Finances and Infertility: How to Navigate Your Money While Becoming Parents

September Burton: Hello everyone. And welcome to this episode of the Colorado Fertility Conference Podcast. I am your host, September Burton. And today I have Denise Steele with me and Denise works for a company called SeedTrust Escrow. So we’re going to be talking money and infertility and how to navigate that whole world. So we are very grateful for Denise to be coming on and share her expertise with us. So she is a third-party ART consultant for SeedTrust Escrow. She’s the program director for seed coach fertility financial guidance. She joined SeedTrust Escrow and Seed coach fertility guidance in 2019. And prior to that, she was the strategic director and clinical liason for a large surrogacy and egg donor agency. And she started a blog called Hope for Fertility back in 2012. And this is because she has her own story. She was actually an intended parent. Good morning, Denise. I want to just turn it over to you because your story is fascinating. And I want people to be able to hear your story and get to know you a little bit. How are you this morning?

[00:01:01] Denise Steele: I’m great, September. Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.

[00:01:05]September Burton: Thank you for coming on. It’s an honor to have you on. So will you get started by telling us your story?

[00:01:11]Denise Steele: I’d be happy to. In 2007, I learned that I would not be able to have my own biological children. My former husband and I suffered devastating pregnancy losses and after doing so we also attempted a round of IVF. But during that process, we learned that three of the embryos that were created all had massive chromosomal abnormalities that confirmed my infertility at that particular time. And so we decided, once we were confident that we would not be able to move forward with a pregnancy on our own, that we would pursue both domestic private adoption and third-party fertility treatments. And, interestingly enough, both paths worked so well that we ended up having three baby boys in just under a year, that following year.

[00:02:02] September Burton: Wow.

[00:02:04]Denise Steele: Yes. And so, that was a bit of a crazy year. We definitely hit the baby lottery and thankfuly so, we feel very blessed. But in our case, our egg donor only created one egg, which is very rare. And frankly, it was considered a failure. And, I got the phone call from our doctor that said that only one egg was created and that was a complete failure. So I didn’t think any more about it. We had just adopted our newborn son and I moved forward, but the next day they called and they said, it fertilized, so come in, the next day and we’ll do the transfer, which was a day three transfer. Which is pretty rare these days, most of the doctors now work on a day five transfer because they want to get the embryo to blast. So ours wasn’t even to blast but we moved forward. I wasn’t confident that it was going to work at all, but during our first ultrasound our doctor confirmed that we were having mono di identical twins. So the embryo had split right after the transfer. And the irony is that I am also an identical twin.

[00:03:08] September Burton: And I just want to throw in there real quick–identical twins, that’s not the hereditary one. It’s fraternal twins that are hereditary. So for you to be an identical twin and then to have identical twins yourself, that’s unheard of. That’s amazing.

[00:03:21] Denise Steele: It really, it was quite shocking, honestly. And, I hit the panic button at that point because I thought, boy Oh boy, I’ve gone from praying and wishing and wondering to now being presented with the idea of being a parent to three children at the same time. So it was very exciting. That year was definitely exhausting for sure, but I feel very blessed to have gone through that experience and to have my three children. And while I was pursuing motherhood, I was working in the advertising technology space and I had built my career in that industry for about 20 years. My parental pursuit is what drew me to the third party fertility industry. So my objective initially, when I wrote the blog, Hope for Fertility, was to spread hope to others who were struggling to either start or grow their families. But once I was in the industry, I realized that the opportunity to educate intended parents around the financial planning and risks specifically for which they should prepare themselves to complete their journeys was really important. And that’s what happened was I moved over into this space and as you mentioned, I was on the agency side first and then I moved over into the financial piece, the escrow and financial piece, Back early in 2019. 

[00:04:35]September Burton: That is just an amazing story. I’m just curious, do they call them Irish triplets?

[00:04:41] Denise Steele: A lot of people do because the twins were born four days before our oldest’s first birthday. So he celebrated his birthday in my, I call my hotel rooms, it was my hospital room.

[00:04:54] September Burton: That’s so awesome. Congratulations. That’s just amazing. So one of the things that when we chatted on the phone about doing this interview that we talked about was you talked to me about SeedTrust, the company itself, the integrity you were telling me about how there’s three owners to maintain checks and balances . Can you go into that?

