Surrogacy and COVID-19
Even in the best of times, a surrogacy journey can be an emotional rollercoaster. But adding a pandemic into the mix has added twists and turns that no one could ever have expected or planned for. To help you navigate these unprecedented times, my fabulous student Alana Topsfield has pulled together some hints to help prepare for the impacts of COVID-19 on your surrogacy journey, as well as some tips to care for the mental health of your surrogacy team.
COVID-19 restrictions can have various implications for surrogacy arrangements, and it is important to be mindful that these restrictions are constantly changing. Social distancing requirements, sudden lockdowns, border closures, self-quarantine orders and travel restrictions all have the propensity to disrupt the surrogacy process. However, thoughtful consideration and planning for these disruptions will ensure your surrogacy journey through the pandemic is as smooth-sailing as possible.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, many hospitals have limited the number of support persons permitted during labour and placed time limits for visitors after birth. This has raised unexpected issues for many surrogacy teams, highlighting the importance of staying flexible and being prepared for a range of different potential birth scenarios.
Possible COVID considerations include:
- One or both intended parents unable to attend the birth (if only one support person is permitted it may be important to clarify who this support person will be).
- The hospital requiring the surrogate to care for the baby in the hours/days after birth.
- Isolation requirements due to last-minute border closures.
- Anyone in the surrogacy team contracting COVID-19.
Any of these situations are far from ideal and may be anxiety-provoking to think about, but allocating time to discuss how you would manage these will help prevent future “curveballs” and ensure the birth is as stress-free as possible. These discussions will also be useful as preparation for surrogacy counselling, as it will allow more time to address specific points of unease or confusion, and reduce “Oh, I didn’t think of that!” moments.
*It is recommended that you contact the hospital where your surrogate is intending to give birth to confirm visitation rules and visiting hours, as individual hospitals may vary in how strict their protocols are. If you feel that your hospital is not sufficiently understanding how to support your needs, Sarah Jefford has created some excellent resources to inform hospitals supporting surrogacy births.*
Surrogacy Counselling Appointment Restrictions
COVID-19 restrictions have also disrupted pre-and-post surrogacy counselling sessions and planned face-to-face appointments may not always proceed. If this were to occur for you, check with your counsellor for their opinion on how to progress the counselling. When possible, at least one session should be conducted face-to-face, so different counsellors may manage this in different ways. Even if rescheduling causes a slight delay to the counselling, the extra time may provide extra opportunity for more discussion about topics you would like to bring up in your counselling sessions (COVID-19 related or otherwise).
Supporting the Surrogacy Team
While it is important to be proactive and plan ahead, it is equally important to designate time to catch up and check in on each other’s mental health. If you are physically distant from one another, this may involve phone calls or video calls to spend quality time together and make sure everyone is doing okay.
While it can often feel like COVID is the only thing anyone is talking about, try to make sure that you balance the COVID discussions with quality time. This will help to reduce unhelpful speculation and anxiety about things which are out of your control, like the latest case numbers or how the Government is dealing with the crisis. Instead, focusing on sharing the joy of the pregnancy and supporting one another will leave everyone in much better spirits. If COVID concerns do arise in your quality time, it may be useful to write them down to discuss as a group or with your counsellor at a later date.
Supporting Your Surrogate and Their Family
While COVID restrictions can make physically caring for your surrogate more difficult, here are a few ideas to help out as the pregnancy progresses.
- Grocery deliveries and meal drops (thank goodness for online grocery shopping and Uber Eats!).
- Offer to make the appointments for the surrogacy and pregnancy.
- Offer to hire a cleaner for her.
- Spend time with her children over FaceTime or if you live close by, maybe offer to do some babysitting.
- Keep in touch with emails, messages, and phone calls, or send the occasional small gift to brighten her day and remind her that you are thinking of her.
Supporting the Intended Parents
Intended parents can feel anxious about the lack of control they have over the pregnancy, and this may be particularly prominent if they are unable to be geographically close enough to share the pregnancy experience. As a surrogate, empathising with their feelings and sending updates to let them know how you’re travelling can be helpful. Little things like updates on how your belly is growing, videos of the bub kicking or video calls for appointments and scans (where possible) will help maintain as shared a pregnancy experience as possible.
Managing Pregnancy and Pre-Parenthood Stress
Every pregnancy and the journey to parenthood involves many significant life changes, which can be stressful. The unpredictable nature and sometimes isolating effects of COVID can intensify this stress, making it more important than ever to find methods for stress-management. You might find the following suggestions beneficial to reduce stress by taking care of your mind, your body, and your social life.
For Your Mind
Practicing mindfulness is a research-proven way to reduce stress. Simple mindfulness techniques can be effective to slow down racing thoughts and reconnect with the present moment. Strategies include breathing exercises, checking-in or body scans. You can use these techniques whenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed, or even better, make a habit of practicing one mindfulness technique each morning before you start your day. These techniques will also help you become more attuned to your emotions and body, so that you can effectively recognise and respond to any emotional or physical needs you may be neglecting.
Starting a journal can also help you to break down anxious thoughts, better understand your emotions and stress responses, and pinpoint stressors in your life. All you need is a pen and paper, and a few minutes to yourself. There are no set rules to journaling, just try to unpack your emotions and thoughts accompanying the situations/ stressors you write about. Also, if any stressors are related to how COVID might affect the surrogacy, thinking through and writing down these worries will provide clarity about your concerns, so that you can more clearly communicate them to the other members of your surrogacy team.
For Your Body
Taking care of your physical health can also be an effective way to reduce stress. While working from home or lockdowns can disrupt your usual routine and reduce motivation to do things like eat healthy and exercise, a lack of structure to your days and the development of unhealthy habits increases stress. Reduce stress by caring for your physical health, with strategies like:
- making a conscious effort to keep a routine,
- practicing self-care,
- maintaining a healthy diet,
- exercising regularly,
- avoiding excessive alcohol, tobacco, or substances, and
- keeping a regular sleep schedule.
For your social life
Staying connected with others is really important to reduce stress, especially if you are isolated due to COVID. Try to make a conscious effort to schedule catch ups with your friends and family, even if this is over video call when in-person contact isn’t possible. It might be helpful to engage with surrogacy support groups: get to know and socialise with others who can really relate to your situation. Surrogacy Australia hosts monthly zoom catch ups where you can chat to intended parents and surrogates in a relaxed setting.
While the uncertainty of the current environment can be overwhelming, contemplating possible complexities and taking care of your mental health will help you prepare for whatever COVID throws at you. If you ever feel like it’s all becoming too much, remember to get in contact with your counsellor to organise a support session.
Experiences of Australian Surrogate Teams during COVID-19
Surrogacy and COVID – The Feed
The Australian Surrogacy Podcast
Authorship – Alana Topsfield