Baby, plan your birth!

A couple of queer expats in Singapore on a quest to make a baby


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burying the lede

We discovered a problem with baby-plan-your-birth blog.

There’s a certain amount of uncertainty that I’m completely comfortable sharing with the world (like the excessive use of pregnancy tests way before a positive result would be possible).

Then there’s that weird time of uncertainty when you think you might know something, but you’re not sure if you know something. And if you’re right, that’s great, but a bit anti-climactic because it builds up slowly from such small place of hope. And if you’re wrong, you look like an idiot who can’t read a pregnancy test.

Which is why our blog has been so very, very silent.  Spoilers! It’s good news!
We also did some backward induction, which many of you also may have done. If we were not successful in making a tiny human, then there should be a disappointed (yet hopeful) post about a few days after our last one.  Then maybe another post about how we’re really crossing our fingers really hard, or else we have to figure out how to ship even more sperm to Bangkok.  Maybe some hilarious antics would ensue.  None of those posts have appeared.

Of course, there’s also the chance that the whole things was a bust, but that we were too crushed to report it to the world. Or that I decided I wanted more public/private boundaries.  These would also be reasonable guesses, though wrong.

Here comes the actual lede… (I was never much of a news reporter)

So we are delighted to report that so far, we have been amazingly successful at coaxing a tiny human into my person. It grows! It has a heartbeat! It hasn’t self-destructed yet!

Convoluted? Yes.  The word “pregnant” still gets stuck in my throat and backed up in my fingers.  Sounds very adult. Or something I need to be very, very careful to avoid so I don’t end up a homeless teen living on the street, selling my organs to pay for diapers.

In Bangkok, H provided many  necessary reassurances  that “of course there’s a good chance it will work.” She was, like a good wife, lying to my face to help me feel better. She later confessed that she was expecting a minimum of three physically upsetting and financially costly procedures, and probably close to five.  I have proved her wrong! Champions!

Proving the existence of tiny parasite was no small endeavor.  Within a few hours of my last post – yes, I waited several hours before taking another test-  the pregnancy tests looks just the tiniest, faintest bit purple when you sort of held it up against the light and squinted..  H thought I was crazy. I blame poor FaceTime resolution (she’s off on a book project at the moment, so she can only obsess remotely).  So of course I took a few more tests.  And bought some other brands.  And I may have taken… fourteen … in total before they were all, resoundingly, purple and positive and pregnant, completely exhausting my bulk pack of tests.

My doctor later scolded me for wasting so many tests; she reminded me that there are other, needy people could have used them.  I didn’t realize that pregnancy test access was an issue in Singapore, but I remain duly chastised.

Things have since been confirmed visually (there’s a heartbeat! in my stomach! wtf! I am a timelord!), and with a lovely host of symptoms.  Did you know that french fries cure nausea?  They do.  Wonderful.

I’m not sure what direction our blog will take next; I’m loathe to report all my unique and special snowflake pregnancy experiences. (Oh look, now I’m vomity.  Oh, but now I’m a nature goddess coaxing new life into the world.  Oh!  Now I can’t fit in standard size cars.  What will parasite do next? Hint: the same things all parasites do – bust out!). However, I’m hopeful that our experiences as queer expats in Singapore making a human might provide some interesting insights, or at least a few good stories, in the coming months.

For example, my first prenatal visit with our kind but reserved ob-gyn:

Doctor:  Congratulations. I’m going to put you at 6 weeks as of today. Now I’m going list symptoms you may have. Please don’t interrupt me.
Me: Okay…
Doctor:  You may feel tired, nauseated, vomiting, gas like cramping, boobs hurt, emotions up and down, dizzy, muscles hurt, indigestion, heartburn….
Me: ….
Doctor: ….. Don’t drink alcohol, or smoke. Don’t get too fat. You are not eating for two.
Me: …..
Doctor: See you in three weeks.

Efficient.

 

– E

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Where do babies come from?

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Where do babies come from? Bangkok, of course!

Babies come from Bangkok! We hope.

After a whirlwind of emotions, we set off for Bangkok on Tuesday night.  By the time we boarded, we were both pretty much done with everything – we spent the flight basking in the emotional turmoil of gloriously bad ABC family dramas.  Perfect.

Of course, I break that sweet, television-induced sedation by spending the rest of our evening scouring academic articles for everything known about IUI, trigger shot-to-ovulation timing, and whether 24 hrs vs. 30 hrs vs. 36 hrs matters at all.  Confirmation bias abounds.  Everything will be okay.

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Swanky clinic – image from their brochure, as they reasonably asked we not take pictures.

