Congratulations! You are pregnant, or rather, your surrogate is. This is fantastic news, but wait, what does this mean? When you are not carrying the baby yourself, how do you bond with the baby?
All these questions and more plagued me in the days following our surrogate’s positive pregnancy test. As I worked through emotions and figured out strategies, I realized how important it was to ensure that I remained connected and active in our child’s pregnancy.
What led us to use surrogacy to become parents
First, a background of what led us to use a gestational carrier. Our road to parenthood was challenging. In a nutshell, the road went something like this:
- Try naturally unsuccessfully over and over again
- Get pre-conception fertility testing
- Receive diagnosis of infertility, but the reason why is unknown
- Go through a series of IUI’s, all of which are unsuccessful
- Start IVF
- Get pregnant on the first round of IVF, lose pregnancy at 7 ½ weeks
- Try again
- Get pregnant on the third round, remain pregnant
- At 21 weeks pregnant, get hospitalized with a diagnosis of severe preeclampsia
- Spend three weeks in the hospital before doctors recommend delivery
- Give birth via emergency C-section at 24 weeks and five days
- Spend nine days watching our little girl fight in an isolette before holding her as she died
- Do all the things, all the tests to figure out why, and come up with no answer
- Learn that there is no good plan to avoid this happening again in a future pregnancy
- Try naturally
- Do one more round of IVF that does not take
One mom’s surrogacy journey story
When I finally admitted to myself that I was terrified to get pregnant again, to the point where the idea sent my body into complete terror, I was left with the question, so now what?
I worked through it and broached the idea of using a gestational carrier to my husband. As shocked as he was, he took the time with me to investigate, ultimately telling me, yes, let’s do it. We found an incredible surrogate through an agency, and she got pregnant on her first round of IVF.
Getting the news was so amazing, and we were excited and thrilled, and I was utterly relieved. This was not how we thought it would happen, but we were on the path to bringing a baby home.
But, a couple of days later, the impact of the loss of carrying our child hit full force. It meant I would not be a mom, and I regretted the decision. I was terrified that I would not be bonded to the baby, to our LL Cool T.
So, just days after jumping for joy, I reached for tissues.
While I had all the memories of Colette and who she was inside the womb, I could not help but think we were bringing home a child who would not have that same link to me. My husband tried his best but could not understand the loss of carrying since he would never have had that experience.
My loss support group, which had and continues to be an excellent source of support, struggled to provide me with comfort because no one else was taking this path of using a surrogate. I felt alone and unable to figure out how to handle this.
So this is my guide, my manual of how I handled things and how specific actions I took ensured that I bonded with our son. It is by no means a list of things that will work for everyone, but it has steps and actions that I took that helped with bonding.
My husband could not understand my feelings, so I asked our contact at the surrogacy agency if there was a support group for intended parents.
There was no group, but she found a mom whose surrogate had already given birth and was actively parenting but had dealt with many of the same emotions. She and I talked on the phone for hours, and I felt so much better afterward. Having someone who understood what I was saying and feeling.
I then devised plans to ensure I felt connected to the pregnancy and the baby. These are the things I did to feel connected to the pregnancy and to my baby, and I share them in hopes they help you.
How to bond and stay connected to your baby during surrogacy
- Share your news openly
- Journal about your journey
- Buy sentimental jewelry
- Go to the appointments
- Be honest about your worries
- Create traditions
- Honor your baby’s birth story
- Find unique ways to bond
- Stay connected with the surrogate (if mutually desired)
1. We shared our news very openly and very early
I needed to know that other people were also praying, cheering, and hoping for everything to go well. It also meant that our loved ones were checking in with us, asking us about the baby, even though I was not the one pregnant.
Having that support system who was doing what they would have done if I was pregnant helped with feeling connected to the pregnancy.
2. I wrote about the journey weekly
I blogged throughout the journey, becoming a “Bump Day blogger” for Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS). Every week, I wrote about the journey, what was challenging, what was easy, what triggered feelings, and what made me happy.
It was a way to put all my thoughts together and down on something, but also it meant that a greater group of people were all supporting and checking in.
3. I bought Harmony Ball necklaces
These necklaces originated in Bali, where the tradition says a pregnant woman wears the necklace with the small chime pendant low on her body, close to the baby.
After the baby is born, she can make it shorter to wear around her neck and use the chime to calm and relax the baby. One of the necklaces was for our surrogate so she could wear it low and the baby could hear the chime.
