When you’re expecting a baby, a lot of questions arise. When you’re expecting a baby through surrogacy, that number of questions triples. It can be overwhelming to navigate the ins and outs of a surrogate pregnancy, especially as the intended parents. Countless logistics and practical factors demand your attention as you prepare for your baby’s arrival. But, beyond all the preparation, you’re probably spending a lot of time and energy worrying about one major element — connecting with your new baby.
“Attachment,” the psychological term given to the deep bond formed between a parent and their child, is what drives parents to care for their children, even before they are born (known as “prenatal attachment”). It’s also what provides children with a sense of security, well-being and self-esteem from the very beginning of their life. In fact, researchers believe that this “attachment” is what motivates self-care throughout pregnancy as well. The attachment between a child and their parents isn’t something most people give much thought to — until they begin the surrogacy journey.
Because there’s a physical element to developing an attachment, the baby will naturally be born with some attachment to their surrogate. This prospect can be hard for intended parents to understand. It’s also one that can be hard to navigate in the minutes and hours following delivery, which is why addressing this issue ahead of time and preparing for the emotional transfer after birth is so important.
What Is Transfer?
During the pregnancy, babies develop strong senses of hearing and smell. These senses allow them to bond with their mother — or in this case, their surrogate. Because they’ve spent nine months listening to their surrogate and becoming familiar with her, it’s important that intended parents realize their baby will be born with a natural attachment to the surrogate. It’s completely normal for the baby not to immediately bond with the intended parents. While bonding with your baby after surrogacy is crucial (and possible), intended parents need to be prepared.
The term “transfer” is used to refer to the exchange of the baby from the surrogate to the intended parents. Transferring a baby from its surrogate mother to its intended parents is a huge milestone in the surrogacy journey. It marks the completion of nine months of preparation and the beginning of a new life chapter for parents and child alike. It’s the goal that everyone has been working toward since the beginning.
The moment of transfer is marked with a lot of emotion and, if you aren’t careful, it offers the potential for unnecessary stress placed on the baby, the surrogate and the intended parents.
To avoid that stress, you need to understand the ways you can prepare for the transfer. To do that, you must first understand that there’s more to transfer than simply having the surrogate hand the baby to the intended parents. The process of transfer has both an emotional and physical component — not only for the adults involved but also for the baby.
The transfer of attachment from the surrogate to the intended parents is called the “emotional transfer,” and it’s a process that should be started well before the baby arrives. In fact, depending on the level of connection a surrogate and the intended parents intend to maintain post-delivery, the baby’s birth may actually mark the culmination of the emotional transfer process.
First and foremost, it’s vital that the surrogate and the intended parents choose to focus on the health and well-being of the baby above anything else. This decision is the key to a successful transfer. Intended parents are so excited and eager to finally be parents that it can be easy to lose focus and dwell on their impending parenthood instead of the baby, which can add emotional complications to the process.
If you’re an intended parent of a surrogate-born baby, you can take several steps to ready yourself to focus on your child and prepare for a healthy emotional transfer.
- Be kind to yourself: If you’re an intended parent who is reading this because you’re worried about bonding with your surrogate baby, you can put those fears to rest. Good parents are parents who care. You care enough that you’re worried about it — which probably means you’re more than equipped with the compassion and strength needed to make this work.
- Grieve your losses: If you’ve chosen the surrogacy route to complete your family, you’ve probably gone through years of infertility. As you prepare your home for a baby, it’s important to prepare your mind and heart as well. And that starts by resolving past hurt. It’s essential that you grieve the loss — not being able to carry your own child — and identify any unresolved grief stemming from your experiences. That pain isn’t going to disappear when your child is born, but processing it will allow you to move forward and focus on your baby’s needs.
- Be involved: As an intended parent, it’s important for you to be involved in the pregnancy. If you’re able, make arrangements with the surrogate to attend doctor’s appointments. Decorate a nursery and prepare your home for the baby’s arrival. It’s even a great idea to have a baby shower, which allows your friends and family members to get excited about the baby’s arrival as well. By taking an active role in the pregnancy and going through all of these normal stages, you’ll develop a sense of connection and attachment with your baby.
- Talk to the baby: Because they’re inside the womb of the surrogate, your baby is going to hear her voice. But that doesn’t mean they can’t start to become familiar with yours as well. If you’re able to talk to the baby during in-person visits with your surrogate, that’s great. But if schedules or distance won’t permit that opportunity, record yourself talking and reading books, and then send them to the surrogate to play. You can also ask the surrogate to play some of your favorite music for the baby to allow them to get accustomed to its sound.
- Provide a transitional item: Besides carrying your child, your surrogate will also play an active role in helping to prepare the baby for its new environment. Besides asking her to play music or recordings of your voice, we also recommend that you give her a “transitional item,” such as a stuffed animal to sleep with. Sleeping with it will transfer her scent, and then, when the baby is born, the stuffed animal can be sent home with you to comfort your child throughout the transition.
