Monday, September 10, 2007

Sister's Love Offered Her Another Chance At bbaby

Stephanie M. Caballero

By Anna Chang-Yen

I could feel the air leaving my lungs, with nothing to replace it. Each second was more agonizing with the realization of what I had heard.

We could not have children of our own.

There was no chance.

In seconds, I imagined Christmases not seasoned with innocent laughter and screeching at the surprises from Santa's sleigh. No first steps, no first days of school, no graduations, no sharing hard-learned life lessons.

There, in the results of laboratory tests, lay all the little moments I treasured before they even existed, dashed into a million bits.

I breathed quickly and sobbed loudly. How could the doctor walk into that exam room, deliver a blow so crippling, then simply walk out again?

My husband, David, pulled me close and let me break down.

I remember feeling immediately as if it was impossible to go on.

But there was one possibility, one way to the other side, sitting excruciatingly — if only momentarily — out of reach.

For a small fortune, we could use someone else's eggs. My own ovaries refused to function, but someone else's could do the work. In vitro fertilization using donor eggs — that was possible. "An anonymous donor " I heard the doctor saying, "or a friend, a relative " and then: "a sister."


Until now, we had shared clothes, hairbrushes, friends and life experiences. But the doctor implied that my sister and I might share more.

There were times when we gave such cursory consideration to our bond as sisters.

She was a year and a half older than me and stamped her foot in protest when I tagged along to slumber parties and on school trips. I hated sharing clothes and being "Shanna's little sister."

They called us Shanna'n'Anna, a label that made us both cringe for want of individuality.

As adults, we discovered the importance of the bond we shared, of having come from the same place. I marveled at her strength as she gave birth to two girls.

As it became clear that I was having trouble conceiving, Shanna told me many times that she would help however she could — even offering to be a surrogate.

I dialed her number without thinking. I ran through the few facts I knew about egg donation, and she was undeterred by the difficulty of the task.

Her strength lay so close to the surface.

You couldn't ask for a surer thing. In the prime of her fertility, and at no lack for devotion, she was everything I could ask for.

Ebbs, flows

Since that first day almost two years ago in the doctor's office, while my husband and I have saved money for the procedure, I have found my strength and lost it again dozens of times over. Strength, it seems these days, is bought and sold in fear.

There are times I am too afraid to go on, terrified of disappointment, and times I'm petrified at the thought of never having tried.
From days at amusement parks, to dances and days at the park, sisters Anna Chang-Yen and Shanna Brittian have spent a lifetime sharing the bond of family. And now they have become even closer as Brittian donates her eggs to help Chang-Yen in her attempt to become pregnant.

Photo courtesy of Anna Chang-Yen

From days at amusement parks, to dances and days at the park, sisters Anna Chang-Yen and Shanna Brittian have spent a lifetime sharing the bond of family. And now they have become even closer as Brittian donates her eggs to help Chang-Yen in her attempt to become pregnant.

But finally, we had selected a new doctor and set a date.

And now, here it is at last.

On Wednesday, hope and medical science will rendezvous at the Thousand Oaks offices of Dr. Ashim Kumar.

I am continually amazed at the price of this journey — not in dollars and cents but in the sacrifice required, which Shanna so eagerly makes: hour-and-a-half drives to a poking, prodding specialist; coordinating coast to coast, from her home in South Carolina to mine in Oxnard; injections of drugs that could make her feel full and bloated; and a procedure that will require general anesthesia and a generous dose of discomfort.

Then, there are the psychological and emotional aspects of playing the role of aunt to a child who will be biologically her own.

We were raised with an unconditional love for family, and while this task is becoming the ultimate test, she is making it look like light work.

Gifts of life

There are so many things that one can buy these days to make life easier: gadgets and gizmos, aids and supplements, prosthetics and prescriptions.

But there are few people who you can depend on to do for you the things that really matter.

I continue to marvel at the fact that someone from whom so much has been exacted has still more to give.

It's no secret that her life has required sacrifice. She's a hard worker who has kept dinner on the table for her two girls by doing whatever it takes.

She tells me that as long as she's capable of helping, it is the only thing she knows to do.

But I am certain that her heart must know the magnitude of this gift.

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about probabilities. What is the probability that so many things in one's physical body could go wrong, and that so much in one's personal and family life could be so inspired? Surely it must be infinitesimal.

For all the times I've asked in self-pity, "Why me?" I must ask the same question for the good fortune of having her.

Even if this journey should end short of creating a new life, it will at least be an affirmation of a sister's love.

For now, I can only say a pre-emptive thank you, for a gift of such magnitude that it seems failed by words.
E.W. Scripps Co.

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