One of the most common questions that I’m asked once people find out that I’ve been a surrogate mother is “What is that like?”
Which, to be honest, is soooo hard to answer because it’s such a vague question! But over the years I’ve come to realize that what they really want to know, and perhaps feel too shy to ask outright, is what is it like to have a baby and give it away. Or what is it like to have children out in the world that you gave birth to, but who are not yours to raise?
Now forgive me for using the phrasing of “give a baby away” – those are not the words with which I choose to describe my surrogacy experiences. But let’s be honest, those are the words that come to mind for a lot of people. And that’s okay, even if I wouldn’t have chosen them myself. Hey, I get it – gestational surrogacy can be hard for a lot of people to wrap their heads around.
But going back to the question of what it’s like to bring children into the world who are not my own (and I want to underscore that I’m speaking of only my own experiences – obviously another gestational carrier might have a completely different experience), I thought I’d share a little about that today.
If I had to pick just one word to describe how I feel about the surrogate children I’ve given birth to, I’d choose the word “connected.” And I don’t mean connected in terms of LinkedIn or networking – that definition falls woefully short of my intention. Of course we’re connected, I carried them and gave birth to them after all!
Instead I use the word “connected” in the same way we describe ligaments and tendons in the body as “connective tissue.” Ligaments, tendons, cartilage, etc, are not independent fibers that merely run between bones or muscles – they’re actually bound to, and part of, the two things they bridge. A ligament joins two bones together but actually grows from each of them; a tendon tethers a muscle to a bone but is not independent, rather it grows from the bone and from the muscle that it joins together.
Grown from, grown between, grown together, inextricably connected. That’s what it feels like to be a surrogate mother.
When raising your own children, it’s easy to understand how the connection you feel with them at birth (and even prior, for most women) grows and deepens over time. This is nature’s way – it’s what we expect to happen. And in many ways, it’s the foundation of our society.
When giving birth to a surrogate baby, that feeling of connection is different. The best way I can describe it is as a feeling of deep protective love, yet not in a fully vested, parental way. I suppose it’s the way an adult might feel about their nieces or nephews (I don’t have any, so I can’t say first-hand). It’s a deep connection – one that triggers our physical sensations of love – yet not so much as to interfere with the baby’s relationship with its parents.
Almost any surrogate you might ask would tell you that despite this intense feeling of connection, there is no sorrow in separating from the baby after the birth. There may be sadness that the surrogacy experience is over (and wildly fluctuating postpartum hormones contribute greatly to those feelings), but the sadness is rarely a sense of loss over the baby. Remember, gestational surrogates are primarilymotivated by their love of pregnancy and the desire to help others become parents.
Recently I’ve come across more and more studies that are shedding light on the long-term physical implications of carrying a baby. These studies do not focus strictly on pregnancy and its effects, but instead they examine the lasting changes in a woman’s body that result from carrying another human being – a person with different DNA - inside her.
And what they’ve found is fascinating. Different studies show that when a woman carries a baby, parts of the baby’s cells and DNA stay in her body for years after the birth, possibly indefinitely. Some of the studies that have shown this are here and here and here.
Me? I’ve always known this on a physical level. It’s just something I’ve felt inside me since I delivered my first surrogate baby (twins in 2002). And although the family has chosen not to keep in touch with me and I’ve never seen the babies since leaving the hospital, I still feel a visceral physical connection to them, as if our bodies, in some small way, live in communion. And now, based on the research, we know that this is true.
There’s now evidence of the flip side of this scenario – that the gestational carrier’s genetics affect the babies they carry – and that deserves its own post given the possible implications of it.
As an intended parent, I think it’s important to recognize and even appreciate the bond that forms between your gestational carrier and your baby, a bond that will stay with her for life, regardless of your continued contact or involvement. And as a gestational carrier, it’s equally important to realize this form of attachment can (and probably will) happen.
Which in my opinion, isn’t a bad thing! In fact for me, it’s one of the loveliest results of surrogacy – carrying the essence of so many children in my heart, whether they are my own or not. Because as my body senses it (even though my brain may disagree), they’re all my own on some microscopic level. And as is often the case, science is finally catching up with what mothers, surrogate or otherwise, have known all along.