Gestational surrogacy is an increasingly popular method of family-building, especially for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples.
For some people, becoming a mother or father is all they ever want in life. But not everyone is blessed with the means to create or carry a child. Gestational surrogacy is one option to solving this issue.
What is gestational surrogacy?
In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate isn’t biologically related to the baby she is carrying. Instead, the embryo is created by harvesting an egg from the biological mother (also known as the Intended Mother) or an egg donor. The egg is fertilized using sperm from the intended father (or sperm donor) using in vitro fertilization (IVF). The embryo is then transferred to the gestational surrogate in the fertility clinic. If successful, the resulting pregnancy will produce a baby that has no genetic relation to the surrogate.
Gestational surrogacy differs from “traditional” surrogacy in that with traditional surrogacy, the carrier’s own eggs are artificially inseminated with the intended father’s sperm or the sperm of a donor. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate is using her own egg, so the resulting child will be biologically related to the surrogate.
One way to think about gestational surrogacy is as a kind of “extreme” babysitting, except the babysitting happens before the baby is born. Even though the Intended Parents are still the parents, someone else gets to carry and look after their baby for the first nine months.
Who chooses to use a surrogate?
There are no ‘typical’ intended parents. Those who choose gestational surrogacy to build their families are incredibly diverse in demographics. Intended parents come from many countries to pursue surrogacy in the United States. They may be straight or gay, married or single, male or female.
Someone who chooses to build their family through surrogacy may have difficulty conceiving, or maybe they’re just missing a vital person or component in the baby-making equation. In other cases, it’s just that the circumstances haven’t ever been quite right.
Some people spend years trying to get pregnant through methods such as in vitro fertilization. It’s often only after multiple rounds of failed IVF or fertility treatment that surrogacy turns out to be the best option.
Who decides to become a surrogate?
A woman who chooses to become a surrogate is generally between the ages of 21-45 years old and has given birth at least once. They’re from all walks of life, from stay-at-home moms to full-time career women. One thing that they all have in common is empathy. Some have known someone who’s struggled with infertility, others may have a gay friend or family member and understand their desire to build a family. Many women who become surrogates are just ordinary women who love pregnancy and think “I can help, so I will.”
Some of the most important requirements to become a surrogate are:
- Ages 21-45
- Healthy BMI
- Stable living situation
- Strong support system
- History of safe and healthy pregnancies
How does surrogacy work?
Much preparation goes into making surrogacy happen, long before the embryo is even created and transferred.
Surrogacy can be a very complex process, with many legal hurdles.
The gestational surrogacy process includes:
- Choosing a surrogacy agency and/or an attorney
- Finding and screening a surrogate candidate
- Undergoing various medical and psychological screenings
- Medical testing and procedures
For Intended Parents, finding a surrogate can be a difficult part of the process, which is where an agency can help. A caseworker will be assigned to help intended parents choose an ideal match and then arrange meetings so you can get to know one another.
Whether you’re working with an agency or managing your journey on your own, every surrogate and intended parent should undergo a mental health evaluation and a medical evaluation before moving forward in the surrogacy process.
Next is the legal process. Each party should be represented by their own attorney, who will review the legal aspects of the surrogacy arrangement. The attorneys will make sure everyone’s legal rights are protected and arrange for the surrogate’s compensation. Depending on the laws in the state, the IPs attorney will help them secure parentage of their child once pregnancy has been established.
The embryo transfer process will only go ahead once all the legalities are finalized and signed off by both sides.
Why do people use a surrogate?
You may be surprised to learn just how many reasons there are for choosing surrogacy.
Women who have been affected by endometriosis or other uterine issues may have difficulties getting pregnant. Congenital abnormalities or a medical condition can mean that a woman is unable to conceive or carry a child to term.
Older women and couples are more likely to face issues with infertility. And about 10% of infertile women may never know why they can’t get pregnant. But it’s not just women who are affected. Around one-third of infertility cases are due to problems on the man’s side.
The great news is that if a woman’s ovaries are still functioning, she may still be able to use her own eggs and have biological children through a surrogate.
Same-sex couples and LGBTQ+ individuals
The surrogacy process for same-sex couples and individuals is very similar to that of any other intended parent. They simply have to decide whose sperm or egg will be used. Gay male couples may use donated eggs and a surrogate mother to have children together. Some male couples may even choose to fertilize multiple eggs using both partners’ sperm so that either or both can become the biological father.
Single women or single men
Surrogates are a dream come true for a single woman or man who desperately wants to be a mom or dad. A single woman may choose to use a surrogate mother if she cannot conceive or carry a pregnancy to full-term herself, while a single man can also use a surrogate mother if he has no female partner.
Sometimes, a woman may be physically able to carry a pregnancy, but other health issues make it dangerous for her to do so. Heart conditions, autoimmune diseases, or certain physical conditions can make her pregnancy potentially harmful to herself or the baby.
Adoption isn’t for everyone
Of course, surrogacy is not the only option for couples or singles when they realize they can’t have a baby on their own. While adoption is also a possibility for starting a family, it’s a lengthy process with many uncertainties that may not suit everyone. Many people simply wish to have a child that is biologically theirs.
How to find out more about surrogacy
If you want to learn about what the surrogacy process would involve for you, the first step is to talk to a reputable agency or attorney about the process in your state. The information provided in this article is not intended as medical or legal advice.