Bright and early Wednesday, we headed to our clinic, which turned out to be about 300% more swanky than we expected.  We huddled in our padded furniture pod alongside 30+ other families and waited to meet with the doctor. Despite everyone’s disappointment that I had not done things “properly,” the doctor (and her army of ultrasound technicians) seemed reasonably optimistic.

We broke for lunch, I tried not to eat too much street food (so hard!), and reconvened in the afternoon.  We donned our baby-making costumes – sexy sterile crocs and hospital caps and gowns for both of us.

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After prepping very, very slowly, to help delay the insemination time as much as possible, it was time to make some babies.  The doctor brought out our washed, processed, and ready for action sperm, which came in a lovely shade of pink.  I got all situated, and then the team got to work.

I was more than a bit nervous because most experiences I’ve had with doctors poking my insides have been negative.  I researched other folks’ IUI experiences, which, of course, were all over the place.  Usually, the range was from “didn’t notice” to “it was uncomfortable.”  So I shouldn’t worry?  Wrong.  Always beware the use of “uncomfortable” in a medical setting.

In non-medical settings, the phrase “uncomfortable” refers to anything from a chair with insufficient padding to an awkward social situation.  Maybe the over-full feeling you get after too much pizza.  Uncomfortable.  In medical land, “uncomfortable” is everything short of getting your arm cut off or passing a kidney stone.  It’s more like how spraining your wrist is “uncomfortable” or getting a bronchoscopy is “uncomfortable.”  HA.  It is “bad.”  Simply bad.

Despite the “uncomfortable” nature of the procedure, of course, I was a champ.  That is, if by “champ,” you mean that I hyperventilated, experienced an extreme blood pressure drop, and nearly passed out.  I went through those smelling salts like a champ, that’s for sure.  Aced it.

Then it was over.  I rested for an hour with my book, leaning on my right side as I was told to to help direct the little swimmers toward the good egg (still waiting for an academic paper on that) then we headed out for lunch and a relaxing evening.

And now we wait.

-E


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Countdown?

Alternate title: Dr. C and the tournament of the … doctors. 

Rose bright and early for our daily visit to Dr. C  to be probed and photographed (on the inside! eek! it hasn’t gotten old yet).  Dr. C asked if I was “feeling ovulatory today.”  Yes! I have been directing good, pro-ovulation thoughts all day.  It’s hard work, too.

A brief panic when Dr. C adds “Oh, the follicle is collapsing.”  What?  Collapsing?  Buildings collapse. Civilizations collapse.  Tiny follicles do not collapse.  Turns out it was her fun way of saying that it had an oval shape rather than circle shape.  Really?  Word choice.  Please.  My heart.

At the risk of way too much gross detail, the now oval-shaped follicle is big and strong, and it was ready to be injected with magic hormones.  These magic hormones ensure that it is released in a timely fashion, ideally during business hours.  I hear it’s more effective than our other option, pro-ovulation thoughts + prayer (probably not the best strategy for two atheists).

I survive my jabs (like a champ, no less), we celebrate by buying tickets to Thailand for tonight and eating CPK. (Yes, there is California Pizza Kitchen in Singapore. Globalization is magic.)

Then, problems.

IUI planning is a bit of a math equation, but everyone has a different equation and very strong opinions that theirs is the only correct equation.

 

Bangkok clinic’s equation:   20+mm follicle + 11pm shot + 36 hours + IUI = BABY!

Dr C’s equation: 20+mm follicle + 8am shot + 24-48 hours + IUI = BABY!

 

These are different.  See the differences?  We got the 8am shot, so Bangkok clinic is not pleased.  They have so far suggested that we (a) wait 50 hours to do IUI (not in anyone’s equations), or (b) cancel the entire thing.  Checked back with Dr. C and she said that we could (a) wait 24 hours, (b) wait 36 hours, (c) wait 50 hours, and it wouldn’t matter. We tried to get the two parties to duke it out, but with no luck. Apparently they have other patients, or something.

Then there’s Google.  Everyone on Google also has their own equation. 24 hours is the best!  Oh, well you should do two IUIs, one at 12 hours and one at 36.  You should have sex, then have an IUI, then have sex again. You should get your IUI while standing on your head and reading Shakespeare (okay, maybe not exactly that last one). Pages and pages of very specific anecdotes, which are especially unhelpful because not only is every person is different, only some people are going through the same procedure as us, and even fewer are going through the exact same procedure with unknown fertility background and no fertility drugs. So we have no idea.

