Infertility and surrogacy journeys can be emotionally, physically, and financially draining for Intended Parents. In many ways, they are the perfect storm for individuals and couples to begin to struggle with their mental health or to have their existing mental health challenges exacerbated. Surrogacy burnout can be a very real, very overwhelming emotion at each stage in the journey. This is why putting your and your partner’s mental wellness as a priority is so important.
Managing surrogacy matching stress
There were a lot of tears and sleepless nights leading up to matching with our fantastic surrogate Ashley. Matching involves a lot of vulnerability and, for many couples, facing rejection. We were no exception. In order to get through this, we leaned heavily on each other as well as opening up to a few trusted friends. These friends became a safe haven for us – we knew that they would allow us a judgment-free, supportive environment to share both the highlights and the pitfalls. Having other people you feel comfortable opening up to is also a useful way not to not emotionally overburden your partner.
Another way we managed the stress was by connecting with others who were on surrogacy journeys. I am a big fan of support groups, and even though there were some fantastic surrogacy Facebook groups I didn’t feel that they truly met my needs. To address that, I started a Canadian Intended Mom group chat on Instagram. What started small chat has now evolved into a private Facebook community filled with women supporting each other. This type of community is especially important as it not only allowed me to have the support of other women who could relate to me, but it also became a place to share resources and knowledge gained through lived experiences. (If you’d like to be included in the group chat or Facebook group, please DM me @notmytummy).
Going through IVF was one of the most physically and emotionally tolling things I have ever done. Other than the noticeable fatigue I felt, I thought I was totally fine while I was going through it. Looking back, it’s another story. I felt totally disconnected from my body and emotionally drained.
The most difficult part was the pressure I put on myself. I wanted so desperately to ‘succeed’: to have a certain number of follicles, to have a certain number of eggs, to have all of those eggs make it to blastocysts, and then for all of those blastocysts to be normal, high-grade embryos. Painting certain results as ‘successful’ and others as not enough can put you in a dark place. The reality is that there is no such thing as a ‘success’ in IVF – just results. Going through fertility treatments is hard, and with such high stakes it can be impossible not to hope for certain results.
My egg retrieval has been, so far, the part of the journey I feel the least equipped to give advice about. I can’t share any secrets to managing the pressure in that part of the journey because the truth is, I didn’t manage it very well. If I have to do it again, which I hope that I don’t, I will try to remind myself not to worry about what is out of my control. Easier said than done.
The value of specialized fertility counselling and therapy
Speaking with a trained fertility therapist, even if only for one or two sessions, is a really good way to begin your journey and find a supportive, safe space to turn to. It is also a requirement of most (if not all) Canadian fertility clinics for IPs to do one session as a psychological screening prior to their surrogate’s first transfer. A fertility therapist, like our friend Ariel Taylor, can help you build an emotional toolkit that will come in handy through the twists and turns of surrogacy.
Ariel, who has her own virtual practice called Carried With Love, offers individual and couples counselling, as well as Intended Parent consults to help IPs get started on their journeys. She also offers therapy for surrogates, and has lived experience and knowledge having been a surrogate four times herself, outside of her educational training.
“Most people deal with some level of anxiety, depression, triggers and trauma,” she says. “There are thousands of qualified therapists that work in a number of different specialties to help clients. However, those people that are also going through infertility have an added layer of those things that is difficult for a regular therapist to understand.” Speaking to someone who specializes in fertility can offer a different and more supportive experience – something anyone who has sought out a fertility therapist can attest to.
When someone has been through an a fertility clinic as a patient, there’s a level of understanding that develops that can’t be taught. “Having been in the fertility community, gone through treatments as a surrogate and spent many years studying infertility counselling, I can still provide support for the “regular life stuff”, but also fertility treatments, miscarriages, failed transfers, and the feelings that come up when you try desperately hard to be part of a club that won’t let you in,” she says. “Infertility is really hard and often times people suffer in silence. You don’t have to be silent. There are professionals that understand and support you.”
Whether it’s opening up to friends, getting exercise, being outdoors, or speaking to a therapist, the important thing is not to neglect yourself. Your wellbeing matters, and it’s going to be crucial throughout not only the remainder of your surrogacy journey but also for the rest of your life.
Note: Ariel has become a wonderful friend through the infertility community, but we have not worked with her directly for counselling. We do believe strongly in her offerings, advocacy, and education work.