Big Fat Positive

On Thursday, December 17th at 5:30am, someone shook my shoulder suddenly. Since I’d been thinking about it the night before, I woke up in an instant to see what her response was. As I rubbed my eyes open to adjust to the lamp shining in my direction, Maya leaned over with wide-eyes and a look of disbelief on her face. Her hand quivered as she showed me the pregnancy test stick. Pregnant? Pregnant?! Maya was pregnant! I voiced, “Oh my god” even though neither of us could hear. The next several minutes were a back-and-forth conversation going in loops.

“You’re pregnant?”
“Am I pregnant?”
“Oh my gosh, you’re pregnant.”
“I am pregnant!”
“Is this for real?”
“This is for real!”

I took the pregnancy stick from her and leaned against the head of the bed, with my back to the wall. I let out a deep breath and enunciated “Wow” slowly as I stared down the word “Pregnant”. A size 10 font was telling me something that shakes people’s worlds left and right and upside down (up!). It was telling me that my world was about to change. With tears welling up in my eyes, I got up on my knees on the mattress and hugged Maya as she stood by the bedside, examining my response. Both the kittens were at the foot of the bed, fast asleep. Regardless, I petted each of their heads and showed them the pregnancy stick. The moments after that are a blur. We both snuggled under the covers again and tried to go back to sleep. We were silly to think we could.

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At 8AM, Maya woke me from an excitable nap. She had called the fertility clinic to let them know of the pregnancy test results as part of their protocol. They asked her to come in within the hour to do blood work. All morning, I was processing a thousand different scenario and parts that would have to be worked out.

If this is a viable pregnancy, when is the baby due to arrive?
Which of my million names would we give to this one child?
When will we share with family since they know we’re on this journey?
Is Maya going to have a healthy pregnancy or will she experience loss due to a miscarriage?
Will we be in a permanent home by then?
What would be a cool way to announce to the public that we’re pregnant?
What do I want to share in this blog?

After the doctor’s appointment, we both went home and did some work. Again, we were silly to think that we could focus. At 11:00am, I took a quick nap on the blue recliner with Jersey snoozing on my chest. Just minutes after I closed my eyes, Maya woke me up for a THIRD time and it wasn’t even noon yet. She signed three numbers to me: 96.4. The doctor’s office had called again to let Maya know of her beta hCG levels to indicate the hormone levels of her pregnancy. They also requested that she come in again on Monday (96 hours after the first blood work appointment) to see the status of her hormonal levels again. With giddy feelings, Maya and I had a busy weekend of errands, shopping, cooking, and cleaning to prepare for the winter holidays. We eagerly waited until Monday morning so to go to the clinic for the follow up blood work appointment.

Like last Thursday, Maya was in and out as their first patient of the day. We went home and waited. The morning passed by. We had naked burritos for lunch. We waited some more. While I was cleaning up the kitchen, Maya ran upstairs because the phone rang. Moments later, she came back down and signed three new numbers: 737. Her beta-hCG levels had more than tripled! These numbers told us that Maya has a viable pregnancy at this time and the numbers are steadily increasing. The fertility clinic scheduled for her to have an ultrasound on Monday, January 5th. One thing I’m always going to remember is when we calculated an estimate of when the baby would be due if it continues to be a healthy pregnancy which is August. Maya pouted in a weirdly joyful way and signed, “I wish we were having a September baby because then I could walk around with a newborn and a PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks).” She signed this with a skip in her step, as she wiggled her shoulders back and forth like a woman who owns the room and owns who she is. Needless to say, we were over the moon.

This is all. This ends our ASL TTC Series. We hope we shared a thing or two that may help you with your journey. Thank you for joining us for the ride! To continue following our story, check out our Instagram page @thearielseries! Yes, our baby is here with us and we’ve been sharing lots about our lives with our child on the IG page.

Onward with big love, and as always, have at it.

GLOSSARY

All these words and definitions have been gathered throughout our own journey in figuring out how we wanted to become parents together. The language we used (or serves as relevance) in the following glossary came from a variety of resources and people we came across during our journey.

