The surrogacy process is often misunderstood. Not helping matters is the common (and inaccurate) depiction in movies and television (think Friends, Superstore, The Connors or My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Often, the person playing the role of the surrogate would not even meet the qualifications for surrogacy (example: Phoebe on Friends had never been pregnant or had children previously and in the real world, would not have qualified to be a carrier for her brother’s embryos).
It’s important to remember that when many people ask either the intended parents or surrogate a question, much of the insensitivity is simply ignorance about how the surrogacy process works. When you pursue building a family with the help of a gestational carrier or you agree to be a surrogate, one of the things you must prepare for are the questions. Short of holding a press conference (which would be amazing - you could get all these questions answered and then be done with it!) it can be helpful to be prepared for what may be asked - and how to best enlighten others that The Handmaid’s Tale is not a documentary and doesn’t reflect the real process. Below, we review some of the most commonly asked questions and some ideas on how to respond to them:
Holy aggressive, Batman! While this is a common question, it doesn’t make it any less invasive. While you may be tempted to whip out pictures of IVF needles and tell them where the eggs were retrieved from, approaching it with the reminder that they really don’t know what they are asking makes it an opportunity to educate the “fertile public at large.” There are often misconceptions that as a surrogate, you may have had sexual relations with the genetic father and boy, do we need to shut that down! Explaining that the genetic parents went through the IVF process and the embryo was transferred to you should suffice. If not, feel free to ask them how they got pregnant just to make things even.
Oy. This is a question surrogates get asked too often and another common misconception. The answer entails a quick lesson in genetics. Gently explain that while you are carrying the baby, you are not genetically related to the child. It’s like someone handed you their most precious football in the world to score the final touchdown, but once the baby is born, you’re giving it back to its rightful owners so they can spike the ball.
Again, when it comes to genetics and who is the “mother” and “father,” there have been stories of even hospital staff not handling this delicately. Whether you’re the surrogate or intended parents, we must work together as a community to enlighten those who don’t understand that “traditional surrogacy” is not supported by the majority of clinics or laws in the United States. Declare loud and proud who the real parents are and why, so that this individual will (hopefully) never ask this question again.
While some may ask simply because they are nosy, we could try to give this person the benefit of the doubt and imagine that perhaps they or someone they know is considering surrogacy. If you want to give them exact figures, that’s your business. However, if you prefer to be more discreet, you can offer a simple, “Enough to cover my expenses for being a gestational carrier.” You may also want to throw in the fact that for many surrogates, compensation isn’t their primary motivation. It’s typically because they genuinely care about helping others who are unable to carry a pregnancy on their own.
This is a question both surrogates and intended parents may get. I, myself, went through IVF and when anyone asked me why I didn’t adopt, my favorite way of responding was asking them why they didn’t adopt? Whether you’re fertile or not, able to carry a child or not, everyone has the right to build their family in the way they want or feel most comfortable. Some feel strongly about being genetically tied to their child and others don’t. It’s called “options,” and it’s what makes family building possible.
When you agree to serve as a surrogate, everyone must be on board – it will impact your entire family. You may have to be on bed rest, you may need help around the house, or your partner may just want to feel part of the process of helping another family. You can answer with the ever famous “It takes a village!” or assure them that you wouldn’t have pursued surrogacy without your partner’s support.
In order to be a surrogate, you must have had at least one child previously. When you sign on to be a gestational carrier, your children are part of the puzzle. Luckily, there are several books, resources and tools on how to explain this to your children. You can share that you’ve taken an age appropriate approach to walk them through the process, you’ve shared the intended parent’s story, and your children understand why you are doing this and to whom the baby belongs.
Sigh. This is another misconception surrogates face. The short answer is “no, because it’s not my baby.” However, if you’d like to educate them about the beauty of surrogacy, clarify that you’re not the genetic parent and you fully understood what the process of surrogacy entails before you signed on. Feel free to add that you are enthusiastic about handing this baby back to his or her parents, as that is very much the most rewarding part of this incredible journey.
If you’re a gestational carrier, the answer is obviously up to you. While this question can be a bit intrusive, we never know what is in someone’s mind when they ask. Maybe they need a surrogate? Maybe they want to applaud you for what you’re doing? Maybe they simply want to learn more so they can ask fewer annoying questions should you do this again and wouldn’t that be nice???
This is more often a question for intended parents. When you’re trying to conceive, having fertility issues or exploring different paths to parenthood like surrogacy, people tend to shower you with stories they’ve heard (i.e. “I had a second cousin on my father’s side who was going to do IVF but then she went to the Bahamas and got pregnant on her own! Have you tried going on vacation?”) Or, they give you what they believe is helpful advice. A succinct statement like “we’ve looked at all of our options and this is the one that best fits our situation. I hope you can be supportive of that” should end the stream of suggestions. If not, I suggest putting your fingers in your ears and singing “la la la” until they take the hint.
Here is something vital to remember: you don’t actually have to answer any of these questions. While I encourage educating those who are more ignorant than insensitive, it’s your business and if you’d rather take a pass on being a “Surrogacy Spokesperson,” that is absolutely your choice. You have a right to answer or not answer anything you want.
You could also make up little index cards with common questions and answers, and anytime someone starts a line of questioning you’re not in the mood for, hand it to them and be on your merry way.
Bottom line: these questions can be insensitive and wildly inappropriate. I still contend, however, that many people don’t mean to be rude as much as they aren’t aware of how it all works. Ultimately, whether you decide to provide explanations, details or answers, what you should ask for is support in a way that will best help you on your surrogacy journey.
Written by Jennifer (Jay) Palumbo
Jay is a writer, a healthcare and family building advocate, CEO of Wonder Woman Writer LLC, a comic, a thyroid cancer survivor, a wife and mother of two extraordinary boys. Check out her Instagram and LinkedIn.
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.