Ep. 61: Having Other People’s Babies – Interview with Gestational Surrogate Deanna Koelsch
September 2, 2019
Laura and Shanna interview gestational surrogate Deanna Koelsch, who is currently pregnant with her fourth surrogacy! Deanna talks about what it’s like to carry another family’s child, how she got into surrogacy, how her own family and children feel about her doing so, and much more. Also, Shanna discusses her current struggles with her baby’s 8-month sleep regression, and Laura reports on her baby’s first trip on an airplane. Finally, they reveal their BFPs and BFNs for the week. Shanna’s baby is seven months and three weeks old, and Laura’s baby is six months and three weeks old.
- Grown in Another Garden* A Surrogacy Book for Young Children, as recommended by our guest, Deanna Koelsch. *affiliate link
- My Mom is a Surrogate* A children's book recommended by our guest, Deanna Koelsch. *affiliate link
- Dr. Brown's Formula Mixing Pitcher* Shanna loves this thing to help mix a whole day's worth of formula at once, without it getting foamy! *affiliate link
- Moby Classic Baby Wrap* Great for plane travel! This soft, fabric wrap allows you to wear your baby through security and have your hands free. *affiliate link
- J.L. Childress Ultimate Backpack Padded Car Seat Travel Bag* This is a travel case for your car seat that fits a lot of extra stuff, like diapers and baby clothes! *affiliate link
This episode's sponsors:
Big Fat Positive: A Pregnancy and Parenting Journey is sponsored by BetterHelp. Join over 1 million people taking charge of their mental health. BetterHelp connects people with licensed, professional therapists in a safe online environment. BFP listeners get 10% off their first month. ?
Get the full studio experience at home with thousands of classes for body, mind, and spirit. Get 30 days free and 50% off an annual membership with code BFP (case sensitive).
Laura Birek: Welcome to Big Fat Positive with Shanna and Laura. This week we have our weekly check-ins. We have a very special interview with Deanna Koelsch, a gestational surrogate, who’s going to tell us all about what it’s like to carry other people’s babies and give birth to them. It’s amazing. You’ll want to hear it and then we close with our BFPs and BFNs for the week. Let’s get to it.
Laura Birek: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the show. This is episode 61. Hello, Shanna.
Shanna Micko: Hi.
Laura Birek: Hello. Do you want to tell us what’s happening with you this week and how old your baby is now?
Shanna Micko: Yeah, she’s seven months and three weeks.
Laura Birek: Cool.
Shanna Micko: So we’re getting real close to eight months, which means she’s coming into the 8th to 10 month sleep regression.
Laura Birek: No one told me about this one. Come on.
Shanna Micko: Me neither. I always like reverse Google things really. She goes down and then I’m like, what is happening? What’s going on? Then you Google and go down. You’re like, it’s the 8-month sleep regression. So it’s been a little bit rough with her and also she’s just got so much going on. She’s just learned to crawl. She’s totally obsessed with standing. I had to lower her mattress in her crib, because she was standing in her crib and I was worried she was gonna tip over the edge of it.
Laura Birek: Oh, yeah. You got to do that.
Shanna Micko: She’s obsessed with that, which I think messes with her sleep. She’s definitely teething. I think you mentioned last week or the week before. It was obvious when your baby’s teeth were actually about to come in.
Laura Birek: You spend months being like, “I think they’re teething. I think they’re teething,” and then when they’re actually teething, you’re like, there it is.
Shanna Micko: Yeah, exactly. I totally predicted that my baby would have a hard time with teething, because she’s just so loud and expressive anyway, so I was like, teething is going to be interesting time for us and so that’s gotten just really ramped up with the drool and the crankiness and all of that and on top of all of that, she has her first cold, which I know your baby also had recently. So there’s that and also in my reverse engineering of what’s going on in my life, she is in her next leap.
Laura Birek: Shit, CeCe. She’s just like, I’m going to check box A, box B, box C, box D.
Shanna Micko: Just all of them and she’s checked them with vigor. So I’m just a little bit exhausted and the sleep regression is really just I think her dealing with all that and it’s hard to rest. It’s hard to sleep. It’s hard to nap. Either she’s just too wired or she’s extra sleepy during the day and will nap a ton and then we’ll have trouble at night and wake up a lot at night and stuff like that and wake up early in the morning.
Laura Birek: Wait, what does that mean: waking up a lot?
Shanna Micko: It’s not necessarily that she wakes up and is awake, but it’s her thing of being very disrupted in sleeping and screaming at night and then the monitor pops on and it wakes us up. Steve does a lot of the monitor work, so it really wakes him up and so several times she’s waking up early, as I mentioned, and she’s really screaming and crying a lot while going to sleep. So I think she’s really unsettled when I put her down to the point that there was a discussion in my moms’ group. Someone said, “Will my baby ever not cry when I put her down to sleep?” I was like, I have that exact same question. I wondered the literal exact same thing because I put her down, I can give her all this comfort and I lay her down and she just cries. She just cries for like five minutes and then she’s putting herself to sleep. So I am starting to wonder, is that just her style or are we going to get past that? This is just a tough phase.
Laura Birek: I’m sure by the time she’s 18 or 19, it’ll be just fine.
Shanna Micko: I hope so. Or her college roommates are in for a big surprise.
Laura Birek: Why does CeCe cry herself to sleep every night?
Shanna Micko: But she wakes up all happy the next day. That girl’s got a weird personality.
Laura Birek: She wakes up about 5:30 and she’s all smiles.
Shanna Micko: With a poopy diaper. I love CeCe so much. I love her so much obviously, but yeah, she’s struggling right now and like I mentioned, we’re weaning breastfeeding.
Laura Birek: Poor thing. Poor you too.
