Like so many other amazing women in the fertility community, Monica Wunderman is the definition of strength and resilience. At 22 she was diagnosed with uterus didelphys, a rare condition where two uteruses develop instead of one. The road from there was a long one and she and her husband are still traveling it. They are now working with a surrogacy agency and eagerly @waitingforbabyWunder while documenting their journey and connecting with others on a similar path. Monica shares with us her emotional story, why they decided to work with an agency for their surrogacy journey, how supportive the online fertility community is and the 3 pieces of advice she’s finding most valuable along the way.
The wonderful Monica Wunderman and her husband
1. It’s been quite a journey – which you’re still in the midst of. Your strength and resilience is so admirable – can you share your fertility story?
Thank you so much. Strength is a funny thing, I think it’s easy to see strength in others or perhaps in hindsight. There are definitely days I don’t feel strong at all, but when I look back on what I have been through and continue to tackle, I think, wow, it’s been a lot and I’m still here and finding ways to smile!
Our fertility journey really started long before I was even close to ready to start a family, and even before I met my husband Ben. When I was around 22 I went to my routine annual, and during my pelvic exam my new OBGYN discovered a vaginal septum- something I knew was there but didn’t know was abnormal. Such a lesson in how little women are educated about their own bodies! I must have had a really great doctor because she had the sense to immediately conduct an ultrasound where she discovered what she believed were 2 wombs, 2 cervices, and also a kidney in my pelvis. Because I was young, single, and no one thought to mention what future issues I may experience as it related to my fertility, I went on with my life and didn’t think too much of it – except that I finally understood why tampons never worked for me! (TMI? What really is TMI in the world of infertility?).
Fast forward to 2015, my husband and I had our first and only ever positive pregnancy test. It was unplanned, but very wanted, and unfortunately short lived. We were advised to medically terminate the pregnancy, as the implantation location posed a risk to myself as well as to the baby. It was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. At the time I remember asking my husband – ‘what if this is our only chance?’ Of course, in the case of so many other young women, I was assured that I was young and we would have no trouble once my anatomy was sorted out. We have never since had a positive pregnancy test.
In 2019 we began trying with more intention, having been given the conclusive Uterus Didelphys diagnosis, but having been cleared by a high-risk OB that it was safe for us to try to conceive naturally. After over a year of trying, I knew something was wrong. I had been told it could take longer than normal for us as I ovulate alternately every other month into each uterus, making it hard to know which side is ovulating! I did a fertility panel blood draw and the results showed that in addition to Uterus Didelphys I also had Diminished Ovarian Reserve- around ⅓ of the follicles you would expect to see on a 32 year old. With access to only half of those follicles through intercourse due to my anatomy, it was highly unlikely I would be able to conceive without intervention.
After some delays due to COVID and a change of clinic, we finally found our biggest cheerleader and hero, Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, “The Egg Whisperer”. She was team Wunderman from Day 1 and determined to get us our golden egg. Unfortunately our first round of IVF failed, with none of my 6 retrieved eggs growing past fertilization. We were crushed, but Dr. Aimee doesn’t give up that easily. 3 months later, a change of protocol, and somehow all of our 5 eggs retrieved became beautiful blasts, 3 of them testing PGS normal!
We were shocked, and so excited to move forward to transfer, but Dr. Aimee was really concerned not only with my anatomy – pregnancy with Uterus Didelphys poses a higher risk of late term miscarriage among other complications – she was also concerned about my pelvic kidney, which she had been able to observe many times over ultrasound. My whole adult life I have experienced pelvic pain during ovulation and during my period, and I had always assumed it was probably worse because of my uteri and high likelihood of endometriosis, but scans revealed that my kidney sits on top of my ovary and the two really impact one another.
I was referred to a urologist, who upon further inspection of my scans agreed that my kidney posed a major risk to a pregnancy. Because of its location the kidney could be severely impacted and the risks could be life threatening to me, in addition to the risks to the baby we were already aware of because of my 2 uteri. Ultimately, with the best team I could imagine, we all agreed, as hard as it was for me to accept, that we would need a surrogate to carry for us.
It was a hard pill to swallow, we have already been through so much and been down such a long road, and this final decision felt like even more was being taken away from us. But in the end, surrogacy relieves my body of the pressure to do something that it just wasn’t made to do. Our goal is to have a healthy baby and surrogacy is our clear path forward. As hard as it is, we also feel very blessed to have the option.
