It’s something parents-to-be dream about: those first precious days with their newborn. While it’s naturally met with a mix of excitement and trepidation, these feelings can be exacerbated in a surrogate pregnancy. Many parents wonder how to best bond with their newborn once they are finally home; as it turns out, bonding can start before the baby is born whether a surrogate is involved or not.
Bonding with a newborn is crucial, for both the relationship between parent and child and for the child’s overall development. According to Dr. Mary Beth Steinfeld, “When a caregiver consistently responds to an infant’s needs, a trusting relationship and lifelong attachment develops. This sets the stage for the growing child to enter healthy relationships with other people throughout life and to appropriately experience and express a full range of emotions.”
That said, bonding doesn’t always happen right away. And that’s okay too. Research now shows that bonding can take place over time. Consider situations where babies must be separated due to medical reasons, or families who adopt. Parents are still able to create healthy, lasting bonds with their children. “Bonding is truly an individual experience,” says Edward Chistophersen, a pediatric psychologist, “and it’s just as reasonable to expect the bond to develop over a period of time as it is for it to develop instantaneously.”
Absolutely! In fact, pregnancy is a key time to start the bonding process regardless of whether a surrogate is involved. A major myth about surrogacy is that it will prevent you from connecting with your child. You can still bond with your baby during a surrogate pregnancy, it just takes a little creativity. Some parents set up an email account for their baby-to-be; not only can it be used by the child when they’re older, but it’s a special way to share thoughts and emotions that are sometimes most easily expressed through writing. You can include photos, videos, and even invite other family members to contribute. It can truly act as a family bonding experience – not to mention a built-in time capsule.
Another great way to bond is through your baby’s sense of hearing. A fetus can hear sounds from inside the womb by about 24 weeks; consider utilizing Belly Buds, which allow parents to record messages for the surrogate to play back through tiny speakers. You can include favorite songs or even read a children’s book for baby; regular exposure to your voice will make it a familiar – and fast favorite – sound once he or she is born. Talk to your surrogate about how to best incorporate this into her daily routine.
The birth itself, of course, can be a major bonding experience too. Intended parents are typically right there for the entire process and are recommended to have skin-to-skin contact with their baby immediately after birth. Work closely with your gestational carrier and surrogacy team to create a birth plan that meets everyone’s needs as closely as possible.
So how exactly do you talk to your surrogate about your hopes for the pregnancy and birth? Exactly what can you expect? The truth is that every relationship between an intended parent and surrogate is different – in fact, it’s why ConceiveAbilities prioritizes our specialized Matching Matters® process. It’s so good that it results in a 97% match at first meeting. But that’s only the start of the partnership between you and your gestational carrier. In order to have a successful surrogacy arrangement, it’s important to work together with your team – your agency, clinic, and attorney – to ensure everyone’s needs are heard and met. A reputable agency like ConceiveAbilities has the experience to guide you through the unique challenges of surrogacy, and we’re adept at handling any ups and downs you may encounter along the way. We understand and respect that each surrogacy relationship is unique, and we treat it as such.
At some point after the birth, it’s recommended that your baby and surrogate have a few minutes together. Doing this allows the baby to confirm his or her senses, particularly smell. The reality is that this is what a newborn has known for the past nine months, and while they will make the transition back to mom or dad, respecting this natural instinct can only help baby adjust to life on the outside. Be sure to discuss what this might look like with your surrogate; talk about what she’s comfortable with and be sure to check in with her after the birth too to see when and if she’s ready to hold the baby.
On some level, you start preparation the moment you decide you want to have a baby. For some, bonding starts during pregnancy. This is not always the case, and that’s okay. Do the best you can to mentally prepare yourself for the impending change. There is a vulnerability that comes with being a new parent; you will find yourself in new situations with someone you’re just getting to know, and it can be challenging, frustrating and scary. The learning curve of parenthood is inevitable, but bonding with your child is an important part of that. And while the emotional preparation looks a bit different in a surrogate pregnancy, of course, that doesn’t change the ultimate bond you’ll have with your child.
While the bonding process will look different for each family, there are a few things you can do consistently to help guide the process and ease into this new life together.
Talk to your baby. Whether it’s describing how you’re preparing baby’s bottle, your lunch, or what’s going on outside your window, newborns benefit immensely from your communication. Sounds and words are all being quickly filed away into your baby’s brain – truly a little sponge - and become their basis for speech.
Have plenty of face time. If you can be face to face with your baby while you’re chatting, even better. Look into his or her eyes. Babies learn these exchanges by example – if you smile, baby will eventually return it. And that first smile is something all parents look forward to!
Get skin-to-skin. Don’t underestimate the importance of touch. Skin-to-skin contact has been proven to stimulate a chemical reaction in the body through the release of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that creates bonding. Make time for snuggles, knowing that every little touch builds your baby’s sense of security and trust.
Sometimes, bonding with your newborn is a challenge. If, after several weeks, you still feel unable to connect with your child, or are experiencing other symptoms like extreme sadness or hopelessness, anger, or wanting to avoid your baby or other family and friends, talk to a trusted healthcare provider. It is possible you’re dealing with Postpartum Depression (PPD). There are many resources available to help you cope, and some find that the best way to manage is seeking treatment with a therapist. It doesn’t make you a “bad” or “inept” parent; it means you want to do everything you can to best care for your child.
New parenthood, especially on the heels of a surrogate pregnancy, requires a lot of adjustment. It’s perfectly normal to need extra support during this time, and the team at ConceiveAbilities is here for you from beginning to end. Contact us to learn more about how we can guide your surrogacy journey.
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.