The Pregnancy and the Delivery: The Story of Jessica and DeAnna.

Jessica was 29 years old when she considered surrogacy for the first time. After several years of trying to get pregnant, DeAnna asked her friend Jessica if she knew anyone who was willing to be a surrogate. Jessica proposed herself because she wanted to help her friend to become a mother.

Jessica was a traditional surrogate, which means she used her eggs and the sperm of DeAnna’s husband. Some embryos were created through IVF and she got pregnant with twins, as she said “pretty much at the first try”.

Below, is part one of a long interview with Jessica and DeAnna. In this section, they describe their experience of pregnancy and delivery.

DeAnna: As far of the relationship and how I went through the pregnancy with Jessica, I went to every appointment that we had with the doctors. I was there for every ultrasound and every chance that I had to see the babies. But I didn’t feel it. The pregnancy was more an outside thing to me. I got just the things from the ultrasound, and Jessica was sending me some videos in where I saw the tummy moves. I just lived through every ultrasound, because it was pretty much what I had.

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Jessica: When you deliver with twins, you can just have one person in the room for the actual delivery (because I had to deliver in an emergency delivery room). I actually chose to have the intended mother to be the one next to me. Not my wife, not someone that would be more connected to me. I chose to have the intended mother in the delivery room, because I wanted to give her as much of that real birthing experience as she could possibly have. And DeAnna was right there with me for absolutely every part of it, including the crazy delivery of her daughter which was a very chaotic delivery. The baby did not cry at first…it felt like an eternity, even if it was only 10 seconds. And instead of leaving me, DeAnna stayed with me. Even when we were waiting for this cry to happen, she still stayed with me. And I just felt extremely connected to her during that. She was there for every single ounce of it. I was so glad to give that to her. She could be part of that birthing process, as much as I was. I mean, I squeezed her hands hard enough and I am sure she felt it.

DeAnna: And I was so grateful for that. During the pregnancy we had some events. We had an event at 13weeks, where Jessica had SCH. She bled a lot. And she thought that she could be losing the babies, even the emergency room thought that she was losing the babies. For me, Jessica was going to be the first priority. My heart would break, I would be devastated if something happened to the babies, but I was there and I was there for Jessica, because she was the one going through it. She was the one giving us this gift. She was doing it for us, and yes, I wanted the babies but, you know, at the end of the day, the first thing that went out of my mouth wasn’t: “How is the baby?”, but it was: “How are you? How are you doing? How are you feeling?”. This is how I looked at the entire process.
In the delivery room, I was so afraid that I was not going to be able to be in there, but I just had to be ok with that. It is up to her, she is giving birth. This is a freaking big deal. So, I was just so grateful when she said that I could be in there. I was in there, and I was going to do everything I could to make it. I earned my worth for being in there, and I was going to be there for Jessica. When the doctor said: “Come on, push!”. I was right behind her and I was helping her pushing. And we did it! She remembers, when Phoebe was born, it was very traumatic. The NICU nurses were very nervous, but Jessica and I stayed cheek to cheek, I was there…

Jessica: She could rush to the baby, but she didn’t.

Surro e twins
DeAnna: I was down here, and we were talking to each other. It was: “Why is she not breathing? Why is she not screaming? I don’t know, I don’t know.” And then, boom, she cried and everything was good. But the most important thing in that moment was Jessica.

DeannaDeAnna and b.

Thank You Jessica and DeAnna for the amazing story you shared with us!

 

The Western Fertility Institute and the WFI Research at Men Having Babies Conference in San Francisco

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The Western Fertility Institute and the WFI Research had an amazing experience at the Men Having Babies’ Conference in San Francisco. The Conference was organized over two days: on January 13th and 14th.

 

JANUARY 13TH
On Saturday, before the beginning of the conference, the staff met an Australian couple. The Western Fertility Institute helped them to complete their family. The couple has two little daughters, and one of them was very little, she was just born 6 days before.