A

Anonymous Donor: An individual who provides a sperm donation anonymously under the condition that recipients and offspring will never learn the identity of the donor. We’ll discuss on this more in another section of this series.

Artificial insemination (AI): A deliberate introduction of sperm into a female’s cervix or uterine cavity for the purpose of trying to conceive by means other than sexual intercourse.

Assistive Reproductive Technology (ART): A procedure or procedures that involve surgically removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries, combining them with sperm in the laboratory, and returning them to the woman’s body or donating them to another woman. These procedures do not include treatments in which only sperm are handled (via artificial insemination) or procedures in which a woman takes medicine only to stimulate egg production without the intention of having eggs retrieved.

B

Big Fat Positive (BFP): A positive result on a pregnancy test; this abbreviated phrase is typically used in online forums.

Big Fat Negative (BFN): You guessed it. A negative result on a pregnancy test; this abbreviated phrase is also typically used in online forums.

C

Columbia Fertility Associates (CFA): Established in 1978, Columbia Fertility Associates is a fertility clinic in the DMV metropolitan area. They have three locations: Washington, DC; Bethesda, Maryland; and Arlington, Virginia. Patients who choose CFA are receiving fertility care services. CFA is the fertility clinic Maya and I chose to receive fertility care services.

D

Donor-conceived: An individual who’s existence was dependent on the process of a sperm donation for a family wanting to have a child of their own

Days Post Ovulation (DPO): You might see the usage of “DPO” in a variety of forms, usually accompanied by a number 10dpo means 10 days post ovulation. Or you might see it end in a different acronym — 3dpt (days post trigger) or dpiui (days post IUI)

E

F

Fertility Clinic: Fertility clinics are medical clinics that assist couples, and sometimes individuals, who want to become parents but for medical reasons have been unable to achieve this goal via the natural course.

G

H

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG): a hormone produced during pregnancy. As a prescription medication, HCG is used mainly to treat fertility issues. 

I

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): A form of artificial insemination, IUI is a procedure in treating infertility or queer couples who cannot conceive on their own. Donated sperm that has been washed and concentrated are placed directly in an individual’s uterus around the time their ovary releases one or more eggs so to be fertilized.

In vitro fertilization (IVF): A a complex series of procedures, IVF is a practice used to help with fertility or prevent genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child.

J

K

Known Donor: A known individual who provides a sperm donation who can be a friend, non-genetically related family member, or of non-blood relation. They can work with your licensed fertility clinic in donating their sperm for your TTC journey. We’ll also discuss on this more in another section of this series.

L

M

N

O

Open Identity Donor (Open ID): An open identity donor is one who has agreed to at least one form of contact with any donation-born offspring once the child turns 18. This option is becoming quite popular among sperm banks across the United States. It enhances transparency and opportunity for open-communication among families, children, and sperm donors. We’ll also discuss this more on this in another section of this series.

P

Q

R

Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE): A licensed medical professional who carries out and prescribes a variety of fertility tests and treatments, including intrauterine insemination (IUI), which is more commonly called artificial insemination.

Reciprocal In Vitro Fertilization (RIVF): A fertility treatment where the embryos are made using Partner A’s eggs but are put inside of Partner B’s uterus to carry. This means Partner A (the egg donor or genetic mother) is genetically related to the child, and Partner B (the carrier or birth mother) is biologically bonded to the child through pregnancy. This is cool because it can allow for queer couples to both be intimately involved in the procreation process of having a child. Now, this procedure is sickly expensive. Hopefully you got the moolah or incredible insurance!

S

Sperm Donor: A provision by an individual of their sperm with the intention that it be used in the artificial insemination or other fertility treatment of a female-identifying or queer-identifying individual so they may be able to conceive.

T

Trying to Conceive (TTC): An attempt or attempts to become pregnant. We care to use this phrase for a journey like ours because it is never a guarantee one will successfully conceive. Maya and I know this from experiences that have happened to a sibling. While it is nice to use absolutes when one embarks on journey in becoming pregnant, it is important to remind ourselves of the possibility that trying to conceive may not always result in actually conceiving.

