Ask the Expert Recap: Mental Health Support/Match Experience

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A few months ago, we ran an Ask the Expert with Lori Jurecko, Mental Health Support Professional from ConceiveAbilities. 

Lori came to ConceiveAbilities first as a surrogate and has turned her compassion for families and children into a calling, not just a career. As part of the Match Experience team, she builds relationships, provides support and delivers client care with grace and refinement. She is a licensed social worker and trained mediator who also holds a master's degree in Psychology. For decades, she has been an advocate for children, families and couples.

Question: What kind of support do I need in my personal life? I know that a lot of support will provided to me through support groups, but what kind of support is required/recommended to have in my personal life outside of the agency? Does my partner have to be completely on board, what about family or friends within my inner circle? @Laci Compton

LJ: This is a great question, because we do really want to be assured that you have enough support in your personal life to proceed comfortably with a surrogacy journey!

If you are involved in a committed relationship, your partner does need to be on board with the decision, not only because he/she will act as a primary source of emotional and physical support for you, but also because he/she will also need to be a party to the legal agreement and complete certain steps such as medical testing for the fertility clinic.

In some cases, you may encounter friends or family members who don't agree with your decision to become a surrogate; some may even be vehemently opposed! As long as this won't cause excessive stress or problems for you during the process, this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. Many GCs have simply chosen to "agree to disagree" with those who didn't support their decision.

However, do keep in mind that you will want to have an overall system of strong support surrounding you as you move through this journey. Friends, relatives, neighbors, partners, co-workers, church and school acquaintances, and others can all be great cheerleaders and listeners for you as you navigate the smooth and joyful parts of this process, but also if you happen to hit any bumps along the way. Additionally, they can also provide any physical support you may need, such as babysitting, help with meal prep or household tasks, companionship during travel, etc.

Having that support system in place as you embark on your surrogacy journey will help you to feel reassured that you will always have others to lean on when necessary. And as you progress, it will be exciting for all of you as you share this unique journey together!

Question: I have an almost 7 year old, 4.5, 2.5 and 9 month old. What are the best ways to help prepare them for my surrogacy journey? My 7 year old seems pretty excited about the concept and has a fairly good grasp on the basics but I worry most about how it might impact the two middle children the most. - @Mlmeier

LJ: I'm happy to hear that your 7-year-old is already comprehending and fully on board. I'm sure he/she will continue to share excitement and fire regular questions at you along the way!

For your 4.5-year-old, I would recommend broaching this topic once you are fully-immersed in a surrogacy journey. (Some surrogates even choose to wait until they are pregnant!) Since younger children are much more concrete and have a less developed understanding of time, it can be helpful to show them actual ultrasound photos; introduce them to your intended parents via Facetime or in-person; read great surrogacy storybooks like The Kangaroo Pouch; etc. All of these steps, when carried out at an appropriate time, can really aid in your younger child's understanding of the process.

I hear your worries about the impact on your little ones. The good news is that surrogacy is unlikely to impact them in any way other than how a typical pregnancy would impact them. There may be times when they get to spend fun nights with friends or relatives if you are traveling or you're in the hospital for delivery. And they may need to accept that it's a bit harder for their mommy to breathe or bend over during late pregnancy. But in the end, a pregnant mommy is still a mommy who loves them, cares for them, and spends time with them. The nitty-gritty details won't matter to them much due to their ages and their focus on their own needs; what WILL matter will be continuing to receive love and attention from their mommy!

In general, children who are old enough to understand tend to be thrilled about their moms becoming surrogates! They recognize that this is something that makes their mom and their family pretty special. They love following the journey; learning about the baby; and knowing that their mom has chosen to be a surrogate because she wants to help another family. Talk about fantastic role modeling for our children!

Question: What statistics over the years; with you being in the surrogacy profession, have you seen women in dire need of psychiatric ppd? - @RAAAYCH29.

LJ: I believe you're asking whether surrogates experience postpartum depression after the birth of the baby? If so, this is thankfully not typically the case!