An interesting panel opened the Conference on Saturday: Is surrogacy right for you? Overview and personal stories”. It was divided in two sections: during the first section, two fathers and two surrogates discussed their journey; during the second one, a surrogate’s daughter and a gay couples’ daughter, discussed their story as well the beauty of their lives. It was fascinating for the WFI team to listen to their point of view, as well as all the other families, fathers, surrogates and children. This moment was also a huge opportunity for all the intended fathers who were attending the conference: it is quite different to listen to a story of surrogacy directly from people who have lived these kinds of experiences. Indeed, at the end of the panel, some IFs had asked questions regarding how to manage the relationship between parties.

Likewise, the second panel was quite amazing too: “A mindful look at surrogacy – Attitudes and Ethics”. Ron Poole-Dayan, surrogacy father and Executive Director of MHB, was the panelist of this section. The panelists discussed about the concerns about exploitation and commodification in surrogacy and on the experiences of surrogates. They highlighted that surrogacy cannot be considered as a simply transaction, because it involves emotions and feelings from all the people involved in the journey.
The common thread of the panel was the ethics: Ron suggested to have a look on the document entitled, “A Framework for Ethical Surrogacy for Intended Parents” visible on MHB website.

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Which are the “best practices” to assume during the surrogacy’s journey?
And indeed, at the end of this section, our Researcher Dr. Corinna S. Guerzoni presented her research “The Surrogacy Pathways: An Anthropological Analysis”.

All too often, we wait for others to forward our cause. We forget that it is our responsibility to advance our own culture and ideas that are important to us. It is our responsibility to be able to tell the world about what kind of experience it is for the intended parents, for the surrogates. This is why the Western Fertility Institute created the WFI Research, because it is keenly interested in surrogacy from all view points, medical, clinical, relational and socio-cultural. 

After dinner, the organizers projected a surrogacy movie “Baby Steps”. The Director and star of the movie presented and commented on it. It has showed the potential risks on Surrogacy as transactions, how it is performed in other countries.

JANUARY 14TH
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On Sunday the 14th, the conference started with a medical section: “Medical Aspects of Surrogacy”. Dr. Ashim Kumar had a speech, “From Sperm to Life

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He presented how the sperm is treated after the collection, which analysis are performed on the semen, and the difference between fresh and frozen cycle.

After lunch, it occurred the EXPO Parenting itself; our staff was there to answer all the questions of the Intended Fathers.

As Dr. Kumar said, the Western Fertility Institute loves to be part of this great connection with Men Having Babies. The Conference was an opportunity for several reasons. It was an occasion to meet other colleagues who work in the same field; having the possibility to share the clinical knowledge on Surrogacy with them. It was also an opportunity to listen to different IVF and patients’ experiences. This experience has been exciting and it was amazing to see all that energy only in one place.
Every information we collected is important for the Western Fertility Institute. The stories heard from intended fathers, surrogates and egg donors allow us to reflect on the path we observe daily; especially, on the difficulties of the route, on the importance of intertwining relationships between all the parties involved in the path, on the need to create a fertile environment in which to welcome the life experiences of men and women who undertake these paths. We will work hard to improve our practices and offer our patients the best care ever.

Thank You to Men Having Babies for having constructed such an amazing conference!

How Surrogates describe the Injections they have to do before the Embryo Transfer?

In a previous blogpost I talked about Francis and Melany’s story; two “sisters” who were waiting for the embryo transfer in Francis’ uterus. During the emotive interview, we discussed about the surrogacy journey and in particular about the medication that both the women had to take. Melany, the intended mother (IM), was under medication for the egg retrieval (link to Leslie), while Francis (the gestational surrogate – GS) was under medication for receiving the embryo. Melany took shots for 10 days while Francis took shots for 3 weeks, in order to prepare her uterus for the embryo transfer. Both the women, and especially Francis, who was the one who took the injections for most time, described the medication as “quite easy and funny”.

Francis: “Actually, it is a very funny experience, thanks to my sister. Have you ever seen the Pulp Fiction scene? It reminds me of that! My sister and my brother searched for the ‘perfect spot’ for the injection, and it reminds me of that scene every time. It is hilarious!

