One of the most important relationships a woman has in her life is her relationship with her OB/Gyn doctor. We have hopeful and silly conversations as well as tough and scary conversations with our doctors. When a woman is deciding to become a surrogate, she looks to her trusted obstetrician for their guidance and expert advice.
Dr. Heather Carlson with the Mankato clinic, part of the Mayo Clinic Health System has cared for surrogates and delivered many surro-babies in her 15 years servicing her community. Nazca Fontes, founder of ConceiveAbilities, interviewed Dr. Carlson on our new show All Things Conceivable: A Surrogacy Podcast to talk about her expert experience caring for her surrogate patients and busting surrogacy myths.
NF: How important is research for your patients who are considering surrogacy?
“So many of my patients are already so well-informed because of the research they have already done. They just want to know that I'm going to be there, that I'm going to support them, and that they are my patient. Our relationship is key to the process that even with all of these folks involved in a surrogacy journey and these hopeful and joyful intended parents, the bond between the surrogate and her doctor is really paramount. And it does set the tone for a positive journey.”
NF: What are two considerations that you think are at the forefront of surrogates’ minds?
“Everyone obviously considers how they would feel giving this baby up. They are very well aware it's not their baby, but it is important for them to think about how they would feel delivering the baby to the parents after feeling the baby grow inside of them. Most people have already gone through that [thought] process before they've talked to me, but we do talk about that a little bit more because I've learned it is important for them to be emotionally prepared that they are just carrying the baby.
Secondly, it's their body, but their body's on rent in a way. A lot of the medical decision-making isn't going to be solely based on their wishes necessarily. It's definitely a conversation between them and the biological parent. Understanding how they are going to deal with that aspect is imperative. Some patients are not going to deal with that as well, because they're very much independent. Other people are better at compartmentalizing that decision and understanding that it is a surrogacy decision versus one that they would make if they were pregnant with their own child.”
NF: Let’s bust some surrogacy myths. Right. Some folks second guess surrogates’ intentions. In your experience, why do you think women want to become surrogates?
“Surrogates want to help others become a mom or a family. I probably hear the most often is, ‘My pregnancy was never difficult or hard for me, and I can't imagine not being able to have children. I feel like I would be a good person to give that to someone else.’ I think that is true for my patients and very admirable.”
NF: Another myth is about tubal ligation. Some gestational carriers have heard they can’t be a surrogate if they have had their tubes tied. Is this true?
“No, it doesn't matter because they're not using their eggs. As long as they have a uterus that's working and capable of carrying a child, they can be a surrogate.”
NF: A big myth that swirls around for folks who don’t know how surrogacy works and they have the misconception about genetics. Will the baby have any shared DNA with a surrogate mother or look like the surrogate? Let's bust this one out.
“The baby’s genetics have nothing to do with the surrogate. The only way the baby may look like the surrogate is if the mom or dad of the child look similar, but it's not genetic. It has nothing to do with the surrogate who is merely incubating that baby for that time. So no, no shared DNA.”
NF: If you had one piece of advice for anyone considering surrogacy, what would it be?
“Ask yourself, “Why do I want to do this?” The biggest thing that's probably difficult for people to think about is that it's not going to be the same as your own pregnancies. So it's worth thinking about how this pregnancy may affect your life. What if I need surgery for this? What if I develop preeclampsia and need to go on bed rest? What if I need to have a C-section. I would also ask yourself, ‘Are you a good communicator?’ I think good, clear communication between you and your physician, you and the biological parents is the number one most important thing to make it a successful process for everyone.“
NF: What has been one of your most memorable moments delivering a surro-baby?
“I just had the greatest delivery over the summer. The European couple who had gone through lots of struggle made it here in time for the delivery, which was emotional. These moments are that much more satisfying when you know all the backstory and you've been through it with them. Everyone involved in the delivery was that much more invested because it was so hard with COVID for them to get over here. It was a married couple with two men, so clearly couldn't conceive on their own, but so wanted to have this baby. They were so excited and they cared so much for their surrogate. Every single person in the room was crying well before the baby was born. The dads were sobbing openly and hugging the surrogate mom and thanking her. It was just beautiful.”
NF: If you think about surrogacy and you reflect on your practice, what is your big aha moment when it comes to surrogacy?
“I think, especially during these times, all of us are more convinced than ever the importance of family and close relationships. And there's really no better gift than to be able to help someone or give someone the opportunity to have a child and build their family.”
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