Puppy fever…and other side-effects of being a gestational carrier

26 weeks…

I cannot tell you how many times people ask me if I ever want to keep the baby I am carrying. Heck. No. Honestly? I don’t even really like human children…lol (but seriously). I am not the girl who sees a baby and falls in love. I rarely ask to hold them. I’m simply not interested. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. AmIRight?

So why go through all of this time and effort to have a baby for someone else? Right there is your answer. Because being a gestational carrier isn’t about ME having a baby to raise; I already have two of my own. And frankly, if I wanted another one, I would have one, or adopt. But boy do I LOVE being pregnant; I love everything about it. And it feels good to be able to give back. Still confused on why I would even WANT to carry a baby if I do not consider myself to be especially maternal? Actually, to me this lack of wanting a baby, or having a desire to be around them, is what makes me the perfect carrier!!

But just because carrying a baby doesn’t give me baby fever and make my ovaries hurt, it doesn’t mean I don’t have other pregnancy side effects from being a GC. Here are a few of my faves…

  • Hormones: Remember the first blog-post photo of all of those needles? Each of those needles was a dose of hormones…Never mind the 3-a-day suppositories (yuck!) and the patches. Though those hormones have a VERY important job to do, they also can cause a GC to be extra irritable, tired, experience weight gain and bloating, and rashes/breakouts. I had an interesting rash about 2 weeks prior to my embryo transfer. I will spare you those pictures; you’re welcome, but it was U G L Y (and, of course, during bikini season). The meds can also cause photo-sensitivity, so protecting your skin from the sun is a MUST.
  • Numbness/Pain: The injection locations of all of the hormone shots can experience numbness, even if you frequently alternate sides. Eventually- once you are done with the shots- that numbness will dissipate and you might have occasional sharp pains in those areas. I’ve also noticed this time around that my right hip (where I did a majority of my injections) is quite itchy as I regain feeling from the multiple weeks of shots.
  • Milk. Milk. Milk.: With a gestational surrogate pregnancy, your body (obviously) still goes through all of the same changes it would if you had a baby of your own…including milk production. Because you are (again, obviously) not going to breast feed the baby you carry, your options become either pumping and donating to the intended parents or a milk bank, or praying that your supply dries up quickly. Until then, you better stock up on a supportive bra and cabbage leaves.
  • Post-Pregnancy…Pooch: Yes, most women who have recently given birth have that pesky pooch to attempt to lose. But for women who carry, there is no little bundle of joy to use as a distraction (ie- if people focus on your cute baby, they aren’t focused on your less-than-cute belly). The up-side? While some mommas are still working on that baby weight well into the second year because they are exhausted from taking care of the aforementioned cute baby, you are able to get to work on that post-baby bod as soon as you are cleared by your doc.
  • Your Own Family Grows: Sure, you aren’t keeping the baby you are growing. But by the end of the process of being a gestational carrier, you may find that your family did indeed grow- by two intended parents, their other children, your nurses at your fertility clinic, and maybe even your fertility doctor. Nothing bonds folks together like bringing a new life into the world.
  • Puppy Fever: My puppy fever is bad on any given day, but it is especially bad since I have been pregnant with the wee one. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to hold any human babies, but bring me alllllll of the dog babies to cuddle!!!! See Exhibit A- Baby Hazel– in the photo.

As you can see, none of the side-effects of being a gestational carrier are terrible, but they are so worth it in the end. Only 13 weeks left until this little miracle arrives and the fruits of my labor (see what I did there??) are realized. So stay tuned while my family grows another…

Pre-Birth Order: Dropping the ‘intended’ and becoming ‘PARENTS’

25 weeks… 

In all of my posts thus far, I have referred to the folks receiving this gestational surrogate baby as ‘intended parents‘. Welllllll….Last week we started the motion- the pre-birth order- to assign them as the official legal parents once this baby is born!!

Another one of the most common questions I am asked is do I ever want to keep the baby (absolutely not), or what happens if the intended parents decide they don’t want to keep the baby (even less likely than me wanting to keep it). This is also discussed during the initial interview process when selecting/matching potential carriers to intended parents. And I know it is consistently a niggling thought in the back of the intended parents’ minds through the process, which is completely understandable.

As with any other legal step in this process, the necessity, timing, and parameters of the pre-birth order are dependent on the laws of your county and state (specifically the county in which you opt to file, which subsequently does not have to be your own). The ultimate goal (for me, anyway) is to avoid court once the baby is born. In my mind, these families have already been through so much emotionally, physically, and legally. The only thing they should be worried about after the baby is born is who is going to take the night feedings.