[00:05:11] Denise Steele: Absolutely.  I’m gonna, rewind the tape a little bit, just because I want to talk to you about the values that actually intrigued me and brought me into the company and why I decided to join. So while I was focusing on educating parents on how they should vet their providers, there were specific values that I really focused on and that I thought were really important in that. Those values are weird very much in SeedTrust Escrow and SeedCoach Fertility Financial Guidance. So the values that I really focus on when I’m working with, whether it’s a clinic, an agency, an intended parent, whomever, it’s really about transparency, protection, reputation, expertise, and integrity. When I joined SeedTrust Escrow and SeedCoach Fertility Financial Guidance in 2019, I really focused on the risks. So I think it’s important for us to talk about the risks involved when anybody is going through a third party journey. So every  intended parent who decides to build their family through third party is taking a big risk. And those risks really are around emotional and financial risks, right? So those are very significant. But then the other piece of that, those intended parents are going to be matched with an egg donor and/or a surrogate. And those individuals are also taking great risks. So they’ve chosen to go through medical procedures and a physical process that is going to benefit that family in the long run. So they are definitely taking a big risk in that relationship, but those servicing egg donor agencies that facilitate those matches are also taking on risk because by holding escrow themselves, they’re taking on liability and that could cost them greatly based on the reputation, financials, and so forth. SeedTrust Escrow has been in business for five years and we’ve grown really rapidly. And the reason for that is we’ve really focused on the process itself and making sure that we’re protecting everybody involved. So I’ll start by talking about–what is our escrow and what is it intended to do? And I want to boil this down to its simplest down to its essence. So simply put establishing escrow for third-party journeys is meant to protect all the parties involved. The intended parents, the egg donors, and the surrogates, as well as the agencies. The best case scenario is that the escrow is held by a third party entity that specializes in ART escrow. Why is that? First and foremost, a third party ART escrow company is a neutral party. Their only role is to protect everyone in the relationship financially. And they should have high level of professional expertise. So you asked about the professional expertise within our company. The three owners of our company are comprised of Edward Brockschmidt, who is a CPA, and he is the founder of the company. And he recognized the opportunity that there was really nobody in the space who was doing it at the highest level and offering the highest level of transparency and protection. He quickly brought on Roland Salloum, who is our COO and is an attorney. So the other piece of ART escrow is that those funds should always be held in an attorney managed account because the bar has oversight over those accounts. And so Roland manages a team of paralegals who work on every single case. And then thirdly, we have Adam Winder who’s a banker. So all of those individuals, along with the folks that are a part of the team now all have a high level of expertise in terms of managing escrow based off of the contracts. So these individuals, there are checks and balances that go between interdepartmentally so that all of the process is seamless and that it, there are checks and balances along the way. So the best case scenario is that escrow is managed versus held. And there’s a big difference between those. The other big thing is that there needs to be licensing and bonding. So unfortunately there have been situations where escrow companies have misappropriated funds. And where they have literally stolen people’s money, unfortunately. So there hasn’t typically been a lot of oversight in this particular space. And so that’s what we look to change. So specifically we have a $40 million bond that protects every single dollar that we manage and hold. We manage escrow for surrogacy cases, which means that  we are managing off of the contract that is established between the intended parents and their surrogates. So the reason that we do that is we don’t want for anybody within that relationship to have the upper hand. We want to solely base the escrow disbursements on what is written in that contract and what they’re beholden to. And so those insurances are that the egg donors or the surrogate are going to be paid on time in accordance to that contract and that the receipts are checked and the contracts are also reviewed to ensure that any and all payments are paid appropriately and on time. So our ultimate goal is that those egg donors and surrogates have a better experience, they’re paid on time, and for the specific amounts, whether it’s their expenses or compensation or anything else related to their journeys. But ultimately we want there to be a great experience for everybody. So we believe that if we have a happy egg donor and surrogate, if they’re being paid in accordance to their contracts and on time that there is a better outcome and they’re happier. And those intended parents can then focus on growing their family versus having to worry about those payments. It’s all transparent. They can see everything online and  so can the surrogate on her end, she can see everything that’s being paid out in accordance to that contract as well.

