Baby, plan your birth!

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


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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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Bull semen!

In Singapore, a doctor may not inseminate anyone but a married woman in a stable, heterosexual relationship. Even then, the sperm must be her husband’s or, if and only if they have demonstrated fertility problems, a donor’s.

We do not qualify. For so many reasons. This left two options: Inseminate E in another country, or play doctor in our apartment in Singapore. We began with the responsible option.

Enter, Google. One of the first hits in our search for fertility clinics in Asia was ivfmiraclebaby.com, a site that sometimes works. We exchanged a few incomprehensible emails with their international representative, and then dismissed them and moved on. This was March.

We spent weeks trawling through sites, ringing up clinics, and researching the laws of every country in Asia, and later, every country within ten hours of Singapore by plane. We made spreadsheets. We despaired. I will save you the details and summarize: there is no country in Asia (except Thailand – more on that in a minute) that will allow its doctors to inseminate a same-sex couple. We might have had more luck in one or two countries if we’d represented E as a single woman, but we hadn’t done that, and I don’t regret that decision. In farther flung countries (Australia, New Zealand, several countries in Europe), it is the importation of anonymous sperm that is not permitted.

In the midst of this search, we began to reconsider home insemination. We’d need to get the sperm shipped to Singapore, through Customs, and to our apartment. Singapore’s Customs website lists all kinds of prospective shipments with their regulations and duties. We learned that we can import bull semen, sheep semen, and goat semen. Human semen is not mentioned.

I emailed Singapore’s Customs Authority and Health Sciences Authority. The HSA wrote back first: “The importation of donor human sperm is not under the purview of Health Sciences Authority.”

Customs disagreed: “The import of human sperm under HS Heading 3001, may be regulated by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).” They added: “In addition, please be informed that, in general, all goods (including human sperm) imported into Singapore are subject to Goods and Services Tax (GST) levied at 7% of the CIF value (Cost, Insurance and Freight).

In short, no one seemed to know. It’s possible that no one’s tried this before. We abandoned this angle.

Thailand’s laws were more amenable to both the importation of anonymous sperm and the insemination of same-sex couples. Individual hospitals, however, we less eager to help. We were turned away from one after another.

In April, we revisited ivfmiraclebaby.com, which has its clinic in Bangkok, then the site of some relatively small-scale anti-government protests. We arranged a phone conversation with the international representative and made a list of questions. As it turned out, they were more than willing to import our baby-making juice and inseminate E, and the only barrier was language.

Shortly after, we transferred a few thousand dollars into a Thai bank account and crossed our fingers that we hadn’t fallen for some novel variation of the Nigerian prince scam. A few weeks later, we got an email saying that our sperm had arrived at the clinic in Thailand. A month after that, the political unrest became a full-fledged military coup. Martial law was imposed. Foreign embassies discouraged their citizens from traveling to Thailand. We stayed put.

The political situation in Thailand has since been resolved for now. The clinic still stands and is operating normally. If we can find a doctor here to do the ultrasounds required to line up the timing of insemination, we’ll fly to Bangkok in the next few months, meet the staff of ivfmiraclebaby.com, and start making this miracle baby.

-H


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Spermfinder! or Choosing a Pet Sperm

Based on E’s posts, some of you may wonder how we even got this far in the process, so I’m here to catch you up, starting with our adventures in getting hold of some xy genetic material.

We began the hunt for sperm in late 2013.

We’d already moved to Singapore and knew that, given our complicated legal status, this whole thing was going to be difficult. But we also knew that, given our complicated legal status, I wasn’t going to be employed during our three-year stay in Singapore. (E has a job here, which is what brought us to Singapore in the first place.) So while it’s a bad time/place to make a baby, it’s a great time/place to start raising a baby. We decided to go for it.

We considered a couple of avenues for the procurement of sperm, namely known donors and unknown donors. The choice was tough. On the one hand, we liked the idea of having more village. We thought it would be cool for our child to have some kind of relationship with the donor, placing him in sort of a godparent role. On the other hand, those situations sometimes go really horribly wrong, and the legal framework for these kinds of scenarios is still blurry. Not to mention the chance that we’d destroy a good friendship in the process.

Still, we thought we should find out whether any of our potential known donors would even be willing, just so we’d know our options. So we made a list of a few close male friends with excellent genes who we thought might possibly be comfortable with a very modern family structure, and then asked them. Really awkwardly. It was so awkward. All were gracious and lovely and ultimately worried about many of the same things we were, and in the end, we all decided that this wasn’t the way to go.

Enter the California Cryobank, or as we call it “Petfinder for Sperm.” This is a sperm bank with several locations in the US (that, importantly, ships overseas) that targets really high-quality donors and then narrows them down to a select set of unbelievably perfect people. If this sounds eugenicsy already, just you wait. The website’s donor profiles have paywalls protecting various levels of information (hopefully true, factual information). If you pay them enough money, you can get everything from SAT scores to baby pictures, voice samples to the cause of death of their maternal aunts. You can pick a blond, blue-eyed med student who was an All American swimmer. You can pick a tall, dark, and handsome guitar-playing engineer. You can pick so many out-of-work actors. There are hundreds of choices.

We started by eliminating the completely anonymous donors in favor of willing-to-be-known unknown donors so our future offspring would have the option of contacting the donor upon reaching adulthood. From there, we went for a donor that looks reasonably similar to me since I’m to be the non-biological parent. Fortunately, that narrowed it down quite a lot. Curly hair does that. We finally reduced our choices to a few candidates and shelled out for the voice samples so we could hear them chat with the clinic staff. This was a good idea. One of the men was clearly an asshole, and while that’s probably not genetic, if our kid is going to be contacting this guy in 20 years feeling all vulnerable and hopeful, the last thing we want is some insensitive jerk on the other end of that conversation.

Finally, we picked one.

I’ll stop there for now. But in my next post, I’ll tell all you interested readers about the process of finding a country in which we can do the insemination. Spoilers: it’s definitely not Singapore…. or Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, or New Zealand.

 

-H