But to give the intended parents some piece of mind, the pre-birth order is filed by their attorney (remember, each party has their own) after month 4. They are essentially asking the gestational carrier to surrender all legal rights and claims to the baby. The carrier and IPs sign each of the documents and have them notarized. There are additional forms signed by the doctor at the fertility clinic. Then the attorney petitions the county/state chosen for the filing. This gets a little tricky because, as I mentioned, the laws vary based on location. For folks who don’t mind attending court after birth, it is less important to choose a specific county, or one outside your own at all. In our case it is critical because, again, we do not want to go to court; I waived my right to a hearing altogether. So although the pre-birth order isn’t legally in effect until birth, because of it, when the baby is born, the first faces she will see after the doctor and nurses are those of her legal PARENTS.

This process is a huge box checked off on their journey to becoming parents. On this week of giving Thanks, we are one week and one major step closer to the magical end of this leg of journey, so stay tuned while my family grows another…

Pica de Pregnancy: The one craving that made pickles and ice cream seem normal

24 weeks…

When I was pregnant with the twins I carried, I hardly gained any weight. Oh, sure, I had the regular cravings- Who doesn’t love pickles and ice cream?! And believe me, I indulged in any and all of my cravings any time I wanted. In the early days I would smash an entire bag of mini powdered donuts each evening (not proud of it, but Hey!)!! I would eat a salad or broccoli slaw for lunch just so I didn’t look like a freak drinking Italian dressing (another craving). I was regular at the local DQ…In the winter!! And I didn’t exercise a single day. So how did my weight gain stay so low…?

I mentioned before that the pregnancy with the twins was not without complications. Between 5 and 6 weeks I started hemorrhaging…BAD. That’s actually how I found out I was having two babies. I had to go in for an ultrasound because I thought I had miscarried again. Not only had I NOT lost the pregnancy, but the ultrasound had us all seeing double! The doctor determined the pregnancy was was perfectly healthy, but what happened next was just weird…

The bleeding continued until I was 10 weeks along, when I ultimately stopped the hormone injections. Along the way, the twins and I were monitored to make sure we were healthy, and we were. Very much so, actually. The ultrasound clearly showed the blood in my uterus, but it wasn’t harming the boys at all. The bleeding was a gross, often inopportune inconvenience, but manageable. Then the cravings got stranger…

At that point in my life, I rarely- if ever- ate meat. But all of a sudden, I wanted burgers almost every day- like, had to have them. I craved salad with spinach, and even more broccoli (but no longer as the means to the Italian dressing end). But most of all I craved…I C E. Yes, the plain old, unflavored water variety. Who knew there were so many size, shape and density options?! I became an ice connoisseur; I became OBSESSED. At no point in the day did I not have a cup of ice on hand. And while the scale loved it, my dentist hated it.

It seemed that an iron-deficient pregnancy (because of the consistent hemorrhaging) triggered PICA- a condition where you crave things with no nutritional value (think dirt, rocks, laundry detergent, toilet paper– odd cravings made famous thanks to shows like ‘My Strange Addiction‘ on TLC)…And in my case- ICE. Pica was essentially a symptom of my iron deficiency and I was pretty lucky that it presented as an ice craving for me. The only major complication I had because of it was some damage to my teeth.

I think it is important to note that at no point during that pregnancy was I diagnosed as anemic, to which I credit my daily pre-natal vitamin, and iron-rich meals including red meat, spinach and broccoli slaw. I treated my ice cravings as an on-going snack throughout the day/evening in addition to balanced meals. But there was a happy side-effect of eating ice all day. Because of the ice, I was extra hydrated, experienced no bloating/swelling (even with a hot, summer pregnancy), and had super clear, luminous skin. And like magic, when the pregnancy ended, so did my ice obsession.

This pregnancy has been pretty boring when it comes to cravings, though I have consumed my weight in glazed donuts, hot, pickled cauliflower, and sour candy. But who knows what the next 15 weeks will bring, so stay tuned while my family grows another

Rules and Regulations

23 weeks…

In every pregnancy there are things you are expected to give up- alcohol, deli meat, shellfish, smoking…And this is no different in a gestational surrogate pregnancy. That being said, when you commit to carrying a baby for someone else, you are often contractually bound to ‘rules and regulations‘ most people wouldn’t think about. Here are a few of the major ones…

