July 12, 2011 > Counseling Corner: What is it Like to Be a Surrogate?
Counseling Corner: What is it Like to Be a Surrogate?
By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT
Infertility can be a major stressor for some couples. Fortunately, in this age of technological advances, there are a few options for couples who want a child. One such option is to use a surrogate. A surrogate can be defined as a woman who carries and births a baby (or babies) for another person or couple.
Curious to know about the psychological experience of being a surrogate is like, I turned to Cheryl Lindemann, President of Wombs of Hope, a full service surrogate agency located in Fremont. Not only has Cheryl been a surrogate herself, she has guided over 50 surrogates and families through the process of surrogacy. The latest Wombs of Hope surrobabies were born on June 23, 2011.
Q: What has it been like to be a surrogate?
Cheryl: Amazing, wonderful, exciting and hard all at the same time.
Q: What was hard about being a surrogate?
Cheryl: The hardest thing about being a surrogate is explaining you are not the mother. In my early surrogacies I tried explaining to people's blank faces; later, I learned to accept the compliments of my pregnancy from strangers and go about my business. Out of the hundreds of people I told I was a surrogate, I have had only one negative reaction. Several years ago when I started my surrogacy journey, most people were unaware or confused by it. Luckily I had wonderful support from everyone who knew me. My local doctor is wonderful and has cared for several surrogates since caring for me and my six surrobabies. Now that surrogacy is more common in the Tri-City area, things are getting easier.
Q: What has been your motivation to be a surrogate?
Cheryl: My motivation came long before I knew that surrogacy was possible. My sister was much older than me and when she was told at a very young age that she could not carry children, I told her I would have them for her. As the years went by, I watched as she struggled with infertility. When I was old enough and had a few children, she became ill and passed away. I never got to fulfill her dream of being a mother but I still had the desire to carry a child for an infertile couple. So I began my research and found an agency in Los Angeles that was willing to work with me. I had given birth to four healthy children including a set of twins but I was disqualified from being a surrogate in the Bay Area because I was overweight. Luckily things have changed here and healthy, overweight women can be surrogates. I had a lovely experience so I did it four more times.
Q: How do your children feel about you being a surrogate?
Cheryl: They LOVED it. In fact, my daughters are now in their twenties and have donated their eggs several times. They also help me at Wombs of Hope.
Q: Why do other people choose to be a surrogate?
Cheryl: Each woman has a different motivation. One woman had two abortions in her unruly teen years and she wanted to pay back now that her life has changed for the better. Other women know the amazing wonderful joys of being a mother and want to see an infertile woman have that experience. Some women feel a calling to help others grow their families.
Q: How long do you get to keep the baby before giving it up to the parents?
Cheryl: The parents are there at birth. The baby is theirs from birth. I get to sleep!
Q: How do you handle giving up a baby whom you've carried in your body for so long?
Cheryl: A surrogate goes into this knowing the baby is not theirs and that they are just incubating it. We care and love it but we know we are not the mother. The baby is so wanted and so loved by so many people that we know he or she will have a wonderful life.
Q: Do you get to see the babies after they are given to the parents?
Cheryl: Absolutely. You are family for life. With the wonderful technological advances today, such as Skype and picture hosting websites, it is very easy to watch the children you helped bring into this world grow up.
Q: Do you stay in touch with the parents after the birth?
Cheryl: It is the surrogate's choice. Some choose not to and some are very close.
Q: What are the ideal characteristics for being a surrogate?
Cheryl: A caring mother is the best candidate. She must be between the ages of 21 and 39, in good physical health with a good pregnancy health history. She must be reliable and committed to the surrogacy. She must also be a non-smoker, non-drug user and have limited alcohol drinking prior to the pregnancy. One of the most important things is that she has strong support from friends and family.
Q: In your view, who should NOT be a surrogate?
Cheryl: Women who have not had children and those who are only motivated financially.
Q: What problems and challenges have come up as a result of you being a surrogate?
Cheryl: When I started, I was the first in my doctor's office and the first in the hospital. At first they did not know how to handle it and with the HIPAA laws (laws governing privacy in medical communication), it was sometimes difficult. I am very open so my families were always on speaker phone at my doctor appointments because they did not live close by (two families lived in Southern California, the other in Israel!) Any challenges that surrogates may come across are easily overcome because we are strong and intelligent women who can think outside the box. We are proud to be surrogates and willing to teach so that difficulties lessen for the next surrogates.
Q: What types of prospective parents should use a surrogate?
Cheryl: I have worked with single, married, straight, and gay parents. I feel that good people who want to be parents should have the opportunity to be parents. A wonderful candidate understands that babies come from all different sources and that theirs is coming from the womb of an angel.
Q: What should prospective parents know about the process of using a surrogate?
Cheryl: It's a wonderful process. I encourage people to use an agency. An agency can be a go-between so that only good communications happen between the parents and surrogate. There is no need to discuss doctor bills, legal paperwork or anything unpleasant. Let the agency ensure the details are taken care of; just enjoy the pregnancy.
Anne Chan is a licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is www.annechanconsulting.com
(c) Anne Chan, 2011