During the interview, Francis never mentioned the pain caused from the needles or for the medicine itself. She discussed more about the sacrifice she was doing for a family member, to bring happiness to her sister’s life.

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Not all the surrogates I interviewed have described their medication as a “funny experience”. Every woman defines it in a very different way. Some of the women I interviewed have defined the medication as the hardest part of the whole surrogacy journey. Like Mila, 36 years old, 20 weeks pregnant for a Chinese couple who said: “You know, it is hard to inject yourself every day. It is hard remembering to do it for a month, and it is hard mostly because it is an injection, you know! (Laughing). Especially, when you are at the end and you don’t have any spots available left, to inject the needle in. It is totally the worse part ever. The last week was very painful for me, because I perforated all my back and the medication is oil. Burn and sore, this is how I would describe the medication”.

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Nevertheless, as Mila told me, if the medication was a very hard part, it cannot be compared with the pain that infertile people could experience for years. In other words, Mila nuanced the pain she was feeling during the medication with the pain that the people that can’t have children generally go through. In her opinion, her pain was small in comparison to the one experienced from the intended parents. “The medication I have to take was nothing, it is not a big deal in comparison with the pain that infertile people live with. My couple was trying to conceive for more than 4 years. It is sad, so sad. When I heard their story, I wanted to help them. I cannot imagine my life without my kids.”

Francis and Mila are both surrogates, but they are living a different bodily sensation. Francis and Mila’s experiences, reminded me the study of Almeling and Willey (2017) “Same Medicine, Different Reasons: Comparing Women’s Bodily Experiences of Producing Eggs for Pregnancy or for Profit”. In their study, Almeling and Willey have analyzed the experience of infertile women using IVF to conceive a child and the experience of egg providers. The infertile describe the medication as painful and emotionally draining, while the egg providers, who have undergone the same medical treatments describe it as painless and quick. As the two sociologists pointed out, different individual’s bodily experience of medical intervention varies based on their reason for doing it. In these two stories we saw a completely different depiction of the medication. Francis, who was taking the shots in order to receive the embryos of her sister, described the medication like an “easy and funny” part; on the contrary Mila, who was taking the drugs for receiving the embryos of a Chinese couple, designed it as “sore and painful”. The reasons why these women started a journey as surrogates are different: Francis became a surrogate to help her sister, while Mila to help a family of strangers. Nevertheless, in both of these stories I captured a rhetoric of love and sacrifice to help someone’s having a child.
In conclusion, every woman defines the pain of the medication in a very different way, in relation of the reason why doing it.
References
Almeling R. and Willey 2017, “Same Medicine, Different Reasons: Comparing Women’s Bodily Experiences of Producing Eggs for Pregnancy or for Profit.” Social Science and Medicine.

 

US Surrogates’ Motivations and Satisfaction – A key to read the social context

The Social Context for Surrogates’ Motivations and Satisfaction” (2014) is an article written by Zsuzsa Berend, sociologist of UCLA.

Berend starts this article talking about one of the persistent surrogacy fears related to surrogacy; what about if the surrogate, who carries for the IP, regrets her decision when the process is completed? (Teman, 2008) As I’ve already shown in a previous blogpost “My Bun, Her Oven” An Anthropological Review, how Elly Teman has analyzed why the large portion of the thoughts express a sense of discomfort with surrogacy. In sum: gestational surrogacy (GS) reveals the strong cultural assumption in Western society that women “naturally” develop instinctive bonds and love with the babies in their bellies, and they won’t give the babies away unless they are desperate, forced, or out of their minds.

Berend article
Within the substantial literature on surrogacy that has analyzed this practice for over 20 years, there are just few longer-term data results on it. On the Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Imrie and Jadva (2014) have published a long-term study on surrogates ‘experiences. This research has found that most of the surrogates were satisfied with the relationship they had with the intended parents (IPs) and have shown no regrets for their journey as surrogates. (I will discuss about it in the future).