On the other hand, this feeling of stress and uncertainty is familiar. We’re back at the place where we usually are – having absolutely no clue what is going on, wishing we had taken more biology/anatomy classes in college, and strongly desiring an authoritative pamphlet.  There should be a pamphlet.  (More on the general lack of pamphlets to follow, I promise.)

– E


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Dr. C and the tournament of follicles

On Tuesday, we had our first appointment with our new queer-friendly OB/GYN at Mt. Elizabeth Hospital!

Dr. C is efficient and respectful and doesn’t seem at all bothered that we’re gay. (I don’t think much fazes Dr. C.) When we walked in together and E introduced me as her wife, Dr. C looked at me and asked, “Are you getting pregnant, too?” After I said no, she pretty much lost interest in me, but in a normal I-don’t-have-much-bedside-manner-and-you’re-not-my-concern kind of way that my dad-friends say they’ve also experienced as the non-baby-carrying parents.

Fair enough. As long as I’m allowed to support E when/where she wants my support. I wasn’t sure quite what to do with myself during ultrasound time, though. Dr. C pulled the curtain, so I hung out awkwardly and tried to get a look at the screen.

And creepily took this picture…

IMG_5401Anyway, the result of the appointment was that E’s follicles were still duking it out to see which one is going to be Egg of the Month. We have another appointment Monday to see if a champion has been crowned. If so, and if it’s achieved a certain level of growth, then Dr. C will give E the trigger shot (some kind of hormone cocktail that makes her ovulate according to a predictable schedule) and we’ll be off to Bangkok two days later for an insemination jamboree!

Things are finally coming together!

-H


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Updates on all the things (with a special guest appearance by Radiohead)

We’ve been enjoying answering your questions lately, but we also want to keep you up to speed on the process. So here are some updates!

On the topic of doctors

We have one! A gay-friendly one! In fact, she delivered our (gay) friends’ baby last year, so we know she’s comfortable with our crowd. At a minimum, she can do the follicle ultrasound thingy we need for the insemination, and if we like her, she’ll be E’s pregnancy and delivery doc. And if we don’t, we’ll have nine months to find someone else from our list.

On the topic of insurance

Yup, still have it. There’s a ten-month waiting period from the time we got insurance until the time the insurance starts covering any kind of maternity care or delivery (except complications to the delivery, which are covered anytime). The ten-month countdown started in early July, so an on-time delivery would now be covered even if we got pregnant today, which isn’t in the cards since we’re going to be really busy tonight watching Masters of Sex and eating tacos. (Also, we’d know if we were getting pregnant today because we’d be in Bangkok in a cold, sterile exam room.) The delivery is the main reason we bought the insurance: cost of uninsured delivery – cost of insurance = ~$5000. Maternity care is pretty inexpensive here anyway, so having the insurance cover any portion of that would just be bonus. So… baby-making can commence soon.

On the topic of my visa status

This didn’t really get resolved, but it did get less dire.

I’m still on the three-month tourist visa just as I have been for the last year, coming and going. When we applied for the Long Term Visit Pass, it was on a new passport since my old one was about to expire. On the plus side, the new one isn’t full of Singapore entry and exit stamps. But we were also worried that my failed application might have put a flag on my new passport such that I’d have trouble getting in again.

To find out before we got E pregnant, we went to Thailand for the weekend a few weeks back. On the way out, we discovered that Singapore Immigration doesn’t have my two passports linked. This was a problem because, in order to leave, you have to show that you came, and I didn’t have my old, voided passport on me. I’d assumed they’d be linked, especially since Singapore is a super high-tech country, but I actually had to go to a special desk and spent 15 minutes explaining the situation to an official who wanted my old passport number and the ticket I flew in on. That was a good discovery because it means my previous entries on the old passport won’t be visible electronically to future immigration officials. (Even an attempt to put my new passport through their photo recognition software only brought up the passport of an elderly Chinese man.)

On the way back into Singapore, the official didn’t give my passport a second glance. So it seems that there’s no flag on it, and I’m probably about where I was a year ago, seemingly on my second social visit to Singapore as a tourist.

With that in mind, I’m still applying for jobs, but I can be a little less frantic about it. I’m also going to the States for a research/writing trip for about a month this autumn, and then back to the States again for Christmas, so I will genuinely look like a frequent visitor to Singapore rather than someone who lives here.

Wow. Bureaucracy is boring. I’m sorry. There really wasn’t a way to spice that up.

But here’s a cool upshot of our visa run to Thailand: we got our Open Water Diver SCUBA certifications!

