99 ProblemsThe daily struggles of urban living as a quadriplegic explained one by one. It's so much more than not being able to find a parking space.
99 Problems — #12 Looks Like We Might Need Kickstarter To Start A Family
Yes, Cory and I want to rear children one day. And yes, I can carry a full term pregnancy as a quadriplegic. But just because I can doesn’t mean I should–and in fact I’ve opted out of this life experience. It may sound selfish but I don’t want to risk my health for the sake of my future snot-nosed kids. In my opinion, and this is what I explained to my husband, I’d rather exercise rigorously for nine months to be fit and ready to help with the babies than be weak, unable and like another child that needs more undivided attention. Cory agrees. He 1) wants help and 2) more importantly doesn’t want anything to happen to my health. We are going to need each other. Thanks to many of our friends who have started families, we are aware children are a lot of work, especially for two selfish writers who have waited until their mid 30’s to have children and have been doing what they want for a very long time (especially, especially when one of us faces chronic health issues due to a catastrophic injury). That’s why not becoming pregnant simply seems like the responsible thing to do. So how are we going to start our family? We’re going to find a surrogate, just like Carrie Bradshaw… er, I mean Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Only we’re not celebrities. And we certainly aren’t rich, yet (however Cory sometimes still plays the Powerball lotto. So there’s that).
This past Friday we met with a reproductive IVF specialist. He was a short, squatty old man of Arab decent. As soon as we entered this office, with medical diplomas hung on the wall as expected, I noticed him sizing us up. As much I was prepared to interview him, I was not prepared to be interviewed myself. In fact it never crossed my mind that we would need to be assessed to see if we could be parents. After all, I’ve been watching irresponsible teen moms on TV for years now. We are at least responsible adults that pay rent on time each month. Still, I guess we needed interrogating. So he first asked me about my injury and then Cory about how we met. Clearly Cory’s health record was boring in comparison because he is a healthy fit 34-year-old man who has never been in the ER until he met me. So what fascinated the doctor was not my husband’s clean bill of health but instead learning that Cory met me post spinal cord injury–and then married me with damaged goods.
“So you met her after this?” he inquired, pointing to me and waiving his finger up and down. “In. Ter. Resting. Why her?”
Cory looked to me and then back to the doctor sitting behind his polished, wooden desk.
“I guess you can’t help who you fall in love with. I saw her and that was it.”
It was silent for the next few seconds. And then the doctor looked at me with his dark brown, beady eyes, like looked deep into my soul. He still didn’t get it.
“This is a real relationship,” he continued.
“Well I like to think so,” I said.
“So what do you want?” he asked. “Boy, girl, what?”
Suddenly, it felt like we were purchasing an American Girl doll.
“Actually we would like twins, one boy and one girl,” Cory answered.
“What we would like is a healthy baby… ” I added. “But if we lived in a dream world, of course we’d like to have twins. One of each and then be done with it.”
I didn’t tell the doctor that we are also open to adopting a child that was not ours one day. Since we both come from families of three siblings, we’ve discussed three Helms’ children in the future. But this was not the time to be greedy, especially considering that we presently have no children at all and could easily change our mind upon the first delivery.
“Yes, yes,” the doctor said. “Very good. You two will make good parents. Any questions?”
Somehow we had passed the doctor’s parenting test. Although we did have a lot of questions, most pressing, “How much does this all cost?” But he didn’t have that answer. That discussion was supposed to be saved for the financing lady later. He was there to provide medical answers, he explained. And to his credit the man seemed to know what he was talking about.
Quickly I learned IVF has come a long way since the last time I did any research on it, which was never. Nowadays doctors can test the genetics of embryos before inserting them into the uterus, thus how the gender is determined and why the doctor asked us specifically what gender of child we wanted. Other things I learned included us adopting our child(ren) at the time our surrogate is six months pregnant. This is done while the infant is still in the womb so that when the child(ren) are born he/she/they are given our name at birth and handed to us upon delivery, as opposed to the surrogate. I learned that we have to go through many blood tests for the FDA so that our embryos don’t infect the surrogate (which makes sense but just something that never occurred to me. Trying to be funny, I asked if the testing was necessary in the case the government was still shut down at the time of implant. Based on the doctor’s reaction, I surmised he either didn’t get the joke or he didn’t find my humor funny). He did explain that this kind of surrogacy is only legal in two states. And finally I discovered that there are a lot of selfless women who are willing to donate their bodies as ovens, at the cost of counseling and a fair amount of cold hard cash. How much cash exactly? I was still dying to know.
Next, we met with a liaison who would be our key point person and scheduling assistant during the entire process. She was plumpish, cheery and appeared pregnant, although I was too scared to ask. Especially after she said we looked like downtown LA people, which could mean many, many pleasant and yet unpleasant things. So I kept to pleasantries and only engaged when necessary until finally the finance lady came into the room.
“There’s that calculator,” I said aloud to make Cory laugh aloud.
I could feel my husband next to me, shaky, jittering, and tapping his foot. I imagine his head was ready to explode off of his tall 6’3” body, an unfortunate reaction to information overload and the consequence of him thinking what this potential train wreck might cost. The truth was I was scared to learn the final number, too. I have been quietly saving money for some time now because I knew this day might come. I also already knew that we do not have enough money at the present moment for the entire surrogacy process. Days before the official doctor’s appointment I did internet research that preempted me for what was coming. In fact, when I learned the estimated numbers I immediately felt guilty and started to second guess my decision to not carry a baby. I mean, technically, I can do it. Although to not carry seemed so much more practical and cautious and responsible and thoughtful, you know, characteristics I thought parents (or future parents) should have.
“No. It’s not worth it. Your health is more important.”
That’s what my husband said to me after I told him that maybe I should just carry myself because having a surrogate may cost us up to $100,000… and that after all, technically, I can do it. And the medical bills would be covered. But not for her. We would have to pay for her medical bills out of pocket, as well as her care and counseling and lawyering and…
“Then we might need to start a Kickstarter account to have a family,” I told him.
“We will figure it out,” he replied. And then laughed. If you know my husband–a man that will sell anything on Ebay for a few extra bucks–you know this a huge milestone. He already loves our future children enough to put his frugalness to the wayside. He is going to make an excellent father.
And I know we will figure this out. No doctor can guarantee me safe health during a pregnancy, and I’m already a high risk human being. What the doctor can guarantee is the science to make it happen and a bill for $80,000-100,000. Like any good mother, I want to do what’s best for my family. I want to be strong and able and helpful and not on bed rest. So we will precede with the IVF with what money we do have–turns out that’s the only financial information the finance lady could precisely provide–and find a way to pay for the other $60,000-80,000 later. We have one year from the time of implant to freeze and find a surrogate, plenty of time for some fundraiser car washes and yard sales.
And so it begins.
The Helms’ household will be selling their souls soon in exchange for screaming twins, hopefully a healthy baby boy and healthy baby girl. Because if were are able to order our kids up like the doctor implies than the very least we can do is attain two for the price of one (plus a few more thousand for extra labor)–what a deal.