Taxes, Compensation/Reimbursement & Maternity Leave

33 weeks…

Christmas decorations have been put away, confetti has been swept, bowl games have been won. While everyone trudges through the post-holiday letdown- working diligently on those New Year’s resolutions- W2s and 1099s are rolling in for dreaded (or not) tax season. Another one of the primary questions I get about being a gestational carrier- that goes hand-in-hand with asking how much I actually make- is ‘How is the money paid out, and how does it get applied at tax time?’ And this, my friends, is where things get a little less black and white…

As a gc, you are compensated/reimbursed for many things- clothes, mileage (if applicable), time off work (if written into your contract), additional medical procedures (DNC, c-sections, etc), and the delivery itself. At the beginning of the pregnancy, it is common for you to receive a set payment for the embryo transfer, positive pregnancy confirmed via blood test, and a clothing allowance. Depending on the language and structure of the contract, the gc will receive monthly incremental payments toward the total, and the remaining lump sum post-delivery.

Regarding the compensation/reimbursement amounts and tax liability, your best and safest bet is always to consult your accountant or call directly to the IRS (though you should be prepared to be given different answers if you call more than once). Semantics play a huge role here. Most carriers will say that the money received is not taxable because it is paid out for pain and suffering, or as reimbursement for food, clothing, housing, travel, etc. You do not (typically) receive a 1099 from your agency (if you are signed with one), and (at this time) the intended parents are not able to deduct their costs.

Although you are not keeping the baby, you will still be going through the same experience of pregnancy and childbirth (obviously)- whether the delivery occurs vaginally or via c-section- as you would if the baby was your own. Because of this, you are also still entitled to maternity leave, employed or not. Similar to tax consequences, these are i’s you want dotted, and t’s you want crossed prior to your final contract being written. You should check with your company’s HR to verify they will allow a paid leave per company and insurance policy. If you are not covered via your own insurance, or if you are self/unemployed, you can write additional amounts into your compensation to cover any downtime you experience. It is important to note that you can negotiate anything you want when the contract is being written (ie- child assistance if on bed rest, reimbursement for work missed and not paid, pumping breast milk, etc).

As you can see, when it comes to compensation/reimbursement received as a gestational carrier, there is more grey than black and white. There will be similarities among contracts, but unlikely that any two will be identical…just like the overall experiences themselves. My experience carrying this little lady is nearing its end, with just over 6 weeks to go. Until then, stay tuned while my family grows another

The final weeks

32 weeks…

With less than 8 weeks left until little miss makes her official debut into this big, crazy world, life is busier than ever. This pregnancy is by far the fastest I have had, and that is in large part thanks to my own kids and their always-full dance cards. It would seem that pregnancy as a gestational carrier could drag- after all, we aren’t prepping nurseries, stocking up on needed baby gear, choosing pediatricians, or attending baby showers. Add to that the fact that as a gc, you know you are pregnant (or at least anticipate that you are) from about 2 weeks instead of the normal 6-8 weeks. But you would be surprised how fast the time actually goes, and these last weeks for me will be the quickest yet. So what do the final weeks of pregnancy as a gestational carrier look like…?

  • Nesting: As it turns out, your body doesn’t care that the baby you are carrying isn’t yours. The nesting instinct is still there, but may present somewhat differently. For example, today I went and purchased paint supplies, and tomorrow I will buy the actual paint. My big project for the next couple of weeks will be repainting all of the walls and trim in my house. I am also reorganizing my cabinets and pantry, and am mentally redecorating the entire house. lol
  • Shopping: I said I wouldn’t do it, but have you seen all of the cute baby clothes and items available these days?! I may have picked up a few things here and there to surprise her parents.
  • Journaling: Keeping track of my thoughts, feelings, and special moments has been important to me since minute one. But as the days and weeks tic by, and her birth draws closer, it is a time of additional reflection as I prepare to give her to her family.
  • Prep: In the coming weeks I will pack my hospital bag. Though I have a scheduled c-section, I want to be prepared just in case. I will also be making arrangements for my 2 human kids and 5 fur kids (who wants to help??) for while I am in the hospital. As a general precaution, I will verify that my financial affairs are in order, and bills are paid in advance. Again…You never know.
  • Hospital tour: Not for me, sillies! We all know this is not my 1st rodeo. The family flew in for a visit at the end of last week to see the bump for the first time (and feel her wiggle), go to my OB appointment, meet my doc, and tour the labor and delivery wing of the hospital (appropriately called the ‘Miracle Life Center‘). They were overwhelmed by how kind and gracious the staff of both places were, and many hugs were exchanged as faces were finally matched with names. I was given my required RhoGam shot. A copy of the approved pre-birth order was passed along for review. We discussed what will happen on delivery day and after (more on that later). Items were crossed off the to-do list.