Trigger shot: A hormonal injection used in fertility therapy; a trigger shot usually contains a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). It is HCG which triggers an ovary to mature and release an egg. We did not get this.

Two Week Wait: The 2-week wait refers to the period between ovulation and when an embryo implants. More specifically, it’s the time until your body produces enough beta-hCG (i.e., the pregnancy hormone) to be detected in the urine or blood when you take a pregnancy test.

U

Ultrasound:

Diagnostic ultrasound, also called sonography or diagnostic medical sonography, is an imaging method that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures within your body. The images can provide valuable information for diagnosing and treating a variety of diseases and conditions. Most ultrasound examinations are done using an ultrasound device outside your body, though some involve placing a device inside your body.

V

W

X

Y

Z

Zygote: A single sperm and a person’s egg cell meet in the fallopian tube. When the single sperm enters the egg, conception occurs. The combined sperm and egg is called a zygote. The zygote contains all of the genetic information (DNA) needed to become a baby.

The Longest Two Week Wait

Let us tell ya, those two weeks of waiting after an artificial insemination aren’t exactly the fastest two weeks you’ll experience. Each passing day, each questioning thought passed by slowly for us. To get right to it, we’d advise anyone on the same boat to create a full schedule or literally go away for vacation if you can! That said, if you’re an expert at being patient then these two weeks are perfect for you. They say that people underestimate how hard it is to wait until they find out if they’ve successfully conceived or not. This is true. No matter how many times we told ourselves we’d be good at being patient, it was hard. Also, while we’re at it y’all, don’t use Google!

I’m feeling cramps on my right side. Does this mean I’m not pregnant?
My breasts are swollen. Am I pregnant?
I am not craving any particular food. Am I not pregnant?
I have a gut feeling that I’m pregnant. Is my gut feeling right?


There are so many answers that will pop up for questions like these. None of them will give you the truth. Only time will. All you can do is let your body do what it needs to do. If you conceive, yay! If you don’t, take all the time you need to process before you try again (if you wish to try again).

Here’s how it went for us. I invested my energy and focus to encourage Maya in relaxing and staying in the present moment; being where her feet are at. I focused on lifting her up and being extra optimistic around her. If she had any particular wishes, I did my best to make them happen. I also made suggestions that I felt were important to do such as going on longer, daily walks and playing “this game” or reading “that book”. We experienced three two-week-waits (TWW) before we conceived with our first child. For us, the TWW became easier as time went on with our journey. The first TWW was the hardest one of the three since the whole experience was novel to us and we were giddy with anxiety!

For the first unmedicated IUI, Maya knew she wasn’t pregnant because on the 14th day Aunt Flo came to town as Maya’s ovulation schedule predicted. For the second unmedicated IUI, Maya tested on the 14th day post-insemination and it was a negative. She chose to take this pregnancy test alone while I was still asleep. I eventually woke up and noticed she wasn’t in bed so I went to the bathroom to see if she was there. She wasn’t there. I went into her work space and found her working as usual, her back facing me. Before approaching her, I knew she had a negative on her pregnancy test. I went up to her to see how she feeling. She looked up at me and shook her head but looked determined to moving forward and trying again the next cycle. That’s when we both agreed that we’d give another unmedicated IUI procedure one last try before considering to move onto a medicated IUI procedure. The third TWW was the easiest one of all three; not because it ended with a baby though. Like we said from the beginning, a full schedule was key. During our third TWW, we began our house-hunt for our first purchased home together. That consumed our time and attention. We even stopped counting down the days until we’d administer the pregnancy test again. If you’re about to experience your first TWW, good luck! If you’re about to experience your tenth TWW, you’re strong and resilient. If you experienced TWW already, share your tips below in the comments!

Have at it.

