Meet Deb Levy, Clinical Director and Surrogacy Specialist at ConceiveAbilities. Deb handles a lot of the psychological, mental health considerations of the match, from the psychological evaluation to keeping the surrogates and parents on the same page.
Read the full interview below.
DL: I’m a marriage and family therapist. In my private practice, I had become aware of reproductive issues, whether my clients were experiencing difficulty conceiving or recurrent miscarriage.
And then, as fate would have it, I had my own experience with fertility and became a patient. I had my children via a gestational carrier, and that’s how I found my passion for surrogacy.
When I was going through treatment, my doctor recruited me to come work for him. I directed his Mind/Body Counseling department for about 9 years. But surrogacy was so near and dear to my heart. So when Nazca approached me to start the surrogacy program, I was absolutely thrilled and jumped on board!
Infertility completely devastated me. Having a background in counseling, made me think about how I could get more involved in reproductive medicine. I started off by assessing egg donors and surrogates in my private practice and I was hooked. I wanted so much to give back to an industry that helped me create a family.
My roles and responsibility are overseeing the mental health aspect of the process, and the more complicated situations. You can’t take the mental health aspect out of surrogacy- it’s just so emotional. When someone else is carrying your baby, there’s fear, there’s control issues, there’s lots of different emotions- even grief and loss. I oversee all the psychological aspects.
And because I’ve been through this personally, and watched my clients for several years go through different journeys, I’ve learned a lot about surrogacy and want to share that with our clients.
My roles and responsibilities are mainly focused on overseeing the mental health aspects of the process. We direct support groups where the surrogates can process what is going on throughout the pregnancy.
Our team gets to know the intended parents; their personalities and their needs, to find the perfect match for them.
The psychological team also work with the intended parents that are struggling to get through the anxiety or fears surrounding someone else carrying their child.
I also participate in the Matching Meeting to work on finding the right match from the beginning.
We also introduce intended parents and gestational surrogates and their partners. We guide them through a discussion, leading them through some of the more difficult questions while maintaining a relaxed environment so that everyone is comfortable.
I love working to figure out what each individual match needs. Some matches need a little extra psychological support and some need assistance in logistical matters.
For infertility patients, for example, they have been through so much trauma to get this far. For them, It’s hard to believe that it’s actually happening. It’s surreal.
For example, when my surrogate was 38 weeks pregnant, and she caught me saying “IF we have a baby.” She looked at me, and said “Deb, I’m 38 weeks pregnant, I’m going to have your baby, it’s going to happen!” And I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
Well, I normalize it for them. I want them to know that’s part of their grieving process. That they’re not necessarily going to get super excited at the first pregnancy test. But then we celebrate milestones. So let’s say we celebrate the first pregnancy test, and the first ultrasound - we aren’t going to go all the way to the end where we celebrate the baby! That would be so stressful for the intended parent. So we celebrate small milestones along the way.
When a couple has a loss. That is so hard for everyone. The surrogate takes it just as hard as the intended parent. When we have 4 people working together, no 4 people grieve the same way, or get over it the same time. So we have to nurture each one’s grieving process, and help them together to come to the decision of “do we want to move on?” or are we going to be done. And that’s really challenging with 4 people.
Grieving is a process. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in her book On Death and Dying, It’s a process composed of sadness, anger, bargaining, denial, and acceptance. And that’s not necessarily in a row. Sometimes you can go from sadness to anger, or you can go from acceptance back to sadness. It’s never going to be over. But we have to move on. Life has to move on. Now, when we move on is different for everybody.
Our clients are brave. They have courage. It takes a leap of faith to be able to accept someone else is carrying your baby. You have to just take our hand and let us guide you through it even if you’re not 100% certain that you can do this.
For a lot of people, this is their first experience of something they can’t control. If you wanted a better grade at school, you worked harder to get it. If you wanted a new job, you worked hard and eventually you’d get it. This is something where you can do everything within your power, and it still may not happen. And for a lot of our clients, this is the first time that that’s occurred.
So we have to talk to them about taking a leap of faith. That they’re not driving, and that’s okay. But we’re going to make them feel secure in knowing how we screen and vet the surrogates, and that we are there for them the entire way. Because we’re all in, and we’re here to support everyone- surrogates and intended parents.
We focus on the match, as the match is the most important part of the surrogacy process. If you don’t have a good match from the start, nothing goes well. The way we do that is a multi level screening process, getting to know the surrogates and the intended parents- their fears, reproductive choices, expectations, and lifestyle.
We look at so many factors, we are so thorough, that is what separates us from other agencies.
Stay tuned for more interviews with the ConceiveAbilities team. Check the ConceiveAbilities blog regularly to learn more about surrogacy, egg donation, and ConceiveAbilities.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.