When we walked out of the hospital and turned one last time to look at the sign above the doors, I asked them how they felt knowing that the next time they walk through them, they would be carrying their sweet baby girl. After more than 12 years, in less than 8 weeks, they will leave the Miracle Life Center with their miracle baby. Until then, stay tuned while my family grows another

Resolution: Fit pregnancy

31 weeks…

Today is the day of resolutions, promises we plan to keep, but know somewhere deep down that chances are good we won’t. Sound like you? Yeah, me too. I’ve committed to making this year one of personal growth, in many aspects of my life. I tend not to set weight-loss goals as New Year’s resolutions because it hasn’t historically worked for me. That being said, I am t-minus 8 weeks until my 3rd c-section and subsequent need to lose weight, so……. Like most of the world, I WILL be setting myself some physical goals for 2019. Luckily, I committed to having a fit pregnancy- mind, body, and soul– (via a vegetarian diet, yoga, strength training, and cardio) prior to my embryo transfer in hopes that I would have a healthier pregnancy and baby, maintain more energy, sleep better, help my strength and balance, and encourage my body to ‘snap back’ faster after my surgery. So how am I shaping up so far…??

If we are talking numbers, I have gained a total (so far) of 20lbs. I feel like I want to * that number, though. lol. I was 125 the day I received the embryo transfer. Until I was 12 weeks pregnant, I lost weight…Quite a bit, actually. This is super common and no big deal. But at week 20, I watched the number on the scale creep up daily to the 145 I saw this morning. Per the fertility clinic (and my contract), I was not to lift anything heavier than 10lbs until I was 10 weeks pregnant. Because this isn’t my baby, I followed that to the letter…Or number, I suppose. I didn’t want to take any chances. During that time, however, I ate pretty much whatever I wanted. Not proud of that, but life is about balance, right? And why not enjoy one of the perks of pregnancy- I am eating for 2, after all, so no one would shame me for smashing a bag of powdered donuts or a package of ‘sharing-size’ peanut M&M’s (though technically I was sharing them…with the baby).

At 10 weeks I had my first appointment with my regular OB and he said I was clear to exercise, lift, etc. So back to the gym I went. And boy did I get in my head. I never previously shied away from lifting in the main part of the gym (as opposed to in the fitness room where the girls are expected to go), but I found myself in this weird sort of exercise purgatory. I wanted to lift what I was used to, but I was still somewhat restricted and leery of potentially harming the pregnancy. Add to that the fact that in the 10 weeks I spent away from the gym, plus eating whatever I wanted to, plus my quickly growing bump…Well…Let’s just say I wasn’t looking especially fit, and I hated being seen and potentially judged. I was in that stage pregnant women have where you cannot tell if they are pregnant or if they missed one too many lift sessions. Annnnnnd my exercise clothes were already getting snug on my lumpy body. Before I knew it, I found myself nitpicking my body and on some days even disgusted with how I looked. To top it all off, I caught myself anxious after each workout, worried that I did too much. So I would check the baby’s heart rate and Google away, seeing what the popular sites suggested as acceptable workouts while pregnant. But I found myself weighed down (see what I did there?) by my limitations and what I couldn’t do. Something had to change…And it was my mindset.

So I decided from that point forward I would take an all-around positive approach to my current situation. I was going to have a fit pregnancy and focus on what I could do to make my goals happen, instead of on my limitations. At my next OB appointment, I took a list of exercises I wanted to do, and asked my doc if they were safe for me and the baby. Because I am paranoid, I checked back in with him at my next couple of appointments to verify I was not pushing things too far. I wanted to make sure that in my effort to have a fit pregnancy, and set myself up for the best-case scenario post pregnancy, that I wasn’t doing any damage to my body- especially my abs (and planks are my favorite, so I had to be sure). He encouraged me to listen to my body and take it easy on the days where I really wasn’t ‘feeling’ it. Cardio and yoga were both suggested as super gentle ways to keep fit and strong, physically and mentally.

