Will the surrogate develop an attachment with the child? It’s quite possibly the most common question surrounding gestational surrogacy.
Whether it’s a concern of the intended parents or an attempt by the general population to understand such a selfless act, the key is realizing that surrogacy isn’t giving up a child – it’s giving the child back to the parents. The emotional transfer of a surrogate-born baby must inevitably be addressed during the course of the journey.
At first glance, it would seem obvious that a surrogate mother would get attached to the child. After all, she’s carrying a baby for months and will eventually give birth – an incredibly emotional process. But for a gestational carrier (GC), that doesn’t take away from the ultimate purpose of her journey.
A three-time surrogate and ConceiveAbilities’ Surrogate Acceptance Coordinator, Kristina Fabis, offers this perspective: “My pregnancy was my duty, to protect it as if it was my own. All three pregnancies, it seemed like it was my job.” Just like any woman who pursues surrogacy, she had to really consider her motivation. Ultimately, “that was something that really stood out: it’s such a duty. It was never mine to give away. I gave back.”
Lori Jurecko, LSW, has the unique perspective of a mental health professional, ConceiveAbilities Match Manager and former surrogate. While her intention and motivation were clear from the beginning, she recalls how challenging the concept could be for others. A relative even tried to talk her out of it, saying “once you have this baby it’s going to be so hard for you to give it up.”
While Lori understood it was coming from a place of love and concern, her resolve didn’t waver. “I never had a trace of concern because I wasn’t having my own baby,” she explains. “It all comes down to the motivation.”
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommends that gestational carriers receive a psychological evaluation and counseling. A responsible agency will facilitate a full mental health evaluation, including MMPI and PAI psychological testing. ConceiveAbilities prides itself on a thorough screening process, which also includes ongoing touch points – the surrogate takes part in monthly psychological support groups led by licensed mental health professionals from the time she starts the process all the way through two months post-delivery.
“The clinical interview is an importance piece,” Lori notes. “Talking to them about why they want to do this.” That trifecta – the clinical interview, psychosocial testing, and records review – is key when evaluating a surrogacy candidate.
On top of the screening, all potential surrogates are required to have experience raising their own children before being matched. Many of ConceiveAbilities’ surrogates are financially stable and many are married with children.
Ultimately, Lori says, ConceiveAbilities is “screening for different mental health issues or experiences.” Specifically, “If someone has a history of serious postpartum issues, or perhaps recently experienced a loss and hasn’t fully completed the grieving process, surrogacy may not be the right fit.”
The Match Manager is available throughout the journey to address any questions. But rarely do concerns about emotional transfer ever arise.
“I think that’s the distinction between surrogates and people who are not,” Lori explains. “They have more difficulty understanding that surrogates not only don’t develop that attachment or have emotional challenges around giving the baby back to their parents, but we don’t worry about it either. It’s a worry for other people.”
It’s a testament to the motivation and character of many women who choose surrogacy, and to a thorough screening process.
“It’s my theory that this is why we don’t see attachment issues,” notes Lori. “If we weren’t working with the right people I could see it coming up, but it doesn’t.”
Alicia Denefe, LCPC and Surrogacy Match Expert who works with intended parents early in the journey during their matching process, sees a different perspective. “Some intended parents definitely have concerns that the gestational carrier may want to ‘keep’ the baby,” she says. “And, really, why wouldn’t they think that? They would have no way of knowing anything about our GCs or their motivation.”
Once intended parents have had a chance to learn about the typical ConceiveAbilities’ surrogate – coupled with our thorough evaluation process – their concerns are generally assuaged. “I just reassure them and share the motivations of our typical GC so they can hopefully take that concern off the table.” Alicia recognizes that it’s a common belief but finds, just as the surrogates themselves do, that once you scratch the surface the motivation mitigates any risk of attachment.
Research suggests that attachment begins before a baby is born. So while the gestational carrier may not develop those bonds, the child will naturally feel an attachment to the only environment they’ve known. But just like any other newborn, a child born via surrogacy will be introduced to a new world and, with the help of his or her parents, can quickly adapt.
Preparation for the emotional transfer begins long before the child is born. Some intended parents are grieving losses, and that takes time to process. It’s important to address unresolved grief so that it’s possible to focus on the baby’s needs and their bonding as a new family.
Taking an active role in the preparation for the baby will help with this emotional transfer after the birth, as will creating a birth plan. With the help of their match manager, the intended parents and surrogate will discuss how they hope the baby’s first moments will go – whether it’s the immediate transfer to a specific parent, if it includes skin-to-skin contact, and even breastfeeding with the parent.
Once the baby has gone home with the parents and the gestational carrier returns to normal life with her family, a final question often remains: will there be an emotional connection after the transfer? For some surrogates, this period can be the most complex of all.
“Your life is different overnight after putting a year or more of yourself into this process,” Lori points out. The connection with the intended parents might be the biggest adjustment for a surrogate. “The relationship with the IPs has to change,” she says. “That’s the natural course of things.”
Intended parents often recognize this as well. Lori says that they may be “concerned for her, that she’s going to have a hard time. They ask, ‘how can we help her with that, what can we do?’”
Managing expectations is an important part of this stage. “Some GCs will make specific plans so they have a way to refocus,” she explains. “They might plan a trip with their family. It’s a great opportunity to spend some dedicated time with them.”
Ultimately, a surrogate can recognize the importance of her role – but she also understands it doesn’t make her a parent to the child. That role has already been filled, and with it is the culmination of the entire process.
“The moment you’re giving the baby back to their parents, seeing them hold their child for the first time, that’s why you did it,” Lori says. “You’ve met your goal.”