What Not to Say to a Woman Expecting a Child Through Surrogacy
Who's the mom? How much is she getting paid? Avoid these and other questions and we can still be friends.
To many, the concept of surrogacy remains shrouded in mystery. In the nearly three years I’ve been navigating this complex world, I’ve had conversations that range from mildly ignorant to downright indecent. Like with any unknown, the opportunity to offend is ripe, so it’s important to be informed. And no, that doesn’t mean binge-watching The Handmaid’s Tale. At the risk of alienating friends and family, or causing real pain to someone going through it, here are some things you should avoid saying if you hope to broach the subject of surrogacy with an intended mother in a meaningful way.
1. You’re so lucky! You’re not going to have morning sickness/get fat/ruin your figure/etc.
Most people who choose surrogacy don’t do so in an effort to avoid the “inconvenience” of pregnancy. The decision is usually the result of years of failed fertility treatments, endless cycles of high hopes followed by shattered ones and nagging feelings of shame or inadequacy — not to mention the inevitable strain on even the most solid partnerships. Please know that most women would trade those hard-earned Tracy Anderson abs for a solid pair of cankles or a stubborn muffin-top if it meant they could experience pregnancy firsthand.
2. Who is the mother?
For an intended mother, this question is like a dagger through the heart. That said, it is usually an honest mistake from a curious, well-meaning person. Most people aren’t familiar with the correct terminology for this unique relationship. So let’s clear this up: A gestational carrier, or surrogate, is the woman who nurtures, protects and carries your child in utero; a mother is the woman who nurtures, protects and loves that child for life. Who’s the mother? I am, you nincompoop.
3. How much is she getting paid?
Money talk is never encouraged in polite conversation, so why bring it up here? Most gestational carriers have thought long and hard about their decisions. They are eager to help give the gift of a child to someone who has yearned for one. They dream of the moment parents will look upon their child for the first time and the overwhelming satisfaction they’ll feel knowing they made it possible. They do not, for the most part, dream of cashing checks and hitting the casino. Like any serious commitment or job — “extreme babysitting” as our surrogate affectionately refers to it — the accompanying compensation should be meaningful enough to make a difference in the life of the carrier and her family. How many zeros sit at the end of that number is none of your business.
4. How do you know it’s really your baby?
On the Lifetime network, embryos get swapped in the lab all the time. Rest assured, this sort of mix-up does not happen IRL. Please don’t fuel our irrational fears with this kind of question. Embryos are stored in locked, climate-controlled laboratories equipped with backup generators, in labeled dishes, in labeled containers of liquid nitrogen. They stay there until the moment the lab technician presents your doctor with a labeled syringe with which to implant your embryo. That baby is yours. Now, what if your surrogate gets busy during her IVF cycle and becomes pregnant with two babies, one of which is biologically hers? Well, as People magazine devotees may know, it has happened (https://people.com/human-interest/jessica-allen-surrogate-mom-biological-son/). After a distressing legal battle, the surrogate was reunited with her biological son several weeks after delivery. Please know this is an extremely rare case.
5. What if she tries to keep the baby?
Of course, this thought has crossed every intended parent’s mind. But it is just as absurd as the question above and does nothing to ease an already over-active mind. The reason for a surrogacy contract and pre-birth order is to establish the intended parents’ legal parentage before the child is born. This way, there’s no confusion. The gestational carrier has no legal claim to the child, even if she did want to take her home. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: She doesn’t. She’s schlepped your baby around in her womb for nine months, pushed her out into the world, and the only thing she wants is to go home to her family, pour a goblet of red wine and thank her lucky stars it’s your turn to take the reins.
Phoebe de Croisset is Maisonette’s director of editorial and special projects. Follow her on Instagram @phoebecalliope.