Don’t Forget About the Intended Parents

Alex Kornswiet

Infertility and miscarriage warrior, mental health and fertility advocate, writer, and mom of three through IVF, surrogacy, and a surprise pregnancy.

The surrogacy process is extremely complicated. There are so many facets to it, and it is anything but linear. For most people, it is the final option to build their family, after trying many other routes first. I know this from personal experience, as we had our second son via surrogacy. I tried many rounds of IVF, experienced four losses, and waited years before we turned to surrogacy. I will forever be grateful to our surrogate, but one of the most difficult parts of the process for me was the lack of support for us, the intended parents.

I wholeheartedly agree that the surrogate should be supported, praised, and given so much love. She is doing an incredible thing for another family. Our surrogate literally gave us the gift of life with our son, and there is no greater gift than that. With that said, everybody thinks about supporting her throughout the entire process, but nobody remembers to support the intended parents.

The intended parents are the parents of the child. People like me. And while I was extremely happy and grateful when our son was finally on the way to us, there was still a lot of trauma there and still a lot to heal from. Everything does not just go away when a baby is on the way. I think that people can understand this when someone is pregnant after they have had a loss or multiple losses, but because the intended parents are not pregnant themselves, people tend to forget about them. And even if they do consider them, people usually just expect the intended parents to be happy and smile and be grateful 100% of the time. And I promise you that they are happy and grateful all of the time, but other emotions are happening simultaneously. And that’s okay – they deserve support too.

I remember distinctly the first time I noticed this was happening. I had been going to my fertility doctor for a while. For years, I was the one that they focused on and the one they checked up on. And that is what I was used to, but suddenly that changed. When I went to the first appointment with our surrogate, I was told to stand off to the side. I immediately felt invisible. The doctor didn’t even acknowledge me, I don’t think he even noticed I was standing there. All of the attention was on our surrogate, as it should have been, but I felt forgotten immediately. I felt like no one cared about me at all, even though this was still my baby. I wanted to scream – I am standing right here! Remember me? Your patient? The MOM? It felt so lonely and isolating. But I also did not think I had a right to say anything or ask for support because I was terrified to have any impact on the process. I just wanted everything to go smoothly, so I just shut my mouth and smiled. But that should not be the expectation for intended parents.

It can be very difficult to know how to support someone going through infertility in general. To help remedy this, I wrote a book on this topic called “How To Help Friends & Family Through Infertility”. This more generally covers how to support people as well as information about many infertility diagnoses. Here I will outline a few ideas of how to specifically support intended parents.

  1. Check in on them and acknowledge their grief. Ask if they are okay, tell them that you know they are going through a lot, and let them know you are still there for them.
  2. A Loss is a Loss. If they experience another hardship, such as a miscarriage or a failed transfer with their surrogate, remember that it is 100% just as much of a loss for them as if they were carrying that child themselves. Support them in the same way that you would support them as if they were the pregnant one.
  3. Treat them the same as you would treat anyone expecting a child. When their surrogate hopefully does get pregnant, ask them about their child and treat them as if they are expecting their child in the same way as everybody else. Yes, of course there are differences. But it is still their child, they still feel just as invested, and they are still hyper aware of every upcoming appointment. It is actually harder because they do not get the feelings and movements of the baby between appointments, so it is even more nerve-racking for them. Ask how everything is going to check in on them, and give them the same care and support that you would if the mom was pregnant herself. And honestly even more.
  4. Just say congratulations. If the intended parents tell you that they are expecting a child, just be happy for them. Do not bombard them with 20 questions about “what is surrogacy” and how the process works. They do not want to educate every single person about surrogacy – it can be exhausting. They just want to be treated like they are expecting a child, the same as everyone else. For me, one of my biggest pet peeves was that people acted less excited when I told them it was via surrogacy and they were more just curious about the process. There is a time and place for that, but right now, they just want you to be excited with them.
  5. Do not remind them to be grateful or constantly praise their surrogate. Yes, they know how lucky they are and they feel very grateful already. But reminding them how grateful they should be and how lucky they are to have their surrogate, diminishes any other feelings they have.
  6. Let them complain. If they are having a hard day or they are frustrated with the lack of control, just listen. Let them complain. Let them have those feelings. And do not respond by reminding them how grateful they should be or how lucky they are. That can shut down their emotions, and that is not fair to them. Just acknowledge that it is okay to feel those feelings and that they are going through something that is incredibly complicated and difficult as well.
  7. Do not expect them to forget their past immediately. Intended parents usually have gone through a lot of trauma to get to where they are. It is no one’s first choice to do surrogacy. So if they are grieving the loss of pregnancies from the past or the inability to get pregnant themselves, be there for them. If the mom is grieving the fact that she cannot carry the child herself or if they are grieving the fact that they cannot experience pregnancy in any normal way, acknowledge that it is okay to feel that way. Even just acknowledging that can mean so much.
  8. Do not tell the woman that she’s lucky she does not have to recover from giving birth! Trust me, she wishes she had. With that said, also avoid any similar phrases, such as: “You’re lucky you do not have to be pregnant yourself”. “I wish I didn’t have to be pregnant with my children – great idea!” “You’re so lucky you can still drink wine”. “Oh I hated being pregnant – count yourself lucky”. These are some examples of what not to say – I hated hearing things like this. It’s so offensive and not funny at all.
  9. Be gentle with them postpartum. Just because the baby was born via surrogacy, does not mean the parents need less help when the baby is born. Yes, they are so incredibly happy to finally have the child in their arms. But it is still just as much of an adjustment as it is for anyone with a new child. Acknowledge any feelings they have, and understand that they can still have the same anxiety or other emotions that can come for any parent.

This is a good start to help support the intended parents. Overall, if you are a support person for the intended parents, you are there for them. I promise you the surrogate has support elsewhere. She has support from her family and friends, from the intended parents themselves, from every single doctor, from a psychologist, from the agency if they’re working with one, and even more. Every single person, including every stranger, is supportive of her. The intended parents do not have anyone sometimes. So please be that person for them, and be there for only them. That is my strongest piece of advice: be there for them and for them alone. Trust me, that is rare for intended parents, and it will mean everything to them.

For continuing suggestions on support, advice, and more, follow me @ourbeautifulsurprise on Instagram. I regularly talk about my journey to motherhood, aiming to break stigmas and spread awareness and support for those going through infertility, miscarriages, surrogacy, and beyond.