For 20 weeks now I have stuck to my commitment and my new outlook. I visit the gym at least 4 times a week and do something, though it is my goal to lift and do at least 30 minutes of cardio, which is typically incline walking at a brisk pace. But if there is a day where I just feel tired, I simply lift or do cardio, or skip that gym day altogether…And I don’t beat myself up about it. As if the Universe knew I was in need, my yoga studio- Pulse Yoga and Fitness (located at 116 S Main St, Marysville, OH 43040 http://www.pulseyogafitness.com/) started Pre-natal Yoga sessions and they have been a game changer. It has become a bit more challenging as my belly resembles a basketball more by the day, but I leave each stretch sesh feeling stronger, more balanced, and restored. On the days I lift, do cardio, and have yoga class, I feel especially amazing! And being back to yoga has reminded me of the importance of mindfulness and daily meditation, which I have incorporated into my schedule. I try to eat every hour, though this has been my first pregnancy where not only do I not have cravings, but nothing sounds especially good. Fuji apples have been my go-to, so I stock up. I drink a TON of water. A. Ton. And while my skin looks fabulous, I make very frequent trips to the loo. If the mood strikes and I want something more tasty than it is healthy, I go ahead and indulge. I’m happy to report that because of this change of mindset, my physical exercise, and meditation, I am sleeping better than ever, have a ton of energy, and feel absolutely fantastic- mind, body, and soul!

Not too long from now, I will see if my hard work and commitment has paid off. Is ‘snapping back’ a real thing if you aren’t a celebrity with a chef and trainer? Only time will tell. I have 8 weeks left until I deliver, and then the real work begins. Until then, stay tuned while my family grows another…

>>Photo credit to Emily Olsen, owner of Pulse Yoga and Fitness Studio in Marysville, Ohio

 

 

Miracle baby

30 weeks…

Babies are blessings, and if there is ever a day we are reminded of this in full force, it is today, when so many celebrate a baby whose conception and birth were nothing short of a miracle. Calm down, calm down. This is not a religious post, but we simply cannot talk about babies, on this day, without acknowledging the significance and parallel. Anyone who doesn’t feel all the wonder that babies encompass has likely not spent years trying, praying, hoping and wishing for a child. Maybe you haven’t experienced a pregnancy loss, and/or the disappointment of the dreaded ‘Not Pregnant‘ indicator on a home pregnancy test. Honestly, I wish that for everyone who wants a baby of their own. Unfortunately, that isn’t the reality for some…

Per the Center for Disease Control as of 4/18/18 (https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm), ‘About 6% of married women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying (infertility). Also, about 12% of women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, regardless of marital status (impaired fecundity).’ These statistics are staggering, but one ironic side-effect makes the numbers even more devastating if you are one of the 6 or 12% experiencing infertility: Though you are in good company with your frustrating struggle, you likely feel completely alone…I know I did.

For so many couples, the road to baby seems endless and sometimes impossible. I’ve never hear the word ‘miracle‘ used so frequently as I have since being involved as a gestational carrier. In almost every correspondence with this family, they thank me for giving them their miracle baby- one they tried, hoped, wished, and prayed for for over 10 years. With some folks wanting to expand their family, a gc becomes their final source of hope- their last-ditch, all-in effort…And the bond between the intended parents and carrier is almost magical. On the day of my embyro transfer with this baby, the air was electric and the energy was so positive. The pic for this post was one of many taken before and after the embryo was transferred to me. We drove back to the hotel, and while we sat and reflected on the day and what it could possibly mean for them, I scrolled through the pictures I took and came across the one used for this post. I was amazed to see what appeared to be the image of an infant nursing! My breath caught; I was in awe. I just knew it worked and that as of that transfer an hour prior, I was carrying their miracle baby. In 9 short weeks, it will be their turn to carry this sweet little girl. Until then, stay tuned while my family grows another…

C is for C-Section

29 weeks…

At around 10 weeks pregnant, I was released into the care of my regular, local OBGYN. A first OB appointment as a gestational carrier is not that much different than having one for a pregnancy with your own baby…And because almost all agencies require their GCs to have already had children of their own, the visit should feel pretty textbook and familiar. You will be asked the same questions, fill out the same paperwork, submit the same insurance info (unless the intended parents purchased a separate/additional policy), and do the same tests/labs (which by this point will seem like a cake walk). Because your OB has to initially clear you to carry, he/she should not be overly surprised to see you back for this first pre-natal visit. Seems pretty textbook, right? So…Is anything different with a GC pregnancy?