2. Why did you decide to work with a surrogacy agency?
Working with a surrogacy agency was the only route we seriously considered. We did have a friend who offered to carry for us, but in our hearts the burden on the relationship felt too great on both sides. The great thing about working with our doctor, was that the moment she suggested surrogacy, she also came armed with agency suggestions and even profiles she had already vetted for us. She made all the introductions to each agency, and so our interview process was very streamlined. We have such incredible faith in our doctor, we knew any agency she had worked with and was recommending would not be a wrong choice. We are incredibly fortunate to have had that kind of support, which now having met more Intended Parents, I realize is not the norm. Without her guidance and expertise, I think we would have found the process really overwhelming (or more overwhelming than it already is!).
Of course we did not yet know about GoStork at the time. What you are doing fills such a gap in the information available to couples like us, who without the guidance of our very unique RE, would be scouring online forums for advice and manually sifting through many agencies that are out there. I’ve spoken to other women and have joined a few support groups for Intended Parents, and it seems pretty common to find others that are struggling not only to find a match, but that also are overwhelmed by the nuances of the whole process. I love that your platform is working to make the process easier and more transparent.
Working with an agency provides us just that much more support and guidance – from providing a list of vetted gestational carriers, to providing resources and instruction surrounding insurance, finance, and legal representation. For us, this is already an extremely emotional journey, not to mention a huge financial responsibility, and going through an agency has eliminated some of the hurdles we would have faced on our own.
I know that going through an agency is not the choice that all Intended Parents choose to or even want to make, but in our case I am really glad we did. We know how fortunate we have been to have the support from Dr. Aimee, because the whole process is pretty daunting.
3. Your instagram @waitingforbabywunder is growing into a generous and inspiring support system for many other intended parents. What has this social media/fertility community come to mean to you – how has sharing your voice and experience while also learning from and engaging with others, helped you along the way?
Thank you so much! When I created my account I had been a weird stalker to a few other infertility accounts for a few months. I was in a really low place and feeling very alone. We had just been through our first failed round of IVF and I had no one to turn to that could really understand.
A beautiful woman kind of noticed me silently just liking her posts from my “personal” account, and reached out to me and asked if I needed support, and she ultimately encouraged me to make my account and to share. I could cry just writing about it. This exchange represents to me, in a nutshell, what the entire social media infertility community means to me. It has been pure love and understanding on such a deep level. I had no idea that this entire world existed in this space, and I am so grateful for it.
I began my account to act as a sort of diary, just a way to get my feelings out there and have a place to process everything I was going through. I had no idea the meaningful relationships I would make, nor how much I would learn about the many and varied struggles we face, not just as infertiles, but as women generally.
I’ve become quite passionate about women’s health and fertility advocacy, something I never envisioned. And for all the love, support, and advice I have received and have witnessed, I just want to be able to give it back. I never expected that anyone would be interested in my words or in following my journey. I hope that by sharing I can help others in similar positions to feel less isolated and maybe more hopeful, just as others have been able to do for me.
It’s a very give and take community. We show up for each other.
4. What advice would you give to intended parents on GoStork – who are just beginning their family building journey?
I have been given 3 pieces of advice during our surrogacy journey that have really stuck with me, they may not resonate with everyone but it’s what I have found valuable.
The first piece was to view this process as a business transaction. You are paying for a service. Of course it is not as simple as that. Whether you are looking for an egg donor, surrogate, or even just starting out on your fertility journey – all of it is incredibly emotionally charged. But ultimately YOU are the customer and parent and this is your life and family you are planning, and you need to be happy with the service you are paying for. Using a platform like GoStork adds that level of transparency that I think is sometimes lacking when first starting out on putting your team together.
This leads into the next piece of advice: if something feels off, it probably is. Trust your instincts. Advocate for yourself. You need to be 100% on board with the choices you make. You need to trust your doctor, your agency, your surrogate, your team. That isn’t to say there won’t be little bumps along the way. But these choices can affect the rest of your life, so don’t let other people dictate your outcome without your permission.
Finally – ask questions. Ask all the questions. We’ve all been told there are no dumb questions at some point in our life, and I can guarantee most of us have been too shy to ask at some point for fear of looking bad. Don’t let that prevent you from asking any and all the questions you want. Every bit of infertility is complex and largely unknown to any Intended Parent trying to navigate it – and surrogacy especially is even more of a question mark to most than other aspects of the world of infertility. We deserve to understand all of the who, what, when, where, why, and hows of our own story.
Thank you for sharing your story and documenting your journey, Monica – as you continue to walk through your own experience, you’re becoming an inspiration to so many others.
Intended parents, follow Monica on Instagram @waitingforbabywunder for truly heartfelt, educational and inspiring posts.