As a surrogate, you have the chance to make parenthood possible for someone who otherwise would not have the opportunity. Maybe you chose to help a couple who were physically unable to conceive and carry a baby to term, or perhaps you opted to help a friend whose marital status left them with few other options. Whatever the reason, the baby you have carried for nine months is one of approximately 750 babies born each year by gestational surrogacy. And that is an accomplishment to be proud of.
As your delivery day approaches, the excitement you share with the intended parents rises. Maybe you have been in frequent contact, sharing updates after doctors’ appointments and discussing signs that labor may be approaching. Maybe you’ve been resting and preparing your body for the task ahead of you. And in the back of your mind is the looming question: What should I expect after surrogate pregnancy?
After delivery, a surrogate mother faces several challenges — some physical, some emotional and all very, very real.
Just because a surrogate mother won’t be bringing home the child she carried for nine months, many people mistakenly believe she will not experience the same post-pregnancy challenges as any other woman. In reality, even surrogates themselves can be surprised by the intensity of their recovery. While there’s no way to avoid the challenges a surrogate mother will face after delivery, it’s possible to prepare yourself and your family for what lies ahead. And being prepared is the best way to face and work through each day of recovery.
Communication with Child and Parents After Delivery
One of the biggest questions many surrogate mothers have is: What kind of communication will I have with the baby and intended parents after the birth?
While there is no established set of rules surrounding post-delivery communication between the surrogate and the intended parents, it’s important for both sides to be open and honest with each other about their expectations. For couples who knew their surrogate before delivery, it might feel a little more natural to include her in the baby’s life. Other couples may choose to have no contact with their surrogate once they leave the hospital. Many reside somewhere in the middle, offering limited contact through emails, photos or maybe an occasional visit.
As a surrogate, you should not hesitate to ask questions. Talk with the intended parents about their expectations and yours for what things will look like after delivery. And, while honest communication is ideal, it is also important that you be able to outline these expectations within your contract. While it won’t guarantee you will not feel a little let down or sad after delivery, having agreed-upon expectations will certainly make the transition after pregnancy much easier.
While we realize some intended parents prefer not to have any contact with their surrogate post-pregnancy, we believe it can be healthy for everyone involved to plan a time to visit with the surrogate within a few weeks after the baby is born. This scheduled meeting has a variety of benefits. Not only does this give the surrogate assurance that the baby is doing well, but it can provide assurance to the baby as well. After all, they did spend nine months hearing her voice. Hearing it again may provide a sense of comfort for your child.
Even with a communication plan in place, as a surrogate, you may experience a variety of emotions when you see the parents holding the baby. There will probably be some relief that the process is complete, joy at giving the parents a beautiful child and, in the days that follow, maybe a little bit of sadness as well. Many surrogates experience a little bit of a letdown that comes from the sudden loss of contact with the intended parents.
Before delivery, you probably spent a lot of time talking to them. In the last days leading up to your delivery, you might have even been in daily contact as the excitement of the baby’s impending arrival grew. But, for many surrogates, once the baby arrives, the parents become busy with their newborn and, whether or not they intend to, the contact drastically drops off or even stops completely.
While most surrogates are comforted by knowing that they gave a beautiful gift to someone who wanted a child so badly, they are still tired, hormonal and adjusting to life post-pregnancy. So, you could find yourself struggling a bit. And that’s completely normal. After all, you are closing one chapter in your life and moving on to the next. Take time to allow yourself to work through your feelings as you move forward.
In addition to facing the end of the surrogacy experience and all the emotions that accompany it, a surrogate can also expect to face many of the same challenges as she would in any traditional pregnancy. Just because you aren’t bringing a baby home with you, your body is still recovering from labor and delivery. It’s important to realize this so you can slow down and allow your body to recover. It’s equally important to communicate this to your family and friends so they will understand your limitations and needs in the days and weeks following your pregnancy.
Note: This is not a comprehensive list of all the physical changes you may notice post-pregnancy. This list is designed to highlight a few particular challenges to a surrogate during her recovery. For a comprehensive list of the physical challenges you may face post-pregnancy, make sure to consult with your medical provider.
It’s a fact: An average woman gains between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. This weight gain is a good and healthy thing. It means the baby is developing properly and your body is working to not only help the baby grow, but also to prepare for delivery and recovery. And, on top of those changes, ongoing fatigue, muscle soreness or several other factors may have limited the amount of physical exercise you were able to do during your pregnancy.
While some of the weight goes away once that sweet baby exits your womb — 12 pounds, on average — it can take women up to nine months, and sometimes more, before they return to their previous physique. While this has been a challenge to new mothers since the dawn of time, many surrogates find themselves especially uncomfortable with their weight and lingering belly “pooch” because they do not have a baby on their arm. In their mind, not having a baby means they can’t justify the weight to other people, and they fear being judged for looking “less” in their mind. This feeling is absolutely not true, but for a surrogate who just had a baby, the belief that their appearance is not what it should be is very real.
