It’s only natural to want to be as ready as possible when welcoming a baby into your family– for many, it’s one of the biggest events of their lives. You have probably heard of the “nesting” instinct, in which parents invest time preparing the baby’s room and stocking up on supplies so that they have everything they need when they bring their new-born home for the first time. This urge is both normal and practical for parents who are having their baby through a surrogate.
While making space physically is a vital part of the preparations, it’s also important for intended parents to make space emotionally and start building the attachment between you and your baby.“Attachment” is the psychological term given to the deep bond formed between a parent and their child. It is what drives parents to care for their children, even before they are born (known as “prenatal attachment”). It’s also what provides children with a sense of security, well-being, and self-esteem from the very beginning of their life. Researchers believe that this “attachment” is what motivates looking after yourself, such as eating healthier, throughout pregnancy as well.
When a surrogate is carrying, the intended parent(s) start with an emotional disadvantage, as they are not carrying the baby themselves. Because there’s a physical element to developing an attachment, the baby will naturally be born with some attachment to their surrogate. During the pregnancy, babies develop strong senses of hearing and smell. These senses allow them to bond with their mother — or in this case, their surrogate. Because they’ve spent nine months listening to their surrogate and becoming familiar with her, it’s important that intended parents realize their baby will be born with a natural attachment to the surrogate. However, with preparation, you can be confident in a comfortable transition of attachment from the surrogate to your family.
Before the Big Day
Parents can prepare for the arrival of their child by working on themselves, as well as in tandem with their surrogate in the months leading up to the birth. Below are some tips to help build your emotional bond with your surrogate-born baby before the birth:
- Be kind to yourself: It’s understandable to have anxiety about transferring attachment; everyone wants to make good first impressions! Chances are, if you are reading this, you are concerned and committed to making sure the process goes well. Know that you are already doing your best, and that it’s completely normal for the baby not to immediately bond with the intended parents. Taking the proper steps now shows that you care, which is a great start.
- Grieve your losses: If you’ve chosen the surrogacy route to complete your family, you may have already gone through years of infertility. It’s essential that you grieve any loss and identify any unresolved grief stemming from your experiences. Processing pain now will allow you to move forward and focus on your baby’s needs.
- Stay focused: It is quintessential that the surrogate and the intended parents choose to focus on the health and well-being of the baby. Throughout the process, be sure to communicate with your surrogate about preparing for the emotional transfer. Besides keeping track of doctor’s appointments and pregnancy milestones, remember to talk with her about plans for the birth and ways you can work together to care for the baby.
- Be involved: As an intended parent, it’s important for you to be involved in the pregnancy. Attend doctor’s appointments, even if its remotely, decorate a nursery and prepare your home for the baby’s arrival together, or have a baby shower– by taking an active role in the pregnancy and going through all of these common nesting stages, you’ll develop a sense of connection and attachment with your baby.
- Provide a transitional item: To aid in the physical aspect of transition, it is recommended that you give the surrogate a “transitional item,” such as a stuffed animal to sleep with. Sleeping with it will transfer her scent, and then, when the baby is born, the stuffed animal can be sent home with you to comfort your child throughout the transition.
- Talk to your baby: Your baby will be able to hear the surrogate’s voice through the womb, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start to become familiar with yours as well. If visiting in-person, be sure to talk through the surrogate’s tummy. If schedules or distance make regular visits impossible, you can record yourself reading or speaking and ask your surrogate to play it.
The aforementioned suggestions are intended to begin the emotional transfer long before the baby is born, however, the physical transfer process can only come once the baby is born. The birth and following hours will be hectic, and it’s important that they’re structured to allow the surrogate and intended parents the space they need to continue the emotional transfer process. Below, we list what you can do to help your child, and yourselves, acclimate to transfer as easily as possible:
- Confirm Their Senses: Any new parents would be eager to get their baby into their arms, but it is recommended that, if the surrogate is willing, they be permitted to hold the baby first. By placing the baby on their chest immediately following delivery, you allow the baby to “confirm” their senses in their first moments of experiencing life outside of the womb, allowing the baby to begin to experience the world around them while being comforted by the person they’ve been with for the last nine months. If the surrogate is unable to do this, any kind of physical contact (like touching the baby’s hands and feet) is preferable to nothing.
- Physically Transfer the Baby: Ideally, the surrogate would be able to hand the baby to the intended parents after delivery. This can provide closure and symbolize the handing over of attachment from the surrogate to the parent(s). Many surrogates have also said that seeing the baby with their new family brings them immense joy and pride, making for a beautiful moment.
- Bonding Through Touch: Once the baby has been handed to the intended parents, physical touch between the parents and child is crucial. Skin-to-skin contact is best, as it will allow the baby to become familiar with their smell, sound, and touch.
- Breastfeeding: Though surprising, it is possible for parents through surrogacy to breastfeed their baby! Some say it is worth the effort for those who want to experience the intimacy of breastfeeding their child and create a special body-to-body connection. Preparation will entail taking hormones and herbal supplements to induce breast milk production; parents should also prepare the hospital of their intentions as well as arrange to augment the breast supply with donated breast milk.
What to Expect for the Physical Transfer
Generally, intended parents are allowed to be present while the surrogate gives birth if they want, and if they were to opt-out they will be given a place to wait near the delivery room. Whether your surrogate is willing to physically transfer the baby or not will determine where you’ll meet your new baby. In some hospitals, once the baby has been checked by a doctor, a nurse will take them out to the waiting parents. If your surrogate opts to be the one to give the baby to the parents, the transfer may happen in her hospital room. There’s no set policy in place for every location, so you’ll want to figure out ahead of time what the hospital or birthing center’s policies are on transfers, as bonding within the first few hours is especially significant. Often, a separate room for the baby and parents to use for bonding and rest will be arranged while the baby stays under the hospital’s care until they’re released.
It’s important to remember that even though birth is the completion of the surrogacy process, it’s only the beginning of your journey. While your day-to-day lives will no longer revolve around your surrogate, it will still take some time for you and your child to connect. There’s no set timeline for when and how this connection will happen, but rest assured, it will happen. Through love, patience and understanding of the ways surrogacy has enhanced your family’s experiences, you’ll be able to embrace this challenge and complete your family.
Staying in Touch
Every relationship between intended parent(s) and a surrogate is different; some parents choose to stay in regular contact, sending emails and photos and even visiting. Other parents do not wish to continue the relationship they developed with their surrogate during the pregnancy.
It should be noted that some experts recommend that you schedule a visit with the surrogate a couple of weeks after delivery, as this can provide the baby with comfort and assurance, as well as give some closure to the surrogate when she sees that the baby as part of your family and doing well. What happens next is only up to your family and the surrogate, though it’s best to hash these expectations out before the birth to allow plenty of time to communicate everyone’s needs and wishes.