When a surrogate mother carries a fetus for nine months and then gives birth, it is natural for a bond to develop. This emotional bond between the surrogate mother and the unborn child is a natural and physiological phenomenon, not merely a social construct or gender role.
Despite the clear roles and boundaries in gestational surrogacy, it is possible for emotional connections to develop between the surrogate baby and the surrogate mother. The gestational environment, marked by the shared physical experience of pregnancy, can create a unique bond.
In this post, we’ll discuss if babies can become emotionally attached to their surrogate mothers, what the psychological effects of surrogacy are on infants and children, how the screening process can help prevent such complications, and how to ensure that attachment issues don’t develop later in life.
Can surrogate babies become emotionally attached to the surrogate mothers?
Yes, but the phrase “emotionally attached” is misleading. Ultimately a fetus or newborn does not have the emotional cognitive capacity that a healthy adult has, so they can’t, strictly speaking, become emotionally attached. It is possible for the baby to become attached to the surrogate mother, but usually only for a short while.
This temporary connection is likely influenced by the shared pregnancy experience and the biological interactions between the surrogate mother and the developing fetus. Even though the surrogate mother does not share any DNA with the unborn child, the fetus is still growing inside of her and is reliant on her for nutrition, oxygen, and all vital processes.
This temporary attachment to the surrogate mother is due to prenatal bonding. This refers to the emotional connection and attachment that can develop between expectant parents, particularly the mother, and the unborn child during pregnancy. This unique and profound bond begins to form as the fetus develops sensory organs to sense the presence of the parents outside of the womb. This is why some women simply can’t imagine carrying a baby for someone else.
At approximately 20 weeks, an unborn child can feel their parents’ touch. At around 23 weeks, they can hear the mother’s heartbeat. By the end of 25 weeks, they can distinguish sounds from outside the womb. At around this time, they begin developing the ability to distinguish the mother’s voice from all other female voices.
Prenatal bonding plays a huge role in the child’s early development. Research suggests that positive prenatal experiences and emotional connections may contribute to a supportive environment for the baby’s growth and well-being, influencing aspects of their emotional and cognitive development even before birth.
That means that surrogate mothers are more than just the gestational carrier. They play a crucial role in providing a nurturing environment for the developing fetus, with their primary responsibilities focused on maintaining a healthy pregnancy through regular medical check-ups and adherence to medical advice.
However, this attachment ceases once the baby is born. Thankfully, because newborns have such adaptable brains, they will very quickly adjust to the idea that the intended parents are in fact their parents. But the possibility that there will be an adjustment period is always present.
What are the psychological effects of surrogacy on a child?
The psychological and emotional effects of gestational surrogacy on a child can be multifaceted, influenced by various factors such as the level of openness about the surrogacy, the child’s understanding of their origin, and the nature of their relationship with the surrogate mother.
For many years, there was a sizable contingent of doubters and naysayers claiming that gestational surrogacy resulted in negative effects for the child.
Fortunately, a landmark study by Cambridge University and published in the June 2023 issue of Developmental Psychology largely debunked those claims. The results concluded that the absence of a biological connection between children and parents in assisted reproduction families does not interfere with their overall emotional and psychological development from childhood all the way into adulthood.
Furthermore, the research found that there was no significant difference in psychological wellbeing, emotional health, or quality of family relationships between children born by assisted reproduction (gestational surrogacy via sperm or egg donation) and those born naturally. Comprehensive assessments were taken at age one, two, three, seven, ten, 14, and finally at 20.
However, findings suggest that telling children about their biological origins early – before they start school – can be advantageous for family relationships and healthy adjustment.
Can the screening process prevent attachment issues in surrogate babies?
A rigorous and thoughtful screening process for selecting a surrogate mother is pivotal in mitigating potential attachment issues for children born through surrogacy. One crucial aspect of this process is evaluating the surrogate mother’s emotional stability and understanding of the distinct roles within the surrogacy arrangement.
A surrogate who comprehends the temporary nature of her role and knows she will never have any rights to the baby can establish healthy emotional boundaries. This makes them less likely to form overly attached relationships with the child, preventing confusion and potential emotional challenges down the line.
Screening procedures should assess the surrogate’s psychological resilience, coping mechanisms, and emotional intelligence to ensure she is equipped to navigate the complexities of surrogacy without fostering unintended emotional attachments. Additionally, there are some basic mental health requirements that the surrogate mother must meet:
- Be in good psychological and emotional health
- Be off any antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for at least one year
- Have a stable family environment and adequate support network
In the event that the potential surrogate mother fails the psychological evaluation, then it is best to try and find another, more suitable candidate.
Additionally, the basic screening process for becoming a surrogate is as follows:
- Applying to become a surrogate via online application or phone call + initial interview: 1 week
- Pre-screening: 1-3 weeks
- Review of medical records + background check: 3-6 weeks
- Evaluation (including psychological testing, drug screening and financial review): 1-2 weeks
- Matching with the intended parents: 2-4 weeks
- Medical and legal clearance (reviewing records, medical screening, and legal contract): 6-8 weeks
Finally, screening should delve into the surrogate mother’s motivation and commitment to the surrogacy journey. A surrogate who undergoes the process for altruistic reasons, with a clear understanding of her role as a gestational carrier, is more likely to prioritize the well-being of the intended parents and the child rather than developing personal attachments.
How to prevent attachment issues for surrogate babies later in life
The risk of surrogate babies developing attachment issues later in life is slim, but it still exists. In the event of such a scenario, there is an urgent need for open and honest communication among all parties involved, including the surrogate mother, intended parents, and potentially a mental health professional. This can help navigate potential emotional challenges.
Furthermore, establishing clear expectations, boundaries, and ongoing support for all parties can contribute to a healthier and more emotionally stable surrogacy journey, minimizing the risk of attachment issues and ensuring the well-being of the child in the long run. While the potential for emotional attachment exists, proactive measures can help manage and address these complexities within the framework of gestational surrogacy.
Additionally, the relationship between the child and the surrogate mother can also contribute to the child’s emotional well-being. Positive and supportive relationships with the surrogate can provide the child with a broader understanding of their birth story and may contribute to a sense of connection.
Finally, it’s important to tell the child early on about how they were born via surrogacy. The Cambridge University study mentioned above found that parents who told their children about how they were born via surrogacy in their preschool years had more positive relationships with them, even years later when the children were aged 20.
The majority of parents who had disclosed did so by age four and found that the child took the news well. This all suggests that being honest with children about how they were born when they are young is generally very healthy.
In the final stage of the study, the young adults who had been told about their birth via surrogacy before the age of seven scored higher on metrics measuring parental acceptance (young adult’s perception of mother’s feelings towards them), communication (the extent to which they feel listened to, know what’s happening in their family and receive honest answers to questions), and psychological well being. Only 12.5% told before the age of seven reported emotional problems; compared to 50% of young adults told after age 7 reporting emotional problems.
Choose Surrogacy by Faith to Start Your Surrogacy Journey!
To ensure that you have the ideal match of surrogate mother to intended parents, it is imperative that you find the right surrogacy agency. Luckily, Surrogacy by Faith has the experience and expertise to guide the surrogate mother and the intended parents on the surrogacy journey!
As your surrogacy agency, we can answer any questions that you may have. Since we are experts in the overall process, we can help the surrogate mothers understand the ins and outs of potential disqualifications, maternity leave, surrogate success rates, and what happens in the event of a miscarriage.