Surrogacy from the Perspective of the Infant’s Mental Health
Written by Ibone Olza, MD, PhD, Perinatal Psychiatrist. Translated from Spanish by Jesusa Ricoy.
If you are considering becoming a mother or a father via surrogacy, there is some important information you should know regarding the baby’s health, which agencies that promote surrogacy tend to omit. Please allow me to briefly outline some of the most important points based on scientific evidence:
What we experience in our mother’s womb affects our physical and mental health deeply. If, during pregnancy, the mother experiences stress, if she is depressed, smokes, drinks, or takes other toxic substances, the baby’s development will be affected in different ways. Likewise, if the mother doesn’t develop a bond with the baby during gestation, the baby will suffer the consequences of that lack of bond and love. Bizarrely, some of those who defend surrogacy often portray this lack of a bond between mother and baby as a positive thing. In reality, this is a tragedy for the baby in the womb. If the mother doesn’t bond with the baby and doesn’t feel the baby to be hers, the baby will perceive this and feel unwanted. This will in turn affect the baby’s development and can impact the baby’s personality. Obstetricians and midwives always feel concerned when a woman doesn’t show signs of bonding with her baby. They know this is an alarming symptom that could highlight the possibility of problems and complications during pregnancy.
Prenatal psychology has been researching the imprint the time in utero leaves on every human being for over a century. There are many studies and examples in this respect; babies who didn’t feel loved during pregnancy often carry the consequences into adulthood. Otto Rank, Nandor Fodor, Francis Mott, Donald Winnicott, Stanislav Groff, Lloyd de Mause, Alesandra Piontelli, David Chamberlain, and many more have investigated this in depth. Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Verny states that the prenatal period is the most important in our entire lives. Those who claim the experiences your future son or daughter have in the womb have no bearing later in life are, frankly, lying.
Fortunately, the probability of a gestating mother not bonding with her baby is very low. Pregnancy engenders a very powerful biological transformation that in many ways is irreversible. If the egg is not from the woman gestating the baby, the body of the pregnant woman can interfere in the genetic expression of the baby influencing some genes to act instead of others via epigenetic mechanisms. In other words, it is not true to say that if the egg does not belong to the gestating mother there will be no genetic connection between the baby and the surrogate mother. (Pregnancy with a donor egg can carry a higher risk of obstetric complications such as preeclampsia, which can be quite serious.)
We have known for many decades now that birth is very important to our health. Being born prematurely or by cesarean or induction raises the risks of long term complications such as obesity, asthma, ADHD, and learning difficulties. In surrogacy it is common to schedule the birth so that the future mothers and fathers can be present. The truth is that to induce or perform a planned cesarean has many risks for both the mother and the baby who is being born.
The baby doesn’t know where the egg or sperm that brought him or her to life came from, but the baby knows who its mother is. Therefore, when born, that is the person he or she expects to be meeting. All newborns arrive into the world expecting to be with their mother, or at least close to her, in the first months of life.
For all newborns it is highly stressful to be separated from their mothers, which is why all current recommendations from WHO, UNICEF, and various other medical associations agree in promoting a respectful birth — especially no separation of mother and baby. The stress caused by such a separation is greater the longer babies are away from their mothers, and it is neurotoxic. When babies are separated from their mothers they suffer, cry, and excrete high doses of cortisol, which can damage their nervous systems.
Research shows the benefits of breastfeeding are overwhelming, especially during the first six months of life. Formula feeding from early days multiplies the risk of suffering allergies, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, various infections, and even some childhood cancers. For all of that, even if the agencies that promote surrogacy try to deny it or hide it, it is important that you know that newborns who are born by surrogacy are exposed to a series of factors that can have serious repercussions for their mental and physical health in both the short and long term: the stress that the pregnancy involves for the mother; the exposure to toxins; the lack of prenatal bond; the often scheduled or induced birth without medical reason; the stress of separation from the mother; the mother’s absence; the lack of breastfeeding.
It will not be easy to raise these babies especially if the consequences begin to show in later life.
Babies born via surrogacy do not know another mother than the mother who has gestated them.
If the egg comes from a donation, the baby doesn’t know that. To be separated from his or her mother immediately after birth, not seeing her, or seeing her very little, can feel as if the mother has died during birth. In other words, babies may have to psychologically face the death of their mothers. Imagine what it means to lose a mother through birth and you begin to have an idea of the many losses surrogacy can create. When others who have had babies via surrogacy tell you their sons and daughters are perfectly healthy, it doesn’t mean they will not have serious health problems in later life as a consequence of everything experienced in their prenatal and perinatal lives.
There are many reasons to oppose surrogacy, but I have tried to focus on the issues I feel tend to worry future parents most, namely, having a healthy baby.
If you are considering becoming a parent via a surrogate mother, I can only tell you to inform yourself first. Ultimately, I ask you not to do it. There are other ways of becoming a parent, there are other ways of looking after someone.
Photo by Carlo Navarro on Unsplash
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