and 46 pounds.  They tower over their other three year old friends and are much closer in size to their five year old friends.  They wear size 13 shoes and clothes that are usually at least a size 6.

What are some of your favorite things to do at home?
Mac - make pillow caves, play Busy Town especially when the pigs eat, play on the ipad, puzzles, legos, watch movies and eat popcorn
Cora - color pictures, watch movies and eat popcorn, play with my babies, play with Hank (the dog), puzzles, ipad, play Busy Town, bounce my basketballs

What does Daddy do?
Mac - clean dishes and go to work and play Busy Town and sleep.  He's a soldier.

What does Momma do?
Cora - clean dishes, give Mac and Cora a bath, clean fans (what we had just done that morning), put me to bed

How old is Momma?
Both - one

How old is Daddy?
Both - one

How old is Hank?
Mac - no numbers; Cora - two (I'm intrigued that the dog is older than both Bryan and I)

What is Daddy's name?
Both - Bryan

What is Momma's name?
Mac - Andra (written phonetically)

What do you want to be when you grow up?  How many kids will you have?
Mac - a fireman; firemen don't have kids
Cora - a doctor with five kids

I think next time I interview the kids, I may try to separate them.  I asked questions over breakfast today and Mac burst out with all his answers, even when I tried to address them specifically to Cora.

They both know our address, but I'm not writing that for the obvious privacy reasons.  Actually they're quite in tune with street names and can give directions to our normal destinations (groceries, library, pet store...)

The memory of a three year old is pretty incredible.  Both Cora and Mac know their basic prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, O My Jesus, and grace, plus the various Mass responses/prayers).  Cora can sing her version of the Salve Regina.

They have picked up random tidbits from tv, like the colors of the rainbow and that milk comes from cow udders. 

We read a lot of books but they don't have any lasting favorites. Or perhaps I should say all books are their favorites? 

Overall, they have very inquisitive minds and I try, as best I can, to answer their queries.  Lately they've been very interested in spelling words.  I've started keeping notecards near the kitchen table.  This way I can draw a simple picture and label it so we can "practice reading and spelling" while the meal wraps up. 

Bonus - best picture ever.  If you'll notice, Mac's birthday present is packaged in a diaper box.  Oh, if you could have heard his indignation upon unwrapping a big box only to find what he thought was a box of diapers!  It wasn't. It was trains.