Shanna Micko: I’ve dropped another feed and every time I drop a feed, I kind of go on a little emotional roller coaster, because I think hormones are starting to change. I’ll have a couple days of just emotional stuff or fatigue and I’m hanging in there though.
Laura Birek: Oh, man. It’s such a tease when you have a period of time of good sleep and then it gets interrupted again. I can’t. Right now my baby is sleeping so well for the most part and I’m just like, I don’t want it to go away, Shanna.
Shanna Micko: I know.
Laura Birek: I was just talking with Corey last night before we went to bed about how different our life is now that he sleeps through the night. It’s a huge change. It’s just a huge benefit, but they do what they do. I know that my Mommy & Me teacher calls them the cognitive leaps, not the sleep progressions.
Shanna Micko: Right.
Laura Birek: She does say they’re always tied to learning new skills. So the optimistic way to look at it is she’s learning so much. That’s why she’s needing to wake up and yelp.
Shanna Micko: Yes, I can definitely see that correlation. Like I said, the girl is absolutely obsessed with standing. When I put her in the bathtub, she does not care about any of the toys I put in there. All she wants to do is stand on the edge of the tub and then plop her butt in the water and hear it splash and stand and plop and stand and plop. It’s cute.
Laura Birek: It’s a little baby butt.
Shanna Micko: The other good thing is I know this from raising my first daughter that they really are phases. It’s tough right now, but I know that it’s all going to work out and she’s going to get used to standing and she’s going to break those teeth and it’s going to go back to normal and same with you. If and when your boy goes through stuff, it’ll work itself out and it will go back to how nice it is now.
Laura Birek: That’s good to know. I actually had a question about standing in the crib. Are you still putting her in sleep sacks? How does she manage to stand up in the sleep sack?
Shanna Micko: Yeah, we do. It’s very roomy at the bottom. There’s a ton of extra space by her feet and sometimes she’ll take a couple steps and it’ll get pulled taut a little bit, but they do make these sleep sacks with little feet holes at the bottom that we used to use with Elle once she started standing and walking around the crib more. She could still have the blanket feel, but also have her feet free so she could be more mobile. So we’ll probably break those out from the hand-me-down soon.
Laura Birek: I didn’t know those even existed.
Shanna Micko: Yeah, footed sleep sacks.
Laura Birek: Interesting.
Shanna Micko: There you go.
Laura Birek: All right. You learn something new every day. There’s a product for freaking everything. That’s what I know.
Shanna Micko: There truly is. Anyway, that’s us this week. What about you guys?
Laura Birek: My baby is 29 weeks, which means he’s six months and three weeks. We had a pretty big week.
Shanna Micko: Ooh.
Laura Birek: We went on our first plane ride this week, two planes actually, because we went up to Portland to visit my stepdad and my mom and he did great.
Shanna Micko: Yay.
Laura Birek: It was awesome. The flight to Portland’s about two hours from LA and we flew out of Burbank, which is if anyone knows the LA area, Burbank is on the north side of the Los Angeles basin and it’s a very small, adorable airport. It used to be called the Bob Hope Airport, but now they’ve changed the name to the Burbank Hollywood Airport. I think because they think it’s like more attractive to visitors.
Shanna Micko: This generation is like who the hell is Bob Hope? That means nothing to them.
Laura Birek: I know.
Shanna Micko: I guess, but it’s the best airport.
Laura Birek: But the Burbank Airport really is the best. It’s small and easy to navigate as opposed to LAX, which is like a fucking nightmare. I wouldn’t wish LAX on my worst enemy. We have to do it sometimes, but it is really awful. So thankfully, we flew out of Burbank. It was super easy and I bought a bunch of new toys for the baby thinking he would need distraction on the plane. Turns out he didn’t. He’s just such an outgoing little baby that he wants to just see what’s going on in the world, so he was just jazzed by being in a new environment.
Shanna Micko: Aww, cute.
Laura Birek: His illness has gotten better. I was worried about his ears, so I nursed him for like about an hour basically.
Shanna Micko: Oh my gosh.
Laura Birek: Take-off and landing I nursed him.
Shanna Micko: Not an hour straight.
Laura Birek: It was about a half hour straight, so it was a net hour on my nipple. But he’s actually very gentle. There have been lots of times where his napping as I’ve discussed has historically not been great. So I would just like boob him to sleep and he would stay latched for like an hour and a half and it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t super painful or anything. I learned a few tips from people who’ve done this before, cobbled together from friends and internet advice. So one of the things I learned was in addition to nursing on the way up and down and that’s to help their ears regulating is to wear a soft wrap. I used a Moby Wrap, which is what I have. But any soft wrap that doesn’t have metal and buckles and stuff, wear them through security, because then you can just have your hands free and walk through the metal detector with the baby. That was huge. That was really great. We got through security. Thankfully, we have pre-check too. So that made a big difference.
Shanna Micko: Oh, nice.
Laura Birek: It was pretty darn easy and then the other thing I did was I left the Moby on for when we were on the plane and it acted as a sling, so I didn’t have to be holding him quite the whole time. So he wasn’t completely strapped into the Moby, like the full shebang. But when I was nursing him, I kind of put one of the diagonal paths of the fabric across his body and used it just as a sling so that my arms weren’t having to be engaged the whole time.
Shanna Micko: So you could do that internet surfing on your phone.
Laura Birek: Except for I think it was Alaska they didn’t have internet. It was fine. I played Candy Crush.
Shanna Micko: There you go.
