A Conversation with Candace Wohl of Our Misconception
Here at Circle+Bloom, we consider the entire month of April to be dedicated to Infertility Awareness (the official National Infertility Awareness Week is April 21-27). To honor this important issue, we’re featuring the stories of two women who have bravely and openly shared their own journeys with infertility – both in their own public blogs, and here with us and our Circle+Bloom community. In fact, both of these women were featured in our blog series, What Doctors Don’t Tell You About IVF.
Today, we’re talking with Candace Wohl. Now ten years into their fertility journey, Candace and her husband Chris have a 4-year-old daughter who was born by surrogacy, and are having their second child soon with the help from a second surrogate (or as they call her, their Wondrous Wombmate). Candace and Chris share their infertility journey on their blog, Our Misconception.
Two Scary Diagnoses
Very early in their marriage, Chris was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That put everything into perspective for the couple. They decided if Chris recovered, they would prioritize their family.
“Life was going to happen around us if we didn’t start putting into motion what we wanted,” Candace explained.
They started out like every other couple, “with wine, romance, and Barry White,” she told me. “But nothing worked.”
They started by going to Candace’s OB/GYN for help. There they underwent six IUIs, none of which were successful.
“If I could go back in time, I would say to myself, ‘Darlin’, why are you going to an OB/GYN for fertility treatment?”
When the IUIs didn’t work, the couple moved on to work with a Reproductive Endocrinologist for Infertility (REI).
The next stage of treatment was six rounds of IVF and FETs, with five surgeries in-between. Sadly, during that time, Candace was diagnosed with hyperplasia (an increase in the reproduction rate of cells that leads to thickening of the uterine lining, and is often an initial stage in the development of cancer). This developed into complex hyperplasia, which turned into the beginning stages of uterine cancer.
Candace and Chris were given one last try to make it work. Their sixth IVF cycle was filmed for MTV’s award-winning True Life Documentary, “I’m Desperate to Have a Baby”. Sadly, this one failed, too.
“When the last one failed, I started making arrangements for a hysterectomy,” Candace explained. “Then we started fundraising for adoption.”
Changing Course: Adoption
“When we learned that last round was negative, the MTV TV crews were there with us. I pulled up my big girl pants, wiped my tears, grabbed my bottle of wine, opened it up, and asked who wanted to go to adoption agencies with us. I scheduled 3 appointments for the following day, and the MTV crew came along.”
Candace and Chris had exhausted all of their savings on IVF. Despite negative feedback from some people, they undertook fundraising to help them gather the resources needed to adopt.
“We were called ‘tacky’. People said to us, “If you can’t afford this, how can you afford to have a child?” It was hurtful, but they were determined. “I would say back to people, ‘Do you have all of your child’s daycare right now, up front, in one check?’ When you buy a car, how do you pay for it? People who have a disease that is not covered by insurance do not have the option of a payment plan.”
They would be perfect parents, but because Chris and Candace had both had cancer, it would be challenging finding an adoption agency that was willing to work with them.
Surrogacy: The Option We Had Never Considered
While they were beginning to meet with adoption agencies and exploring their options, they received an unexpected message via social media.
“My friend’s little sister, who had been a surrogate before, reached out to offer to be a surrogate for us,” Candace said. “We had never before considered surrogacy as an option. At all. But hell hath no fury like a woman who wants a child. We discussed it with my mom, who was adopted. She told us that it’s not everyday that someone offers to carry your baby. And we had two embryos left.”
In June 2014, Candace and Chris become parents to their little “jellybean” after seven years of struggling with infertility.
Looking back on that long period of hardship, Candace tells me, “None of it is easy. IVF, surrogacy, none of it. There is no easy path. IVF was the 10k, surrogacy is the marathon; emotionally, financially, and in legal terms. You give up a lot of things that you had envisioned. You give up on that car ride in labor, feeling your baby kick, buying and wearing maternity clothes. You give up so much, and then you give up your pride because you’re watching this unselfish woman labor and give up so much of herself to bring your baby into the world.” She continues, clarifying, “None of this is said to demean the amazingness of surrogacy. It IS amazing, and we’re so appreciative. But you’re also sad for yourself because of what you miss out on.”