[00:11:20]September Burton: I like how you just said that the intended parents get to focus on growing their families rather than having to worry about making sure that the bills are paid because you guys are on top of that, you’ve got that taken care of. So the intended parents can rest and they can focus on growing their families. So I think that’s really, that’s a beautiful thing to say and thing to do for these people.

[00:11:40] Denise Steele: Thank you. Yeah, we were all very passionate about what we do at SeedTrust, probably scarily. So we can talk escrow all day long, and to everybody else’s chagrin.

[00:11:49] September Burton: Yeah, I really enjoy that explanation, thank you for that. So , let’s talk about budgeting for your third party journeys. What are your tips and advice? What do you tell people when they come to you about that budget and how to set that up?

[00:12:03] Denise Steele: Sure. Third-party fertility is expensive. There’s no other way to say it. It can also be very confusing because there are fixed and variable costs associated with your journey. So the main thing is to plan and keep planning, because there will be unknowns along the way because those variable costs are going to creep in what or whatever bucket those tend to fall in. It could be insurance, it could be travel, it could be having to do more than one cycle, et cetera, and so forth. The best case scenario is that you work with an organization that provides a benefit that will give you the most information around planning. Whether you have the funds and it’s easy for you to pay for your third party journey, or you’re struggling to figure out how to make that happen. Having that comprehensive understanding around the budget is paramount. So the budget should include your clinic and agency fees, donor and/or surrogacy expenses, both compensation, lost wages, et cetera, and so forth, medical insurance to cover the surrogate because the surrogate can not be covered under an intended parents policy. They have to have their own associated policy. And their existing policy may not cover them for a surrogacy journey. And then of course, all of the other incidentals around that journey. Whether it’s travel, sometimes intended parents are going to have to travel to the surrogate or vice versa. There’s travel to and from the clinic, and so forth, and so on. Other related expenses– food meals, you name it. SeedCoach Fertility Financial Guidance is a program and a benefit that is offered through some agencies. So some agencies will offer this program to their intended parents so that they can best prepare those intended parents for the full cost of what that journey will be. Based on, the information in the beginning, middle, and end. So specifically, those individuals, those intended parents are going to be working with live coaches who have a lot of experience around this. Some of them have created their own families through third party, adoption, or just non-traditional means. But they have a high level of empathy and understanding along with the financial understanding so that they can work with these intended parents and fully understand what their financial backgrounds are and the assets that they bring. Specifically for those who do have money, they can put together a comprehensive budget so that those individuals know exactly where that money is going to be allocated for that journey. And then for those intended parents who are worried about where to find those funds, if there’s a gap between what they have and what they need, then they can work with those coaches , to find resources that would be related to grants, loans, and even some fundraising efforts so that the coaches are also going to give them best practices around fundraising if they choose to. But they also will gain access to a portal that will give them information based on videos, as well as templates that they can use to budget. So those coaches will help them with those templates if they are not savvy or they don’t wish to fill those in themselves and they need help doing that. Or those intended parents can take that on themselves and put that together and then share those with the coaches. But the coaches, they don’t have any financial gain in this. They are not paid commissions. They solely work with those intended parents to get them to their ultimate goal, which is to have a family. And so they will work as fast or as slow as those intended parents wish to go. They’re going to work at the pace of those intended parents.

[00:15:32]September Burton: I love that. I love how you guys are really focused on putting the intended parents first and the emotional side of being an intended parent, you guys are very aware of that.  Another thing that we discussed before was that these coaches will also teach these intended parents how to basically tell their story in such a way that helps other people want to help them financially get to their goals. Is that something that you can talk about?

[00:15:57] Denise Steele: Absolutely. I’m glad you brought that up. So in order to be eligible for grants and loans, it’s really important to tell your story in a very succinct way so that you have the highest level of likelihood of getting the grant or loan. The other thing is that along the way, family members will be, you will be working if you’re working on, let’s say, fundraising opportunities, and you’re going to be talking to your friends and family, putting together your story in a way that is compelling as also important. Typically in a relationship you’re going to have one person who was willing to share and another person who is probably maybe a little reluctant to share the story. And so helping them come together in a way that feels right and feels comfortable to them is what those coaches will focus on and also getting them to the best outcome in securing those funds.

