EXPLAINING YOUR SURROGATE PREGNANCY TO OUR OWN CHILDREN
by: Linda Kanefield, PH.D.
Surrogate arrangements are an important option for couples seeking to build
their family. Surrogate mothers have an essential role in helping couples become
parents, and this role is one that they assume with knowledge and sensitivity. A
relatively unexplored issue that confronts surrogate mothers is the impact of
the surrogate pregnancy on their own children. Most women who want to be
surrogates already have children of their own. This is important because they
understand well from experience the process of pregnancy and childbirth, and
also appreciate children and what they mean to a family. Generally, these
children are quite young, typically under the age of ten, since the most fertile
years are relatively few.
The surrogate mother is necessarily focused on thc baby she is carrying, but she
must also consider her own children in her planning. She needs to think about
her own feelings and she needs to think about how she will explain the pregnancy
to her children. She needs to consider how she will explain the fact that her
children may never meet the baby-possibly their half-sibling, and how she will
reassure her children that they need not fear separation from her. One surrogate
mother explains that she is "babysitting" for nine months; another says she is
"an oven, an incubator".
Not only are these issues complex, but the level of cognitive and emotional
development for each child will dictate a different approach to these concerns.
Concerns for any one child will change as that child matures. As with any
sensitive issue in a child's life experience, parents must be open to following
the lead of the child's apparent and disguised anxieties, fears, and questions.
For some children, questions can be conscious and arriculated, such as: "Why
isn't the baby coming home from the hospital?" or "Why can't I see the baby?" It
is often more difficult for children to express fears, some of which may even
remain under the surface, such as, "If I do something wrong, will you send me
away?" Some questions may be raised by friends or others outside the family. A
teacher or neighbor may ask, "Are you having a baby sister or brother?" These
can be complicated questions for a surrogate mother, and even more so for the
child who is without maturity or intellectual or emotional resources to
understand the situation.
Because these questions can be so delicate, some women may want to believe that
their young children have no awareness of the surrogacy. However, while there
are significant iudividual differences, babies as young as one and a half can
have a concrete perception of mother getting bigger physically, and children
around the age of three will have some ability to understand that there is a
baby inside. Additionally, children are very sensitive to family concerns,
family secrets, and family tensions. Even a one year old can grow up with a
vague sense of something signifigant having occurred within the family. While
the two-year old may not have fantasies about this process, this same child may
develop layers of fantasy as he or she matures. Thus, a surrogacy can come up at
different times, bringing with it different meanings and questions. Surrogate
mothers can assist their children by their sensitivity to their children's
developing awareness and changing concerns as they mature.
One surrogate mother tells her children, "Mommy is helping two people who can't
make their own baby so that they can have a baby that they really want." At
another time in response to her children's fears, she says, "When Mommy decided
to help this couple have a baby, Mommy knew the baby was for them. The baby
belongs to their family. When Mommy decided to have you, Mommy knew that you
would be our baby forever and ever. Mommy knew you would always belong to our
family and you always will." A surrogate mother must feel comfortable with her
An awareness of these concerns can help a surrogate mother hear the questions
her children ask and can provide the opening to explain what is happening. If
such concerns ir questions are posed, a surrogate mother should respond to them
and acknowledge their importance.
Dr. Linda Kanefield, a clinical psychologist in Chevy Chase Maryland, evaluates
surrogate mothers, and is the author of articles and presentations on women's
issues, including dual-working couples, pregnancy and mother-daughter