30 October 2003
Surrogate motherhood a relatively stress-free experience
IT is an enormous decision for a woman to become a surrogate mother for a childless couple. With so many issues involved that could cause anxiety (for example the surrogate mother having to hand over the child to its new parents after the birth, ensuring the surrogate takes care during the pregnancy and behaves healthily, and financial arrangements surrounding the surrogacy), the process could be a very stressful experience, both for the two mothers involved and the unborn child. But surprising new research from Aston University has shown that surrogacy, although a complicated and not altogether stress free experience, does not result in high levels of anxiety.
Dr Olga van den Akker from Aston's Psychology Institute looked at women involved in two types of surrogate motherhood - genetic surrogacy and gestational surrogacy (a genetic surrogate mother uses her own eggs to conceive and carry a baby for someone else using the intended father's sperm, whilst a gestational surrogate uses embryo transfer to carry a non-genetic baby for the couple, meaning she is carrying a baby that isn't genetically hers). The research explored how the surrogate mothers and the intended mothers were affected by the pregnancy, by looking at issues such as worries about the unborn child during pregnancy; positive and negative attitudes to the foetus during pregnancy; the economic status of surrogate mothers, the education levels of the surrogates and intended parents and the attitudes and worries of parents, particularly the mother, of the unborn baby. There were differences - surrogate mothers tended to be younger, less educated and had a lower professional standing than the intended parents.
Dr van den Akker said: 'From a health point of view these findings really are of incredible importance, because one fear that we don't have now is that surrogate mothers have stressful pregnancies, which could have resulted in adverse perinatal outcomes. In fact, my research has indicated that it is the intended mothers who tend to be more anxious than the surrogate mothers but that they get more positive support from their partners and parents than the surrogates. Based on the issues at stake (for example if the surrogates are carrying their own genetic baby then they might be anxious about giving the baby up, the financial arrangements between the couple and the surrogate mother, and the inherent inequity between the surrogate and the intended mothers) you might think that worry and anxiety would be higher than is good for a healthy pregnancy but it seems that this is not the case.'
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