Laura Birek: He fell asleep napping and then woke up and played and was flirting with all the people around us. Like the people in the seat behind us, he just kept making eyes at them and yeah, it was totally fine. So we got to Portland, he was totally fine. We got to my stepdad’s house and he started in the afternoon acting really fussy and I was wondering whether he was tired or what, but he was acting like he was in pain and we gave him some ibuprofen and he was still acting like he was in pain and we didn’t really know what to do. At some point, my mom was worried about his ears. She was like, “Oh, no. Is he getting an ear infection? Or is it his ears haven’t regulated?” I was like, “Well, he didn’t have any problems on the way up or down in the plane. You think that he would be fine now.” But then my mom gently… Sounds really gross. She gently sucked on his ear canal, like the opening. She said she didn’t make a seal. She just kind of like loosely put her lips over his ear canal and gently sucked in and instantly he got happier. So she thinks that his eardrum was a little concave or whatever from the plane. It hadn’t quite regulated and it was irritating him. You know how if you’re on a plane and your ears aren’t regulating, you can pinch your nose and blow: the Valsalva maneuver? If anyone’s really curious about the Valsalva maneuver.
Shanna Micko: No, never knew.
Laura Birek: I think she was just kind of replicating that, but externally. It was weird. It worked instantly.
Shanna Micko: Wow. That is amazing. Do you think that’s something that we could do on our own babies or is that a pediatrician move?
Laura Birek: It was definitely a pediatrician move. I wouldn’t have had the balls to do that and I think she made sure to tell me she did not form a seal, because I think you could probably hurt them if you formed a seal and sucked too hard, but she just lightly sucked next to his ear. Maybe he just thought that was funny and it snapped him out of his mood, but anyway.
Shanna Micko: That’s good that she fixed the problem. That’s awesome.
Laura Birek: The trip to Portland, it was fun. We didn’t really do all that much. We went out to dinner one night with my mom babysitting and one really great thing is he actually slept really well in the travel crib.
Shanna Micko: Good.
Laura Birek: I was shocked because my stepdad’s house doesn’t have AC and it was hot in Portland. It was like 90 degrees, which when you have AC is fine. But when you don’t, it’s hot.
Shanna Micko: That sounds miserable.
Laura Birek: The room wasn’t fully light sealed, like medically sealed rooms.
Shanna Micko: Okay. That just gives me anxiety thinking about this sleep situation.
Laura Birek: There was a ton of light leaking in. It was hot, so we got like a fan running that wasn’t pointed straight at him. We got it as dark as possible. Oh, this was a good one. So not to throw Corey under the bus, but I was nursing him in the morning when we were leaving for the flight and Corey was going through the checklist of all the stuff we needed to bring and then we get to Portland and he pulls out the video part of the monitor and I was like, “Where’s the camera?” He’s like, “I thought you brought the camera.” I’m like, “What? No, you didn’t. You’re just trying to cover your ass.” Anyway, I sent him to Target to get another video monitor, because we tried to set up something with like an iPad and an app and it just did not work. The first nap was rough. I had to hold him, but then that evening I thought like, he’s never going to sleep. I put him down, he cried for five minutes and then he passed out and did not wake up till 6:00 a.m.
Shanna Micko: Wow. That’s awesome. I think that we get so worried about how the kids are going to do with the change and everything being different and most of the time, I think it’s weird we’re the ones that are more anxious. Both of my kids have turned out to be pretty great. Knock on wood, whenever we travel or do anything adventurous or out of the ordinary, they really roll with the flow.
Laura Birek: That’s great.
Shanna Micko: Kind of impressive. Sounds like your guy’s the same.
Laura Birek: If this trip is any indication, it’s great. I’m really happy because it could just be that he’s at a great age to travel, that he’s not walking, he’s not really crawling. So he’s easily wrangled, but I don’t know. It was a great trip and it’s really encouraging to know that it’s not going to be a complete fucking nightmare to travel with the baby. t is possible to have a fun trip with the baby.
Shanna Micko: Even when Elle got a little bit older and she was more mobile and toddling, she loved the airplane so much. It was just so thrilling. Kids just love that stuff and it was all new and exciting and I’m sure it’ll be the same way with your guy too. So you’ll probably be able to take many trips with him.
Laura Birek: Hope so.
Shanna Micko: Yeah.
Laura Birek: Cool. Should we wrap it up, because we have an awesome interview coming up in our special segment?
Shanna Micko: I’m so excited.
Laura Birek: Yes, I can’t wait. So let’s just take a quick break and we’ll be back with this super awesome interview.
Shanna Micko: Let’s do it.
Shanna Micko: So we’re back and we’re very excited today for a very special interview. We have with us Deanna Koelsch. Deanna, hi.
Deanna Koelsch: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Shanna Micko: You’re welcome. You are a surrogate, correct?
Deanna Koelsch: Correct.
Shanna Micko: Wow. That’s so cool and we have a lot of questions for you, so thank you for being here. I guess my first question is how did you get into this line of service or work or whatever you call it?
Deanna Koelsch: So I’ve always been interested in pregnancy and all things related to childbirth and even as a kid and a teenager, I just thought the topic was really interesting. I used to watch documentaries about it and so I’d heard of the concept of surrogacy probably at a pretty young age and just thought it was a really neat thing. It wasn’t until after my oldest child was born that I thought, yeah, I could do this. I could do this for somebody else. I knew looking at my baby that she was mine and I knew that I could be able to care and love for the baby belonging to someone else and not feel like it was my own and I felt really empowered by the birth process. I felt wonderful while pregnant and so after she was born, that was in 2007, I just started looking into it. I started kind of going down the rabbit hole of Google and reading everything I could and kind of soaking it up and so she nursed until she was about 18 months old. That’s a requirement that you do need to be totally done nursing before starting the process, so I read all about it in those 18 months and then when she finally decided to wean that’s when I kind of dove in and started my first surrogacy journey.
Shanna Micko: That is so cool. So you say first surrogacy journey, have you done this more than once?
Deanna Koelsch: I have. I have actually worked with two different families, two babies for each family. So the first family that I worked with, I carried their two boys and they are nine and seven now, which is just wild to me.
