How To Explain Surrogacy To Your Kids Without Confusing The Hell Out Of Them
The language we use about surrogacy matters.
We’ve all likely navigated some form of the “where do babies come from?” conversation with our kids. With very young children, this talk may be sparked by pregnancy or introducing a new baby sibling/cousin/friend into the family. But what about when it comes to surrogacy? When a friend of mine decided to become a surrogate, I realized I not only knew very little about the process, but I didn’t really know how to have a discussion with my own child about what a surrogate is. I wanted to learn more about how people who choose to be surrogates explain surrogacy to their children.
First, I spoke with the founders of Surrogacy Is, a surrogacy support and advocacy firm and agency. Sunshine Hanson, co-founder and president, and Casey Bojorquez, co-founder and vice president, both of whom are mothers and surrogates. They founded the company because they wanted to offer others the support they both wished they’d had throughout the surrogacy process.
“Kids are so open, they really get it easily,” Casey and Sunshine agree. “It’s the adults who start overthinking and asking all the wrong questions, but kids understand that their mom is helping someone.” In fact, directly on the Surrogacy Is website, where women considering becoming surrogates can find lots of helpful information, there’s a phrase that really stood out to me, listed among the reasons you might want to become a surrogate. It reads:
“You want to show your family what it’s like to love others in a way that makes strangers into family.”
This felt like the heart of what surrogacy is all about.
Have Open Conversations
“When you explain to them that not every mommy has a tummy that works for carrying their baby and that mommy’s tummy can carry their baby for them until they grow big enough to go home with their families, that’s pretty much all they need to hear,” Casey and Sunshine tell me.
They also recommend using books to spark those open conversations, such as The Kangaroo Pouch. “Our kids know how much we love them and that they are the center of our world, so they get that other mommies and daddies want a little one to love, too.” Other books they recommend include:
Be Real With Your Kids
Portia Zwicker, @newyork.surrogate, has been a surrogate twice. “The first time was because my cousin was struggling with infertility, so I offered to carry for her. I did that altruistically (no compensation, which was legally required in NYS at the time).” The second time she chose surrogacy, New York State had passed a progressive surrogacy law that meant she could be compensated for carrying, and contracts were enforceable. I asked her how she talked about this with her kids.
“The first time,” Portia tells me, “I didn't explain too much as she was too young to understand what was happening (2-3 years old). The second time I did, and I used real terms and real science to explain it. I didn't use any ‘stork’ language. I think it might be easier with her being an only child since she has never (and will never) experience mom bringing a baby home.”
“My intended mother from my second and third journeys had a little girl she was able to carry herself before losing her uterus,” Sunshine says. “Her daughter knew from early on that mommy’s tummy was broken, but their friend Sunshine (me) was growing her little brother in my tummy.”
Think About Timing
“We had another surrogate we helped whose young son ended up thinking she was sick because she had so many doctor’s appointments, and she wished she'd told him sooner because he broke down crying one day thinking she had cancer and was hiding it from him,” Sunshine and Casey tell me. Since then, they’ve advocated for sharing the surrogacy journey as early as possible, once children start noticing a change in routines, like a lot of doctor’s appointments.
Use Positive Language
As their website says, becoming a surrogate is an act of love for another family. Understanding surrogacy and using positive language around it is a huge factor in moving us all toward honoring and celebrating all types of families — single parents, families with two dads, or two moms, for example. I asked Sunshine and Casey what kind of outdated surrogacy language or terms should be purged from the lexicon.
“‘Surrogate mother,’ mainly,” they explained. “And it’s also important to be inclusive in the language surrounding intended parents as they may be single, and they may be two daddies or two mommies, and not necessarily a mom and a dad.” Using the term gestational carrier or just surrogate is preferred to the phrase “surrogate mother.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about surrogacy? “The easiest misconception is that the baby is your biological child, but that's not true in gestational surrogacy,” Portia states. "I'd say the less obvious misconception is that you have rights that supersede the contract, especially if you live in states with progressive surrogacy laws like New York.” Portia also explains, “One misconception other people have about surrogates is that they are poor and do this solely for the money. We are so much more than that.”
The powerhouse behind Surrogacy Is adds, “A big misconception is that all surrogates are poor and are being exploited or taken advantage of. All of the women I know who have chosen to do surrogacy are the most independent, strong and courageous, generous-hearted women. Another misconception is that [surrogates] will become attached to the babies they carry, but I’ve never seen that be the case.”