I may have mentioned this before, but it is important to note again. My OB has delivered all 4 of the children I have given birth to thus far (two of my own and the GC twins, who are now 4). He will deliver this baby girl as well, on February 28th. This stipulation is one of the few I have in my contract. To be honest, he is the only person I trust to take care of me during a pregnancy and delivery. And many in his office know me pretty well after 15 years (Dave the Sonographer, I’m talking about you). But turnover at a doctor’s office happens, so of course there are people there who don’t, or haven’t yet caught on that I am a carrier. Enter unintentional awkward questions. The gal at the front desk took a minute to understand why MY family’s genetic history doesn’t matter for this pregnancy when filling out my forms. There were also more conversations than I would like to have about insurance payments and who is paying for the baby, when, and how (for the record, I pay up front, immediately, as we go using my policy, and the parents reimburse me). With the twins, the intended parents were local, and gay, so I always had two guys accompanying me to my appointments…Most pregnant women don’t travel with an adult entourage. Sometimes conversations about the pregnancy, changes to my body, and its functions, etc could get awkward in front of people (and 2 guys at that) I was not in an intimate relationship with. And let’s not talk about when I had internal exams to see if I was dilated! But, hey! We are all adults here. Just as awkward, or maybe just lonely, is going through the appointments for this pregnancy alone. Listen…I know it is 2018 and plenty of women have babies on their own, or maybe their significant other just can’t make the appointments. But I swear to you that this time around I am seemingly the only one solo, Every. Single. Time. And of course, there is the postpartum follow-up appointment where most new moms take their babies along, but again, I will go solo.

Honestly, guys, this stuff isn’t as bad as it sounds. Some of the conversations at these appointments are a little more thought-provoking and involved, though…And we haven’t even talked about what happens at the hospital yet! One thing my doctor said/asked has stuck with me, but it was actually said prior to me officially signing to carry again (and has been discussed a couple of times since). ‘What if you have to go on bed rest or be hospitalized for someone else’s kid and cannot be home with your kids? What if you cannot exercise or end up sick? Are you prepared for what you might have to give up or lose to help someone else?’ Was I? That discussion haunted me, and for a short time prevented me from signing back on. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t still occasionally cross my mind and come up in appointments… Something that wouldn’t even give you pause if it was your own baby.

Annnnnnnd then there is the subject on how this GC baby will make her appearance. I had an emergency c-section at 39 weeks with my son (6lbs 7oz). A VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) might have been possible with the twins IF they weren’t twins, so c-section number two happened- see photo of recovery- at 38 weeks and 3 days (5lbs 3 oz and 6lbs 12oz). At that first OB appointment with this little one, I asked if a VBAC was even on the table because it was something I was interested in. He got a good laugh out of that and I said I was just kidding. I wasn’t. If this was my baby, I might push the issue, take a bit more of a chance. But since this precious cargo is going home with her family, another c-section it is. With just over 10 weeks to go, I am preparing for another surgery and recovery. Until then, stay tuned while my family grows another

 

 

God’s Plan

28 weeks…

I debated discussing this seemingly controversial topic, but in effort to keep the sharing of this experience completely real and transparent, it has to be addressed.  And I promise, it isn’t what you think. Soooo…Here we go.

It never fails…Among endless positivity and excitement surrounding news of a new baby on the way, after all of the curiosity-fueled typical questions surrounding the gestational carrier process, you always have ‘that guy‘ who asks some version of ‘Do yo think it is in God’s plan for these people to have children?’ They usually rush on to explain what they meant, which sounds something like, ‘If they have tried unsuccessfully to have a baby for so many years, maybe it simply wasn’t meant to be.’ To an extent, I understand where they are coming from, why they might think this way. I do not, however, agree with it. And here is why…

I truly believe that, while confusing and with greater reasons not always obvious, things happen the way they were meant to…be it at the hand of God, fate, the Universe, or another higher power. Does this mean life happens without disappointment and hurt? Does this mean these folks were not meant to have children of their own? Hell. No. We all know better. Heck, this blog wouldn’t exist if that were the case. But if there is one thing I learned through my own fertility struggles, and then through the struggles of those I have carried for, those of you who have reached out to me with your stories, and friends and family who have also struggled, it is that you truly have to trust the process- your individual journey- and to realize that some paths have more twists, turns, and detours than others. Some have road blocks. And it isn’t fair. Sometimes it downright sucks. But what if there is something bigger, something better going on, and we just don’t know it yet??

