The key word from day 1 for both intended parents and the gestational surrogate is vulnerability. Yep, I know – that’s a scary word but hear me out. I often greet and welcome intended mothers into the most exclusive club of all time – a club we NEVER asked to be in. The “I need a gestational surrogate to carry my baby(ies) club.” Most often, we’ll chuckle about this but it really is the truth. In most cases the Intended Mothers have suffered tremendously trying to have a child. Infertility PTSD is a REAL thing. Then throw on top of that the fact that she can’t carry her own child (if it was ever to happen). I can instantly pull the exact moment out of my memory archives when I was told I’d need a surrogate. I’m transported back to the doctor’s office and can feel the chair beneath me, see exactly what I was wearing, the look in my husband’s eyes – all of it. It’s been over 4 years since that day and it still feels so real when it pops up. I remember feeling absolutely alienated when I received the news. I was full of so much shame and heartbreak. How in the hell can’t my body do what it’s made to do?!
Once the emotions settle a tad and you wrap your mind around the idea of gestational surrogacy, you are flooded with gratitude and relief that it’s even an option. All of the pain, trauma and heartache isn’t gone – it’s just time to move forward onto the next step with a tiny sense of renewed hope. (Don’t worry – all the ugly stuff will find its way back in but you’ve got to work through it – not around it!)
Cue Cat, my surrogate, who I met through an agency, and within a few months, she became pregnant with our boy/girl twins. Cat and myself, and our husbands, formed a strong emotional bond throughout the pregnancy rooted in trust, vulnerability and empathy. After Vivian and Reed were born, we remained close family friends, now business partners and sisters. Strangers in the beginning, this is how our relationships were fostered through our surrogacy journey.
From Mary –
My biggest piece of advice is to be open, honest and real about everything. Put everything on the table. So many people want to be polite and think, “maybe I shouldn’t say that.” I shared my struggle to get pregnant with Cat. That’s where we bonded, so I think building an honest rapport with your surrogate from the very first moment allows you to strengthen that bond. It gave Cat a bigger picture of my experience with infertility. It helped her see why I still may be walking on eggshells, when I should be celebrating pregnancy milestones but loss after loss does that to a person. You become ruled by fear. But even still, there’s so much that we can learn from each other if we share ourselves openly and 100% authentically.
One of the most critical parts of the relationship is setting expectations about communication with your surrogate. That should be figured out from the very beginning. If it changes throughout pregnancy, be honest about it. Maybe you as the intended mother decide you need five texts a day to make sure she’s doing okay (kidding). Maybe your surrogate thinks five texts is too much because she’s also focusing on her own family. Being genuinely open about the dialogue is super important. Because I went through so much loss, I did have moments when I would get really anxious. Cat would be at a doctor’s appointment, and I would text and not hear back from her (my mind immediately went to another tragedy) for a few hours because it turned out that she didn’t have cell phone service. It was vital for us to be real about our feelings. Often times, intended parents and surrogates live in different states – Cat and I were 1800 miles apart for our journey. The communication has to be solid, grounded in expectations outlined from the very beginning.
From Cat –
I felt flattered that someone would allow me to do something like this for them. I wanted to help, and I thought to trust someone with something like this was enormous. When I met Mary, I just felt very comfortable. I would say in the matching process, you want to make sure that your personalities fit regarding your values and ideas you have about everything. Pregnancy is a long intimate journey, and you don’t want to be with someone who you don’t fit with or get along with. Mary was very vulnerable and open from the beginning. I wouldn’t have had an idea of what she had been through if she hadn’t been so accessible. Knowing the story helped me to empathize with her. We both helped each other. When I was pregnant and not feeling good, she was able to support me, and when she was going through a lot of emotions, I was able to be there for her. There’s a lot of stigma around infertility, so understanding her feelings helped me to support her in the ways she needed.
Now I realize that being it’s my nature to be extremely open with my emotions and that not everyone is comfortable being so “open” and vulnerable. I used to wish I wasn’t so open – but I grew out of that. J This is why Cat and I felt compelled to start our own surrogacy agency, Delivering Hope. Our life-changing connection inspired us to want to help women who had endured infertility and give surrogates the same level of emotional support we had shared.
Most surrogacy agencies provide matching, medical support and necessary legal resources. Cat and I recognized that a surrogacy agency could better support the surrogate and intended family members to stayed connected and support one another throughout the pregnancy. Where we saw gaps in the existing resources for surrogates and intended parents through our own journey in 2016, we enacted our own creative solutions. Delivering Hope focuses on matching as well as facilitating a strong heart-centered approach by creating clear, open lines of communication, fostering group support and community-building. We also provide access to healing resources such as psychological support for both the surrogate and the intended parents, as well as practical resources — e.g., lactation induction consulting (yes – I breastfed my twins!), and coaching and support for partners and spouses. All of which were very therapeutic for me, as the Intended Mother. I was able to forgive my body a bit…to heal the trauma by sharing my story, by owning my truth.
Delivering Hope is the result of our dedication to shifting the thinking about what the surrogacy process can be, and what the relationship between surrogate and intended mother can be. Let’s be real, shame is a useless emotion – and one that can be overcome when faced head on with plain old vulnerability. I promise it’s worth the risk, scary at first to be so real but so freeing and healing in the end.
Mary Kennerly, Founder + Former Intended Mother