Berend has conducted a decennial research on surromomonline (SMO), one of the largest US surrogacy support website until the early 2000s. She has analyzed how US surrogates collectively defined their experience, reading which kind of expectations they had about their journey. The sociologist, noticed that there has been a change throughout the years: in the early 2000s, surrogates expressed the desired for an ongoing friendship with the intended parents. While, over time, surrogates have presented a different representation of the relationships with the IPS. In some cases, they did not have any contact after the delivery or have reported to feel abandoned by the IPs. Berend found that the surrogates constructed some social explanations to describe why the parents acted in the way the acted. Such as, the parents wanted to bond with the newborn or simply because they were new busy parents.

This paper is interesting because Berend suggests to keep separated the meaning of the relationship from the meaning of satisfaction. She explained that meanings are social, while satisfactions are personal feelings that involve individual interpretations of different experiences. In general, the degree of the satisfaction is related to our expectations. What does it mean being satisfied and how can we understand when and if we are satisfied? Berend said that we make a kind of comparison with our previous experience, referring to a range of practical expectations constructed on our prior knowledge. Following her thoughts, if these expectations are satisfied, we feel satisfied. As Berend asks: “[…] how do we know what to expect in new social relationships such as surrogacy?” (2014:399). Within surrogacy, satisfaction is harder to define, because it is the outcome of an intricate set of evaluation about what the relationship could be and what in concrete is.

US surrogates of SMO blog discussed about the relationship with the IPs, emphasizing that surrogacy doesn’t mean having new friends; it is more to help someone to create their own family. Related to that, there were a lot of advice for avoiding having high expectations about the relationship the surrogates could have with the IPs, during before and after the birth. In literature (Berend,2016; Teman, 2010), the most common way to stay in touch are: some periodical emails, some pictures exchanged through social media and, less often, some presents sent between them. What does it mean to stay in touch and how to stay in touch? I will analyze the meaning of that during my research.

Often surrogacy is a hybrid of contractual and gift relationship, and gifts and relationships are not terminated in the same way that contractual relations are.” (2014:400).

Berend continues her article paying attention to the other main question of the study: the surrogates’ motivations. What are the reasons why some women become surrogates? In their research, Imrie and Jadva found that most answers were, wanting to help a couple and the pleasure of being pregnant. These were similar answers that other researchers received in other cultural contexts. The most popular motivations find in literature are the payment, the desire to help a childless couple and the enjoyment of the pregnancy. For more information, I suggest to read this article.

References
Berend Z., 2016, The Online World of Surrogacy, Berghahn Books, New York – Oxford.
Carries J., 1991, Gift, commodities, and social relations: a maussian view of exchange. Sociol. Forum 6, 119 -136.

Imrie S. and Jadva V., 2014, The Long-term experiences of surrogates: relationship and contact with surrogacy families in genetic and gestational surrogacy arrangements. Reprod. Biomed.

Teman E., 2008, The Social Construction of Surrogacy research: An Anthropological critique of the psychological scholarship on surrogate motherhood. Doc Sci. Med. 67, 1104-1112.

Teman, E., 2010. Birthing a Mother. The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self, The University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

ANPIA’s Interview – Associazione Nazionale Italiana di Antropologia

I would like to thank ANPIA – Associazione Nazionale Professionale Italiana di Antropologia – for the interview they created based on me.

ANPIA is a newborn association that deals with the enhancement of the professional figure of anthropologists.

It is not always easy to explain what anthropology is and what anthropologists do. As this situation is a cross cultural condition. In general, the most part of the anthropologists work within Universities, conducting research on different aspects of human life. The ones who work outside of the Academy, are often involved in another job, not directly related to being an anthropologist. Also with different nuanced degrees of recognition, in most of the contemporary societies, it is not easy to find a job being an anthropologist.

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ANPIA’s rubric “Non di dinosauri, non di stelle …ma” (translation: “Not about dinosaur, not about stars…but”) collects all the experience of the anthropologists involved in jobs outside of the Academy.

My interview inaugurates this rubric, and I am honored to be apart of it.