The other one I wore as a necklace. It was great to know that I got to hear the same chime that baby was hearing, plus having our surrogate wear the necklace and me wearing the necklace made me feel like I had a piece of our baby with me at all times.
4. I went to all of the appointments
I went to all of her appointments. We were lucky that she lived close enough and even more fortunate that she was willing to deliver at our hospital, so attending the appointments in person for the first half of the pregnancy helped with bonding.
When Covid hit, and we went into lockdown just after 20 weeks, we were not allowed to go to appointments, but we would still drive to them, wait outside in the car, and listen on the phone or Facetime to talk to her afterward.
5. I was honest with our surrogate
I was honest with her. From the outset, we were very open about our story and the triggers we may have. She, in turn, would inform us of everything and be available for extra checks, ultrasounds, and appointments.
When she was about two or three months pregnant, she texted us to tell us that she was experiencing hip discomfort and said it had gone away, but it was a unique feeling she had not felt in her two previous pregnancies.
We asked her if we could do an ultrasound at the next visit, which was just a few days away, and she agreed. That open communication and her willingness to double-check made a huge difference and made us feel like we were part of the journey.
This was particularly important when Covid restricted our access. Because we had been so open and because she knew that we were scared and anxious, she would push for us to be included.
So for a few ultrasounds in the second half of the pregnancy, the OB’s office would make early appointments for us and allow my husband too. I went in to see the ultrasound, entered through the side door, and left right after the ultrasound.
6. We bought special headphones for the baby
Later in the pregnancy, when the baby could hear sounds, we purchased Belly Buds for our surrogate. These are special headphones to put on the belly for the baby to listen to. It is connected to an app on your phone so you can record what the baby hears.
My husband and I would choose one book every night, and before going to bed, we would read the book to the baby over the app. It provided a lot of comfort for us to read to our baby, a tradition that we continue.
7. We included rainbows in his room decor
When decorating his nursery, we very much wanted to include his story. Because of our loss history, we consider him our rainbow baby, so his room is decorated with rainbows.
But, part of his birth story was also surrogacy, and explaining that to kids can feel tricky. It was often presented through a kangaroo or a koala holding someone else’s baby in their pocket.
So his room is decorated with kangaroos, koalas, and rainbows.
8. I found other unique ways to bond
I had always wanted to breastfeed my children for the benefits of milk, but more importantly, for the bonding it could bring. Knowing I would not be pregnant and not going to breastfeed was hard, but I worked with my OB and a lactation consultant to attempt to induce lactation.
I never produced more than drops of milk, but my son did root and latch several times after birth. For me, attempting to induce gave me something during the final weeks of the pregnancy to focus my energy on, and it helped me feel like I was strengthening my bond when my son latched.
9. We stayed in contact with our surrogate
After delivery, our surrogate was excellent and pumped for us for about 12 weeks. About once a week, we would meet her halfway to get the milk, so we continued consciously to keep her in our son’s life.
Doing that helped her recovery, helped her kids understand her pregnancy and what surrogacy was, and helped us feel like we remained connected with her and her family.
We still consider her family a part of ours. Even in Covid, when his birthday parties were limited to immediate family, she and her family were considered part of that, and they also attended celebrations.
We talk to our son about her and why he has a less traditional pregnancy and birth story and read age-appropriate books on surrogacy to explain the process.
Final thoughts on choosing surrogacy
Surrogacy is not an easy decision nor an easy road, but it is manageable if you figure out what is important to you and work on trying to achieve the connection you have dreamed of.
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Michelle Valiukenas is the proud mom of her angel Sweet Pea, who she lost due to miscarriage, her angel daughter Colette Louise who she lost at nine days old, and her only living child, her rainbow baby, Elliott Miguel. Inspired by her journey with Colette, Michelle and her husband founded The Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation, whose mission is to improve outcomes of pregnancy, childbirth, prematurity, and infancy and aid in the grieving process through financial assistance, education, and advocacy. Their flagship program financially assists families with high-risk and complicated pregnancies, NICU stays, and loss. The organization’s ability to help families relies on donations and grants, and they are grateful if you can donate. Michelle also participates and advocates on maternal health, maternal mortality, infant health and safety, and pregnancy complications. Michelle lives in Glenview, Illinois, with her son Elliott, husband Mark, and dog Nemo.