What Is Gestational Surrogacy?

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Most couples that decide to spend their lives together and start a family have to do a lot of planning for the possible hurdles they’ll encounter in the future. The actual pregnancy and childbirth, however, is pretty well-trodden ground that doesn’t present any difficulties, but for some couples, this is a huge, initial obstacle.

Some women, for example, have heart conditions that make them too delicate to undertake pregnancy, unless they want to put both themselves and their baby at serious health risk. Other couples, such as same-sex male couples, don’t have a uterus for either partner in which a baby can grow and eventually be born.

We’re lucky now to live in a century where surrogacy is a much more accessible, well-practiced technique with good odds for success. Adoption is not the only route for couples that want to have a child but can’t or aren’t advised to have a traditional pregnancy. With surrogacy, another woman can agree to become pregnant, and when she gives birth to that baby, the newborn can then meet—and be with—the new intended parents.

One of the most popular—and complex—forms of surrogacy today is called a gestational surrogacy, and here’s why.

Advanced Medical Science

In the past, the only safe, viable form of surrogacy was “traditional surrogacy.” This meant that the egg of the surrogate mother was used for fertilization. Before the 19th century, fertilization was only possible by having the hopeful father of an intended family have sexual intercourse with the surrogate mother. By the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century, this had been replaced the more precise, less emotionally awkward artificial insemination process. This process is now so well-used that there are even home kits available for people that don’t wish medical professionals to use the technique.

Gestational surrogacy, however, is very different. In this technique, an egg harvested from a donor is preserved in a laboratory setting. Here, selected donor sperm is introduced to the egg, and they are closely monitored to determine whether successful fertilization has taken place. If the lab confirms it, that fertilized egg is then taken and is implanted in a woman’s uterus. At that point, nature takes over, and the embryo grows and develops over nine months, eventually being born as a healthy baby. This method is known as “In Vitro Fertilization” or IVF.

Why It Matters

For couples that want to have a baby but are unable to conceive naturally, gestational surrogacy can be a huge relief. With traditional surrogacy, the child that is born may have genetics taken from the hopeful father of a couple, but the mother’s DNA will be that of the surrogate mother herself.

With gestational surrogacy, the child that is born will a “complete” mix of 50% of the DNA from the hopeful father, and 50% of the DNA from the hopeful mother. In other words, where a genetic analysis to be conducted on the child, the results would be the baby is 100% the genetic descendant of the hopeful parents just as if he or she were born in the hopeful mother’s womb. In this case, the surrogate mother has no genetic connection to the child at all.

A Significant Investment

Of course, with this more comprehensive medical technique comes a higher cost. Gestational surrogacy is more expensive than traditional surrogacy, but exactly how much depends on the nature of the surrogacy. The IVF process alone costs tens of thousands of dollars for single fertilization. On average, an IVF costs about USD 30,000 and may go up from there.

There can be additional costs surrounding the IVF procedure, such as Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD. This is an analytical procedure that is carried out if there is a concern that one or both donors may have a hereditary condition. So if, for example, the hopeful mother’s family has a history of cystic fibrosis, this is a disease that can be potentially passed onto the baby.

PGD is often done with multiple IVF procedures. This way, multiple fertilized eggs can be diagnosed to see whether any hereditary conditions have been passed on, and hopeful parents can choose the fertilized egg in which nothing undesirable is present.

Another possible additional cost is for retrieval of specimens. In some cases, the hopeful father, mother, or both may have had medical reasons to remove their reproductive capacity. A woman with ovarian cancer, for example, must have her ovaries removed for her continued health. In some cases, viable egg or sperm are then stored cryogenically, until the couple wishes to have a family.

If that time finally arrives, for the IVF procedure and gestational surrogacy, there are additional costs involved n the retrieval and safe transport of the specimens. They cannot simply be put into a cardboard box and mailed via courier, special measures must be taken to ensure they remain viable for IVF.

Gestational surrogacy is a costly decision. But for many hopeful families with the available income, it is one way to overcome the hurdle of having a child naturally that is still a genetic match for the hopeful parents themselves.