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Does Gift Giving Equal Love?

During this time of year my mind turns to the thought of gift giving. What do they mean to the giver and the receiver? Everyone’s perceptions are different and it truly takes a special talent to know exactly what someone wants and be able to give it to them. It also takes a gracious recipient to fully appreciate what has been given. This same principal works in surrogacy for both physical gifts, and gestures, but it’s not always perceived the same.

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Recently I was chatting to a friend and she casually remarked that her friend had just received something she called a “pop-out gift”. She explained that it was something her husband had given her after she had delivered their baby. In her case, it was an iPad. Neither of us had ever heard of this term before so I went to the all-knowing internet and looked it up. Apparently it is a fairly common practice to give a gift to the woman who has just delivered your baby. Sometimes it’s called a Push or Labor gift. It can range from something as sweet and simple as flowers or to the more extravagant jewelry. It depends upon the means of the giver. I had received small tokens after the birth of my own children, and my surrogacies, but never knew it had a name or was in fact an actual tradition.  So I asked around and yes, many of my friends and family were in the know and had received all kinds of variations of a Push gifts. Their opinions ranged widely on the topic as well. Some believed it was a throughly deserved right for the woman to receive the appreciation she so greatly deserved while others believed it was a vulgar expression done only by those who were “spoiled,” almost considering it a form of bribery. I can understand both sides.

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There is something called The 5 Love Languages that my mother showed me a long time ago. It is a test you can take to determine how you, your partner, and even your children best express and receive love. The categories are as follows: Words Of Affirmation, Acts Of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  Mine is, without a doubt, Receiving Gifts. I believe this is why I became a surrogate in the first place. The definition of this category is difficult to understand if it is not your personal language. Let me explain. To others it may seem frivolous or petty but what it really is is the tangible expression of love. It’s a physical expression that we can literally grasp and know that someone was thinking of us! It works both ways for me. I show my love by giving something (in surrogacy’s case: a baby) that I know is valued to the ones I care about, and I want to know I am loved by receiving something from them in return. There is no price tag involved, it’s not the dollar value of the gift itself, it’s the knowledge that someone went out of their way to think of me. This is huge to me and it’s what I strive to do everyday for others. Whether it’s buying my kids a Slurpee after school because I know they’ve been craving one; or making my husband booties because that’s what his grandmother used to do for him; or even giving a family a child of their own because that’s what’s been missing in their lives. I love to give, it’s how I show love. Now others love in different ways and knowing this is key also. I can’t be hurt when I don’t receive things the way that I give. I have to understand that kind words, selfless acts, time spent together and hugs maybe mean more to others then physical act of giving.

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It all comes around to understanding again. What seems to be a constant theme in all of my blogs. They don’t call it a “labor of love” for nothing. The act of labor is all for love no matter if it’s your own or for someone else. If someone feels compelled to give you a gift because of it that’s amazing. However it should not be expected. Honestly the look on a new parent’s face or even just the knowledge of what you have done can be as rewarding as a little blue box from Tiffany’s.

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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.

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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Hurry Up and Wait… from matching to contracts to cycling

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What many people don’t realize is that with surrogacy, there are many steps to take before you can even start trying to become pregnant.

A woman who wishes to become a surrogate fills out a super long, in-depth application; gets checked out physically and mentally; and has her background checked to make sure she isn’t really the missing Anastasia. Then she waits to hear back from the agency for the green light.

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If she’s cleared, she’s put in a database with other women in the same situation and waits to be chosen by an Intended Parent (IP). It’s up to the agency to find and match suitable surrogates with IPs. You want to be on this journey with someone you get along or “click” with. This is very important and sometimes it’s an instantaneous click and sometimes it’s not. Even if a woman has been a surrogate before she still has to go through this process each time she re-applies.

Once this stage of the process is complete–and it can take months to get matched–she steps into the legal process. A legal contract for both parties to review is provided by the IP’s lawyer and reviewed with the surrogate by her lawyer. Luckily, SAI works with specially trained fertility-law specialists who know what they are doing and have been doing it for decades. However, the law is the law. There are mountains of paperwork which are a necessary evil (and a good sleeping aid) to get through.

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After everything is all legal eagle–which can take a month or more–it’s time to either match up cycles with the egg donor or IP (if using fresh embryos) or straight on to the poking and prodding (if the IPs have frozen embryos). Either way, this is part of the journey usually takes another month and is full of fun things like vaginal ultrasounds, peeing in a cup, different hormonal injections and daily medication. When using a gestational surrogate, the body must be “tricked” into thinking it’s pregnant so it won’t reject a foreign embryo. Hooray for science! But again… it’s the wait is about another month or so.

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In my personal experience, these three steps can take anywhere from 3-6 months’ time to achieve pregnancy, if it works on the 1st go round. Patience is a virtue and the rewards are well worth it in the end. So as Dori from Finding Nemo would say: “Just keep swimming”…….You’ll get there.

