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Panel examines concerns for prospective parents considering surrogacy
by David Thill
2017-04-12

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If one is considering surrogacy as a means of having children, it might help to consider having a surrogate mother breast-feed the child, wanting to have a relationship with the surrogate mother once the child is born, or pondering what to do if she's carrying twins—or more.

If these issues haven't come up yet, they will. And the earlier that happens, the smoother the process could be.

Communication and trust were the running themes in a discussion on "A Mindful Look at Surrogacy" at the Men Having Babies Midwest 2017 Surrogacy Conference & Gay Parenting Expo, held at the Center on Halsted April 8-9 ( sponsored in part by Windy City Times ).

A host of concerns arises when prospective parents—also known as intended parents ( IPs )—consider surrogacy, Ron Poole-Dayan, executive director of Men Having Babies, said at the April 8 evening session. Aside from the cost ( estimated costs for IPs are often about $100,000 or more ) and the complexity of the process, the prospect of being so intimately involved with another person—the surrogate mother—can be a source of apprehension for IPs, said Poole-Dayan.

Additionally, ethical concerns exist around the health risks and costs of the process for the surrogate mother, as well as the outcomes for the children. ( "They're going to have a complex birth story" to tell, Poole-Dayan pointed out. ) And finally, stigma exists on at least two levels —around the concept of surrogacy, and the concept of surrogacy for gay couples.

Sensitive topics arise between IPs and surrogates. Those topics are often more easily addressed when IPs work with third-party assistants, said Jan Nussbaum, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who provides consultations for IPs and surrogates.

"I think for everybody coming into this [process], there are questions of trust," Nussbaum said. IPs are "meeting total strangers"—potential surrogates—"and you're looking to trust her to carry a baby for you," he said. "But believe it or not, she's worried about whether she can trust you, too." This makes it all the more important for difficult conversations to take place from the beginning of the process to help build that trust, he said.

Aside from the basic question of whether the surrogate will truly be willing to part with the child once she delivers them, thornier issues must also be discussed, he said. Those issues—which Nussbaum feels professional consultants are most equipped to broach—include the possibility of the surrogate providing breast milk for the child after the child's birth; selective reduction ( to reduce the number of children the surrogate carries in the event that more than one child is conceived ); and potential situations when IPs or surrogates might want to terminate the pregnancy.

Third parties, such as surrogacy agencies, often address these issues in the screening process, before IPs and potential surrogates even meet each other. Agencies "don't want you or a surrogate to waste a whole bunch of hopefulness and excitement and energy meeting, only to find out that you fundamentally disagree on some of the very important issues," said Nussbaum.

Speaking about her experience as a surrogate, Corina Mattson, LMFT, said that it didn't occur to her to think about something like selective reduction when she first considered becoming a surrogate. When thinking about assisting another family in having a baby—or, in the case of IPs, when thinking about actually having a baby—"you're not thinking about trying not to have a certain kind of baby," she said. So it helped that the agency through which she worked asked her those questions from the start, she said.

"A Framework for Ethical Surrogacy for Intended Parents," developed by Poole-Dayan and other Men Having Babies team members with the help of individuals from partnering agencies and an advisory board made up of surrogate mothers, addresses best practices for IPs. The framework, as well as more information about Men Having Babies, the surrogacy process, and listings of surrogacy agencies and clinics—and information about opportunities for financial assistance for IPs—can be found at MenHavingBabies.org .


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