Shanna Micko: Wow.
Laura Birek: Super cool.
Deanna Koelsch: It’s so super cool. So after their second child was born, my husband and I decided to add another one to our family and this is kind of an interesting sort of topic as well, because one of the requirements, kind of a general guideline I should say for surrogates, is that they are done completely with their own family.
I had only had one child when I started going into surrogacy and my husband and I had talked about it and we decided that we fully understood all of the risks associated with pregnancy and that there was a possibility that I could lose my fertility as there was always that risk in any pregnancy and so we decided that we were totally comfortable if we only had one child and if something happened, we were at peace with that. But after I had two surrogacies, we decided we did want to try for another one of our own. So we did. Then when he was about a year and a half, I decided I was going to do one last surrogacy journey.
Shanna Micko: Oh, wow.
Deanna Koelsch: Met a new family that we fell in love with and we are now pregnant with the second baby for them.
Laura Birek: Oh my gosh.
Deanna Koelsch: So two families, four babies.
Shanna Micko: Wow. That’s amazing. So you are currently pregnant?
Deanna Koelsch: I am. It’s actually pretty new. We’re only about 10 weeks, but we are just over the moon about it.
Shanna Micko: Aww, congratulations to you all.
Laura Birek: That’s so amazing.
Deanna Koelsch: Thank you.
Laura Birek: How are you feeling?
Deanna Koelsch: I feel great. I need to knock on some wood. I have very easy pregnancies. I don’t experience morning sickness. I don’t get that first trimester tiredness.
Laura Birek: Oh my God, I’m so jealous.
Shanna Micko: Wow.
Deanna Koelsch: I just feel like if I am capable of doing this, then I just should, because it truly doesn’t interfere with my life very much.
Laura Birek: That’s amazing.
Deanna Koelsch: Surrogacy does have an added level of extra steps that a pregnancy for your own family doesn’t have. But that being said, pregnancy is generally pretty easy for me. So I really feel like if I am capable of doing this, I absolutely should.
Laura Birek: I think both Shanna and I we definitely didn’t have extremely difficult pregnancies, but I had a lot of nausea. I was really tired. I also should say that we were older. I imagine you have to be on the younger side to be a surrogate. Is that right? Especially if you’re going to do it more than once.
Deanna Koelsch: Between the ages of 21 and 39 is the general guideline.
Laura Birek: Oh, wow.
Deanna Koelsch: I’m 35 now, because with gestational surrogacy, it is not your own eggs that you’re using. You have a little longer shelf life with your fertility in terms of surrogacy. So your uterus is generally healthier for longer than say your eggs would be. Even though I’m 35, my pregnancy’s not being treated as an advanced maternal age or high risk pregnancy because the egg is younger.
Laura Birek: Geriatric.
Deanna Koelsch: Exactly
Shanna Micko: Our favorite term.
Deanna Koelsch: We don’t have to worry about that.
Shanna Micko: That’s good. How do you get paired with the families?
Deanna Koelsch: That’s a great question. I did match with both families through an agency, but that’s not a requirement. You can match independently, so to speak and a lot of people find each other through Facebook groups, or there’s a lot of kind of online resources where you can find each other. There are some big ticket items that are important that you agree upon and generally you want to get those out of the way, because if you don’t see eye to eye on the big ticket items, then it’s just not going to be a match. So things would include how many embryos are you willing to transfer? How many babies are you willing to carry? This is not always a black and white kind of answer because with the first family they were using her eggs. She was 39 at the time. They had three embryos. They were all considered fairly poor quality.
Laura Birek: Oh, wow.
Deanna Koelsch: It was the recommendation of their fertility doctor to transfer all three. I was new to surrogacy. I was 25. I was young. I didn’t understand fully with transferring three embryos what that could mean. I certainly did not want to carry triplets. As a general rule, now I say you transfer as many as you are willing to carry. Now, the doctor did talk to me and say there is basically no chance of you carrying triplets. She was going to be happy if one took and she was not all that optimistic that even one would take and we were pregnant with one. So it did work out. How many embryos you’re willing to transfer and carry is important to agree upon for matching. Also things like your views on termination, if there was a severe abnormality, a chromosome abnormality, if the baby would not likely survive birth, if your own health was at risk. So all of these different things come into play and no one wants to think about facing that situation, but it’s important that you talk about it and most of the time you just want to be able to have the conversation. Explore what would happen if we continued with this pregnancy, what does that mean for both the surrogate carrying it and the baby after delivery and all the realities that come with any particular diagnosis. So you do need to have those tough conversations and be on the same page about those and then hope that you don’t ever have to deal with it again.
Shanna Micko: Wow. Do you have a contract?
Deanna Koelsch: You do. Absolutely. The contracts are generally at least 30 pages long. They cover a lot and that is absolutely addressed in there. For me personally, I am absolutely okay with the intended parents having the final say with whether the pregnancy will continue. That being said, if I for whatever reason had decided that I was not okay ending a pregnancy, the doctor would go with what I was saying even if I was not the legal guardian of the child, because I am their patient and the patient always has the final say. Of course, I’ve been lucky enough to never have to deal with those situations, but I do agree to terminate if that’s what the parents decide, because to me, I view it as this pregnancy is their experience including how the delivery goes. I’m a vessel and I hope to be respected throughout it, but I want it to be their experience. I’ve had my experience with my children and this one should be theirs to me.
Laura Birek: That’s so fascinating to me. My question is are there requirements for becoming a surrogate, like you said there was between 25 and 39, but do you have to go through physical testing, psychological testing? Is there any sort of hindrance?
