Talking to Kids about Surrogacy
Having babies is emotionally complicated in the best of scenarios. Having a baby using the help of a surrogate can muddy the waters even further. There are always children involved, especially since a qualified surrogate needs to have successfully carried her own pregnancy or pregnancies in the past and has children to raise. The intended parent(s) may also have children of their own. These kids are just as important a part of the journey as the adults, and their feelings and fears need to be addressed as well.
How can a surrogate talk about such a sensitive subject with her kids? Is there a way to address all the specific issues that come up with surrogacy? How does she prepare her family for a pregnancy and delivery, but no new baby to raise?
Surrogacy is a complicated concept to explain to adults, let alone to little ones. It’s important to keep explanations and answers age appropriate. One huge piece of the process is the pregnancy itself. A 4-year-old isn’t going to understand how babies are made in the same way that a 12-year-old will, so it’s necessary to be aware of what’s important to convey and what aspects of the process aren’t going to be as well understood. Asking older kids what they already know and understand about reproduction can help you fill in the gaps and add the unique aspects of surrogacy in a way that they’ll be able to digest more easily.
There are a number of children’s books that help explain the concept of surrogacy in a way that’s entertaining and easy to understand. Many of them are written from the perspective of a child born to a family with the use of a surrogate, but they can still help explain what’s happening to a surrogate’s children. Other resources can include online articles, videos on YouTube, and even the intended parents, medical provider, or counselor, depending on the age of the child.
Ideally, the relationship between intended parents and a surrogate will be close enough that both families will be able to interact. If this is the case, allowing the surrogate’s children to connect with the intended parents may make it easier to understand and accept that although their mom will be pregnant, there won’t be a baby coming to live at their home. Fostering a healthy relationship between families will help ease the transition for little ones and build a bond that can last a lifetime.
But sometimes that’s not the case, and the interaction between intended parents and surrogates is more business-like than personal. Even if the relationship between the surrogate and intended parents doesn’t lend itself to including any little ones, a surrogate can still ensure that her kids are able to ask questions and get the answers they need to feel comfortable with the process. In this situation, it will be up to the surrogate to field all those questions, but she will have a great number of resources to draw from, be it the intended parents, her obstetrician, or the agency with whom she’s working.
Some kids will absolutely love the fact that their mom is going to be pregnant for someone else. Let them be excited! Depending on their age, they may find it impossible to keep the big news to themselves, so surrogates may get some interesting questions or comments from teachers, play group members, or even complete strangers. Obviously, the surrogate will need to answer any questions at the level where she feels comfortable, and kids may need to be reminded that the world doesn’t have to be privy to all family matters. But the enthusiasm should be fostered and allowed to grow.
The pregnancy itself can be an abstract concept for kids, especially younger ones, to process. It may not be until the baby is born that a lot of the questions and concerns will come up. When the little one has made his or her appearance, be prepared for some emotions that may not make sense to an adult, but that are just as real and valid to a child. Again, open and honest communication is key here. It doesn’t really matter what the specific emotions are that the kids are expressing. Acknowledging those feelings and giving kids the freedom and safety to work through them will make the experience more positive for them. A therapist or counselor can help; someone who’s not emotionally invested in the situation can offer some fresh perspectives that kids will appreciate.
Quite a few surrogates and intended parents have an agreement that the surrogate’s kids will get the opportunity to meet the new baby before he or she is discharged from the hospital and heading home with the intended parents. There are a lot of reasons that this may not be feasible for all situations – to name just two: the baby is in the NICU; or the intended parents aren’t interested in continuing a close relationship with the surrogate – but if it’s something that all adults agree to, that first meeting can lead to a lasting friendship over the years.
Encouraging kids to make or buy gifts for the new baby is a great way to make them feel included in the journey. There are so many easy and sweet crafts that kids of all ages can do, individually or together, and that make great gifts. The intended parents can be involved by offering suggestions on crafts, colors, and themes. It might even be a great bonding opportunity for everyone at a baby shower or other kid-friendly gathering and would be a wonderful memento as the baby grows.
Even though it’s becoming more and more common, surrogacy is still a very isolated occurrence for most families. Many people don’t feel comfortable sharing their struggles with infertility, let alone the need for a surrogate. For that reason, it’s sometimes difficult for surrogates and their families to connect with people who have been through similar circumstances. Thankfully, in this digital age, it’s become easier to make those connections, even from the other side of the world. Like it or not, social media is here to stay, and it can be an essential form of support. There are many surrogate support groups on Facebook and other sites, with women who have undergone the journey and can offer insight on how to navigate the emotional minefields with kids. Some agencies (like us here at Vermont Surrogacy Network) have private groups where their surrogates can feel comfortable sharing their perspectives. With the intended parents’ blessing, some surrogates have blogged, created posts on social media, and shared their kids’ points of view on the process.
No matter what form the relationship between the surrogate and intended parent takes, it’s important to remember that it truly does take a village for a surrogacy journey to be successful. Making sure kids are informed and included in the journey will lead to some amazing lasting memories that will be treasured for the rest of their lives. At Vermont Surrogacy Network, we strongly encourage our surrogates and intended parents to reach out to us for more support and resources.