While I don't have any hard statistics available, I do have years of experience in this field, and I have worked with hundreds of surrogates through delivery and beyond. In my experience, they do not go on to exhibit symptoms of PPD. I have worked with just a few surrogates who struggled emotionally after the birth due to factors such as excessive stress in other areas of their lives immediately after delivery. However, these surrogates were not diagnosed with PPD; instead, they needed a bit of extra mental health support, sometimes just from their mental health support professional and the folks in their personal support system, and occasionally in the form of a few therapy sessions.

Even those types of emotional struggles after delivery are less common, however. There may or may not be some unexpected emotions that pop up soon after the birth, while hormones are still settling down, and when the surrogate realizes that this very special journey has now ended. Those emotions do tend to be manageable and short-lived, though.

Most surrogates do just fine after delivery, often basking in their accomplishments; thrilled to have their bodies back; relishing in the feeling of having brought a beautiful baby into the arms of his/her parents; and pondering whether they might like to return for a subsequent surrogacy journey in the future. 

Question: What forms of support are provided? Do those forms change over the course of a surrogacy? - @Kristina F.

LJ:  We are pretty unique in the surrogacy field in regard to the varied and extensive support we provide to our surrogates!

First, we offer informal peer support via our private Facebook group for surrogates. This group offers surrogates the opportunity to connect with hundreds of other like-minded women who are also current or former ConceiveAbilities surrogates. Most of our surrogates do choose to participate in this group, either by being active or occasional contributors, or simply by reading and learning from others' stories, updates, and photos. The large group online setting provides an amazing opportunity to connect with other women who are located all over the country. The camaraderie and peer support provided by our sisterhood is a much appreciated aspect of our surrogacy program. You are able to join this group upon being matched, and you're able to remain a member for the entire length of your journey and beyond!

We also provide smaller monthly surrogacy support groups that meet over video. These groups are facilitated by a mental health professional; offer a more intimate and consistent setting for meeting other surrogates in your general geographic area; and provide regular opportunities to request feedback, ask questions, share updates, and give and receive needed support - all within a a group that is led by a professional who is knowledgeable about surrogacy. Monthly support groups begin the month after your match and continue for at least two groups after delivery.

While our different forms of group support remain the same throughout the surrogacy journey, more personalized support is always available to you as well. Whether you have experienced a recent loss or disappointment, you're having difficulty navigating your relationship with your intended parents, you're experiencing excessive stress, or you just need a compassionate listening ear, our mental health professionals are always available to help you navigate challenges as they arise.

Question: What kind of mental health support is provided to surrogates after the birth of the surrobaby? - @Marci

LJ:  After a surrogate delivers, she can expect continued support as she heals both physically and emotionally! Not only is her Match Experience team still there to ensure that all is handled appropriately in terms of logistics; her Mental Health Support team reaches out to her and also encourages continued participation in monthly support groups.

Most surrogates will continue participating in our private peer support Facebook group, and they will also attend at least two post-delivery support groups. The first group offers an opportunity for the surrogate to share her birth story, while the second group is an opportunity for mental health staff and fellow surrogates to hear how she is doing in regard to healing, pumping, returning to normal routines, etc. Both groups also provide the surrogate with the opportunity to reflect upon the challenges and rewards of her surrogacy journey. Doing so in such a supportive environment among peers who truly understand can be a valuable, affirming experience for the surrogate.

Of course, just as in any pregnancy and delivery, there are times when the outcome isn't as predicted or hoped. Maybe there was a medical complication for the baby, or the intended parents missed the birth, or it was a C-section delivery instead of the vaginal delivery that had been planned. In these cases, when perhaps the physical and/or emotional healing processes are also more complicated, the surrogate's Match Experience and Mental Health Support teams provide additional support as needed. She can expect additional check-ins, offers of assistance, perhaps connections to other surrogates who have had similar experiences in the past, resource referrals, and even an invitation to attend additional support groups as needed.

We believe that it is vital for our surrogates to receive the support that they need throughout the entire surrogacy process, so support definitely doesn't end with the birth of that precious surro-baby.