Our First Insemination Experience

On Sunday, October 4th at 7:30am, Maya and I drove to Columbia Fertility Associates. We entered Suite 101. Most lights were off. The secretary/nurses hadn’t yet arrived. Another patient was waiting around the corner. We both walked over to the receptionist desk to wait for someone. While we waited, we noticed a sign that said patients would not be permitted to bring in a guest with them. The guest/partner would have to wait outside. Maya and I looked at one another. I was starting to feel a bit lightheaded and my heart palpitated quickly. I signed to Maya, “I want to go in with you. I want to be a part of this process as much as possible. I can’t wait outside. What do you think about me telling them that I need to be there to interpret for you and that I can help you understand everything?” She nodded enthusiastically as the nurse walked in.

Once we checked in, I shared with the nurse of our situation. She hesitated as she looked at both of us. No one knew but my right hand had its fingers crossed! I won’t say the elves gave me luck, but the nurse eventually said “Sure” in a rather doubtful manner. We excitedly sat down to wait for the on-call doctor to arrive. A tall man in his blue scrubs sauntered in, waved at the nurse, and went into the hallway where the patient rooms lined up. About ten minutes later, the same doctor propped open the door with his foot and voiced slowly, “Are you Maya?” I pointed to Maya and said, “Yes, she’s here” as she also lifted up her hand saying hello. He beckoned both of us into the hallway. I was giddy all over; the moment had arrived. The moment that makes this journey, was turning a major corner. All the research, the brainstorming, the difficult conversations, the doctors visits, the selection of the sperm donor, and now finally, our first intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedure*. Upon walking into the room present with us was the nurse and the doctor. The doctor explained slowly and carefully how he would be doing the procedure, showing us the metal clamps and the long syringe. He told us that the sperm count was “19 million which will be good enough”. Maya and I looked at one another, just amazed at how that syringe contained a potential seed of a human being. Our human being. Our family.

After giving Maya a private moment to take off her bottoms, propping herself up on the patient table, and covering herself with a disposable baby blue cloth, the medical team came back in and got right to work. I sat to Maya’s left and immediately went for her hand, holding it on her chest, rubbing her skin. She closed her eyes as the doctor wheeled toward her legs with a lamp shining toward Maya. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see the procedure being done so I watched Maya’s face intently, ready to respond or console Maya in any way she communicated. As the doctor inserted the clamps, I noticed Maya flinch. I rubbed her hand with my thumb. The nurse brought out the syringe and handed it to the doctor. With my eyes wide, I held my breath and squeezed Maya’s hand. Then it was all over. The doctor stood up and held up five fingers, instructing Maya to stay in position for five minutes and then she was good to go home. I thanked the medical team as they left. Maya looked at me and asked me if I could share with her how it looked. I told her, “Let me share with you when we leave. For now, let’s rest and close our eyes.” So she did, but I didn’t. I just stared at her eyelashes and the overhead light shimmering on her olive skin. I soaked in the tender moment. I thought to myself, “Maya is doing something incredibly special for us. Whether it works this cycle or not, she’s changing. She’s not going to be the Maya I met. The Maya I fell in love with. She’s going to be the carrier of our baby. She’s going to sacrifice a big part of herself so to bring us home a family. For this, I stand by her side how ever long it takes for her to successfully carry. If we find out that Maya cannot carry for whatever reason, she is sacrificing herself to the attempts we undergo. With this and for any individual who goes through such an experience and attempt, I take my cap off to you. This IUI procedure has taught me the courage that lies in these individuals, including my wife.”

*Artificial Insemination Options:

IUI (intrauterine insemination): The most common form of artificial insemination. Your doctor (or licensed health care provider) will insert thawed sperm directly into the uterus using a speculum and catheter.  Inseminations may be timed based on a person’s natural cycle, or in conjunction with medications intended to induce ovulation.

ICI (intracervical insemination): Most commonly performed at home, but can also be performed by a licensed care provider. Sperm is inserted into the vagina using a small, needleless syringe or a cervical cap. It is often recommended that a person lie down for 15-30 minutes after the insemination to encourage the sperm to swim up into to uterus.

IVI (intravaginal insemination): More commonly referred to as ICI (above), IVI is another term to identify insemination that happens in the vagina, as is generally performed the same way as an ICI procedure.

