Dr Christina Weis and Dr Wendy Norton share insights from their study of heterosexually-partnered men’s experiences of becoming dads through surrogacy.
We know from previous research, that men in heterosexual relationships tend to be side-lined in surrogacy arrangements as the intending mothers and the surrogates find it easier to bond. These findings are based on research with mainly surrogates and intending mothers, as researchers report women ‘do the talking’ and it’s often difficult to recruit men.
We interviewed 10 men to learn more about their experiences, and found that men were cast into several roles that they found challenging: as expectant fathers, partners to infertile women, and mediators, helping to nurture a relationship with the surrogate who is gestating a child for them as a couple. Edward (not his real name) wanted to highlight to other men seeking surrogacy that with the “best will in the world, having two women in the relationship, one of which is pregnant who is not your wife…that is not easy”.
While the men in our study did confirm being side-lined in their arrangements, men were also intentionally and unintentionally side-lining themselves in their endeavour to support their partners, to enable them to bond more closely and experience the pregnancy they weren’t carrying. Several men expected and would have preferred to be more involved in the relationship with their surrogate, but felt unsure and insecure in “how to be well involved and how to be properly involved”. Furthermore, in several cases men felt similar to Edward who reported that “[our surrogate] wanted a strong relationship with my wife (…). It was very much her helping [my wife] than her helping us”.
Consequently, men resorted to taking charge of more practical or managerial tasks and as a direct result of prioritising support for their partners and surrogates, their own needs for involvement were relegated, as Jeremy expressed: “if I am honest, I would say my emotions took a back seat, always, to [my wife’s] and [surrogate’s], that’s the hierarchy shall we say.” Fred explained that it was important to him that his wife was “front and centre” in the arrangement as she was “not contributing biologically, and that’s a big deal and so I just felt that is was ever so important that she is…in control of it and running it.” Looking back, Fred reflected that he would like to be more involved, “because where I have been involved, it has been really good”.
Men described their surrogacy experience as “female-centred”, expressing frustration with the absence of tailored counselling addressing their experiences. Several men found partaking in the interview cathartic, and welcomed further opportunities for professional and peer support and exchange. We therefore recommend that surrogacy organisations and counsellors offer more tailored counselling for men and we are currently working with the Donor Conception Network (DCN) to provide resources for counsellors.
This post has originally been published in the Donor Conception Network Newsletter (Summer 2020, Issue 22).