  • No travel to any states/countries where the mosquitoes can carry Zika. This is a good rule of thumb for any pregnant woman, but as a GC, it is mandatory. Prior to embryo transfer, a trip to one of those locations will land you in 6-month quarantine, potentially delaying the process (as I know from experience).
  • No NEW tattoos (or piercings). Like the Zika one, this is a solid rule for any pregnant woman. Also, like the Zika rule, getting one prior to transfer will result in the big Q for 6 months (and getting one during is absolutely not allowed AT ALL).
  • Lifting weights. There is a caveat to this one. The primary restriction comes on the day of the embryo transfer and typically remains in effect until the 10-12 week mark. After that it loosens up a bit as long as there are no obvious complications with the pregnancy. In the case with this pregnancy, immediately post transfer I was instructed not to lift more than 10lbs for at least 10 weeks (and preferably nothing at all for the first 48 hours while I was on complete bed rest).
  • S E X. Yep. You read that right. Like lifting, there are temporary restrictions on sex throughout the GC process. Prior to the transfer, while you are off birth control and your body is primed for pregnancy, sex is a big NO! Could you imagine going in for the transfer only to find out you are already pregnant?! Oops! Say it with me, folks:  ‘Breach. Of. Contract.’ You are also asked to refrain for the first 10 weeks after transfer.
  • No move outside of the county/state. This one is VERY important as different counties/states have different rules and laws on surrogate/GC pregnancy (to the extent that in some states it is actually ILLEGAL: I’m talking about you, Michigan). Because the legal pre-birth order paperwork must be drawn up relative to the county you reside, it is imperative that a move during the pregnancy does NOT occur.

There are other requests/lifestyle changes/rules/regulations that can be made by the intended parents and discussed with the GC prior to a signed, executed agreement. As with the ones I outlined here, anything that goes into the final contract is settled upon by both sides and their attorneys. While some of the above conditions may seem extreme, the contract is not entered into lightly, and certainly not without complete understanding among all parties. Though it may seem like there is so much to give up, I promise there is so much more to gain. In 16 weeks when I hand this little girl over to her parents, the things I couldn’t/can’t do prior to then will be a distant memory. In the mean-time, stay tuned while my family grows another

Making it fun. Making it special. Making memories.

22 weeks…

Like so many women, when I was pregnant with my biological kids, I cataloged everything I could about the pregnancy…Well, with Lillian, anyway- poor Julian was lucky I remembered to go to my monthly appointments. Lol! So any sickness, cravings, first kicks, how I felt emotionally- all chronicled with the mindset that one day I would show this diary of sorts (along with the myriad of belly pics) to my kids. I absolutely LOVED being pregnant and wanted them to know how cherished and adored they were long before they were born. One of my main concerns the first time I was a Gestational Carrier was how do these surrogate babies grow to know that they were also loved while in utero? No, I am not their mom (or any blood relation for that matter), but my family absolutely cares about them and is excited to be part of their journey to life. So how do we show this love to these babies and their intended parents…?

I try to experience  and shape my GC pregnancies through the intended parents’ eyes- what would they do, what milestones would they track, what would they want to physically have to supplement memories down the road? I take my cues from them regarding the frequency and type of contact they expect/prefer, but I record every milestone- big and small– that I would with my own bio baby, just in case. At the beginning of the process, I start a ‘keep it’ box to hold receipts from travel, medical wrist bands, empty medicine vials, cards and correspondence and add to it frequently. Because these pregnancies are contractually confirmed with a blood test, I take and send the intended parents a physical test…It makes that first substantial milestone so much more real, and downplays what could otherwise feel like a business transaction. I send general updates every few days, especially as things get exciting. So they know when I feel the first flutters and then kicks, what I am craving (which in the case of this baby is how I ended up with a lifetime supply of Sweet Tarts), and what foods and smells I avoid.

I keep a journal to be passed along, and write as often as I can. I share fun stories and moments as we go. For example, when I was pregnant with the twins, the kids used to ask me to ‘bring the boys out’ to play four square with them. This always caused laughter because they said I counted as 3 people, so to a spectator it always looked like two square. The twins each responded differently to my kids’ voices- Julian would read to them and Lillian would sing. One baby was more active than the other and would kick and respond to different interactions with the kids. The parents used this knowledge when choosing names for them, as it is Jewish tradition to name babies after deceased relatives, and they wanted the names to fit and be meaningful.

Because the intended parents cannot be with me all the time, or at all in some cases, I suggest they send audio of them reading their favorite children’s books, telling stories, or of their favorite music. It is so important for their voices to be familiar to aid them in soothing the baby once it arrives. With my first pregnancy, I invited the dads to my doctor’s appointments, and to meet up to walk with me after work. The latter served two purposes: I would get much-needed exercise, and the twins would hear, and get to know their dad’s voices. Unfortunately, they didn’t take me up on the walks, but did attend every appointment.

