Monday, November 12, 2012

Absolute Beginners - A Crib Sheet to the Crib Sheet on Surrogacy

There seems to be no shortage of advice for visibly expectant moms. But what about those of us approaching parenthood from different places? As an expectant mom via gestational surrogacy, the tried and true pregnancy tomes are helpful (kinda, sorta, I guess) but there’s often no room to get to my questions, the ones specific to our situation. Having a baby that’s gestating several states away from you brings with it its own set of questions, worries and concerns that you, as a soon-to-be-mom, are doing everything right, or as right as can be. Which is why I am totally digging BlogHer’s Absolute Beginners crib sheets. Particularly the one written by Kymberly from The Smartness, dedicated to expectant moms via surrogacy. Finally! Kymberly takes some of those questions, worries and concerns and speaks to them.

Read and print out the entire crib sheet for surrogacy now.

Here’s me, halfway through our surrogacy journey, adding my two cents:
1. She’s pregnant! I’m excited, but I thought I’d be able to relax more than I have by now.

Kymberly advises: “Each new milestone in the pregnancy will bring with it a modicum of relief, but it is perfectly normal not to feel completely at ease until your little one is finally in your arms.  Celebrate each step forward and share your joys – and your fears – with your surrogate.”

Given our track record and the length of time it took to get to this point, my husband and I had zero expectations that the first frozen embryo transfer would be the last one. You can never completely squeeze out hope, but we had braced ourselves for an early negative. A test run, if you will. So when our surrogate emailed us a photo of her positive pregnancy test, and confirmed it a few days later with beta results, we felt like we had won the lottery. Huge hurdle #1, over.

Now, are we relaxed? Uh no. Have we told the world? Hardly. Our pregnancy right now is still on a need-to-know basis and will be until we pass a few more milestones. But not because it’s via surrogacy.

I think the “I want to relax but I can’t” curse is one that any expectant mother that has lived through any previous loss will face. I can say, however, that I would be worlds less relaxed, if I were trying to carry my own baby to term. Knowing that our child is in a safer environment than one my womb can provide brings with it a certain kind of peace.  

2. How might communication with my surrogate change during the pregnancy?

Kym says, “The matching and cycling phases likely involved a frenzy of almost-daily communication.  Once pregnancy is achieved, your rate of communication with your surrogate might shift to become more frequent or sometimes less frequent, especially if your surrogate is having a difficult time with first trimester exhaustion and morning sickness.  If your communication needs fall out-of-sync with your surrogate’s, don’t hesitate to have a conversation about it with her to get the reassurance that you need as an expectant mom.”

Early on in our pregnancy, our surrogate asked frankly, “how much or how little do you want to know?” She knew of the loss of our twin daughters. She also knew how long we’ve been trying to grow our family. And she wanted to be sure she was keeping us informed without oversharing, if that wasn’t what we wanted.

And I needed to think a bit before I answered. Would I be a little envious hearing about baby kicks and movements? Would I want to know when she was experiencing the inconveniences of pregnancy that I couldn’t? Still, would I want all of these things happening outside of my knowledge? We decided that we wouldn’t know until we tried it out. We decided that when she felt like she wanted to tell me something to go ahead and do it. If it ever veered into discomfort for me, I would say so.

We’re in the habit of emailing each other at least once a week. And we usually have emails that overlap in transit. We keep each other up to date on daily events. She sends pics, not only of ultrasounds of our growing baby, but also of her own family, which I really appreciate.

3. How can I find the right balance between having valid concerns about my surrogate’s habits and me being overly worried?

Says Kym: “Keep in mind that there is a range of what is considered “safe” during pregnancy. Within the realm of what is considered safe by medical standards, your surrogate’s decisions during pregnancy might be different from the ones you would choose if you were pregnant. Find compromise and acceptance with habits that are within safe parameters and don’t violate any terms of your mutually agreed upon contract. Have faith in the trust that you’ve instilled in her ability to carry a safe and healthy pregnancy. If you’re still uncomfortable, definitely discuss it with your surrogate and if necessary, agree together to have her obstetrician weigh in on the issue.”

This is an issue I think that’s best handled before the surrogacy even begins. Lifestyles and habits and daily obligations of potential surrogates were huge components in our selection process. Not that there were any sky divers presented to us. But I think one of the reasons we gravitated so easily towards our baby mama and she to us was that we are all fairly laid back. We saw in her a parenting style and a set of values and behaviors that we hope are similar to our own (once we have a chance to try them out).

I can honestly say I have had zero concerns about our surrogate’s habits. And seeing her and her family in action in the weekly emails affirms this. I do worry when her family is hit with a seasonal bug or it seems as if all of her kids are down with strep or ear infections or any of those other illnesses that you cannot avoid. But as I’ve mentioned, we chose her because we trust her.