Talk with your doctor to determine when you can begin physical activity after delivery. While most women can safely start light physical activity, such as walking, within days of giving birth, anything more strenuous will need to wait. There’s no set timeframe for this, which is why communication with your doctor is so important. However, how long you need to wait will generally depend on three things:
- Whether you delivered the baby vaginally, or via C-section
- Physical complications, including vaginal tearing and pelvic floor issues
- Energy levels
Remember, even if you’re feeling good, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. Relaxin, the hormone that softens your ligaments and joints during pregnancy, can stay in your system for up to six months post-pregnancy. So make sure whatever you choose to do to lose weight doesn’t contain jerky movements that could injure your sensitive joints and ligaments.
A traditional delivery is very hard on your vaginal region — for obvious reasons. Depending on the birth, women will experience varying degrees of soreness and pain because of the damage that occurs to the perineum during delivery. On average, it takes three to seven days for this area to heal, but some women will continue to experience discomfort for up to six weeks after delivery.
For the first few days after delivery, many women find relief by applying ice packs to the area. Over time, some women also find a sitz bath — a warm bath that targets and cleanses the affected area — is also helpful. You can take a sitz bath over a shallow basin added to a toilet seat or over a bathtub.
Post-delivery, a woman can also expect vaginal bleeding. While it appears similar to a heavy period, this is called “lochia,” and it’s your body’s way of getting rid of all of the extra materials left in your uterus after the baby has been born. You can expect anywhere from three to 10 days of heavy bleeding, which will soon taper off to a lighter discharge. While each woman is different, lochia typically dissipates within four to six weeks after delivery.
During your pregnancy, your body begins preparing to produce milk for the baby. As a surrogate, you most likely will not be breastfeeding, but you will still have to face the discomfort that will come as your breasts begin to fill with milk that is not getting emptied. The good news is that there are ways you can manage the discomfort until your body stops producing milk.
- Take a warm shower.
- Lay a warm towel on your breasts to ease the pain.
- Talk to your doctor about additional pain management options.
- Wear a sports bra or some other kind of very supportive bra.
Sometimes, unexpressed breast milk can result in breast engorgement. Symptoms of engorgement include swelling of the breasts — sometimes extending to the armpit — pain, hardness and sometimes a low-grade fever.
If you ended up having a caesarean delivery, you’ll be faced with some additional challenges as you recover from surgery. Because you lost blood, you may experience a lot of fatigue. The area around your incision on your belly will also be sore. Your doctor should provide you with information about taking medicine for the pain, which can help make you more comfortable in the short term. However, it’s important to take it easy. Ask for help around the house. Not only did you just deliver a baby, but you had major surgery. It will take time to regain your energy and strength.
Also, it’s important to note that if you’ve had a caesarean delivery, you need to talk to your doctor about when you can begin physical activity. A caesarean delivery is different than a vaginal one, so the timeline for recovery and resuming physical activity will be different.
Reactions From Family and Friends
In addition to some of the physical challenges you will face as a surrogate mother after birth, many women report reactions from family and friends have played a major role in their recovery — for better or worse. It’s important to surround yourself with understanding and helpful loved ones who understand you are recovering physically and emotionally after an almost year-long process. Make sure you spend plenty of time with people who are going to encourage you to rest and be gracious with yourself as you heal and adjust to not being pregnant anymore.
If you are reading this because you are a family member or friend of a surrogate mother, you may be wondering how you can help her during her recovery. While each woman is different — and some of her needs may vary depending on the circumstances surrounding her delivery, there are a few things you can do that are sure to be helpful.
- Help with her other children. To be qualified to be a surrogate, a woman must have had at least one other successful pregnancy and delivery. That means she is most likely recovering with at least one other child in the house. Driving her children to school, music lessons and sports practice can be a great way to take a load off her mind and encourage her to rest.
- Cooking and cleaning. Any woman can appreciate it when someone vacuums her living room or makes her a lasagna. Check with her to see what she needs and to schedule a time you can come to help.
- Caring for pets. Knowing she doesn’t have to feed the cat or walk the dog can take a load off a recovering surrogate’s mind. It can also protect her from unnecessary movement and activity while she is working on resting and getting her strength and energy back.
- Be a friend. Having someone to talk to while she is at home can make a world of difference. Whether she wants to talk about the delivery or just the weather, the adult interaction is what she will value. This service can also be helpful to a spouse or partner who might need a chance to get out of the house without worrying about her.
Give the Gift of Family
As a surrogate mother, you have the opportunity to help someone else complete their family. To fulfill a dream. To have a child. You have chosen a beautiful path, but we realize it can be one filled with questions and sometimes even uncertainties. The great thing about surrogacy is that you don’t have to do it alone. At the Western Fertility Institute, we are committed to helping families achieve a healthy, successful pregnancy and providing the support and resources needed to do that. What makes us unique is that we don’t just focus on the outcome of a new baby. We also focus on the overall experience. From day one, we strive to provide ethical and excellent care for intended parents — and our surrogates.
If you are interested in becoming a surrogate, you are certainly in the right place. To qualify for our program, you must be between the ages of 21 and 44 and have had at least one successful pregnancy and delivery. You must have a healthy lifestyle and body mass index below 33, reside in 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.