Choosing a surrogate to carry your biological embryo, conceived via IVF, is a decision many couples face, and which should not be taken lightly. Well-meaning family, or friends, may voice frightening opinions, and you and your partner may be concerned about the legal aspect of the process. How do you know what to look for when selecting the woman who will carry your baby to term? Can you be certain of her intentions? And what are your legal rights in this arrangement?
The Role of The Surrogate
Before delving into what you should look for when choosing a surrogate, let’s take a look at the role of the surrogate in third party fertility treatment. There are 2 types of surrogates:
- The traditional surrogate is a woman who agrees to be artificially inseminated by the biological father, and give birth to the baby. Although she is considered the biological mother of the child, she contractually agrees to forfeit any rights to the child. This treatment is no longer considered appropriate or used.
- The gestational carrier (surrogate) is a woman who agrees to have the biological embryo of the intentional parents, created through IVF, transferred to her uterus, where the baby will develop until birth. She is considered the “birth mother” however has no biological ties to the child. She relinquishes ties to the baby after the birth.
In the U.S., a gestational surrogacy is far less complicated legally, which makes it a more appealing process. Gestational surrogacy is much more common today than traditional surrogacy, for this reason. Today, many children are born via gestational surrogacy.
Choosing Your Surrogate
While regulations and laws regarding the use of surrogacy vary vastly from state to state (California is very surrogate friendly, New York, not so much) there are no rules, or regulations, regarding who is able to act as a surrogate. You may opt to use a close friend or family member, or use social, or print media to advertise for your surrogate. In these cases, it’s advised you seek legal counsel, and for all parties to undergo a psychological evaluation.
When choosing a surrogate who is a friend, family member or someone from an agency, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Choose someone who is over 21 and younger than 45.
- Make sure to choose a woman who has already experienced a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy and given birth. This will ensure she is familiar with all the physical and emotional ups and downs of pregnancy, childbirth, and issues involved in bonding with a newborn.
- Have your potential surrogate undergo a psychological evaluation to ensure there are no uncovered issues which could prevent her from giving up the baby after birth.
- Your surrogate will need to go through a thorough medical exam as well. This will rule out any infectious diseases, affirm her immunity to rubella, and chicken pox, and verify her potential ability to carry a pregnancy. Your surrogate should enlist the services of her own physician.
- Meet with an attorney and design a contract that reflects your agreement. Make sure your potential surrogate thoroughly understands her role and responsibilities, as well as those of the biological parents, throughout the process. You should outline specifics such as prenatal care, medical care, and her agreement to give the baby to you after birth.
More often, couples retain the services of an agency specializing in surrogacy to find their gestational surrogate. Agencies not only have access to a fair number of surrogates, but these candidates have been thoroughly vetted and their motives are healthy. Because the surrogacy agency has experience in bringing together all parties, they also have knowledge of the legal aspect of the agreement, and can recommend legal counsel, as well as provide input in writing your contractual agreement.
Beyond the health assessments and legal understanding, you may want your surrogate to share similar core values. Some couples want to be involved and active throughout the pregnancy. If so, the geographical proximity between you and your surrogate will matter.
Reasons to Consider Surrogacy
There are a few different reasons why couples, or an individual, may choose a surrogate to grow their family. If the biological mother was born without a uterus, has had a hysterectomy – involving removal of the uterus, or if she has uterine complications, such as a malformation, significant scar tissue – adhesions, or growths which prevent her from supporting a pregnancy, choosing a gestational surrogate is a wonderful option.
Some women are not medically able to carry a baby due to complications which may arise from serious chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Severe musculoskeletal abnormalities, treatment for certain cancers, which involve chemotherapy or radiation, or Rh incompatibility, can make it impossible to carry a pregnancy. And there are also those women who have specific conditions which cannot tolerate the extremely high levels of estrogen that come with pregnancy.
Gestational Surrogacy: A Valid Option
Using a third party to bring your baby into the world is a serious decision, however, it is a highly acceptable form of infertility treatment, especially when no other option is available. Couples who would otherwise need to find alternative methods, or give up their dream of becoming parents, now have an option. And gestational surrogacy is a proven way to grow your family.
The success rate when using a gestational surrogate is encouraging, especially when the biological mother is under 35. The gratification the surrogate feels from this truly selfless act makes the action something she will never regret. And the fulfillment of a dream for the biological parents makes surrogacy nothing less than miraculous.