Deanna Koelsch: Absolutely. All of the above. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine set guidelines, however, it is ultimately up to each particular fertility doctor what they will allow. So general guidelines being between 21 and 39. General guidelines being no more than two C-sections when you begin a surrogacy journey, not being on depression or anxiety medications for at least six months prior to beginning and not having a history of drug use or abuse. Also, there is a BMI requirement of 30 and below. So there’s quite a few things. Now TC is not government regulated and that is why ultimately each doctor can make their own call. They also prefer no more than five deliveries, I should say, when you begin a surrogacy journey, but there are some doctors who will approve someone who’s delivered seven or eight babies already. So the guidelines can be interpreted how each doctor would like. If you as a surrogate are going to apply through an agency, then each agency may have their own guidelines that they might be more lenient about or more strict about and there is psychological evaluation as well. There’s generally a test that you take on the computer kind of a personality type of test as well as an in-person or over-the-phone interview talking about your life, your childhood, your past, and kind of what brings you to surrogacy.
Shanna Micko: Very interesting. Thank you for sharing that. Coming back to the family, something I’m curious about is, what kind of relationship do you develop with the families through this process?
Deanna Koelsch: It becomes very close, very quick at least in my experience. Now, the nice thing is there is so much to do so to speak before the actual pregnant part that generally you have months to get to know each other and there really is a big to-do list of things to get out of the way when you first match and you’re kind of going through all those big ticket items to make sure that you agree upon them. One of them being communication and your relationship, because of course, sometimes intended parents are afraid that they’re going to bug their surrogate or be intrusive. They don’t want to text or call too frequently to make her feel like they’re invading her privacy and at the same time, a lot of surrogates are like, oh, I just want to talk to them more. I just want to involve them more. So talking about what kind of relationship expectations you have during the pregnancy as well as after the baby is born is something that’s really important to talk about during matching. But there is so much to do in the beginning in terms of you’re doing the medical evaluations, so your past records are reviewed. You are seen at their clinic with the doctor that they’re already working with and they make sure that they approve you as a surrogate. Now, insurance is another big thing to get out of the way. Even if you have insurance, a lot of policies have a surrogacy exclusion and they make it about as clear as mud. Something like the language, “Anyone who is not covered under this policy will not be covered as a surrogate,” and it’s all very wordy and confusing. Many policies kind of saying, oh, look, I have a surrogacy exclusion. But what they really mean is if it’s my policy, my policy cannot pay for me to have somebody else be my surrogate since they are not named under this policy. But me, I am named under this policy, so I am covered. But they make it very confusing, so you have to have a very thorough insurance review and if it’s deemed that it will not cover the pregnancy, you have to find a policy that will. There’s just a lot to do to get ready and of course, all the medications leading up to the embryo transfer. But during that time, you’re really working as a team. It is such a team effort to make them parents, and it’s such a goal to become pregnant with their baby to see this through. It’s really such a team with the surrogate, the surrogate’s family, the intended parents, all of the doctors and all of the team at the clinic, the attorneys. It just spreads so far with all of the people involved in this one goal that you all just are working together and it’s a really great feeling, a really great relationship and it really helps in the this is their baby mentality.
Shanna Micko: That’s so wonderful.
Deanna Koelsch: Very different from your own pregnancy.
Shanna Micko: Yeah, I can imagine.
Laura Birek: I imagine that also sort of psychologically it helps prepare you for this is not my baby, because it’s not just like one day you give birth and you hand it over.
Deanna Koelsch: Absolutely. It’s such a process and it’s so different. Before I matched the first time, nobody really knows how will I handle this once it’s a reality, how will I feel emotionally. I knew that I could do it. I had no fears of finding myself saying I’m going to keep the baby. It was nothing like that, but I didn’t truly know how I would feel until I was in the position and so when I was matching, it was important to me to find a couple that was close geographically that they could see me frequently, that they could come to appointments frequently, that it could just be over and over in my mind this is their baby. So they lived about two hours away and we did see each other quite frequently and what I found very quickly was that it wasn’t necessary at all, especially when we can talk so easily through video chat or texting and it’s everyone is so connected regardless of how far away they are. I learned very quickly that they could have been in another country and it would’ve been fine with me.
Laura Birek: Good.
Deanna Koelsch: But you wonder how you’re going to feel emotionally and all of the prep helps immensely.
Laura Birek: I have a question which is a little bit probably a taboo subject. Maybe not, but I know that for me, you could not pay me enough to go through pregnancy. I’m thinking about having a second kid and dreading the pregnancy part. I want the baby, but the pregnancy part, oh! I don’t know if I want to do that again. So how do finances work with this, because obviously it has to be worth? You’re sacrificing your body and your time.
Deanna Koelsch: Absolutely. I can say without a doubt that without the compensation, I would not be here. I absolutely would do it for a very close friend or family member without compensation. But for someone I did not know yet, I wouldn’t and this is coming from someone who says that pregnancy is pretty easy. So I can tell because of all of that prep work, that’s about a good six months kind of give or take and at that point, you’re not really bringing any compensation in. But there is a lot of time and energy and other things that are going into making the process work. It weighs on your family not so much in a negative way, but it is there that you can’t do XYZ because you’re pregnant. We’re not going to be going out of town for Christmas, because I’ll be about 28 weeks then. There’s things to consider that the impact is more than just myself. It impacts my family as well. So finances are another thing that you’ve got to get that out of the way during the matching phase and because you do have so many kind of taboo conversations, that helps your relationship too, because you just have to kind of get it out of the way. You’ve got to figure out how to talk about these things together. You do want to agree upon these things in the beginning, so there’s no tension later on. Having an agency does help in this regard because if there’s any kind of taboo subjects that you might want to bring up, you have someone to kind of be a buffer and help with that. I’ve been really lucky with my matches that we’ve been able to talk to each other directly and we’re just kind of good at communicating with each other to make sure that no one’s uncomfortable and we can sort of talk about business, so to speak and then move on to all the wishy gushy stuff. But generally, the funds are held in an escrow account just so there’s no question that it’s there and available and it’s dispersed via your contract. So if you are supposed to get XYZ amount at so many weeks, the escrow account is aware of everything that’s detailed in your contract and they send a check at that time. A lot of times it needs to be approved by the intended parents before they send the check, so I’m sure there are horror stories out there when an intended parent has not approved a payment that the surrogate is entitled to. But honestly, I think that that is the exception not the norm most intended parents are just so incredibly grateful to their surrogate and they wish they could offer more if they could. I’ve been very lucky that everything has gone smoothly.
