Let’s get to the most exciting part, going to the clinic! All throughout my research, I consistently read that the doctors at the clinic were excellent and knowledgeable about all aspects of infertility. Having been to some pretty well-known fertility specialists in Boston, I didn’t know what to expect, but was interested to hear what their diagnosis would be. Although I haven’t been able to keep a pregnancy past 8 weeks, and am grateful that we have found this as a possible solution, there is still a part of me that hopes and wonders if there is perhaps a way that I could carry a pregnancy to full term. This is one of the questions that I had for the doctor, so I was excited to finally meet the staff and hear what they thought was my issue.
Before you even come to the Ukraine, one of the things that BioTexCom requires is some blood tests that are run on both you and your partner, and a recent mammogram result. I have heard that some folks paid for these tests privately. I priced all of the tests out online, and it became quite pricey, so I emailed my PCP and asked if it would be possible to get these tests run because we are moving on from IVF to surrogacy. Thankfully, she had no problem putting these labs in for us, so fortunately, we didn’t have to go out of pocket on those, which could have run us close to 1k! We also had to get a letter from our fertility specialist stating that I have recurrent pregnancy losses, and would need surrogacy to be successful, in addition to stating that it is safe for me to go through stimulation for egg retrieval. Again, we met with our fertility specialist and told her that we needed this letter because the clinic needed it to proceed, and she wrote it on the spot with no questions. However, I think she assumed we were pursuing surrogacy in the states, because she then had her surrogacy consultant speak with us about the costs and the program that they run in the hospital with surrogates. It made me wonder if she would have had hesitations about writing the letter if she knew we were going overseas, so that might be something you want to think about if your fertility specialist isn’t too keen on doing anything outside of the US. Once you have all of these test results and send it to the clinic, that is when they will set your first appointment with you, and when you can schedule your flights over, depending on your schedule.
The usual process is that there are three visits – the first one lasting about 2 – 3 days, where you fly in, have some bloodwork/sperm sample done, and consult with the doctors. This is when they will tell you what packages they can offer you depending on your results. You have some time to think it over, and then if you want to proceed, you can sign the contract and make your first payment. If you decide that you don’t want to go ahead with the clinic, that is fine – they will not charge you for your stay and accommodations, and you can go home. What is unique in our case is that because we are coming from a far away place like the US, we asked if we could combine the first and second visit together, so that we save on plane tickets, since they are more pricey for us. A lot of their clients are from Europe, where round trip tickets are 200 – 300 euros, and so it makes sense that they would ask them to fly back and forth. They agreed to make this accommodation for us, which is why we are staying here so long – and there is even a possibility of us going back early, which would be great!
First things first, you and your partner come into the clinic and get some bloodwork done, along with a sperm sample to determine whether solid embryos can be created. The nice thing about being at the Venice Hotel is that they actually have a blood lab in the building, which means that you can skip the lines at the clinic, and just wait for the actual meeting with your case manager and doctor. So we started off the morning getting our work-up done first, since we weren’t allowed to drink or eat past midnight, and it went pretty smoothly. The nurse is very nice, and we had no problems with communicating. The only questions that she asked were our birthdates and the start of my last period. We were also impressed with how clean everything was – and both the clinic and the blood lab asked us to put on shoe covers to keep the floor clean, which I’d never seen before. They are very particular about keeping a sterile environment, which is lovely, as we didn’t know what to expect. But after a few days here, we realized that there is always someone in sight cleaning, remodeling, or working on some part of the building, which shows that they are constantly trying to improve their services, and reinvest the money they make to better the experience for their clients.
After breakfast, we waited in the lobby until the administrator told us that it was time to go to the clinic, and so we arrived after a short ride. We were met by Yaryna, a nice young lady, whose English was great, and given out a medical history form to fill out. We also received her WhatsApp contact info from Shabana couple days before, so we could contact her at any time. While waiting, there were pastries, drinks, and coffee that we could help ourselves with, and we were lucky that day to come into the clinic on a Thursday, as Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays are the days that the clinic is super busy and filled to the brim! So if you can arrange so, it would be good to try to schedule your first visit on a Tuesday or Thursday.
While waiting, we saw lots of surrogates whose protruding bellies were encouraging signs of babies on the way. Americans tend to have quicker surrogate matches, as there are no stipulations on whether the surrogates marital status, while some European countries have stricter guidelines in order to get a passport back home.
