Your Relationship With Your Surrogate
Shilpa is a mom via surrogacy who is currently expecting her second child with the help of a Donor Concierge surrogate match. Here, Shilpa provides excellent advice on managing the relationship with your surrogate.
Hi Shilpa! Give us a little background on your story.
We struggled with infertility for about three years when I found Donor Concierge. They found my first surrogate fairly quickly and we had the most amazing experience and now we have a daughter. And now I'm on my second journey, and my second one is due in December. I have a very close relationship with both surrogates and hope my story can help others.
At the beginning, did you have ideas of what the surrogacy journey would be like?
With our first surrogate, we were a deer in headlights and we didn't really know what that would look like for us. We didn't really know what we were going to tell our daughter. My advice is to start having those conversations early with your partner.
We decided that we did want our daughter to know. So off the bat, we wanted our surrogate to have an open relationship post delivery. That is the first thing that we told Donor Concierge.
We also wanted a close relationship during the pregnancy. I wanted pictures with her. I wanted to show my baby pictures of her growing in her belly. That was really important to me. I thought that was important for bonding purposes. And so, we started having conversations with my husband and I about what that would look like for our family. We were lucky enough that Donor Concierge was super respectful of that, and they found us a surrogate who was also really respectful of that and really wanted a relationship like that.
Tell us about your daughter’s surrogate and how you established a close relationship with her?
She had done a surrogacy journey before and did not have that closeness with her other intended parents. We established what we wanted from the beginning.
We sent toys for her other children at Christmas time. We knew the names of her own children. We took her and her family out to dinner when we were with them. She ended up meeting my family when we were there for the birth before she delivered, things like that. And that meant a lot for us. We even did a photo shoot, so we had a maternity photo shoot and we will show our daughter those pictures as she grows up.
How do you plan on talking with your children about their birth?
How we explain it to our daughter now is, “we want to do so badly that we had to have an extra heart to create you”.
*How did you handle a baby shower when you are having a baby via surrogacy?
Both surrogates were included in our baby shower. She obviously didn't travel here for the baby shower, but we had her on Zoom and both of them shared the belly and each table wrote a message and we shared it to them. And my parents thanked her for making them grandparents and everything like that. We hope that our second surrogate will be able to meet my parents as well.
During the pregnancy, what was the communication like?
Our surrogate was kind enough that I would message her and be like, “Any pregnancy cravings?,” And she'd be like, “Cheez-its!” And so we would send her boxes of Cheez-Its, and then she'd be like, “Enough, please, this weekly order of Cheez-Its is getting slightly out of hand,”. We're like, “Oops, our bad”. And then she'd go to pickles. And so we would send her pickles and then she'd be like, “Okay, enough of the pickles”. We just kind of had humor about it. I would also be like, “I'm having pregnancy cravings for Ben and Jerry's ice cream. How about you?” She's like, “Oh my gosh, that sounds so great”. So we would eat Ben and Jerry's ice cream together as we watched a movie and we would do silly things together.
Did you ever have uncomfortable feelings seeing your child growing in another woman’s belly?
I think for moms especially, it can be hard. You can think you want one thing, which is a close relationship, but I think jealousy can come in the way of that. We are human beings. There were times that I would start to feel a little jealous that I didn't have my daughter growing in my belly and I would take a break and I would step back a little bit.
Our surrogate didn't notice that I wouldn't message her for a couple of weeks at a time. She didn’t even notice that I would ebb and flow and then I would take care of myself and I'd put boundaries up that it might take me a couple days to respond to her and things like that. The second thing that I would add is - putting ourselves as intended parents in their shoes is also important. They're carrying a baby for you and they have to give up that baby. They have a connection to that baby too.
Did you have a birth plan and how do you navigate that with your surrogate?
Yes, you're going to want to have a birth plan. It answers the big questions -- who gets to hold the baby first, what exactly do you get from the GC right after such as colostrum (the milk that comes out right after the birth).
Our surrogate gave birth very quickly. For my birth plan, I got to hold the baby first. My husband got to cut the cord and the baby came to me. At that point, there may be bodily fluids on the baby, but you just don't care - this is your baby. Our surrogate knew our wishes and she was supportive. My advice is to advocate for what you want.
