How surrogates explain to their kids

Just the stork

How will a surrogate's own children react when they learn the baby's not for keeps? Everyone worries about this. Especially the surrogates. 

It's one of the top questions would-be surrogates ask of more seasoned ones: what about my kids? They are concerned that their children will get sad or attached or confused. But for many, there have been fewer issues than feared.  

Can kids really be that flexible? That accepting? That understanding? We will only know for sure once these children grow old enough to tell their own stories. But for now, the signs are at least comforting.  

Below, three surrogates on what it was like to tell their own kids.

Their bun, my oven

When Courtney Whaley decided to become a surrogate a few years ago, she figured she would have some explaining to do. She had a 6-year-old son of her own and her husband had two kids aged 5 and 7, who came for weekends. Plus, she ran a daycare full of toddlers and preschoolers. What would these children need to know so as not to be confused? 

Whaley, who lives near Kingston, Ontario, resolved to be open from the start. After she'd been matched and had signed all the paperwork, she sat her son down to talk. He had already met the two fathers she would be carrying for and he knew them as friends. Now she told him the two men wanted to have a baby together, but because they were two boys, they couldn't do it on their own. 

He understood that making a baby took a boy and a girl, and Whaley told him about a "nice lady" who gave them an egg. Then she told him about her role: "I offered to put the baby in my belly and I'm going to grow it for them." He found the idea exciting.

Her son took an active interest in the pregnancy. "He was super curious and asked lots of questions," she says. "He loved feeling the baby moving around." Her husband and his ex-wife told their two kids. Both children were fine with it and understood that this wasn't going to be a baby brother or sister. 

The children in the daycare were much younger, and hardly noticed, says Whaley. "One minute I had a big belly, and the next I didn't," she says. Still, she took time to explain to them that the baby wasn’t hers. 

And it wasn't only the kids in the daycare, but their parents, too, who needed to understand, says Whaley. "Whenever I take on new clients, I let them know that this is something I'm doing," she says. "It might require some time off work, just like any other pregnancy." (Whaley is currently six weeks pregnant with a child for another gay couple.) All the parents have been supportive and curious, she says, and one parent has even decided to become a surrogate herself.

When that first baby was born, in December 2017, her son got to hold the newborn. The dads stayed in town the whole month and spent Christmas with her family. The dads send regular photo updates and the two families Skype all the time, says Whaley. "It's like having extended family in another country," she says.

Sarah Jarvis was first a surrogate over a decade ago, when her own kids were just 3 and 6. She told them about it once she started to show. "I explained I had a baby in my belly because another mommy's belly was broken and she needed help," she says. The kids asked her questions. What was broken? Was the baby going to be their brother or sister? "I kept things simple," she says. "You explain it at their level."

Her kids loved to talk about it. Once, in the grocery store, Jarvis bumped into an old friend, who congratulated her on the pregnancy. Her daughter jumped in. "Mom's having a baby for another person, with a broken belly," she informed the woman. It confirmed to Jarvis that the kids got it. 

Still, her son was a little concerned about the idea of giving the baby away. "Isn't it going to be sad?" he asked her. Jarvis said she thought it might be. "Yes, I'm going to be sad for a few days," she recalls telling him. "But I'm so happy knowing this family will have a baby and this baby will have a good home. That will make me feel better."

After the baby was born, the kids got to meet her and play with her for a few days. And they were fine when she went home with her parents. The families are still connected by social media and Jarvis and her daughter both follow the girl on Instagram.

Jarvis, who lives in St Catharines, Ontario, was a surrogate again about three years ago. "This time around they saw the needles and knew I had to take drugs," she says. The kids, now teens, were still unfazed. Surrogacy seemed normal to them. After the birth — they didn't meet this second baby — they just asked how the birth had gone, almost as though she'd delivered an important lecture rather than a child. "They weren't necessarily interested in the pregnancy because it wasn't ours," says Jarvis. "They had this level of disconnection."

For Shannon Kozak's kids, the idea of surrogacy seemed a natural extension of their already broad definition of family. When she connected with a gay couple looking for a surrogate, she decided to go for it, and unlike Whaley and Jarvis, she used her own egg. 

"The biology of it is not an issue for me," she told me in 2016. Kozak and her husband had six of their own kids — four biological, one adopted and one foster child. "We told the kids from the beginning that we were growing a baby for someone else and the baby would go live with them." They didn't blink. 

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Related reading

Sarah Phillips Pellet. The Kangaroo Pouch: A story about surrogacy for young children. 2007.

Kimberly Kluger-Bell. The Very Kind Koala: A surrogacy story for children. 2013.

Crystal Falk. Sophia's Broken Crayons: A story of surrogacy from a young child's perspective. 2014. 

Crystal Falk. A Surrogacy Book For Young Children: Grown in another garden. 2016.

Carla Lewis-Long. Why I'm So Special: A book about surrogacy. 2010. 

Follow Courtney Whaley's blog, Just the Stork. (Whaley is pictured below.)

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