Shanna Micko: That’s wonderful. You mentioned your family and kind of not burden, but the energy it takes to be a surrogate with your family. Can you talk about just in general what your friends and family think about you doing this?
Deanna Koelsch: Absolutely. It is so important to have their support. Particularly, if you have a spouse or even a partner, they’ve got to be on board because it will definitely impact their life as well. During the beginning stages, you have to abstain because you do not want to become pregnant with your own pregnancy while in preparation for surrogacy.
Shanna Micko: Right.
Laura Birek: Yeah.
Deanna Koelsch: There’s a lot to consider there. With my children, I have to remind them, well, no, we’re not going to plan this Disney trip because I can’t be going on some roller coasters right now. So little things like that.
Laura Birek: Wow.
Deanna Koelsch: Now, compensation does help. It really does because this is probably going to happen more so as the pregnancy progresses for me, but when you’re 7, 8, 9 months pregnant and you’re just feeling exhausted and you’re too tired to cook, you have some extra funds there to order some food you need to.
Laura Birek: Yes.
Deanna Koelsch: So that definitely does help, but really I get a lot of questions about young children and how to explain this to them and if it’s confusing for them and are they going to bond with the baby. But ultimately, you’re not preparing them for a sibling. You’re not talking about names. You’re not buying any baby items. You’re not making plans for a nursery. You’re not doing anything to prepare for a new member of your family. So a lot of times I think the kids kind of forget. The only thing that changes for them really is their mom’s body changes. Do they notice that? Maybe. Maybe not. I get them involved by letting them develop a relationship with the intended parents as well, because that’s really where the bond lies. It’s not really with the baby that you don’t know. It’s with the parents. That’s really where the bond is.
Shanna Micko: How old are your kids now?
Deanna Koelsch: My daughter is almost 12 and my son is 5.
Shanna Micko: Oh, okay.
Laura Birek: Do you continue your relationships with the families after? You had two surrogacies with one family and now you’re on another one where you’re on your second pregnancy with a separate parent.
Deanna Koelsch: Correct. Yeah.
Laura Birek: So do you continue your relationships after? Do you see pictures? Do you want to see pictures? How does that work?
Deanna Koelsch: Absolutely. Actually, that’s addressed in the contract as well.
Laura Birek: Oh, interesting.
Deanna Koelsch: So in my contract with both families, it states that they will continue to send periodic updates or pictures and we’ve kind of organically developed really close friendships with both families. I expect these to be lifelong relationships. Now since working with the first family, we have moved several states since then. They at the time were about two hours away and now they’re basically a country away. Recently, I was in their state and met up with their mom for dinner and we had a great time and it’s really lovely. So yes, I see them, we FaceTime, I still know them and it’s really great to see them, although I did forget about one of their birthdays this month. I feel bad about that.
Shanna Micko: Can you tell us a little bit about what the experience is giving birth to a child for someone else, like that moment or that time in the hospital or anything you can share with us about that experience?
Deanna Koelsch: It is the best moment. It’s really all of that prep work, all of that team effort, we all have this one goal in mind and it is that moment and it’s incredible. It’s unlike my own births and it’s so different and it’s so amazing to see their faces when they’re with their baby for the first time. Nothing beats it. It’s really, really incredible and with the most recent birth that I had, so that was the older brother of the one I’m pregnant with now, it was really wonderful. The hospital was great. They gave the mom a hospital gown to wear and they brought in an extra delivery bed for her.
Laura Birek: Oh, wow.
Deanna Koelsch: So the plan was for her to catch her baby and then have skin to skin with him right away on her own delivery bed and so the baby comes out and she catches him and then she turns and takes a step and the entire room of nurses and the doctor and I all scream because he was still attached yet.
Laura Birek: Oh, no.
Deanna Koelsch: We all scream, “Stop. Wait.” Oh my gosh, then we all laughed and then they cut the cord and let her go have skin to skin. That was pretty hilarious. She was like, oops. So eager to get that baby.
Shanna Micko: That is so beautiful though. I’m just shedding tears here quietly, because it just sounds so moving. Oh my goodness.
Deanna Koelsch: It’s amazing. Then toward the end of pregnancy, I always kind of joke, “All right. I’m not doing this again,” and then that moment happens and I’m like, oh, I can’t wait to do this again.
Shanna Micko: Aww, wonderful.
Laura Birek: So when you are starting to feel labor pains, have you had to rush to the hospital? Have there been time for the families? It sounds with that one, obviously, the mom had time to get there, but what’s the actual timeline with that, because it’s not like you are on a schedule, right?
Deanna Koelsch: Absolutely. It’s funny how many times the intended parents ask, “So when do you think it’ll happen?” “I don’t know,” and I ask the doctors the same thing and they’re like, “If only we had a crystal ball,” but I know with the first family that I worked with with their second child, we had already moved so we weren’t super close anymore geographically. They were on their way, but they were still about seven hours away and I was telling them I wasn’t in labor, but I was already 40 weeks and maybe one day or two days and I was saying, “You guys need to be in town like now.” So sure enough, they got in town whatever day it was and went into labor that night and by the time that I had called them when I knew like, okay, it’s go time, he was born less than two hours later.
