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PARENTING AFTER INFERTILITY
by: Ellen Glazer, LICSW

 



I have been thinking, writing and speaking about parenting after infertility for the past ten years. My own experience as a parent after prolonged infertility, together with extensive clinical work in the field, convinced me that infertility does not end with the arrival of a child. Rather, infertility leaves a legacy -- complex and challenging -- that endures long after we become parents.

While you were in the midst of infertility treatment, and the surrogacy process, you probably had a hard time allowing yourself to think about what parenthood would really be like. Years of disappointment trained you to be "on guard" -- to avoid thoughts of babies in an effort to protect yourself. Nonetheless, some fantasies probably managed to creep in and when they did, they filled you with delight. You imagined that the arrival of a child would bring boundless joy and endless contentment: the fulfillment of your long awaited dream.

The arrival of a child after infertility is, indeed, a time of great joy. A shopping cart full of diapers is your ticket back to the world of the living. The baby in your arms is someone that you love and cherish beyond all measure. Still, infertile parents are often surprised to find that their joy is accompanied by feelings that are less comfortable and less anticipated. They include ....


AMBIVALENCE

Ambivalence is a normal part of parenting: there are moments when all parents "hate" their child/children and certainly there are many times when children "hate" their parents (and don't hesitate to say so!). Fertile parents who did not toil and struggle to have their children may feel some discomfort with these feelings but most come to accept their ambivalence. Infertile parents have a harder time: the feelings are less acceptable to them, more threatening, more surprising. As a parent through surrogacy, you may feel like you have made promises that you cannot keep. While you were working with your surrogate, you may have tried bargaining. "If she is able to have our child -- and if all goes smoothly -- I promise to be patient, compassionate, loving. I promise never to complain. I vow that I will be eternally grateful." And on it goes. Now you find yourself feeling tired, frustrated, even disappointed and as you come upon these feelings, you feel compelled to disown them. After all, you did make promises and who knows what will happen if you break them.

It is important for you --- and for your family -- that you accept your ambivalence. Parenting is difficult and you have every right to have mixed feelings about it. Accepting these feelings will not make you less of a parent. Rather, it will help you to relate to your child -- and to others -- in a way that feels natural and is not restricted and depleted by an imaginary "deal with the devil".


FEAR

Another feeling commonly experienced by parents after infertility is fear. Years of disappointment have conditioned you to expect that things will go wrong. You have learned that bad things not only happen to other people: they happen to you. As you enjoy and celebrate the arrival of your child, you cannot help but feel the threat of loss. You may find that this threat increases with separations from your child.

I have come to think of it as an "imprint of childlessness". Your fertile friends went from being "childfree" to having children. You, by contrast, went from a prolonged period of childlessness, to parenthood. That childlessness may well have left an indelible mark: time away from your child, however brief and however necessary, threatens you with a return to childlessness.

One of the tasks of infertile parents is to establish a "child-free" reference point: to be able to take time away from a child or children and to enjoy it. Without this time you will feel frustrated and trapped, feelings that are but an unpleasant extension of your infertility.

The fear of infertile parents is heightened by the world we live in. There are real dangers and they surround us. When you have heightened fears, as a residue of infertility, it can be difficult to make decisions regarding your child's safety. How can you sort out when you are being "over-protective" and when you are simply being prudent?

It is crucial that you give yourself time. You are in a new and all encompassing role and it's "on the job training". Parenting is a series of judgment calls and with time and practice, you will learn to make them. If you initially err on the side of caution, neither you nor your child will suffer. Accept that infertility has left you with powerful fears and that you cannot will -- nor wish - them away.


GUILT

When you were in the midst of infertility -- and probably well into the surrogacy process -- you went through stressful times in which infertile friends or acquaintances became pregnant. That mysterious process, by which someone goes from being infertile to being "one of them", is very painful. Each time it happened you may have asked yourself, "Why is SHE able to have a child and I am not?".

Now the question has been reversed. Now you find yourself asking "Why have we been blessed with such a SPECTACULAR child and others have not?" Much of your envy is gone, but possibly there is guilt in its place. And magical thinking. "What if this was meant to be?", you wonder. "What if we tempted -- or tampered with -- fate?" "What if there is a punishment that is worse than childlessness?"