Another big part of the discussion about the birth plan is who can be in the room and where people stand? Can it be recorded and what can be seen? My husband was required to stay at the head and I could be at her feet so I could see the baby come out. After the baby is born, they do stuff to make sure the surrogate is okay. After the birth, she’ll want to catch her breath, maybe drink water. We were immediately given a separate room from the surrogate, which is pretty typical.
You mentioned that the surrogate gave the colostrum - was that in the birth plan?
Yes. For us, it was important that we got the colostrum. That's the milk that comes out of the breast right after birth. It's given to you in a syringe and delivered by a nurse by hand, and we would give our baby the syringe colostrum. You wake up the baby, you give the colostrum. Colostrum is very beneficial nutrition wise for your baby.
Doctors will discharge you and the baby when you're ready. Our surrogate was discharged before we were. We had an agreement to get breast milk from our surrogate. She pumped and we shipped it from California to Michigan for a couple months.
How far ahead do you make the birth plan with the hospital?
It’s something you can do as early as the matching process. However, when there are things that are deal breakers, you want to discuss them early. A deal breaker for me was to be in the room. It was important to me that I got skin to skin contact with the baby when she was born. You have to think about what's important to you. The team at Donor Concierge was really good about walking us through essential parts of the birth plan. So we asked our surrogate if we could hold the baby first, and she agreed. And so those really important things to you, you want to discuss right from the start.
What other things were important to you when matching with your surrogate?
I don't think there's any right or wrong. I've talked to people where a vegetarian diet was important or who wanted them to take specific vitamins. This wasn’t important to us.
We asked Donor Concierge to find us an experienced surrogate. That was extremely important to us. We wanted someone who knew what it felt like to carry that baby and who knew what it felt like to give up that baby at the end of the day. That was actually one of our deal breakers. However, there's a flip side that when you have more births medically, they can have more scar tissue and some other issues. But on the other medical flip side is they've already had an IVF protocol that has been proven to work and their body has been proven to handle a surrogate pregnancy. For us, we were just so scared of heartbreak because we've had miscarriages and we felt like babies were already taken from us. I'm getting goosebumps talking about this but, we couldn't bear that happening again.
How did you know your surrogate was the right person or not? Do you have any tips or advice on how to trust the process?
The mind can go in a lot of places. And one thing that I had to learn that was really hard for me when I was going through IVF, was to give up control. You have to trust the surrogate, especially if she's done it before. I'm an A-type personality that was very hard for me and I just had to let it go. You can't control when it's someone else, you just can't.
Before we found Donor Concierge, we were with a different company. They presented us a surrogate who had one child, but she also had had a baby who died of SIDS. I knew that I couldn't give up control if I went with that surrogate. I told my husband, I'm sorry, I can't do it. If you're not comfortable with the person in your innate self, you shouldn’t go with them.
You can also ask multiple times to meet with the surrogate if you're not sure. We met our surrogate on Zoom and we talked for an hour and a half. We did not have any doubts. The same thing happened with our second surrogate - we just knew.
How do you navigate everything when you are not geographically close to the surrogate? **
At first, geography was a really big thing for us. But I think over time, after we found Donor Concierge, it became less important to us, but it was very important to us in the beginning because we almost wanted to keep tabs on the surrogate but I just had to let that go.
Our situation is a little unique because Michigan is a very bad state for surrogacy. We were trying to find someone in Chicago, but it was really just really hard to find someone there. Two things that I would look into are direct flights to a big city and where you have family that you trust. At some point you have to fly out for the birth. Take the total flying time into consideration because what's closer might not actually be closer.
You’ll have a timeline and when it comes close to your surrogate’s due date. So your doctor is going to predict that the baby is going to come early, and you'll kind of get a heads up. My husband and I planned to fly out a week and a half prior to the delivery date.
Once the baby is born, you're in the hospital for three days until you get medical clearance to fly them home. So, you can kind of gauge as far as how long you're going to be there with those dates. The doctors work with you, they try to give you the best estimate time. Now obviously it's not perfect, but they're going to give you a generous timeline so that you don't miss the birth as far as doctor's appointments.
Any tips for traveling with a newborn? **
We had a complication so we couldn't come home right away. It took us three weeks to come home. So we actually just looked at travel time and we found it was cheaper to get an Airbnb for a month and pay a month at a time and just pay for it. Having a base is easier because you can do all the bottle warming, and you can function better with multiple rooms so the baby can sleep and have the monitor and things like that.
There are some tricks that you can do for traveling. You can buy sterilization bags that take up no room in your luggage instead of bringing a sterilization machine because you have to sterilize it for newborns. You buy bags, fill them up with water and they're like steam bags.
Tell us about the first few months after you got home with your baby? **
I think it was easier in a way since I didn't birth medically, I didn’t have the complications, I didn’t have any weight restrictions, my body didn’t go through the hormonal change that a lot of my friends have gone through who have birthed. So medically and physically, I was okay. I was the same. Postpartum depression and anxiety is a very real thing for people that give birth and for people that give birth, they have that bonding experience of breastfeeding. If moms that give birth have a difficult time with postpartum anxiety and depression and bonding with their child, then one could expect that a mom that did not birth their child would also have those complications.
To be quite honest, I did struggle with that a little bit. I noticed it and I asked for help because it's not something you should be ashamed of. I say that loud and clear, it's nothing to be ashamed of. If moms at birth struggle, then moms that don't birth, they struggle as well. So, I got a doula and I told her and she gave me some tricks.
Some of the tricks were, take a bath with your baby, have someone watch you while you sleep with your baby. If someone's watching over you, it can make it feel more safe. So I would take a nap with her while the nanny was watching me very closely. I would take a bath with her. I would start to notice that I could get smiles and laughter from her. And something changed and I definitely bonded with her. It probably took me maybe three months. I still cared for her. I still loved her. But the bonding just took a little bit longer than one would hope.
There's this expectation in society that it's love at first sight and they take their first breath, that you take your first breath when you see them and it's supposed to be automatic. Well, that's not everyone's experience. It's okay to acknowledge that and it's okay to need help. And it's definitely okay to ask for that help. And that's what I did. And now I couldn't imagine my life without her.
Did you have any particularly uncomfortable feelings that came up for you after the birth?**
I think I always felt a little bit of guilt for not being able to carry her that I've worked past now. I felt a little bit guilty that I couldn't breastfeed her. People who are pregnant have nine months of bonding, starting with the first pregnancy test, feeling the baby kick and on for nine months. Whereas when I didn't carry her, you can forget that you're pregnant. When I told people, I told people I'm pregnant, I told people I'm expecting, I would tell people that it wouldn't change the way I would say anything. I would say I'm pregnant, I had a baby shower. I might not have had a baby bump, but I had a baby shower. I experienced as many things as I possibly could that I could as if I was carrying.
How did the family of the surrogate react, such as the surrogate’s husband. Were there any emotions or things that you've found interesting?**
Our surrogate was married and had children at home. They talked to the children about it and explained, “we're not keeping the baby, this isn't your brother or sister, remember we're just helping out a family”. We took our first surrogate's family for dinner. So I did meet the husband, and he told us that he didn't want to go to the hospital for appointments. He would take her to the hospital, she would do her thing with her mom. Her mom was her support system, and mom would drop her home and then he would do the post care of her, but he just never wanted to be in the hospital.
How did you handle the fear of complications?**
No one can prevent any medical complications. And of course what gets publicized is the worst case scenario of everything. So one thing that my husband and I often did was we'd say, what if something happens to our surrogate? And then immediately we would say, what if nothing happens?
Remember that the probability of a good thing happening is much more likely than the probability of something bad happening. In your legal paperwork, not that this is any real consolation of anything, it will outline what the family gets or what she gets. But again, that's not really any consolation, but it will be addressed if something were to be like that. But I think it goes along with trusting the process. Try not to get worked up in that. When you hear yourself starting to say those what ifs, it's so easy to immediately tell yourself what if something good happens. I know it's hard. I know it's really hard and it's really challenging for sure.
What other things were important to you during this process?
Maintaining a relationship with us after the birth was important to us. Getting the Covid vaccine was important to us, letting us make the decisions on medical stuff with the doctors. So that is, selective reduction, termination if something was wrong.
Donor Concierge is there to support all intended parents. They're going to do what's right and they're going to advocate for you. And so there's no harm in asking for a specific thing you want. I mean, if it's something absurd like, waiting six months, the Donor Concierge team will be honest and help you with realistic expectations.
If you have questions about surrogacy, talk to us today!