What is a surrogate?
The word surrogate just means appointed to act in the place of. Surrogacy refers to an arrangement whereby a woman agrees to become pregnant for the purpose of gestating and giving birth to a child for a couple or single person with the intention of giving that child to that person/people once the child is born (also called surrogate pregnancy).
The surrogate mother is implanted with an already fertilized embryo which may be produced using in vitro fertilisation (IVF), via the Intended Parents egg and sperm or using a donated or purchased egg (in the case of gay males) or sperm. In this case the pregnant woman makes no genetic contribution to the child. This type of surrogacy is far more common amongst Australians, and is viewed as providing a greater distance between the surrogate mother and the child.
The gestational surrogate provides the egg for the child and is impregnated with the sperm of the commissioning father (usually through artificial insemination). In these cases, the gestational surrogate is genetically linked to the child but she relinquishes any legal rights of parentage over the child to the commissioning parents.
What types of surrogacy agreements exist?
Altruistic or non-compensated surrogacy arrangements are those where the surrogate agrees to receive no payment or reward, except for medical, legal, travel and other out-of-pocket expenses. In some cases, payment for lost work hours is also allowed. Altruistic surrogacy is legal, albeit tightly regulated in some jurisdictions.
Compensated or commercial surrogacy arrangements are those in which the party seeking a child agree to pay a fee to the surrogate beyond the cost of her medical needs.
What motivates a Surrogate to Carry a Baby?
Contrary to popular belief, surrogates are not all poor women being exploited for their fertility. Many are middle-class women who want to help make families. They come from all walks of life.
The emotions involved in surrogacy are very strong on both sides. Surrogates need to make sure they have appropriate support before choosing surrogacy. Online support groups exist in countries like the US, Australia and the UK for surrogates.
The video presentation here from Surrogacy expert Dr Kim Bergman from Growing Generations explains surrogate motivations.
How Do Surrogates Feel About Relinquishing a Child?
Research carried out by the Family and Child Psychology Research Centre at Cambridge University, UK shows that properly screened surrogates rarely have difficulty relinquishing rights to a surrogate child.
Most stories (especially movie dramas) about the subject focus on the problems and conflicts that may arise from surrogacy, but this is very rare in reality. Most surrogate arrangements end without problems, with both the intending parents and the surrogate coming away satisfied.
What sort of people use surrogacy?
In some cases it is the only available option for a couple who wish to have a child that is genetically related to at least one of them. People who choose surrogacy may be:
How do I choose a donor?
If you not using your own eggs or those of a friend, this is another step you must take. In some countries, only altruistic donors are allowed. In some countries donors must be known, in others they must be anonymous. This depends on cultural beliefs and hence laws. There are numerous agencies that provide egg donor services and you should “shop” around.
Egg donors can cost from US$4000 upwards. Previous egg donors often charge higher fees. You will generally get full personality, educational and medical profiles of the egg donor together with photographs. Some agencies also provide videos.
An Egg Donor is a very personal choice. In many cases the egg donor that is chosen results in a successful pregnancy, however some intending parents have had to select a second egg donor later, due to difficulties relating to successfully becoming pregnant.
What is Independent Surrogacy?
There are a number of consumer-run websites and forums that can enable intended parents and surrogates around the world to privately match with each other (eg surrogatefinder.com, surrogacysisters.com). These can be useful resources and can avoid the costs of a surrogacy agency, particularly in countries which do not allow surrogates or intended parents to advertise openly.
However there are dangers inherent in such DIY arrangements for both surrogates and intended parents.