If you have concerns, Kym’s advice is sound. Communication is critical. If you want additional assurances, your contract can be as specific as you want it to be. No sky diving? Spell it out. Just know that the more prescriptive you are in a contract, the more space there is for interpretation outside of those forbidden activities (it doesn’t say I couldn’t bungee jump….) Work through the language with your attorney to ensure your concerns are addressed. Talk honestly with your surrogate (and the surrogacy agency, if you are using one) about your expectations.

Dear surrogate, please don't do this.

4. What special considerations should I make for delivery?

I so agree with Kym: The birth of every baby is a “special delivery,” but the deliveries of babies born via surrogacy definitely take some extra advanced planning.

Some of the logistics that Kymberly points out here are addressed in our contract. Others aren’t, so we’ll need to have that conversation when we travel out to see our baby-to-be and our surrogate in a few weeks. We’re planning to be at the delivery, and that’s our surrogate’s wishes as well. But we never talked about the moments immediately following the birth. Who goes where? Where does the baby sleep? And what about breastfeeding…  

5. What options do I have for feeding my baby?

How cool is it that, as Kymberly points out, “You have as many options as any expectant mother does!”

While the option to breastfeed is there, I do wish the healthcare professionals around me were a little more knowledgeable about it. I broached this subject with my gynecologist last month and was met with a “Really? Wow! That’s so cool!” response.  It's encouraging that he’s so open-minded, but instead of the guidance I was seeking, I got an “awesome! Let me know how that goes,” response. So thank you so much, Kym, for pointing out, and I'm bookmarking it right now. Our goal is to try to breastfeed. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, formula it is.

Kymberly adds, “In some cases, the surrogate will nurse the baby while still in the hospital after delivery.” This is an area we have yet to discuss with ours. And I’m not sure where I am here. There is an active discussion about this in places like SurroMomsOnline, with strong feelings for and against, from both intended parents and surrogates themselves. While I appreciate those perspectives, as Kym says, “As with any new mom, how you choose to feed your baby is a deeply personal decision.”  

6. My baby is here! I’m not physically recovering from pregnancy and delivery, but why am I so tired?  

“Well, it’s because you’re a new mom! Your pregnancy and delivery may not have been “typical,” but your newborn phase of parenthood surely will be! As a new mom, you’re entitled to the same elation, exhaustion, joy, nervousness, and excitement that many new moms typically feel.”

Sometimes it is very important to state the obvious. And I was heartened to read Kym’s guidance here.

Unfortunately, while we are entitled to the same elation, exhaustion, joy, nervousness, and excitement that many new moms typically feel, I’m NOT entitled to the same work leave options that I would be if I were physically recovering from pregnancy and delivery.

If I were to add to the crib sheet, I would add this recommendation: Speak with your employer and/or HR department NOW about the types of leave you are entitled to and what they would be willing to offer you. In my case, my office is too small to fall under any Family Medical Leave mandates, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t work with me if I needed some additional time to get back to work. Again, communication is key and don’t be surprised if you need to do some education around surrogacy along the way.
Hurray for the home office - will you be able to use yours?

Moms via surrogacy: What questions, worries and concerns are missing? What tips/advice would you add here? What do you wish you had known during your own surrogacy journey?  

This post is part of the Absolute Beginners editorial series made possible by Pampers and BlogHer. Our advertisers do not produce or approve editorial content.


Lori Lavender Luz said...

What helpful advice from Kymberli. Heading over to the crib sheet.

Wow. So much to think about that I hadn't considered.

Smiling said...

great post... love Kymberli's info and your add ons..

... do hope you have a sane leave option that you can negotiate! and they don't give you any snide comments about taking a cold shower:)

m said...

@lavendar - so many things to think about. And this is really the tip of the iceberg. A crib sheet, if you will :-)

I was super, super lucky to have some amazing moms via surrogacy AND the amazing Kym herself as resources both as we were thinking through the concept of surrogacy and what it would mean for us and actually undertaking the journey. Forever indebted to the ALI community is how I feel these days.

Thanks @Smiling! Me too. I don't think it will be an issue of how many days I have saved up or can use, I have a feeling I'm going to have to suss out the politics (both internally and externally) and factor that into my leave time.

jjiraffe said...

Fantastic post with lots of good info from both perspectives!

luna said...

such excellent advice. love your contribution to kym's crib sheet.

while adoption is different, of course, we encountered some similar issues after matching with an expectant mom after we became pretty confident that she would in face place her baby with us (of course there were no guarantees and a lot more uncertainty).

btw, let me know if you're serious about trying to induce lactation. you know I did it with our daughter (with mixed results) and I'm happy to share what I learned.

also have you considered asking your surrogate to pump milk for a little while, even just during recover, or for colostrum in the beginning? what's the word on that topic??

hope you can negotiate a nice leave. it's REALLY hard to work (even from home) when you're sleep deprived from all those nighttime feedings...