Remember, throughout this process, it’s important to communicate with your surrogate about preparing for the emotional transfer. As we mentioned before, the best way to navigate this process is to remember that everything you (and your surrogate) are doing is about providing the best environment for your baby to be born into. Besides keeping track of doctor’s appointments and pregnancy milestones, remember to talk with her about plans for the birth and ways you can work together to care for the baby.
All of these suggestions are intended to begin the emotional transfer well before the baby is born. However, the physical transfer process will be completed at the hospital once the baby has arrived.
The birth itself and the hours immediately following the birth are hectic and emotional, and it’s important that they’re set up to allow the surrogate and parents the space they need to continue the emotional transfer process. Once the baby arrives, there are several things you can do to help your child — and yourselves — navigate these emotional waters.
Confirm Their Senses
Hopefully, the baby gave enough warning of its impending arrival that the intended parents made it to the hospital before delivery. While most new parents will be eager to get their baby into their arms, we strongly recommend that, if the surrogate is willing, she be permitted to hold the baby first.
Why? Because by placing the baby on her chest immediately following delivery, you allow the baby to “confirm” their senses in their first moments of experiencing life outside of the womb. This step allows the baby to begin to experience the world around them while being comforted by the person they’ve been with for the last nine months. If the surrogate is emotionally unable to do this, some kind of physical contact like touching the baby’s hands and feet can also be helpful.
Physically Transfer the Baby
In an ideal scenario, the surrogate should be the one to hand the baby to the intended parents after delivery. This step provides a sense of closure for the whole process by symbolizing the handing over of attachment from the surrogate to the parents. Not only that, but it’s also good for the surrogate to see the intended parents together with the baby in order to have a picture of what she has done to complete their family.
Bonding Through Touch
Once the baby has been handed to the intended parents, physical touch between the parents and child is crucial — particularly with skin-to-skin contact, which will allow the baby to become familiar with their smell, sound and touch.
What to Expect for the Physical Transfer
Generally, intended parents are not allowed to be present while the surrogate gives birth. They will be given a place to wait near the delivery room. Whether your surrogate is willing to physically transfer the baby or not will determine where you’ll meet your new baby. In some hospitals, once the baby has been checked by a doctor, a nurse will take them out to the waiting parents. If your surrogate opts to be the one to give the baby to the parents, the transfer may happen in her hospital room.
Because there’s no set policy in place for every location, you’ll want to figure out ahead of time what the hospital or birthing center’s policies are on transfers. Because bonding between the child and parents is also crucial in those first few hours, you should find out what kind of setup they’ll have for you as parents to bond with your baby. Often, they’ll set aside a separate room for the baby and parents to use for bonding and rest while the baby stays under the hospital’s care until they’re released to go home.
It’s important to remember that even though birth is the completion of the surrogacy process, it’s only the beginning of your journey as parents. And, while your day-to-day lives will no longer revolve around your surrogate, it will still take some time for you and your child to connect.
There’s no set timeline for when and how this connection will happen, but rest assured, it will happen. Through love, patience and understanding of the ways surrogacy has enhanced your family’s experiences, you’ll be able to embrace this challenge. Before long, you’ll be stressing about weight gain, teething and sleep patterns just like every other new parent.
Staying in Contact With Your Surrogate
The word “transfer” implies a definite end to the process. But when it comes to maintaining a relationship with your surrogate, knowing what kind of “ending” you’re looking for can be difficult because there’s not a specific set of guidelines for navigating post-birth interaction. Some parents choose to stay in regular contact, sending emails and photos and even visiting. Other parents do not wish to continue the relationship they developed with their surrogate during the pregnancy.
For your baby’s sake, some experts recommend that you schedule a visit with the surrogate a couple of weeks after delivery. Doing so can provide the baby with some comfort and assurance. It can also give some closure to the surrogate when she sees that the baby — and your family — are adjusting well.
What happens beyond that depends on what you and your surrogate want. We strongly recommend that you discuss it prior to the birth. It’s important to express your own expectations, as well as listen to the expectations of your surrogate.
Let Us Help You
Surrogacy provides the opportunity to help someone else complete their family with a baby they’ve longed for. It’s a beautiful choice. However, we realize it can be one filled with questions and uncertainties for both intended parents and the surrogate. That’s why the great thing about surrogacy is that you don’t have to do it alone.
At the Western Fertility Institute, we’re committed to helping families achieve a healthy, successful pregnancy by providing the support and resources they need throughout the process. What makes us unique is that we don’t just focus on the outcome of a new baby. We also focus on providing ethical and excellent care for both intended parents and our surrogates.
If you’re interested in becoming a surrogate, you’ve come to the right place. To qualify for our program, you must be between the ages of 21 and 44 and previously had at least one successful pregnancy and delivery. You must have a healthy lifestyle and body mass index below 33, reside with a stable living arrangement and live in a surrogate-friendly state.
Based in California, a surrogate-friendly state, the Western Fertility Institute supports both national and international gestational surrogacy. If you have questions or are interested in beginning the process to become a gestational surrogate, contact us today.