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Walking in their shoes; A Mother and a Surrogates journey

Imagine if you will, being a woman. A woman who has worked hard and has found a partner. A woman who now wants a child, a complete family. Now imagine trying to conceive this child and nothing happens; going to the doctor and being told you can’t conceive. Then, taking all your hard earned money and trying every other possible alternative to create a baby–hormones, egg retrieval, IVF–again and again with no results. Or even worse getting pregnant (!!!!!) and then miscarrying. Do you think you have an idea of what that could feel like? Now imagine the physical, economical and emotional toll this will take on you.

I can only imagine and sympathize with these women. Unfortunately, I know too many. I’ve had long personal discussions with a few and it breaks my heart. These talks are one of the main reasons surrogate mothers exist today. So, after all this pain and toil, some of these women look towards surrogacy. The reason they choose an agency is for protection. This most precious treasure they have been so long in seeking becomes closer to their grasp and they want to do everything in their power to obtain it.

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When a man and woman intend to become parents and look through the files of fully screened surrogates (and, sometimes, egg donors) they are looking for a means to an end, an end to the emptiness they have been feeling, an end to their toils and tribulations. They choose carefully and hope that the surrogate will help them complete their maternal desires.

Once everyone has spoken and agreed to this journey, the contracts are signed; and the medications for the surrogate begin. The egg retrieval is done and at this stage the Intended Mother (IM) becomes even more anxious. It’s happening all over again, but with renewed and different hope! If, and when, the surrogate is confirmed pregnant with a heartbeat ultrasound then the IM is inundated with emotions: “It happened, we’re pregnant! Oh God, we could loose it (again)?!?!” Her maternal instinct takes over and yet she feels out of control because it’s not her body. She may become increasingly concerned with the surrogate’s diet, what medications she is taking, if she is following the doctors orders, and just about every waking aspect of her life—anything from the surrogate getting her hair dyed and nails done to if she is exercising enough or too much. All of this may cause the surrogate to undergo additional stress, which is the exact opposite of what is wanted.

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It can become very tense very quickly. There is an emotional switch that can, and does very often occur, with an IM and her surrogate. The IM needs to know that the surrogate is doing everything possible to achieve a healthy pregnancy. She wouldn’t be a surrogate if she weren’t. The surrogate then needs to know that these emotions are not personally aimed at her, it’s just the IM’s fears and apprehensions manifesting due to her own perceived “helplessness” in these matters.

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As the pregnancy continues and they enter the second trimester healthily, things tend to lighten up. The emotional roller coaster on both sides seems to even out a bit. The IM starts to feel more secure that the baby is doing well and begins to trust he or she is eventually going to arrive. The surrogate earns the IM’s trust and the women may even become quite close during this part of journey. They may share intimate details with each other, promising to stay friends and keep in touch once the baby is born. This calm may go on until delivery. And, if they are among the lucky ones, it stays that way. The happy healthy baby is born (!!!) and the no longer IM, but now mother, is over the moon, delighted and grateful. She lets the surrogate hold the child after the delivery. They remain in contact via pictures and emails and life is good. 🙂

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However, that is a best-case scenario. Once that baby is born, the “Momma Bear Switch” can turn to the extreme level. The IM becomes so frightened, so scared that someone will try to take her child, she suddenly sees the surrogate as a threat. No matter how irrational or unfounded this feeling may be it is real to her and can be completely over-powering. The IM cannot believe that something she has wanted so dearly, and that is so extremely precious to her, would not be coveted by the woman who carried it for her for nine months. This feeling is understandable for the IM, but completely unfounded for the surrogate. The IM will not let the surrogate see the child, let alone hold it. All contact is severed and the surrogate may never hear from the family again. It’s the harsh truth, but it happens. It is completely within the Intended Parents’ (IP’s) rights to do so. The surrogate may just never know the child she helped bring into this world.

