I’ve been on several surrogacy forums for a number of months now. Talking and engaging with surrogates and other intended parents. And everybody’s reasons and experience that have bought them there vary incrediblly. There are people who have had cancers and lost their uterus, so can not carry children. There are people with serious heart congenital heart problems who are advised that to have a pregnancy would risk their own death, and there are people like me who have PCOS or endometriosis or incompetent cervix or whatever, who can’t seem to get pregnant at all, or who have been pregnant multiple times, but it’s always ended in sadness and tears.
It’s becoming extremely unsettling to see that these forums have a very distinct element of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ about them. They should be a place of support and if needs be, comfort, but they’re definitely not always used that way and are frequently turned into place to air grievances. Particularly among the altruistic surrogacy arrangements happening here, in Australia – it doesn’t appear to be a problem for people engaging in surrogacy overseas, as they don’t have a great deal of contact with the women who are carrying their babies. The IP (intended parent) forum feels that the surrogates (as a collective, which of course they are not!), are ‘hyper critical, judgemental, even smug’. And they often express that surrogates don’t really understand that infertility is no picnic and there is a good lot of angst spread around by well meaning IPs who want their surrogates to take it easy, or look after themselves better because infertile people know how fragile a pregnancy can be. A good percentage of IP’s have experienced pregnancy, some of them multiple times with no success, and/or shocking outcomes. All those experiences leave harsh emotional scars which are not unlike PTSD – you can’t ignore what happened to you and there are many triggers that will ‘set you off’. It’s also very harrowing accepting that your body has failed you completely and that you need to rely on a third party to have a family… and when you do find that third party, many of those feelings bubble to the surface. The lack of control, the loss, the grief, the guilt… all of it that you would prefer to forgo in favour of being able to carry a child yourself. It’s just awful. For some IMs they feel bitter resentment and jealousy fighting side by side with extreme appreciation and gratefulness – yes, uncomfortable bedfellows if you ever heard of any! They’re thankful that someone is wanting to do this for them and give them the amazing gift of motherhood, but deep down in places they can’t talk about with their surrogates, they feel envious of the women who can bear their children when they can’t.
So many of the surrogates don’t seem to understand any of this, and they will dismiss and ignore the IPs concerns, to the point where the IPs state they feel, ‘mocked and ignored’. Within the groups there appears to be a decided lack of respect sometimes – perhaps the failing of modern communication methods dealing with such highly emotive subject matter, but there is a demonstrable lack of tact, insight and genuine empathy. The altruistic surrogates, knowingly or not, wield a great deal of power over their IPs waiting in the wings, and some of them apparently use it – demands for thousands of dollars for maternity clothes, demands for a credit card from the IPs for ‘pregnancy related expenses’, demands for all sorts of things however loosely related to the pregnancy they might be. They have the functioning uterus and some of them almost hold their IPs hostage as everyone nervously wait the birth. What an uncomfortable and potentially ruinous situation to find yourself in. But it also works the other way – there is a situation I have heard about recently where some IPs have left an altruistic surrogate high and dry with some extensive medical and legal bills…! The wonderful generous surrogate has gone through with giving this couple a life changing gift, devoted a year of her life to growing them a baby, and they have left her with some of the bills, and then subsequently those same IPs served her with legal documents for a parentage order and are demanding that the surrogate sign paperwork so they can get the child a passport to go on holiday, but won’t finalize the medical bills the surrogate is liable for! What an absolute clusterfuck of a broken down relationship. Personally, I believe that horrid people like this should be named and shamed – mostly in case they plan on trying to have a second child using surrogacy in the future…
It’s no wonder that this seriously feels like so much of an ‘Us’ vs Them’ scenario when everyone is approaching the situation from opposite ends. On the IP forum, there are women crying to be understood, on the Surrogacy form, there appears to be women who are crying that they’ve been discarded. The entire process is supposed to be a journey that tries to connect two parties from the disparate ends of the fertility spectrum. It requires mutual respect, understanding, tolerance and support between those parties to effectively create new families. But it’s not always what is happening and just like in many other areas of life, people are always very quick to complain when things are not going well, but rarely take the time to share the positive feedback that their experiences are creating. It’s an ongoing discussion that is not going to be neatly solved all in one stroke. These highly emotive and complex issues aren’t really able to be adequately addressed by a series of initial counselling sessions when a trio (or more) of people enter into a surrogacy arrangement… I am assuming that, like with most relationships, good communication is the key. If either party has a problem, they need to address it directly, (and quickly before it festers), with their surrogate/intended parent rather than blurt out one side of their story all over a forum to garner support for their aggrieved point of view. There’s always two sides to every story, but with the ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’ mentality that is frequently being demonstrated on the forums, no one is getting all sides of any story which just escalates and amplifies hurt feelings and indignation all round.
It really shouldn’t be ‘Us vs Them’, neither of these parties are what is most is important in this scenario… it’s the tiny new humans being created that are important. Them and their Beginning of Life story, that will be a part of them forever. I wish we could all just focus on what is best for those babies, follow through with our responsibilities and obligations that we agreed to, and forget our own egos for a while. It’s really just one more scary aspect of trusting someone as you take that giant leap entering into surrogacy.