The topic of gestational surrogacy made headlines this year when surrogacy contracts arrangements finally became legal in New York. There have also been several recent articles regarding a woman from Idaho who served as a surrogate mother for a couple from China. Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the woman is still caring for the child nearly a year after giving birth! Of less visibility in the media are the stories about all the people who finally realize their dreams of becoming parents thanks to the wonder of gestational surrogacy. With ongoing advancements in fertility treatments and assisted reproduction, there are now more ways than ever to create a child with the help of a third (and even fourth) party. If you’ve ever considered seeking a surrogate to help build your family, read on to learn some important facts!
Surrogacy is as Old as the Bible
Surrogacy is mentioned in the Old Testament, when Sarah and Abraham were unable to have a child of their own. Ninety-year-old Sarah turned to her servant, Hagar, hoping that the woman could carry Abraham’s child instead. This was a case of traditional surrogacy, rather than gestational, meaning that the surrogate used her own egg to conceive, rather than an egg from an intended parent or a donor. The arrangement was successful, and approximately nine months later, Ishmael was born.
Modern-day Gestational Surrogacy Often Requires a Matchmaker
Gestational surrogacy occurs when the carrier has no biological relationship to the child she is carrying. Some people find a friend or relative willing to serve as their gestational carrier (“GC”). Often though, intended parents prefer to keep the transaction more arms-length and will employ an agency, or “surrogacy matchmaker” instead. The matchmaker will meet with you to learn all about your surrogacy goals. Then they will use a series of resources, from broad advertising campaigns to digging through their own archives, to find the right woman for you. Potential GC’s undergo intense screening, and generally, only about 2% of applicants qualify. Even so, hopeful parents are often provided with multiple choices, and then they narrow down the pool through interviews and phone calls until they feel they’ve been matched with the right person. Working with an agency can save time and money because the professionals have experience and can help intended parents avoid several potential pitfalls.
Watch What You Eat
Obviously, a contract where one woman is charged with safeguarding another person’s child for nine months might include provisions restricting alcohol and drug use, but surrogacy contracts can get much more specific. In particular, intended parents can request that their GC eat only organic food, that she abstains from ingesting unpasteurized cheese, raw fish, and steak tartare, that she refrains from using bug spray or getting her hair colored or whitening her teeth, and on and on, and on. The GC can, of course, refuse these requests during contract negotiations, but most intended parents are interested in making sure that their carrier behaves in the manner safest for their unborn child, and they are likely to insist on at least a few of these requirements.
1944 Was a Big Year for Surrogacy
A Harvard Medical School professor fertilized the first egg outside of the human body in 1944. The professor, John Rock, is considered the father of modern fertility medicine, ranging from sperm collection to IVF.
Gestational Carriers Can be Very Mature
Interestingly, women can carry a fertilized egg long after their own eggs are no longer viable. There are several documented cases of women who have served as surrogates well past their sixtieth birthdays. Oftentimes these women will be the grandmother of the new baby, and they carry the baby on behalf of a daughter who was unable to conceive. Older women are not ideal GCs because of the increased risk that comes with age, but they are definitely possible!
Surrogacy is More Common Than You Think
The US has some of the world’s most favorable laws regarding surrogacy. Accordingly, it’s therefore not surprising that there are approximately 750 babies born every year through surrogacy in this county. Often, these babies are twins or even triplets.
The Ideal Surrogate is a Mother
Most surrogacy agencies seek GCs who already have a child of their own. The fact of her motherhood is evidence that the woman has successfully carried at least one child to term, which answers several questions about health and the ability to sustain a pregnancy. Moreover, women who have gone through a pregnancy before have a better sense of what they are agreeing to by entering a surrogacy arrangement, both in terms of what it’s like to be pregnant, and also how it might feel to hand over the child at the conclusion of the pregnancy.
In states that are most favorable to surrogacy, intended parents can file a request with the local court asking to have their names put on the birth certificate at the baby’s time of birth. This document, called a pre-birth order, allows for the state to acknowledge the intended parents as the true parents of the newborn baby from the very first minute the child enters the world.
Carriers Don’t Do It For the Money
Although GCs often earn a hefty sum, agencies will generally shy away from using carriers who are strapped for cash or just looking to make a quick(ish) buck. Surrogacy is a lot of work, both emotionally and physically. The women who agree to do it are accepting medical risks, bodily changes, and lifestyle adjustments. Carriers are generally big-hearted, generous women who offer to do this enormous kindness for others simply because they are able.
Intended Mothers Can Breastfeed
Just because a woman can’t carry a child doesn’t mean she can’t nurse her baby after it’s born through surrogacy. If an intended mother wants to breastfeed, doctors can give hormones that will trick the body into thinking it’s pregnant. Once the baby is born, the patient can stop the hormones and take supplements or other medications that will promote lactation and allow for the intended mother to experience the joy of nursing.
Famous Intended Parents
Surrogacy has been gaining popularity in the U.S. for years. As assisted reproductive technologies have advanced, so too have the number of celebrities who have chosen to use them. Celebrities who have had success building their families with the help of gestational surrogacy include Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gabrielle Union, Kim Kardashian, and Elton John.
… But It’s Not Only For the Rich and Famous
Even though many celebrities choose to use gestational surrogates, one needn’t have a money tree out in the yard in order to consider it. Surrogacy is admittedly very costly, but there are many steps hopeful parents can take to reduce the costs, from reaching out to health insurance companies for both the GC and the intended parents, to egg sharing programs, relying on a friend as your GC and considering international surrogacy.
Thanks to the constant evolution of science and our legal system, there are now more ways than ever to bring a new child into your home. There will likely always be new facts and surprising medical occurrences to discover. Most important, perhaps, is to remember that when it comes to babies and childrearing, the only thing you can really count on is to expect the unexpected!