By Jamie Bornstein
This fetus is kicking my ass. No, literally. She’s actually kicking my ass.
There I was cuddling with my wife before bed, minding my own business (I was the small spoon, because duh) and Carrie’s ever-growing belly was pressed against my butt. All of a sudden I felt a kick. Was that…ummm…was that the baby, I ask? And then another one, even harder than the first. Yep. Ms. Feisty Fetus was kicking my ass!
I suppose it’s poetic. In many ways she’s been figuratively kicking asses for about 18 months, so why not throw in some actual ass kicking here and there?
Let me back up a step for those new to this story. My wife, Carrie, is 31 weeks pregnant as a gestational surrogate. That means she is pregnant with another couple’s baby who were, sadly, unable to successfully conceive after seven years of attempts, including treatments in multiple countries, at a tremendous financial and emotional cost. (You can read more about Carrie’s surrogacy story on her blog: theresnoiinuterus.wordpress.com.)
So, when I say this baby has been kicking asses for 18 months, what I mean is that surrogacy is complicated, for everyone involved. Pregnancy alone is disruptive for a family. Surrogacy is that times 10, and it impacts, at the very least, two families. It’s not only complicated medically, it’s even more complicated legally. Before any of this got underway, we negotiated a 64-page single-spaced contract with the intended parents. It took months and months to solidify, and there are still issues we continue to negotiate on an ad hoc basis that the contract did not fully discuss.
The medical and legal complications are the obvious issues. Among the complications that are less obvious, and not very openly discussed, are the psychological ones. There are certainly significant psychological hurdles for the surrogate and her family to negotiate. It’s no simple thing to carry a baby and hand it over to someone else. It’s no simple thing for a partner to walk around knowing that his or her spouse is pregnant with another’s child. And it’s no simple thing for the children of a surrogate to understand, well, any of it. In truth, though, I think that all pales in comparison to psychological hurdles faced by those who are themselves unable to conceive.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10% of American women (6.1 million individuals) have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. This accounts for one third of known fertility problems. And that’s just the female side of the equation. Another one third of fertility problems are related to the man’s reproductive health. You mathematicians out there are probably scratching your heads. It turns out that another one third of the problems are either due to a combination of the male and female partners, or are due to altogether unknown reasons.
In short, fertility issues impact a tremendous number of people who very much want to become biological parents. And among those with fertility issues, a significant percentage end up suffering from psychological problems such as increased stress, anxiety and depression. In many cases, the psychological impact is quite severe, and even debilitating. To make matters worse, stress, anxiety and depression are thought to themselves lead to decreased fertility. In other words, there’s a good chance that it’s a vicious cycle.
While I cannot speak personally about infertility, as a partner in the surrogacy process, I have a newfound appreciation for the incredible lengths people go through to bring biologically related children into this world, and for the associated psychological impact this struggle has on individuals, couples and families. Like so many of the mental health issues discussed on this blog, it too falls under the category of relatively common phenomena that are socially swept under the rug, leaving far too many feeling isolated, alienated and suffering without adequate support.
Indeed, the process of baby making can really kick one’s ass. But it can definitely be a bit easier if we collectively decide that we’re going to talk about it. While being the husband of a surrogate comes with its own challenges, it is because of the above that I am in awe of Carrie’s decision to not just carry, but to blog about her experience as well. She is not just in it for one family…she’s in it for all families. I hope her words continue to spread far and wide, and are a source of support for those who face the uphill battle of creating a family.
May we all merit to one day feel a little one kicking in the womb if we so desire…even if that kick hits us right in the ass.
Jamie Bornstein is the founder of Mental Health Safe Space. He lives in Sharon, MA with his wife and three children. He is the Senior Director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, North America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.