IVF (in vitro fertilization): In vitro fertilization is a process by which fertilization occurs outside of the body, or in vitro. IVF may involve any combination of your own eggs and sperm, or donor eggs and sperm. After egg and sperm cells have been harvested or obtained, they are brought together in a laboratory environment to allow the sperm to fertilize the eggs. About 2 to 5 days after fertilization, one or more of the best fertilized eggs are inserted into the uterus using a catheter. The remaining fertilized eggs may be cryopreserved for future use.

RIVF (reciprocal in vitro fertilization): In reciprocal IVF, one partner goes through the process of stimulation, and their eggs are retrieved and fertilized with donor sperm. Then, the embryo is transferred into the uterus of the other partner. Medically speaking, it’s the same process used when a person works with an egg donor, or when a couple works with a gestational carrier.

ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection): Like IVF, ICSI is a procedure in which an individual sperm cell is introduced into an egg cell in a laboratory environment.

Lets talk about sperm.

Definitions first: There are 3 types of donors.

  1. Known Donor: A known donor will not be the legal parent of a child if the child is conceived through a licensed fertility clinic and the birth person can enter into an agreement providing for their partner to be other legal parent, regardless of whether or not they are married or in a civil partnership. Whilst a known donor is generally asked to agree to the same anonymity requirements as an anonymous donor, the situation can be complicated by their relationship as a friend or family member with the parent/s.
  2. Anonymous Donor: An individual who provides a sperm donation anonymously under the condition that recipients and offspring will never learn the identity of the donor.
  3. Open-identity Donor: Allows for the possibility of communication between a donor and donor-conceived child.
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We chose an open-identity donor. While we would selfishly (and rightfully) want no one else to be a part of our family because of being our own unit, we wouldn’t be considering how the child feels and their rights. The reality is that our child will one day not be a child anymore. They will grow up to be adults like us. They will be deserving of making their own choices; therefore, we decided they need to have allowance in considering different options. Having an open-identity donor gives them such options. When they’re of age (18), they can have an important choice as to whether they wish to reach out to the donor and go from there.

We believe ourselves to be a transparent, open-communication family. When we feel the need, we ought to share our feelings and talk it out together. We also strive to be a family that develops warm, trusting relationships. Though it is hard work, we trust our creativity and love for our child to producing the best way in sharing their birth story and origins. The longer we hold onto non-disclosure, we believe more likely it will be a byproduct of significant psychological distress. We plan to share with our child the donor origins and experience whenever the topic comes up. If our child asks, we will provide them a meaningful answer. We can learn and adjust our language as we go.

Now, choosing a sperm bank and donor… that wasn’t easy but with it being a part of the process in achieving a dream, we continued. We researched each bank that was approved by the FDA. After we narrowed down to three, we chose Fairfax Cyrobank in Fairfax, Virginia. We ultimately chose Fairfax because it is within driving distance from where we live. We wanted the experience of driving to the sperm bank and picking up our sperm vials and personally deliver them to our fertility clinic for storage.

From there, we started the process of picking a sperm donor. This part was most difficult for me. While we are choosing to keep this part of our story private, we’ll say this. This is completely uncharted territory. It’s entirely up to you how you make a selection for a donor. There’s no right or wrong way. For some, it’ll be easy because you know exactly what you want. For others, it won’t be so easy. The process is unusual and often times, one engages with the process having no one else to talk with who can relate. You will make the best choice for you.

On Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020, Maya and I excitedly drove to Fairfax. Upon walking into the sperm bank’s client pick-up area, taking a “before” picture without the sperm, and within 5 minutes, we had our sperm vials in a storage container, ready for delivery! Before we left, took an “after” picture of us with the sperm vials. We were totally giddy then. We were yet another step closer to the realities of having a child together. It felt more real when we had something physical to manage. Maya and I grinned the whole way to the fertility clinic. When we dropped off the vials, we only needed to wait 10 minutes before they gave back the empty storage container so we could return it to Fairfax Cyrobank the following week as instructed. We were speechless, overwhelmed, and dealing with all sorts of adrenaline. But the one feeling we had that was securing was: Yes, we want to commit to having a family together.