Laura Birek: Oh my God.
Deanna Koelsch: They were all like, no, we came when we did.
Shanna Micko: Yes.
Deanna Koelsch: With the most recent one, my water had broken first, but I didn’t go into labor right away. So luckily, they did have time to kind of get their ducks in a row and make it. Usually, you’re not super close geographically, so generally they do try and come a little bit earlier and just kind of hang out and wait, and then you’re just a ticking time bomb at that point. Then you always feel really hesitant to call and text because you know every time you do, they’re going to think this is it.
Laura Birek: Yeah, of course.
Deanna Koelsch: You’re like, just saying hi.
Laura Birek: You got to have a special word.
Deanna Koelsch: Exactly.
Laura Birek: Wow. So Deanna, what do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about surrogacy?
Deanna Koelsch: Most of the time I get a really positive response, but there are probably two main things that I hear if it’s not super positive. One of them being I could never give my baby away to which I kind of think gee, me neither and how it’s not my baby. I love adoption, which kind of leads me to the next thing, which is a lot of people jump to, well, why don’t they just adopt? That one I find really upsetting because most of the time when people say that they’ve never adopted and when a woman announces her pregnancy, and I don’t mean a surrogate but any woman, she is generally given lots of congratulations, lots of celebration and nobody questions, why didn’t you adopt? I really feel like it is not the responsibility of the infertile people of the world to save all of the children. Adoption is beautiful and wonderful and my best friend who also agrees she could never be paid enough to do surrogacy, adopted her children because she wanted to avoid pregnancy at all costs. I’m a huge advocate for adoption, but there are lots of ways to create a family. No one way is better or worse or right for all people and it’s such a hurtful comment to make that I think people don’t think it through and most of the time, the ones who said it have never adopted.
Laura Birek: Sure.
Deanna Koelsch: That one feels really big. A lot of times once intended parents have turned to surrogacy, they’ve already been through a very long road and they probably considered adoption at some point. I’m sure it’s not like whoever is saying this comment to me, they were the first ones to think about it.
Laura Birek: Right. Oh, no. Adoption. That’s a thing.
Deanna Koelsch: Never heard of it. So they’ve usually been through so many treatments themselves. They’ve poured so much of their hearts and their money into creating these embryos and they want to give them a chance. They have these embryos available. They’ve been created. They’ve taken so much of their resources to create them. They already love them. They already view them as their children. All that they need is a safe place to grow and usually it is at that point they realize for whatever reason it can’t be the mother herself and they need somebody else’s help. So that’s usually I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that a woman might want to surrogate because she doesn’t want stretch marks or that it was just kind of a willy-nilly I don’t want to be pregnant myself, so I’ll get someone else to do it. There’s usually a lot of hurt and pain that comes prior to the wonderful goal ending that we’re all hoping for.
Shanna Micko: So when is your due date with your new one?
Deanna Koelsch: It is March 17th, which is such a lucky day. Lucky Libra.
Shanna Micko: St. Patty’s Day. Woo-hoo.
Laura Birek: Oh, that’s so exciting.
Shanna Micko: That’s really wonderful.
Laura Birek: I’m so happy that it’s working out and I think Shanna, we have a question we ask all of our guests, don’t we?
Shanna Micko: Yeah, let’s ask Deanna.
Laura Birek: Deanna, we ask all of our guests if they have a big fat positive, a BFP, that they can share with us. Do you have a BFP you’d like to share with our listeners?
Deanna Koelsch: I do. Talking about the conversation that you have with children about surrogacy, there are wonderful children’s books available and there are some that are available for the children of the surrogate and even for children born from a surrogate. So one is called Grown in Another Garden and this is geared toward young children who were born from a surrogate and it just kind of goes through this really lovely story explaining that some of the most beautiful creations are grown in another garden. The other one that I really love is called My Mom is a Surrogate and it has young siblings, a brother and a sister that kind of see it through their eyes how their mother is becoming a surrogate to help another family and I just think that children’s books are such a wonderful way to open the conversation. They have the visuals of the pictures and just kind of reaffirm that this is a really beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing to help another family and it’s a beautiful thing to come from the help of another family. I think that it’s can kind of just reaffirm and answer any questions that the kids might have and really explain it in a way that they can understand.
Shanna Micko: Those sound wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing those with us.
Laura Birek: We’ll be sure to put links to that on our website, bigfatpositivepodcast.com and Deanna, it’s been so great talking to you. I feel like I could talk to you for another hour.
Deanna Koelsch: It’s a big topic. There are so many questions to answer.
Laura Birek: We’d still have stuff to talk about.
Shanna Micko: Well, you certainly answered a lot of them and thank you so much for joining us and giving us your time. It was wonderful.
Deanna Koelsch: That’s been my pleasure.
Laura Birek: Thank you so much. So should we take a break, Shanna, and then we’ll come back with our BFPs and BFNs and wrap up the show?
Shanna Micko: Yeah, let’s do it.
Laura Birek: We’re back. So we close every episode with a big fat positive or a big fat negative, a BFP or BFN. Shanna, what do you have for us?
Shanna Micko: A BFP.
Laura Birek: Yay.
Shanna Micko: So as you all know, we’re weaning breastfeeding and that means more formula in our life.
Laura Birek: Yes.
Shanna Micko: A product that I came to know when I had my first daughter, because we stopped breastfeeding at six months, so I had six months of full on formula making was the Dr. Brown’s Formula Mixing Pitcher. It’s a pitcher.
Laura Birek: You got to describe this. I cannot visualize. I know what a pitcher looks like, but I…
Shanna Micko: So it’s a pitcher and I guess the max is maybe like 36 ounces, although I don’t ever make that much, but you can make a full day’s worth of formula, which for us right now is maybe like 20 to 24 ounces of formula. I can make it all at once instead of having to shake up bottles every single time I feed her and making them throughout the day. It really saves time really.
