Dear Care and Feeding,
I’ve been considering becoming a gestational surrogate, but haven’t been able to get off the fence. Background: I’m 33 and married to my high school sweetheart. We have two wonderful, healthy children, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. Both of my pregnancies were healthy and uncomplicated (minus normal pregnancy symptoms and discomfort). Both of my labors were long and ended in unexpected C-sections, but were relatively smooth and straightforward, so I could still try for a vaginal birth in the future. I bounced back quickly after both, too. During my second pregnancy and since then, it has been abundantly clear that my husband can only handle two children. That’s totally fine with me. I’m glad to have landed at the stage of two active kids who don’t need to constantly nap; I’m glad to sleep through the night on a regular basis; I’m glad not to have to deal with all the stressors that come with having a newborn; I do not feel like I want to have more children of my own … BUT, even when I was still pregnant with my son, I felt I was too young to be calling it quits (I was only 30!).
What has gotten me started thinking about surrogacy is a new friendship with a lovely (gay) married couple who moved into our neighborhood a little over a year ago. Over the course of the pandemic, they’ve come to feel they are ready to start their own family. While I wouldn’t expect to be their surrogate, the idea of helping couples like them fills me with a sense of altruistic purpose. Since I have a perfectly fine, healthy body that can fill a crucial need for others, why wouldn’t I? And, more selfishly, since my kids are not likely to have cousins anytime soon, I feel like connecting with the right family could artificially create these types of relationships (the kids wouldn’t really be siblings, but the child would have my mitochondrial DNA, after all, so there would be some kind of familial relationship). I’ve discussed this with my husband, who was a little wary but is generally supportive of anything and everything I set my mind to. I’m also extremely lucky to live in the same town with my parents (who help watch the kids weekly) and all my in-laws (who see the kids regularly). My husband and I are both gainfully employed (so I don’t need to do this for money), and I have good health insurance. And I didn’t really form emotional bonds with either of my kids till after they were born, so I don’t think it’ll be too bad for me in that sense (I also had no issues with prenatal/postpartum anxiety or depression). I haven’t reached out to a surrogacy agency yet or to my insurance company to ask questions, so this may all be moot. The thing is: I’m having trouble picking up the phone to start the conversation. Am I crazy? We’re in the middle of a pandemic! I’m not getting any younger, and bouncing back after another pregnancy may be more difficult in my mid-30s. But this seems like such an incredible thing that I could do, such an amazing gift I could give to another family. Can you give me some perspective?
—Another Baby, Maybe
First, let’s get clear on what it is you’re thinking and talking about. You begin by talking about your interest in gestational surrogacy, in which the intended mother’s egg (or a donor egg) is fertilized via in vitro fertilization and the embryo is transferred to the surrogate mother. In this case, the surrogate has no genetic relationship to the baby she carries and gives birth to. In traditional surrogacy, which you shift to talking about later in your letter (when you mention that the baby would have your mitochondrial DNA), the surrogate both donates the egg and carries the baby (some states in the U.S., and some places outside the U.S., don’t allow traditional surrogacy). The reason I am harping on this difference is that you include, in your pro column list, a genetic relationship between your children and the child you would help another couple to bring into the world … and your hope (or intention?) to have the children see one another as family—something on the order of cousins. I must confess that this raises a red flag for me. While of course you could (and would have to be!) upfront with the prospective couple about your intentions, I’m not at all sure that this plan would be a welcome one. One (of many) reasons people opt for a gestational surrogate is for clarity about these relationships. Is it possible you’d find prospective parents who would be thrilled by the idea of their child having “cousins” of this sort (and let’s be clear—these children, technically, would not be “cousins” but half-siblings)? I guess. But it’s far more likely that the child would have their own cousins—the children of their parents’ siblings and friends.
This is not a good reason to become a surrogate. It has to do with increasing the size of your own family, not helping others create their own.
But of course you mention other reasons, like altruistic joy—and yes, I get that. Two of my own closest friends are a couple in the same situation as your neighbors. They’ve embarked on the very first stage of the long process toward an infant adoption, and I would be delighted for them if someone suddenly appeared offering to be their surrogate right now. So while this is convincing to me—as are some of the other factors you note (and because I happen to be someone for whom pregnancy was entirely a pleasure)—I still have some concerns. You say you are unable to get off the fence. That’s another red flag for me. You list the reasons surrogacy seems like a good idea to you, but you don’t mention anything about what’s in the other column. If the conclusion you had reached was “OK! All systems go! Let’s do this!” that would be unsurprising. But given that you are reluctant to pick up the phone even to inquire about this process, I would suggest that you know deep down that there are some items, big ones, in the minus column. You just don’t want to confront them.
And so I have a sneaking suspicion that this question isn’t really about surrogacy at all, but about your wanting another child and trying to persuade yourself that you don’t, at least in part (maybe entirely) because you know your husband doesn’t. This is a bad reason to become a surrogate, pandemic or not. Maybe you and your husband need to have a good, long, honest talk.
