Many gestational carriers and parents-to-be began 2020 ready to embark on a project that would result in a healthy baby being born to excited parents.
At Forward Fertility, pre-COVID, typically about 50% of matches deliver in about 12-15 months from their match meeting. There is no question COVID-19 is changing that stat!
On March 17th (no luck of the Irish), the American Society for Reproductive Medicine released guidance that halted the initiation of new treatment cycles.
Even prior to that, many matches were postponing medical testing due to employers requiring quarantines if carriers left their state or simply for concerns of catching COVID-19 while flying to or while being at the IVF clinic.
By Friday, March 20th, the only thing that was continuing along with forward progress with most matches were pregnancies that were already underway and legal proceedings.
Where does that leave all the matches that were just getting started of awaiting the start of treatment?
Step one: both parties will need to ask themselves if they want to continue the process.
Parents-to-be: Is surrogacy still financially viable?
While Forward Fertility would welcome Jimmy Fallon or Kim Kardashian as clients, most of the Forward Fertility clientele are regular people: teachers, doctors, police officers, IT specialists, small business owners. Many of these clients fund their surrogacy expenses with their investments. At the end of February, the stock market began to decline and has more or less continued in that direction since then. It is possible clients will literally not have the funds needed to proceed.
The health care crisis is on everyone’s mind currently, but the economic crisis will likely last even longer. Job layoffs may lead parents-to-be to need to reconsider spending $100,000 or more on having a baby.
Parents-to-be: Is the timeline still reasonable?
Some IVF clinics have upper age cutoffs for clients. A 6-month gap in treatment, if it comes to that, could mean the difference between getting to try to achieve your dream of parenthood and not being eligible.
Gestational carriers: Are you still eligible?
So many factors go into matching with a gestational carrier – health status, support system, health insurance/employment. With COVID-19, these are all up in the air. How stable is the job of the gestational carrier? How is she emotionally handing the stress of this process? Who is her support system during this process and how are they doing? Can they still be supportive and involved?
Second, if you both decide you want to work together, then how do you continue to develop a relationship during these stressful times.
Here are 5 tips for keeping your match together (you may find these work for other relationships in your life, too!)
Tip #1: Confirm the desired amount of Communication:
While every surrogacy agreement is a contractual agreement on some level, it does not take a psychologist to understand that carriers would like to hear from parents. And, parents would like to hear form carriers. Maybe you’re a carrier or parent who feels like, “hey, we’re matched…we’ll just meet up in 4 months when this thing is over”. This is great, if both parties feel the same way.
What if you’re matched with a carrier/parent who is thinking, “what they heck, why won’t’ they reply to my email or text? I’m out of here.” ? If one party is looking for more communication and the other party is not engaging in communication, the match will likely fall apart. Or, if it continues in our post-COVID world, the relationship will likely re-start with a healthy seed of resentment and irritation.
You do not have to be in touch daily about which root vegetable you’ve eaten or Netflix series you’ve binge watched, but if both parties are connecting on a weekly basis, they are going to be ready to start working together once testing and treatment resumes. If you are not going to be in touch due to a crisis in your own life – send out a quick FYI that you’ll be out of touch and resume contact as soon as possible.
If you are a parent or carrier and the other party is not being communicative, ask for more communication. If you don’t feel satisfied, you may wish to discontinue the match and find a better fit. If a carrier did not respond to a parent’s email or text within a few days, she would likely be judged for this as nonresponsive or irresponsible. Parents need to be held to the same standard.
If you like, ask your agency for help with this, as this is what agencies are there for! They should be able to help bring up the topic and come to a better understanding. Hopefully, it leads to a more comfortable interaction level. However, maybe the match does need to dissolve. Sometimes, cutting losses is the right choice to make.
TIP #2: Use sharing updates as ‘practice’ communicating:
If you’ve had a change in health status, financial positioning, or issues with your support system (ill parents/death in the family), let the other party know. It will allow both you and the other party to adjust, provide support, and make any adjustments needed going forward. Find out what you have in common. Learn something new about the carrier or her partner. This basic sharing will build a relationship of trust and empathy that will pay off down the road. It is also good practice to understand how the other party communicates. Is someone sarcastic? Blunt? Better to figure this out when discussing cabin fever than when you’re going through spotting/bleeding in the first trimester!
TIP #3: Be Flexible and Patient.
Hey, COVID-19 is offering a great opportunity for both parents and carriers to demonstrate how they will work together when the unexpected happens. I always tell matches at the match meeting to “expect the unexpected”. Of course, global pandemic wasn’t on my mind, but it does provide a great place to demonstrate flexibility and patience – two skills that are essential for parents and carriers to have.
With a public health crisis, the greater good is the focus…not the individual. While it’s heartbreaking and disappointing, some parents are not going to be able to be in the hospital for the birth of their long-awaited child. This is not being done to punish you. It’s out of the concern and safety of the baby and the other patients in the hospital. If this happens to you, be at peace that the hospital is also limiting OTHER PEOPLE from being near your baby. The policy is hard to absorb, but your newborn also benefits from the same policy.
Carriers may not have support people there with them either. In most cases, this is not the birth you’d envisioned as a gestational carrier. That’s tough and that loss of what you’d imagined is important to acknowledge, address, and grieve. Talking with your agency, support system, and/or seeking assistance from a qualified mental health provider is good option. Forward Fertility provides individual support to carriers and parents as needed – through information, weekly phone calls, and connecting people with resources.
TIP #4: Seek treatment for your anxiety and sharpen skills to keep you calm.
Many parents-to-be come to this process with anxiety – sometimes it’s treated and sometimes it is not. Carriers, if screened properly, do not have uncontrolled anxiety, but certainly can have anxious tendencies. There is ample data (SEE LINKS BELOW) about the harms to children being raised by parents with untreated anxiety. Take this Covid 19 Pause as an opportunity to treat your anxiety. As a partner to the gestational carrier you’re matched with AND as a new parent, you’ll be much better off. Treating your own anxiety is much more productive that worrying about things that are out of your control (when IVF clinics will be running again, hospital policies, when labor starts, etc.).
Studies have shown that anxious parents can increase the odds of hyperactivity and anxiety in children.
TIP #5: Ask your agency for help.
This is a great opportunity for you to understand how your agency is going to help you when things get tough! If you’re matched and the agency is not being helpful (or at least making efforts to help….remember, they are not magicians!), maybe this is a sign that you should take to pivot elsewhere once the healthcare crisis is over.
If you are part of an independent match and feel that maybe a little coordination/support from an agency would be useful, given the circumstances, reach out to your local agency to see if they will coordinate “self-matches”. Forward Fertility provides this service in an affordable way that benefits both the parents and the carrier.
So much goes into getting matched with parents-to-be/gestational carrier, it’d be a shame to have all that work lost without making efforts to make the best match possible, if you all wish to proceed. As your agency for help if you need it. Forward Fertility is looking forward to a big baby boom after the COVID-19 crisis is over.