Safety Nets and Social Support
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
Pregnancy is an emotional time, and a surrogate pregnancy requires the support of family and friends, not only for the usual pregnancy reasons, but because of the additional people, stresses, appointments, and pressures concomitant with the process. A pregnant woman needs the support of her partner, who will be holding her hand in the delivery room and all the way up to that moment. She needs the support of family members who may be called upon to watch other children, run errands, listen to venting, or help with household chores. She needs the support of coworkers, who may need to cover some of her workload, cover for appointments, and help out during maternity leave. It takes a village to raise a child, and a small army to help a pregnant woman tie her shoes.
In a surrogate pregnancy, the need for support starts from the minute she starts deciding whether this is the path for her. It starts with her husband or partner, as this is the person who has the biggest potential to help or hurt the process. In the beginning especially, support isn’t just blindly saying yes to what a surrogate wants, but to ask critical questions, and give input to whether or not to pursue surrogacy, and which person/people to match with. For myself, I am lucky enough to have a spouse who is astoundingly supportive. Once I decide to do something, Dwight trusts enough to not question me or to try to dissuade me. He answers the questions I ask, and leaves the unasked questions unanswered.
As for our son, in important family matters like surrogacy, we also seek his input and let him ask questions as well. This is his family, too, and as to important decisions that are going to affect him as much as a pregnancy, he gets a say. He’s been as supportive as Dwight, and is extremely proud of our family’s role in helping other families.
For the rest of the family, it’s been a mixed bag. I come from a large family on my mother’s side, and live across state from them. Even when we lived close, I didn’t get to see them that often, in part because of time constraints, in part because I didn’t get to develop much of a relationship with them when I was young. But they’ve been nothing but supportive of my choices, even if there is a distance between us. A lot of family members are on Facebook, and we use that to stay in touch. On my father’s side, the family is much closer geographically but less supportive of my choices. For my first surrogacy, everything was fine as we went through the explanations of genetics -anonymous egg donor, not my genetic child, two dads (that was a fun discussion with my 80-year-old grandmother). My second surrogacy was different, because there is a genetic connection, which my too-open-for-my-own-good self managed to let slip. That journey was also complicated by my sister’s suicide a month after I gave birth, so the family was very much in “sticking together” mode. My in-laws have mostly taken my husband’s lead on what to think and do about surrogacy, although there were a couple of very awkward days when I gave birth to my first surrogacy and my mother in law and sister in law came to our town instead of going to Pittsburgh, like they had planned. They were trying to be supportive, but sometimes that means giving someone space, an issue that Dwight and I deal with frequently with them.
My friends have been universally supportive, but I think much of that has to do with my tendencies in relationships- I make few close friends, but those friends are closer to me than my family. My preference is for functional bonds, people with whom bonds are built on shared experience, over the chemical bonds of DNA. My friends are my “chosen family.” This perspective has been generally helpful over the years, although it has created some difficulties with family members as well. It is what it is.
Co-workers that know have been supportive, but I try to keep my work life and personal life separate, so the number of my coworkers that know is fairly low. As a graduate student during my surrogacies, I was lucky to be able to time my pregnancies putting the end of pregnancy during the summer, when I’m not in the office or teaching. My schedule lets me legitimately work from home when I need to, and avoid people pretty easily when I want. For me, that’s part of the appeal of career in the academy.
I have an online community of other surrogates who are obviously very supportive and very much close friends, even if most of us have never met in person. They are my lifeline and outlet in surrogacy related issues, and always willing to listen and respond with the truth, no matter what it is.
That’s the long story. The short story is that I’ve been lucky to have some amazing people in my life, only a few sticky spots because of my journeys, and enough support that even the rough spots I’ve been able to navigate with the help of my circle. Personally, I couldn’t do it alone, I’m not that strong a person, and I admire Kelly (Rummelhart) in her ability and strength to be able to do this with one less support person, and wish her all the best of luck.