[00:16:48]September Burton: Thank you for sharing that. That’s, that’s really, I think really inspiring and really helpful for these couples who are going through such an intense, emotional journey to know that there’s somebody on their side, to know that there’s somebody out there trying to help them. Do you have any financial tips that you would give to intended parents who are just starting out on this journey?

[00:17:08] Denise Steele: I think to really vet all of your potential providers. So when I go back to, based on the financials, I think it’s always going back to those values that I originally talked about. Which is transparency, protection, reputation, expertise, and integrity. Because the main thing that you want to do is you want to choose those organizations and those providers that are going to help you get through the process most effectively and efficiently. You don’t want to take time working with entities that might cost you money. More money than you should be spending, rather. So if you’re working with an agency really ask them a lot of questions about how long they’ve been in business, what’s their motivation, what’s their success rate, what’s their process? Same thing for the escrow provider. So in our case, it would be asking us about that bond and making sure that the insurance policies would include language that would state, which ours do, that even if there was misappropriation or an error that we would take on the full onus of that, and that there would never be an element of losing any money. So I always go back to the risk factor when I talk about the money aspect of this. So it’s minimizing your risk as much as possible, and then working with an agency who can provide a resource or benefit so that those intended parents have the best knowledge possible around what would be their comprehensive budget. So that’s important to know that. So to walk in and to only know the bits and pieces of your budget, isn’t really that helpful because you’ve got to get through the full journey. You need to understand what your legal fees are going to be and what your other out-of-pocket will be in addition to your agency fee and your surrogacy and egg donor compensation and expenses. So working with an entity that can help provide that broader aspect of what you’re going to need to have is going to be most important. And then if you are working with, whether it’s, SeedCoach and working with those coaches, or it’s some other financial expert who is going to say okay, here are your assets, here’s what you can use to help you fund your journey versus what you’re going to need. That would be my biggest piece of advice from a broader perspective.

[00:19:24]September Burton: Thank you so much for sharing that. So I’m curious, going back to your personal story for just a second, you talked about your blog, Hope for Fertility. You said you started that in 2012. Is that still live? Is that still available?

[00:19:36] Denise Steele: It is still live. So it is still available for people to check out. Just like everybody else that goes through this it’s this process is a very emotional process. And so the reason for me writing that blog was really talk about our journey in a very realistic and truthful way. And so having children through third party or through adoption is just, it’s very trying. And so it, I felt like when we went through the process, Once people had gotten through it and they’d become parents, they had forgotten about all of the harder aspects of going through their journey. And so I really wanted to talk about that. And so I’m an open book. So the thing that everybody should know is if they have questions and if they would like to talk to me, my email is, you can email me through Hope for Fertility or Denise @Seedtrustescrow.com. And reach out to me, I’m an open book and I would love to talk to you and I have the best wishes for everybody going through this journey. And I hope that everybody is successful in building their families through third party. ,

[00:20:41] September Burton: Thank you for sharing and thank you for that transparency and that level of vulnerability too. That’s really powerful, I think that empathy in this industry and in this realm of struggling to get pregnant and to grow your family, empathy is so needed and so important. So thank you for that. If people are curious about SeedTrust and learning more, how can they find SeedTrust and get in touch?

[00:21:03] Denise Steele: You bet. it’s really easy. All you have to do is go to SeedTrustescrow.com. And then, if you would like to find out more about SeedCoach, you would just go to yourseedcoach.com. And all of our information is there. You of course will have my email and my phone number and all of my contact information, if people wish to reach out to me directly. I’ve had the honor of working with amazing agencies and clinics along the way they have all become great partners. And I love, if people have questions around, who should I work with from an agency perspective or a clinic perspective, I’m always happy to guide them to great resources on that front as well.

[00:21:43] September Burton: Perfect. Thank you so much for that. Denise, I really appreciate you coming on today for sharing your expertise, for sharing this financial knowledge. I think that’s one of the most important things that we can share with people is the financial, because that’s a huge emotional piece too. Before we sign off, do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to leave our listeners with?

[00:22:03]Denise Steele:  I have a lot of respect for what you’re going through right now. I know it’s really difficult and challenging, but just keep the faith, rely on the people that are really trying to support you throughout this. Sometimes they don’t quite know how to support you, but let them do it in the best way possible. And I wish you the very best of luck. Thank you so much September. It’s been wonderful talking to you.

[00:22:24] September Burton: Thank you, Denise.

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