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Oh the Changes! Your NEW pregnancy boobs.

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Ch-ch-ch-changes (turn and face the strain)… this always gets stuck in my head when I’m thinking about anything prenatal. So much goes on in a woman’s body during pregnancy. Some noticeable to the observer, some not so much. Your breasts are definitely a noticeable one. Usually, to the greater satisfaction of your partner. Hands off though, ‘cause: Ouch! Those things are for looking only, no touching at first. They will be so tender, but boy are they perky. Go ahead and enjoy them while they are still all yours. Take as many glances in the mirror or pretend to be looking down at your shirt and check yourself out as much as you can! So many things bum us out when we’re preggers, uncomfortable or self-conscience. Not this though. Uncomfortable maybe a little, but admit it: it’s totally worth it. Enjoy!

There ARE some less enjoyable aspects of your new boobs…There are several other things besides their size you may notice that happen to them throughout your 40 weeks. They’ll get tender; your nipples may stick out more and/or get darker; you might notice some stretch marks (coco butter worked best for me); You may even get your colostrum (a watery yellowish pre-milk substance loaded with nutrients for the newborn)  leaking from them near the end of your journey.

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After delivery, it doesn’t get easier right away. I’m going to let you know something that no one ever told me before I had kids: breastfeeding, pumping, and/or stopping your milk production can HURT! That’s right, it can all be fricken’ painful and uncomfortable. No matter which route you take — nursing, expressing for someone, or using formula — you’ll get rock hard breasts and your nipples will get sore. Sometimes they crack and oh-ho-ho that smarts! If you’re not allergic, lanolin is a godsend for those babies. When you do stop your milk production, the best recommendations I have are these: Frozen cabbage leaves tucked into your bra (I kid you not, they really DO work!). It really relieves the pressure. Many say to take a warm shower. Warning: That is an immediate fix only! It will encourage your breasts to produce MORE milk, not stop it. You’ll just be starting a vicious cycle of pain and relief over and over again. They make breast pads to catch the leaks but those can be pricy. I’ve found that just buying pantie-liners or pads (depending how heavy you leak) and cutting them in half works just as well. They also conveniently have that sticky back to attach to whatever clothing you may be wearing.

The boob fairy give(ith) and she take(ith) away. You may be one of the lucky ones that get to keep your perky and full pregnancy boobs. I know some of those lucky ladies myself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. Mine just kind of went back to being my pre-pregnancy size. Other ladies I know said they got what they call “Mom boobs”. Bigger but saggier. It really is the luck of the draw. It’s all part of that ever changing process we woman chose to go through to procreate. Definitely, well worth it if you ask me.

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Building that bond….how Intended Parents act with surrogates

Speaking with IP’s (Intended Parents) and surrogates alike–as well as taking from my own personal experiences–there are two types of relationships that IPs tend to cultivate with their surrogates: familial and business.

The familial is how it sounds. The IPs welcome the surrogate into their lives with open arms, believing that this woman is giving them the greatest gift of all. The hope is for a continued relationship with her after the child is born. Often, this is displayed as going out to dinner together, bringing her and her family gifts and showing other signs of their appreciation. After delivery, they tend to send pictures and email updates to their surrogate mother. Throughout the years they may even visit, forming a continuous bond made for life.

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In the second situation, the IPs believe they are reimbursing the surrogate for services rendered concluding with the birth of their child. The road to becoming parents has been so difficult for them that they do not wish to have anything possibly hinder them in their endeavor. The surrogate is a necessity, but not necessarily an extended part of their family or someone they wish to stay in contact with. Some may not even wish to tell their children how they were conceived, due to personal reasons.

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Both of these views are completely understandable and should be acceptable to anyone choosing to become a surrogate. However, both types of IP’s have been known to switch sides during or right after their journey. For most, the journey is uncharted territory and it is very difficult to know what your emotions will be like during each stage. Incredibly supportive IP’s have cut ties abruptly with surrogates once the baby is born and somewhat apprehensive ones have opened up and taken to their surrogate more than they expected.

What is really needed for the whole process to work is a calm understanding.  A surrogate needs to understand that the IPs have gone through more than they could imagine to get to this point; it’s only natural for them to be scared when they perceive that they are so close and yet still so far from their dreams. The IPs need to understand that the surrogate has chosen her role to help a family in need, knowing full well that the child is not hers.  She will go through many changes she’s experienced before, but this time there is a mix of altruism and the unknown that are present. Both sides need to be able to trust one another.

No company knows this better than Surrogate Alternatives.  Not only is this their trade, this is their passion. Filled with past and present surrogates and egg donors they understand the entire process from both sides. Their goal is to tailor each surrogacy to each person’s expectations. They know how to match IP’s with the right kind of surrogate so that trust and understanding can thrive.  No matter the family dynamic, they strive to give 100% of their time, effort and experience into each arrangement so that a healthy, happy baby (or two) may be born into a loving family. Every one of them fits a heart shape.

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