Of course, some people have had delays in their road to having a family for what others may consider ‘typical’ (read: widely-acceptable/understandable/explainable) reasons- they are gay, are outside of the ‘safe’ age, have a non-traditional relationship or home life, health issues, financial problems- and people are super quick to suggest that this is where ‘God steps in’ to prevent it from happening. Without delving into religion (believe it or not, that is actually NOT what this post is about), it would be incredibly difficult to accept this logic when the world is full of children who have been born into situations that are far less than ideal.

Someone once told me that babies choose their parents, so sometimes it takes longer than others. And sometimes it happens long before, or when you are least prepared. I am living proof of this. It took me two years and assistance to get pregnant with my daughter. And when she was only 5 months old (and after I said I would not have any more children, EVER), I found out I was pregnant with my son. Sometimes babies are born to different parents before they find the ones who will raise them. Other times children audition more than one set of parents before they are connected with the perfect ones for them. The parents of this baby said that even though they have had much heartbreak in the 12 years they have tried for another child, they now know that it was because this was the road they had to travel for me to come into their lives. The hurt and the disappointment all make sense now. We are family. This is the baby who was meant to be theirs, 12 years in the making. But we would have never met without them needing some help along the way to have this little girl. So maybe it was ‘God’s Plan‘ all along… Twelve years down and officially just under 12 weeks to go until they meet her. Until then, stay tuned while my family grows another…

Be Present.

27 weeks…

I attend a monthly ‘Seekers and Healers’ speaker series. Before the event began yesterday, a woman I have seen the last two times approached me and said she has enjoyed watching my belly grow, and asked when I am due… assuming it is soon (OK, I get it, people…I. Am. HUGE). I told her I have 13 weeks left. She said she bets that I hope the time goes quickly. I answered how I answer everyone who says/asks this…

I’m actually NOT hoping the time goes quickly. Once I deliver this baby, she will be gone forever. I LOVE being pregnant, and I truly try to enjoy and live in the moment while I can. Every wiggle, every kick is so magical. I really choose to focus only on the positive. Because I go into each pregnancy with the mindset that it is temporary and finite, it is easier to push through the tougher days- the inevitable ones where my back is sore, my ankles are swollen, where I am just plain tired- because, as the old saying goes: ‘This, too, shall pass.’

We continued to chat, and I went on to say that at the end of this pregnancy, I will have my 3rd c-section (one with my son, one with the twins I carried, and then this baby). When she asked if the impending surgery scares me, I said that it doesn’t, that I honestly don’t think about it much. I jokingly added that I would love it if she isn’t as big as I feel like she is, though.

We take our seats and the speaker begins. She is a Shastri for Shambhala Columbus, a local Buddhist meditation center. Ironically, the topic she was speaking on is ‘Living Beyond Hope & Fear.’ I listen to her gentle voice as she talks; it feels like a warm hug. I’m attentive, but calm and relaxed. The baby is peaceful and asleep. Then she says something that makes my pulse quicken. I’m paraphrasing, but she essentially says that ‘whether you spend your days hoping for something, or spend your days fearing it, either way you are not living in the moment.’ And I swear she spoke right to my very soul. Wasn’t I just saying this and didn’t even realize it?! The baby must have felt the change in me- my awakening– because she woke up, too, but physically.

Without knowing it, I make sure to spend each day being present in my pregnancy, a concept I struggle with in many other aspects of my life. I tend to get so caught up in what I needed to do and what still needs done, hoping things will change, and fearing what could be if things changed, that I often forget to love and enjoy what IS. So although this little one will leave me forever in a few short months, something I’ve learned from this experience will remain in my heart and mind always…Be present. For the next 12 weeks, I will sponge up the magic that is pregnancy while I continue to work on being present in the magic that is life. Keep me honest, friends. And be sure to stay tuned while my family grows another