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(Photos by Jay Chance)

 

Yeah, it might seem silly, but getting SCUBA certified was one of our top 5 reasons for moving to Singapore, and we had to do it before E gets pregnant. Apparently, fetuses don’t respond well to intense underwater pressure (…also, this).

That’s all for updates at the moment. We’ll return to questions in the next couple of days.

-H


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Question Box Answers: second parent adoption

Here’s a question I’ve been putting off because we don’t really have a good answer for it:

“How will the legalities be handled with E having the baby and H being E’s spouse? (but not recognized as such everywhere) How does adoption work in such circumstances?”

Let’s start with this map, courtesy of wikipedia:

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Just before moving to Singapore, E and I lived in Michigan. We’re registered to vote in Michigan and have drivers licenses for Michigan. (For our non-American readers, Michigan is the one that looks like a mitten or, on this map, the red one in the north.) In theory, we could change our state since we don’t really live there anyway, but that’s complicated and usually involves demonstrating that we’ve set up a residence in our new state. Hard to do when, again, we don’t really live there. Realistically, we’re probably stuck with Michigan as our state until we move back to the US and take up residence elsewhere. (This isn’t strictly relevant to today’s topic, but for future reference, we were legally married in Illinois. Michigan does not recognize our marriage.)

So what does this map mean for us?

Assuming the situation is static (but hoping it’s not – c’mon SCOTUS!), it’s actually not clear what would happen in our situation. Michigan does not permit same-sex couples to adopt a child together, but there is no explicit prohibition on one partner adopting a child born to the other partner. Wikipedia calls this “stepparent adoption,” but it’s more commonly known as “second parent adoption,” even though these are technically different: stepparent adoption is for married couples, while second parent adoption is for a couple that isn’t married. But because some states are a little stingy with the marriage rights, a lot of co-parenting couples aren’t legally married, so second parent adoption is the more general term for everyone in that situation. (“Stepparent” also seems kind of misleading to me. I’m not adopting a child that E had as part of a previous relationship. I’m going to be there right from the start, as much a co-parent as E.)

Anyway, at present, Nessel & Kessel Law (no joke, that’s their name), the same firm that was part of Michigan’s DeBoer v. Snyder case back in March, is looking for same-sex Michigan couples who are legally married somewhere to file petitions for second parent adoptions to get the ball rolling on this issue.

As expats living in Asia, we’re obviously not ideal candidates, so we’re basically just waiting to see what happens, either with a Supreme Court ruling or a Michigan ruling. We’re confident that I’ll eventually be able to adopt our child, but it may be a little while.

In the meantime, we’re going to have some legal documents drawn up including a co-parenting agreement and a custody agreement. That way, everyone’s protected even if something bad happened to E or to our relationship. It’s not very romantic, and it’s definitely less joyful than signing my name to the birth certificate, but for the moment, it’s the closest we can have to an adoption.

I will leave you with the advice E was given last year by her former ob-gyn in Ann Arbor, MI: “Make sure you don’t put your girlfriend’s name on any legal paperwork. That way, if you break up, she won’t have any claim to your child.” Classy.

Send us more questions through our anonymous question box.

-H

 


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The way it felt to be so small

With great anticipation, H and I headed to Dr. T’s office today. We navigated the sea of pregnant and formerly pregnant mothers and their children, husbands, and mothers. They gave us a tiny, pink appointment book – a place to track my visits and plot my weight as I grow and release a tiny human. We took a seat and browsed through magazines for the medical centre that offered advice on surviving the “confinement period” (many new Chinese mothers stay inside with their newborn for the first 30 days) and dispelled purportedly common myths like that eating mutton will give your child epilepsy. A nurse called my name, and we moved closer to the front of the long, narrow room. She asked my height, my last period. She whispered in my ear “do you have inverted nipples?” Precise and discreet.

An hour later, we sat down with the doctor. He was warm, professional, and he walked us step by step through the process of prepping me for IUI in Bangkok – detailing the required scans and the necessary information we need to provide. Should things go well, would he be willing to deliver our baby? Many places we called so far had said no. He paused, and he said he’d be open to it, though he’d never done it before for a same-sex couple. We smiled, laughed – it was our first time too.

We paid our $128 bill for the consultation. The nurse pulled me aside, and asked me quietly, “Do you need any home ovulation kits? I have extra. “ She has a Thai friend who has undergone IUI there, and she offered to put me in touch with her. I wanted to cry.

Dr. T called two hours later. He had thought on it and prayed on it. He couldn’t help with the delivery; it wasn’t in his beliefs. He was very sorry. I asked whether he could at least help with what we had discussed – providing a routine ultrasound and a few blood test. He apologized. He was very sorry. He offered a refund.