And maybe you should also take a leaf out of my book. Since I am long past childbearing (but even before that, once I was done having my own), I have thrown myself wholeheartedly into my relationships with the children of my friends. And they—and their parents—are very glad to have an extra motherly presence in their lives. (Indeed, the young couple who hope to adopt a baby in a year or two have declared that if “it’s the sort of baby who doesn’t sleep, we’ll just bring the baby over to Auntie Michelle’s every night and let them sleep there.” And I have declared that this would be fine with me—and I mean it!) In other words: There are ways to bring more children into your life, if that’s what you are really after. And if what you are really after is having more children, that is a horse of a different color. Make sure you know what it is you want before you do anything at all.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m due with my first child in December, and I have a lot of strong feelings about people interacting with my newborn. I’m not sure how I’d feel if we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic, but I really have no interest in letting anyone but my fiancé and myself hold our daughter for at least the first months, maybe longer. I really don’t even feel comfortable letting people meet her, but I have decided to allow that to happen as long as masks are worn. I plan to baby-wear her at any family gatherings we end up going to after she’s born (such as Christmas). What I want to know is … am I being completely ridiculous and overprotective by not wanting anyone to hold her? Even her grandparents? And how do I go about politely telling family that this will be our rule?
—Protective First-Time Mom
“Because we are in the midst of a pandemic—and it’s flu season, too!—I’m not letting anyone who doesn’t live with us hold or touch the baby. Of course I wish things were different! But this is the situation we are all in now, alas.”
That’s polite. It may not be enough to get people off your back. But especially given that you have a newborn, I do wonder why you’re going to (presumably indoor) family gatherings this year at all. Many of us aren’t, which is only prudent. We are nowhere near out of the woods yet—in fact, cases are spiking in many parts of the U.S. and the world. If I were you, I’d just stay home (and tweak the above polite message to reflect that).
I do want to add a note about “overprotectiveness,” though. Since you worry that you’re being “ridiculous” and imply that you might not feel that different about handing your baby over if we were not all living with the threat of a wildly infectious and very dangerous virus, let me assure you that you are not the first mother to feel this way. I think it’s a natural instinct, to tell you the truth (though not everyone agrees with me). I remember having a conversation with an old friend (whose own first child was a year old when mine was a newborn) about this very subject. She thought I was out of my mind for refusing to let most people (i.e., anyone other than her father and me, my parents and grandmother, and the baby’s godparents) put their hands on my baby, when she had happily passed hers around to anyone who asked to hold her. Trying to explain/defend myself, I said, “OK, how would you feel if people said, ‘Ooh, your husband is just so adorable! Would you mind letting me hold him in my arms and cuddle him for a while?’ ” My friend said, “Are you kidding? If I was expected to hold him in my own arms pretty much 24 hours a day? I’d say, ‘Sure! Take him! He’s yours!’ ”
Different strokes, that’s all I’m saying. This is your baby. You get to make the rules.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have an almost-3-year-old son. Due to the pandemic, he has not attended day care since March (he went part-time prior to that). He has seen cousins and our childless friends a handful of times, and we go to the park several times a week, where he occasionally will follow around kids close to his age and play in parallel with them. Then last week he broke our hearts when, after listening to a song about friends and friendship, he very casually said, “I don’t have any friends.” We told him that Mommy and Daddy, his cousins, his grandfather, our cats, etc., were all his friends, but I’m not sure he bought it because he’s said it a couple more times since then (always in response to hearing something about friends/friendship, and never sounding sad about it—like he’s just stating a fact). But even though it doesn’t seem to upset him, the parent guilt is real. I wish we could provide him with more socialization, but we don’t feel comfortable sending him back to day care (he needs a nebulizer pretty much every time he gets sick), his cousins live 45-plus minutes away, and the weather will soon be too cold to play outside. Do you have any thoughts on how to react to his saying this if it comes up again? I don’t think we’ve been overreacting in a way that would make him say it just to get a rise out of us, but maybe there is another angle that we should approach it from.
Listen, he is stating a fact. He’s figuring out something about the world (thanks to his encounter with that song and now other sources of the same information, and he’s making connections between these narratives and ideas and his own life—which is a good thing). He isn’t sad because he doesn’t miss what he’s never (yet) had, but you can’t fool him—and shouldn’t try to fool him—into thinking that parents and grandparents and pets, etc., are his friends in the way he means. You’re confusing your feelings with his (don’t feel bad about this; it’s the single most common parenting problem there is—and the root of so many other parenting problems!). If he calmly reports this fact of life again (and honestly, even if he doesn’t—because clearly it’s on his mind, and if he hasn’t already started trying to figure out why he doesn’t have friends right now, he will soon), you can say, “It’s hard to make friends right now because we’re not meeting any new people. But once we’re able to get out and about again, you’ll have lots of friends.”
I don’t know how much, if anything, you’ve told him up to this point about why he isn’t going to day care or can’t play up close with other children he sees in the park—or any of the rest of what’s unusual about our lives right now—but if he asks, you can find age-appropriate ways to talk to him about this. Meanwhile, be grateful he’s almost 3 and not almost 7 or 9 or 11. It’s harder with older kids, who already have friends they miss. And let me reassure you: Kids are resilient, and as long as he feels loved and secure now, he’ll be able to make friends later, once it’s safe to.
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