I enjoy collecting, making, and sending gifts throughout the pregnancy…Especially fun items from trips we take, or events we attend while I am carrying. My favorite gift for the twins was matching FDNY onesies from a vacation Lillian and I took to NYC when I was 5 months pregnant with them. We also try to snap cute pics on these trips, at events, and of daily life as the pregnancy develops, so the babies can see all the places they have visited and the exciting things they have done. Every 4 weeks I take a ‘progress pic’ and place it in a single photo filmstrip alongside previous weeks to make it easier for the parents to see how much the baby has grown month-to-month. Holidays always bring additional fun as I let the kids paint the bump to commemorate and tell the story later on. When the parents compile all of these items together, they have a wonderful way to share their journey with their little bundle one day. I have 17 more weeks to share with you, so stay tuned while my family grows another

Things that make you go ‘Hmmmm’…

21 weeks…

Over the years I have talked with a few different couples who were interested in having me carry a baby for them (in addition to the two I ultimately decided to carry for). While the questions they asked, and the requests they made, are for the most part pretty mild and tame, you always have that one question that makes you wonder if you are being pranked. Here are a few of my all-time favorites…(not one asked by the family of the baby I am currently carrying)

  • ‘Do you want to hold the baby first?’ Absolutely NOT. This is not my baby and he/she needs to immediately bond with you as parents.
  • ‘Will you keep the baby in the room with you until he/she goes home?’ Heck no! Your baby will have woken me up plenty during the 9 months I carried him/her. If the baby isn’t in the nursery, he/she will be with you.
  • ‘Do you ‘require’ the intended parents to be present when the baby is born?’ Ummmm…I’m not delivering a bouquet of flowers. If you feel this question is valid or appropriate, I think we are done here.
  • ‘Will you breastfeed the baby?’ Ha! Errrr…Oh, you were serious?! Ok. So, NO. I won’t breastfeed your baby. However, I would consider pumping and donating.
  • ‘Can we bring the baby to you if it is crying at the hospital?’ As long as I am not asleep. lol. Hospital time is my time to heal and catch up on my rest. Welcome to parenthood and Baby 101. I already graduated from that class.
  • ‘I like your skin color, and we want a bi-racial baby. Can we use your eggs?’ (This was an actual question, almost verbatim. And she was Dead. Serious.) That is a firm NO. My uterus is available. My eggs? Not so much.
  • ‘What will you eat while you are pregnant?’ (I wasn’t sure where this question was headed, but by this point the conversation was already headed downhill. I decided to have a little fun.) While I am pregnant, I make every attempt to eat healthy. But if the baby says we crave something a little less healthy- like a glazed donut or 2- we will probably eat it. Who am I to deny your baby’s happiness?

Looking back, I laugh light-heartedly…How could you not? But the folks making these requests were being 100% serious and genuine. I doubt I have heard the last of questions like these, so stay tuned while my family grows another…

The whole truth and nothing but the truth…? To tell or not to tell.

20 weeks…

Halfway! EEEEK! I’m shocked at the number of people- women and men- who are brave enough to comment on me being pregnant. Clearly these folks have never asked someone who is NOT actually pregnant (a mistake you only make once, believe me). Of course, once it is determined I am indeed pregnant (far more obvious now), the typical questions follow. When are you due? March 5th. Do you know what you are having? A girl. [Cue requisite, gushing ‘CONGRATS!’] Then: Is that what you wanted? Errrrrr…. Houston, we have a problem. So now do I a) match their excitement, graciously say ‘thank you,’ and continue on with my business, or b) decide to have a little fun, still say ‘thank you,’ and then drop the bomb that the wee one I am growing is not mine?

There is no simple answer here; no answer I use every time. One thing I’ve learned from doing this twice now is that the average person only hears what they want to anyway…And rarely do they actually care about your answer or listen to the entire thing, so why bother with a detailed one? Most often, I just say ‘thank you.’ On the occasions I reply that the baby is not mine, I answer a handful of questions and go on about my day. It is easiest to allow people I will not likely see again to believe the baby is mine to avoid unnecessary, uncomfortable interactions.

Where it becomes tricky, though, is when the person is a ‘regular’, familiar stranger- the kids’ teachers, their friends’ parents, the wait staff at my favorite restaurants, folks at the gym. These are people who will know I was pregnant, realize I gave birth, and notice there is no baby on my hip. With these folks I tend to explain, because answering a few questions up front is much better than confusion and speculation after the fact. Like I said, though, some people don’t listen to the entire answer. When I was pregnant with the twins, I visited one restaurant in particular every week. Many times I explained to the waitress that the baby was not mine. Many times after I delivered she asked me where the baby was while I was out to supper. Eventually I just started making up fun answers.

At the end of the day, I honestly find it easier to share my story with strangers than with people I know. I’ve always been nervous that people will judge, but with someone I don’t know, that judgement only lasts as long as our encounter. I don’t have to listen to their negative opinions and misgivings- should they have any- once we are done talking. And I firmly believe that babies should be celebrated, however they come into the world. The time leading up to their Earthly entrance should be filled with warmth, hope, and positive vibes. That being said, the journey through this pregnancy, and sharing it with you, the electronic world, has been met with nothing but positivity and well wishes. So I will continue to share for as long as you stay tuned while my family grows another…