The Skeptical OB wrote about a mother who was lamenting that she didn’t get to give her babies their first baths in the hospital. That post got me thinking about how these kinds of issues can arise in the hospital after a surrogate birth.
In most situations, a newborn baby is checked out by medical staff and then handed off to mom. Mom will then, in conjunction with dad and with support from the nurses, handle the baby’s needs, such feeding, diapering, bathing and cuddling.
But things are a little different with a surrogate birth. The woman giving birth is not the “mom” and this can be confusing for hospital staff. Many surrogacy contracts provide that the surrogate, and her husband, shall not exercise any parental rights from the moment of birth. Some contracts are very specific, providing that the surrogate and her husband shall not hold, feed, diaper, bathe or cuddle the baby following birth, without permission from the Intended Parents (IPs), and specifying that the IPs are the ones who get to choose the baby’s name and make medical and other decisions on the baby’s behalf. It can be emotionally devastating to new parents when they are excluded from caring and making decisions for their own newborn. For many new parents, being the first ones to hold, feed or bathe their child is a big deal.
But problems can arise because surrogate births are such a change from the normal routine. The nurses expect that the woman who gave birth will be the one responsible for feeding and caring for the child, and may continue to bring the baby back to the surrogate, or expect the surrogate to room-in with the baby. After all, even when an adoption of the baby is contemplated, the birth mother still has legal rights and responsibilities until her rights are legally terminated. Not so with a surrogacy arrangement proceeding by way of a pre-conception or pre-birth court order that vests legal parentage exclusively with the IPs. Even when the delivery team understands the complex situation, shift changes can result in new staff who are not aware of the appropriate protocol. And some staff members may not understand the legal parameters of surrogacy, or may not approve of surrogacy.
The IPs have every right to expect that they will be treated as the baby’s sole legal parents, but the reality is that not all hospitals are equally equipped to meet this standard. And the surrogate has an equal right to expect that she will not be expected to care for someone else’s newborn…after all, she probably just wants some well-deserved sleep!