Laura Birek: How long is formula good for once you’ve mixed it?
Shanna Micko: 24 hours in the fridge.
Laura Birek: Oh, okay.
Shanna Micko: One hour at room temp.
Laura Birek: Got it. So it’s kind of like breast milk. I guess in the fridge breast milk is four days, right?
Shanna Micko: I think four to five. You have to be prepared to use it for the next day, but you can make a full day’s worth all in one shot. So you put all the water in, you put the formula powder in and one thing I don’t like about making formula bottles and shaking them up is it gets really foamy, like lots of bubbles and if you don’t have the right kind of bottle, it can get extra air in their system and so this bottle’s so cool. I don’t even know how to explain this. It’s got this pump and it’s attached to this spinning wheel at the bottom. It’s like a wheel kind of the size of the circumference of the pitcher and you just pump it up and down and this little wheel goes through the formula and gently mixes all the formula together. Within like 15 pumps, you’ve got a full pitcher of formula and you don’t have to mix all your bottles and measure each one and everything.
Laura Birek: So sort of a salad spinner type pump thing?
Shanna Micko: Yeah.
Laura Birek: Okay.
Shanna Micko: Good analogy.
Laura Birek: That does sound cool.
Shanna Micko: So I find that really convenient and that’s my BFP for the week.
Laura Birek: That’s awesome. We haven’t had to use any formula yet, so I don’t know anything about the formula world. I’ve seen friends with the prefilled, pre-portioned out powders and I watch them in Mommy & Me dumping it in and measuring the water and shaking it and it does look like that’s a little bit of a pain.
Shanna Micko: I will say though it is cool, but I will say if you’re on the go, you do want to do that method, because unless you want to bring ice packs and everything and keep the formula chilled because it’s only good for an hour at room temperature, it’s just best to bring. I always bring premeasured water, premeasured formula in a separate container, premeasured powder and when she’s ready to have a bottle out in the world, I mix them together at that moment and make it and give it to her.
Laura Birek: Got it. That makes sense.
Shanna Micko: So there you have it. What about you? What you got for us?
Laura Birek: I also have a BFP.
Shanna Micko: Woo-hoo.
Laura Birek: This is related to my travel, which I talked about in my check-in. It is a car seat bag that’s also a backpack for travel. So it’s like a case for your car seat that’s padded and then it has straps so you can carry it on your back when you’re getting ready to go check it. It doesn’t seem that amazing whatever you put your car seat in a case, right? Okay, sure. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. But the thing about the car seat backpack is that you can put the base in with it as well, but also there’s a lot of negative space inside of a car seat and in that negative space, you can stuff extra diapers, extra burp cloths, extra clothes and the airlines let you check a car seat for free. So it’s like checking a bag for free. You can fit so much stuff in that backpack. I will say on the way back, there was a salty gate agent who asked me, like, “There’s just a car seat in the back, right?” I was like, “Yeah.”
Shanna Micko: You straight lied?
Laura Birek: I totally lied.
Shanna Micko: I couldn’t do it. Makes my stomach hurt thinking about it.
Laura Birek: It’s so funny because I hate lying and I hate breaking the rules, but when it comes to getting charged for checking bags, it’s the one place where I’m so self-righteous. I’m like, I should not be paying for this. I know I should not be paying for this. You’ve charged me for so many years to check bags. I’m going to get away with it this time. I’m going to bring all my baby shit in the… The one I use is called the JL Childress Ultimate Backpack Padded Car Seat Travel Bag. The list price says it’s $52, but on Amazon right now it’s $39.99. So it’s really very sturdy. But yeah, I was like, you’re not going to check in there and you’re not going to go back and charge me if you do end up opening it and seeing bunch of diapers and crap. So yes, I condone lying in this situation. Gosh, I hope no gate agents are listening to this podcast.
Shanna Micko: I think there are our top audience listening.
Laura Birek: But also, I like it mainly because it is this backpack because I realized we would’ve been screwed if we didn’t have it, because we weren’t able to really carry. You’re carrying the baby, you are pushing the stroller, which we ended up gate checking. We checked the car seat before you go through security, but you have so much crap when you’re going on a trip and just being able to put it on your back and not have to worry about it, it’s gigantic. If you imagine walking around with your car seat on your back, it was a lot, but it did take it off out of your hands. So highly recommend. Well, of course, post it. We’ll post links to both of these on bigfatpositivepodcast.com so everyone can see them. You can always check out our favorite’s page as well. If you go to bigfatpositivepodcast.com/favorites, we actually have a list of all the products that we have talked about on shows that we love, so you can just like quickly find them. You don’t have to go to our episode page. That’s a hot tip: our favorite’s page.
Shanna Micko: Love that. Also, if you love the show, please rate and review us on whatever platform you listen and spread the word as you’ve been doing. We appreciate it so much. If you know a pregnant mom or a mom to be, or a dad to be, I don’t know, maybe dads want to get in on this action. Who knows?
Laura Birek: Yeah, dads.
Shanna Micko: Why not? Spread the word. If you want to get in on the conversation, let us know your BFPs, BFNs. Please reach out. We love hearing from you. Laura, where can everyone reach us?
Laura Birek: We are on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at BFP Podcast and we also have a Facebook community group. Just search for Big Fat Positive community and click to join. I will add you. It’s a closed group, so that way we keep all of our conversations just between us. So just click request to join, and I will add you as soon as possible.
Shanna Micko: Big Fat Positive is produced by Shanna Micko, Laura Birek and Steve Yager.
Laura Birek: Thanks for listening, everyone. We’ll see you next week.
Shanna Micko: Bye.