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For the surrogate, this can be devastating, especially, because it can happen without any warning. Things seem fine until they are in the labor and delivery room.  Suddenly, she has had the baby, but there is no baby. The IP’s will not speak to her. She feels alone and abandoned. There is a reason that in a surrogacy contract it states that the surrogate will, if desired, be allowed one hour alone with the baby in the hospital. This is for closure sake. The surrogate had this baby inside her body; she wants to see what she helped to create. A surrogate doesn’t want to keep the child. She entered into the agreement knowing and trusting this. When a surrogate delivers a baby, there is a physical need to know about the child. Much like an artist or a craftsperson that has created something, the surrogate wants to see her work and know that it was successful.  It is a completely different connection than with her own children, but it is still valuable to the ending of a journey. It makes it all feel complete.

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Sometimes in these situations the IP’s may come around and send an email with pictures. Some have a change of heart later, once that fear has subsided and they are comfortably settled at home with the child. The IP’s may start sending updates to the surrogate in the years to come. But sometimes they don’t and that’s OK too. As long as the surrogate is aware of this possibility as she enters the agreement. The surrogate can be comfortable in the knowledge that what she did was an amazing act of love and is valued even if unspoken. What the surrogate needs for this to work is to know that this separation has nothing to do with her. What she did was a beautiful and fulfilling act. Even if she is not involved in the rest, she has helped to create a loving family. The families are grateful, too, in their own way. Some IP’s have been through such a long and harsh road they are unwilling to take any chances once they’ve obtained that wonderful gift of life. It has made them complete and they don’t want any more obstacles. A clean break was felt best. It all just needs to be communicated.

Understanding on both sides helps. The agency will help provide this from beginning to end, but it really does come down to the individuals involved. Prior knowledge is key. For the Intended Mother, she should remember she’s chosen (albeit reluctantly) to have another woman carry her baby.  Conversely, surrogates should be understanding of the IM’s experiences and tribulations. Knowing and being prepared for any possible outcome is best; that means it may hurt, but it can hurt less.

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What’s a placenta?… She did what with it?!

The placenta is an organ that grows inside a pregnant woman’s uterus to provide nutrients and oxygen to the developing baby. It also enables antibodies to pass from mother to child and removes waste from the baby’s blood. It’s attached to the wall of the uterus and is connected to the baby via the umbilical cord. Basically, it’s what keeps the little one going.

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The word Placenta comes from the Latin word for cake.  It really does look like a big purple pancake, full of all those good nutrients for the baby. It measures about 9 inches wide and 1 inch thick in the middle, weighing roughly 1 hefty pound at delivery. Delivering the placenta is called the third stage of labor and, unless there are complications, is probably the easiest part of it all. Most women forget after pushing out the kid that there’s just one more part to do before you get to lay back and rest.

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Although this super organ can cause issues during pregnancy, as well. The most common is Placenta Previa; when the placenta is low in the uterus and partial or totally covers the cervix (the outlet for the uterus), it can cause severe bleeding and a C-section may be required. Placental Abruption is when the placenta peels away from the uterine wall (partially or fully) and can cause bleeding, a lack of oxygen and nutrients to the baby, and early delivery may be needed. Placenta Accreta is almost the opposite. It’s when the placenta attaches too deeply into the uterus and fails to detach during labor. It can cause bleeding and severe blood loss after delivery and the mother may have to go through surgery afterwards to remove it and possibly her uterus along with it.

I think most readers are really curious about this next part: What is done with the placenta after birth?! Well, we here in the West tend to just incinerate it via the hospital. However, there have been growing beliefs and new findings that we have been wasting something important. Here are just some of the ways our placenta is now being used:

The first is to leave it alone! They aren’t cutting the cord at all. It’s called a Lotus Birth and basically you carry the baby and placenta around until the cord naturally falls off. (Between 1-2 weeks) Those who do this believe that it’s a much more natural and healthy way to slowly introduce their child to the “outside” world. There isn’t any scientific proof as of yet that this is helpful to the babies however there isn’t anything to say nay either….