Also something important to note – Ukrainian time moves very much like molasses, so if you are told something will take 5 minutes, it might in reality, take 30 minutes instead, because they are seeing so many patients and constantly interrupted with questions. We knew this beforehand, so we just played on our phones with the free Wifi that is available there.
So finally, we were asked to come meet the doctor, and we met with Anastasia, the head of the English department, Yaryna, and the doctor, whose name is Yuliya. Anastasia did a wonderful job translating the doctor’s diagnosis, and she also did a quick ultrasound to check that all looked fine with the ovaries and uterus. We then set the schedule for my egg retrieval, and while working that out, their assistant told us that they already had a surrogate for us, which was amazing news! They also requested that I do an additional blood test to measure my cortisol levels, something that I hadn’t encountered in the States, and put me on dexamethasone, which is a steroid that lowers cortisol levels. The doctor advised that high cortisol levels, basically high levels of stress, can decrease blood flow to the uterus, which might have been the cause of my losses. She also gave me some folic acid and vitamin E capsules, which she said increased egg quality. I’ve never used dexamethasone with any of my previous cycles, so this was new and exciting to see the differences in opinion. It made me realize all the more that no one doctor knows everything, and we’re excited to see how that will affect the results of our egg retrieval. The doctor’s main concern is OHSS, which I’ve experienced twice before.
After the meeting was done, we were given copies of our contract, which we could sign and return later, and were driven to another location, where we made our first payment. It was a bit unusual, as we went into a building and up the stairs, and into a room with a fiery redhead, who spoke a few words of English, counted the payment, and then gave us a receipt for the transaction. After that, we were driven back to our hotel to rest and relax. We will be starting our cycle next Friday, so in the meantime, my homework is to rest and relax, which I’m looking forward to very much! I recently quit my job in early June, and it has been a strange feeling, as I’ve been working ever since I’ve turned 16. However, I wanted to take a break with work because the last year of treatments have been particularly difficult, and my father also passed in early March, which also added to the heaviness of loss. In many ways, I’m so thankful and grateful that I can take this time to really relax and take things easy, and hopefully keep those cortisol levels to a minimum!
Surrogacy isn’t for the faint of heart, and many have asked what made us decide to pursue it. To be honest, surrogacy wasn’t even on our minds when we first started trying to conceive. Unfortunately, I have a disease called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which in my case, means that I only have periods about 3 or 4 times a year. A regular couple with no issues has a 25% chance of conceiving within the first year, and so you can imagine how difficult it would be for a couple like us to time it right.
We started the journey by seeing a fertility specialist, who started us off on Clomid and Femara, and then moved onto injectible hormones, similar to what they use in IVF. All together, throughout the course of 4 years, we have completed 13 medicated cycles, the last six paired with an IUI. Unfortunately, never once did we see a positive on a pregnancy test, and we knew we’d have to move onto IVF, and hoped that it might be our answer.
When we started IVF in 2016, we were extremely hopeful, especially after my first egg retrieval, when I produced 37 eggs! 10 of those were mature and fertilized normally to day 5, and went to be frozen. Most of them were excellent quality embryos, and we were delighted. Our first cycle, however, ended anti-climatically by resulting in a negative pregnancy test, which was really discouraging. What’s worse is that the next three cycles of IVF that we had all lead to a positive pregnancy test, but would always end in a miscarriage around the 8th week. We lost two sets of twins and a singleton, and it was an extremely dark period in our lives. In addition, because we had three losses in a row, I now had the label of “unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss” to add to my long list of infertility ailments. Our doctor couldn’t find any reason why I was losing them continuously, and suggested surrogacy at our last appointment, which was incredibly disheartening, because I always wanted to have the experience of being pregnant. Everything, from growing a bump to feeling the baby kick, I wanted to have the full experience, but it felt like my dreams of carrying a pregnancy was crushed in a single blow.
For two days after that appointment, we struggled with the idea of surrogacy. We had never really considered it seriously up to this point, because we thought we would get pregnant eventually through IVF. Now, I had to give up the thought of pregnancy, and it broke my heart even more. But compared to the thought of being childless vs. having our own bio kids, we definitely knew that we wanted to keep pursuing the latter, especially since our embryos were always high quality, and it is literally just a womb that we needed to have our embryos be born. Hence, we began our journey into surrogacy, and to Ukraine!