We were told to go Couple’s Counseling.

After our initial consultation with our chosen reproductive endocrinologist (RE) at Columbia Fertility Associates (CFA), we received a Donor Recipient Cycling Checklist. For someone like me, this was helpful in keeping us organized with tracking the several steps involving assisted reproductive procedures such as artificial insemination. This checklist included a recommendation to have what CFA calls a “psychological consult”. The RE recommended we meet with a licensed clinical social worker who’s line of work specializes in women’s health issues, infertility counseling, and those who use a sperm donor to build a family. She has been meeting with patients of our RE for over 20 years. Such a recommendation is made broadly to those who receive services from fertility clinics like CFA.

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Initially, we wondered why a queer couple would be recommended to receive counseling while it is highly unlikely a straight couple receives the same recommendation. For a while, we were skeptical. Eventually, we relented and didn’t shut it down. We learned that this service is recommended as a way of assisting couples in navigating novel complexities of a third party. It is true that we had next to no knowledge about such an experience. After all, we are involving another person in the procreation of a child while they aren’t considered a parent of that child. That doesn’t happen every day around us. While we decided go ahead with this couple’s counseling session because we had nothing to lose except for some hundreds of dollars, know that this is not required if you feel this is not meant for you. That’s perfectly okay too.

On a late Tuesday morning, we drove to the counselor’s office. Originally, we were going to have the counseling appointment via video chat. However, due to the need for accessibility so to fulfill our needs and maximize this experience, we requested for an in-person meeting with an American Sign Language interpreter. In result of self-advocacy, our request was graciously granted. If you have particular needs or accommodations during your appointment, don’t hesitate to ask. The counselor is providing YOU with a service. They are under moral obligation to ensure your experience is accessible just like any other individual entering their office. Prior our appointment, our counselor shared several articles for us to read and discuss together if we wished. And you bet we did! We enjoy that kind of thing. In fact, we make it sort of a date with late night glasses of wine and dessert as we pressed the articles and bounced off each others thoughts. C3 took note of any questions that arose for us that we’d want to discuss at our session.

Keep in mind, every counselor is likely to have a different take on such sessions, so our experience may not be similar to yours. After introductions and sharing one another’s backgrounds, we jumped right in by sharing where were at in this process of TTC. At the time of the session, we narrowed down to three sperm banks and discussed what we wished to consider when selecting a sperm donor. That’s a story for another day. After we discussed about selecting a donor, our counselor took the stance of being the “mouthpiece” of a child who is a recipient of artificial insemination as we discussed the intricacies of having a child conceived by way of a donor. This stance allowed Maya and I to think about the child’s potential experience in being a part of our family. We brainstormed how we can respond to our future child’s significant developmental stages of processing their birthing and familial reality.

Without going into too much detail, Maya and I had three main takeaways from our couple’s counseling. We recognize and believe it is important to allow our child autonomy when it comes to making certain choices. For instance, if our child wishes to know about or even meet the donor when they come of age, they ought to have that privilege. It is a part of who they are and we are not going to deny that truth. Additionally, our child has the right to know about their origin and birth story. We would be selfish to deprive them of the truth, a truth about how they exist. In time, we’ll navigate their story with them when it becomes appropriate. Finally, we believe it is essential for us to acknowledge the potential difficulty that arises when our child processes their reality as a recipient of artificial insemination. We are here to tell them as much as they want to know when they are ready. It’s not just our story. It is theirs too.

We wrapped up our counseling session, acknowledging that there is a world out there to deal with when it comes to our family story being public. For queer parenting couples, their families, friends, and society often do not respond positively. Even if a queer couple is solid and provides a loving home to their child(ren), they may face continuous obstacles of unsolicited opinions, behaviors, or even actions from others. This is pretty much inevitable. We found that talking and preparing for such possibilities with a counselor may equip a couple with the tools to face those challenges head-on. We believe in our rights and our love for the family we are raising. We hope you do too.

Have at it.

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