The second is to encapsulate the placenta and have the mother take it as a supplement after birth. This is a rising trend that started in ancient Chinese medicine. The basis for this thought is that in the wild many mammals eat the placenta after the birth of their young and it seemed to give them rejuvenating properties. More and more woman are doing this as a much more appealing alternative to cooking or eating their own “murder-less meat”. Studies are showing that ingesting your own placenta may actually help rebalance your hormones, possible combating Postpartum Depression by making mothers less fatigued and overwhelmed and in a much cheerier disposition.

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Another take-home placenta idea is to bury it. This is probably one of the oldest human customs around the planet. Although it has no health properties this is more of a spiritual belief. I have a Wiccan friend who did this after the birth of her first born son. She planted it at the base of a 9 month old sapling (placentas actually do make wonderful fertilizer) and now the tree grows along with her son. Even if you hold no religious beliefs along these lines, I think it’s still a lovely gesture.

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The placenta really is an amazing thing and we are still learning about its benefits to both child and mother. The last time I delivered I donated mine to research. Maybe this time I’ll keep it. And who knows, maybe within the year I’ll be blogging about my own personal experience taking placenta supplements.

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Needles, Syringes and Bloodwork, Oh My!

Three medications most of the population has not heard of or understand the reason for: Progesterone, Delestrogen, Lupron. No, I’m not conjuring up the dark forces; these different medications have to do with hormones to become pregnant in the “New” fashioned way. If you’ve underwent In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) before, then they are as common a household name to you as Tylenol is to most people. Their common bond, along with  multiple blood tests, is that they all require poking yourself with needles for probably a good solid month (or two…or three…depending on how it all goes).

First medication is usually Lupron. This is administered by a relatively small needle and easily injected in the tummy. Many fertility doctors use this drug to get your cycle lined up or synchronized with a third party, such as a surrogate mother or egg donor. Then you’re on to the big boys! Progesterone is an oil-based shot given in the upper-outer quarter of your buttocks each night. Delestrogen is also oil-based that is even thicker that’s administered twice a week in the same areas. Your poor heiny ends up lumpy, battered and bruised. Not to mention you inner elbows (is there a word for that part of your body?) start to look like you’ve been shooting heroin from all of the blood drawing required. However, it’s a small price that’s happily paid by those hoping to conceive.

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My husband has had the honor of “sticking it to me” on a nightly basis for a while now ;). It’s so much easier with help. Twisting yourself into some weird high-level yoga pose to get that gigantic needle into position and then watching yourself jab it into you own butt, is absolutely no fun at all. Also, I think it gives him a weird, sadistic pleasure getting to poke his wife with needles. All joking aside, I do believe that it is bonding in a way; it makes him feel more involved in the process and sympathetic to my situation.

I’ll tell you something though, you become a poking-prep expert pretty quickly: “I need to twist off the gray needle, twist the pink one onto the syringe, pull back to the two mark, insert needle into the bottle of medication, push up, then pull back, make sure there’s no bubbles, pull back again so liquid is out of the needle, remove the pink needle (or OUCH!), discard it in the Sharps container, twist on the gray needle, cap it then get the alcohol wipe and Band-Aid.” Veterans are laughing right now because it’s true. And that’s just for one of the syringes!

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After he’s done with the injection(s) he usually takes a tennis ball and rolls it around the area with moderate pressure so that I don’t get knots too badly. You may never look at a tennis ball the same way again. I know I don’t 

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After you have done the embryo transfer (a different kind of poking and prodding), and you are lucky enough to get a positive pregnancy blood test (this requires at least 3 more blood draws), you’ll probably remain on Progesterone and Delestrogen for most of the first trimester of your pregnancy. This is to “trick” your body into believing the embryo is yours and to not reject it. It’s similar in a way to what they do to an organ transplant patient. Once you are cleared and taken off all medication by your fertility doctor, those injections become a thing of the past and it becomes your basic old-fashioned pregnancy until birth.

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