Parents and their children share a deep, affectionate bond — a psychological connection that endures over time. It’s what makes parents instinctively want to care for and nurture their children, and it is important to children’s psychological well-being, sense of security and self-esteem.
In psychology, this bond is called “attachment,” and research suggests that the bonds of attachment begin to form even before the baby is born. The baby gets to know its mother for nine months before birth through the sound of her voice, and in turn, she gets to know her baby through kicks and flutters. The theory of prenatal attachment states that these bonding experiences motivate good health practices during pregnancy, prepare the mother for parenthood and help promote continued bonding after birth.
But what happens in surrogacy, when parents and their baby don’t get to bond during the pregnancy?
When a baby is born via surrogacy, an emotional transfer needs to take place from the surrogate family to the intended parents. This emotional transfer allows the baby to begin bonding with his or her parents and vice versa. In this article, learn more about the emotional transfer at the baby’s birth, and find tips to help you bond with your surrogate-born baby before and after he or she is born.
1. Preparing for the Emotional Transfer
While intended parents may not have the same prenatal bonding experience with their new babies, there are many things you can do to prepare for the emotional transfer of the baby and ensure you are ready to develop a healthy attachment.
Kris Probasco, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in surrogacy and infertility, says the emotional transfer at the hospital is the culmination of the surrogacy journey, which is an emotional time for everyone involved. Probasco, who has more than 40 years of experience in adoption, donor conception and surrogacy, says the key to a successful emotional transfer is to focus on the needs of the child.
“Throughout the process, the focus should be on the child’s needs rather than the intended parents’ need to be parents,” she says. “That will result in a much better attachment and bonding process.”
Here are some of Probasco’s other tips for intended parents to develop healthy bonds with their new baby before his or her birth:
Grieve your losses
Many intended parents choose surrogacy after years of struggling with infertility, and Probasco says it is healthy for intended parents to move through the grieving process before their baby is born.
“We hope that they’ve already done a significant amount of grieving the losses involved in not being able to carry a child,” she says. “They’ve had a lot of failures, so they will really want this surrogacy to work, and that can make them easy to disappoint. Hopefully by the time the baby comes, that will be alleviated.”
Addressing unresolved grief ahead of time will allow you to focus on your child’s needs, as well as your excitement to become parents and bond with your new baby.
Be involved in the pregnancy
Intended parents are encouraged to remain as involved as possible throughout their surrogate’s pregnancy. Probasco suggests that you attend doctor’s appointments, decorate the nursery and have a baby shower.
“The more they are involved in the baby’s prenatal care, the better prepared they will be for the baby’s arrival,” Probasco says.
When you take an active role in preparing for your new baby, it can help you develop a sense of connection, attachment and anticipation for your child.
Talk to your baby
“We know that from an environmental perspective, the child has a keen sense of smell and hearing, and they have already attached to the carrying parent through hearing, smell and touch,” Probasco says.
The more you can talk to your baby — either in person or through recorded tapes — the more familiar your baby will become with you and your family. Probasco suggests recording yourself talking or reading books to the baby and sending the tapes to your surrogate.
Provide a transitional item
The surrogate can also take additional steps to help prepare the baby for his or her new environment. She can play some of your favorite music, which will be familiar to the baby when you bring him or her home. Probasco suggests that surrogates sleep with a teddy bear that will go home with the baby, so he or she can keep that familiar scent close by while transitioning to life in your home.
2. The Emotional Transfer at the Hospital
The emotional transfer is the culmination of everyone’s hard work throughout the surrogacy process. This is one of the most exciting, rewarding and emotional parts of the entire surrogacy — and it is also when intended parents need to be most focused on their new baby’s needs, Probasco says.
Here are her tips for meeting your baby’s needs at birth and creating a seamless emotional transfer from the surrogate to the intended family:
Confirm the baby’s senses
When your baby is born, he or she “needs to confirm his or her sense of smell, touch and hearing — and they can only get that by being in contact with the surrogate mom,” Probasco says. “The best scenario is that when the baby is born, he or she can be placed on the surrogate’s chest to touch and feel and confirm the smells that they recognize.”
Probasco says if the surrogate is not emotionally ready to hold the baby, she can touch his or her hands and feet.
Physically transfer the baby to the intended parents
Ideally, Probasco says the surrogate will then hand the baby to the intended parents — the moment everyone has been working toward. Probasco says this is important not only to the baby but to everyone involved.
“It’s good for the surrogate to see the family complete, because that is the whole goal of the surrogacy process,” she says.
Bond through touch
Following the physical transfer of the baby, you should strive for as much skin-on-skin contact as possible. Probasco says this is one of the best ways to promote attachment. Intended mothers may even consider breastfeeding their surrogate-born baby as one way to be physically close and connected.
3. Following the Emotional Transfer
The emotional transfer at the hospital is just the beginning of the attachment-building process. Many intended parents have a long road ahead as they get used to the day-to-day challenges of parenting and begin bonding with their baby.
To continue to promote healthy attachment with your baby, here are some of Probasco’s suggestions for bonding after bringing baby home:
Stay in contact with the surrogate
Probasco suggests that the intended parents make an effort to see the surrogate family again within a couple of weeks of the baby’s birth.
“It’s just so reaffirming to the child that they haven’t lost anyone, and it provides reassurance to everyone that the surrogacy process was successful,” Probasco says.
Bonding doesn’t happen right away for everyone, even mothers who physically gave birth to their children. It can take some time to attach to your new baby, and for him or her to attach to you. Probasco says it’s important to give it time and not to worry.
“There will be crying episodes, like there are for all babies,” Probasco says. “Intended parents need to know that it’s not related to the surrogacy or the transfer if the baby’s fussy or upset.”
While intended parents may not have nine months to bond with their child before birth, given time, preparation and a successful emotional transfer, attachment and bonding will happen naturally — and it will be every bit as strong and permanent as it is for families formed by other means.
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