Again, try to see this for what it is: magical thinking. The world is not fair -- you have learned this already. There is no clear reason why something works for one person and not for another. Your guilt, though powerful, is irrational. Try to accept this and allow yourself to enjoy the fact that fortune has, at long last, tapped you on the shoulder. Remember, it is about time!


PRIVACY AND SECRECY

When you entered into infertility treatment and surrogacy, you gave up a great deal of privacy. You were forced to take one of the most private areas of your life out of the bedroom and into the doctor's office. Later, you took it even further: into a surrogacy program (and perhaps some adoption agencies along the way!). Now you are parents and questions of privacy -- and secrecy -- continue to arise. Wherever you go with a baby, strangers are likely to make comments. They do with all parents, but for you their "innocent nosiness" will raise questions. "Should we tell them our story?" (after all, we're PROUD of it"). "Should we pretend our child was adopted?" "Should we pretend that I gave birth to her?"

School and even camp applications will also ask questions that you may not feel comfortable with. "Was there anything unusual about your pregnancy and/or labor and delivery?" "Is there anything else that you feel we should know about your child?" Most likely, these questions and others will prompt you to struggle with questions of what is private and what is secretive.

Remember that you have a right to privacy. You wouldn't volunteer information about your finances or your education or your job to strangers on the street, so why should you tell them the personal pieces of how your family was formed. Similarly, you can carefully consider the answers that you put in writing on school forms, not simply feeling duty bound to answer every question with complete candor and honesty. Know that you are not being secretive when you maintain --and reclaim -- your right to privacy. Know also, that you have a right to make decisions that you consider to be in the best interests of your child.


LOSS

Loss, like privacy. is a theme that runs through all infertility. Certainly, the threat of loss, as mentioned earlier, is a big part of parenting after infertility. But what of the real losses? Infertile parents are often surprised to discover that there are real losses attendant to their success.

There is also the loss of the illusion of "family planning". Unlike your fertile friends, you have few illusions that you can "plan" or "space" your children. Infertility has taught you to be grateful for the children you have, however and whenever they come to you. Unfortunately, this interferes with your experience in several ways. For one, you don't feel that you can relax and enjoy your first child without wondering if and when you will have another. Chances are that you are wondering if your surrogate will be willing -- and able -- to have another child for you. Should you try to do this sooner than you are ready for fear that you will miss out on an opportunity?

I hope that this article has served as an introduction to some of the challenges of parenting after infertility. It is important to remember however, that in looking at these challenges we are viewing only a part of the picture. The legacy of infertility, while stressful in certain ways, offers people a valuable perspective: one of appreciation. When the going gets tough, when parents are feeling terminal frustration, it is indeed a gift to recall childlessness. The cries of a colicky baby or the tantrums of a toddler pale by comparison to the agonizing roller coaster ride of infertility.



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When we received this article from Ellen Glazer, we were thrilled with its content, and felt extremely fortunate to be able to publish it in OPTS NEWS. Ellen wrote it especially for our newsletter without solicitation. It's wonderful to have such caring and committed professionals associated with OPTS. For those of you not yet familiar with our friend, Ellen Glazer is a clinical social worker in private practice in Newton, Mass., and author of THE LONG AWAITED STORK: A GUIDE TO PARENTING AFTER INFERTILITY. Ellen is currently working with Susan Cooper to revise their first book WITHOUT CHILD: EXPERIENCING AND RESOLVING INFERTILITY. They would welcome OPTS' assistance. Members are asked to submit personal essays on their surrogacy experience. The second edition will come out in spring 1992 under the title RIDING THE ROLLERCOASTER: THE CHALLENGES OF INFERTILITY. Interested members can contact Ellen at (or submit their written essays to):

Ellen Glazer, LICSW
55 Farlow Road
Newton, MA 02158
(617) 332-3468

Let's show our appreciation for Ellen's insightful work on surrogacy issues by having as many members as possible participate in her new endeavor. And be sure to get a copy of THE LONG AWAITED STORK, as you can tell from the glimpse this article gives us, it is important reading. Thanks Ellen!

 

2007 OPTS - The Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy