The decision to start a family is always a big one for any couple that’s decided they want to spend the rest of their lives together. While many have to think about the future and the finances of ensuring a good life for a new arrival, some couples have huge challenges right at the start, as naturally conceiving and then safely carrying a baby to term with a traditional pregnancy may have significant obstacles in place.
Same-sex male couples are biologically incapable of giving birth to a child naturally, while some couples may have serious medical concerns, such as a woman with a heart condition, that would put both mother and child at serious health risk if pregnancy is undertaken. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that couples have to give up on their dream of starting a family. Surrogacy is one alternative, but what is it, and what does it involve for the couple?
What Is Surrogacy?
Like adoption, which is when a child already born is taken into a family, surrogacy is a very old alternative to traditional pregnancy that goes back to Biblical times. Surrogacy is when a couple that is unable to conceive a baby between themselves naturally seek out another woman that is medically capable of undertaking a safe pregnancy. They then transact with that woman and enter into an agreement where she becomes pregnant on their behalf. Once the baby is born, the child is then united with the couple and becomes their baby to raise as their own.
For centuries, surrogacy was only possible through the man from a couple having sexual intercourse with the intended surrogate mother. While effective, this was awkward for everyone involved. By the 20th century, however, artificial insemination had been perfected, as well as other techniques that now offer a variety of different types of surrogacy.
What Makes A Surrogate Mother?
The surrogate mother is the most important part of successful surrogacy. Since the medical condition of a woman in a couple is often a barrier to traditional childbirth, the overall health of a surrogate mother is one of the key components. Good health, however, is not the only factor that is required.
Today, it’s generally agreed that in addition to health, an ideal surrogate mother already in her 20s, at least, and has had one previous successful childbirth. The “past experience” is important, because it means the woman already has a track record for giving birth without complications. More importantly, however, it means the woman is much better prepared psychologically for the experience of pregnancy because she’s dealt with it before.
Another important consideration is the lifestyle. Even if a woman is medically examined and determined to be in good physical health, if she insists on drinking, smoking, consuming drugs, or having frequent unprotected sex with others, all of these lifestyle choices can negate the impact of her good physical health.
Different Surrogacy Expectations
When looking for a surrogate mother, there may be different expectations at play, depending on which country you live in. While surrogacy is a very old alternative to natural childbirth, that doesn’t mean it’s legal everywhere. France and Germany, for example, have banned surrogacy, meaning couples wishing to use surrogacy must travel elsewhere.
In countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, only “altruistic” or “compassionate” surrogacy is legally permitted. This type of surrogacy permits a surrogate mother to receive money to cover her living expenses and her medical costs as she undertakes the pregnancy, but she receives no monetary gain for effort.
Other areas, such as the state of California in the USA, or the country of Georgia, in southeastern Europe, permit both altruistic surrogacies and “compensated” surrogacies. This type of surrogacy offers significant financial recognition to the surrogate mother for her role in the process. As a result of this, the financial incentive in these areas tends to create a much larger pool of suitable candidates willing to take up the role.
Different Types Of Surrogacy
There are differences in the way surrogate pregnancies are performed as well, not just the financial aspect. A traditional surrogate pregnancy, for example, uses the sperm from the man in a hopeful couple, or a selected donor, and uses the egg of the surrogate mother herself for fertilization.
However, in “gestational” surrogacy, the sperm of the man and the egg of the woman in a hopeful couple are both used. In a complex process, fertilization occurs in the lab and, once confirmed, is implanted in the surrogate mother. The result is a child that is, for all intents and purposes, a direct genetic descendant of the hopeful couple, and no biological ties to the surrogate mother.
A final factor people need to keep in mind when thinking about surrogacy is the legal implications. In countries where surrogacy is banned, this means a couple must go to another country where surrogacy is legal. However, this also means questions of citizenship for the newborn must be carefully considered before attempting re-entry.