When their daughter was born, Candace succeeded in giving mother natural a big ole’ middle finger and induced lactation in her own body.
“I was able to breastfeed my own daughter,” she said with pride. “My body has robbed me of so much; I decided I was gonna take some of it back.”
A Sibling for Jellybean
When their daughter was two years old, an acquaintance approached Chris and Candace with the offer to do a second surrogacy. After a full year of building a contract, testing, and another round of IVF, the surrogate backed out the day before the transfer.
“I had gone through stimulation (without a uterous or fallopian tubes, which was very painful), and we lost $24,000. Depression set in.”
Their daughter had been asking for a sibling. It was a heartbreaking time.
“An IVF fail after you already have a child means you’re going through a lot of duress under cloak and dagger,” Candace explained. “You’re darting into a bathroom and taking a shot with a child banging on the door asking what you’re doing. Then when you have a failed response, you have to balance normal for your family. You have to smile, make sure they’re happy and unaffected by your grief. You can only grieve in the shower, on the ride home after you drop them off at school. It’s scheduled grieving.”
After that loss, Candace says it took a focused effort on taking care of herself to pull her out of depression.
“I couldn’t let it get to me. I grabbed my big girl pants and put them on, changed counsellors, did some meditation, focused on self-care, woke up early and had a warm cup of tea undisturbed. Once a day, I found something that would bring me joy. That’s important. You can’t pour into others if your cup is empty. When I feel that empty mark hit, I say, ‘It’s time for some self-care.’ It could be just an extra-long shower, it could just be some yoga.”
Together, the couple decided to think about their end game. How much longer would they try to grow their family? How much more money, how much more time?
“When would enough be enough?” Candace explained. “I was happy with our family of three. My husband was grieving in his own way and wanted to keep going. We had three new embryos. If we didn’t use them, our other option was to donate them to another infertile couple. We couldn’t bring ourselves to donate this child that we wanted to someone else. We met in the middle: if we didn’t find anything by the end of the summer of 2018, that was it.”
In July 2018, Chris was approached at his gym by someone he worked out with. He had learned about Chris and Candace’s struggle to have children during a church small group, and his wife was interested in becoming a gestational carrier.
“That moved fast,” Candace said. “We’re 22 weeks now. And jellybean is over the moon excited about her new baby brother or sister.”
Parenting After Infertility
Thinking back over their infertility journey and where they are today, Candace focuses in on the challenges of parenting with (and after) infertility.
“Parenting after infertility shouldn’t mean forgetting infertility,” she emphasizes. “People are scared to share their story because they are scared and ashamed of a disease. But they shouldn’t be ashamed of a disease. We are very open with our daughter about surrogacy. There are many books that help explain it on a child’s level. She knows that our surrogate is carrying her baby brother or sister, and the surrogate is a kangaroo carrying the baby Joey that mommy and daddy put there to grow.”
Candace wants to urge other people who have children through IVF, surrogacy, and adoption to explain their story to their children. “It’s their story, too. It’s part of who they are.”
She is looking years into the future, when her own children are grown and considering starting families of their own. Toward future generations of would-be mothers and fathers.
“We can do so much more to help the next you so your child doesn’t need to have the same hurt, shame, and stigma.” Candace continues, “We can change the social response and future for our kids. It starts with advocating changes in legislation and being open. I get frustrated with people who put their journey in a box on the shelf and hide it away. It’s time to make a change for the future.”
Thank you, Candace, for sharing your family’s story with us. Candace Wohl is actively involved in advocacy for infertility issues for organizations including Resolve. Learn more about her story and her work at Our Misconception.
Our Circle+Bloom guided meditation programs can support and help you during your fertility journey. Find the program that best fits your needs, such as the Egg Donation Program (for the hopeful parent and donor), or the Frozen Embryo Transfer program.
With love & gratitude,