Definition of Surrogacy

Surrogacy is one option to consider if you're struggling with infertility.

If you've been unsuccessfully trying to conceive, you may find yourself wondering about the definition of surrogacy. Essentially, this term refers to an arrangement in which a woman becomes pregnant for the sole purpose of having a child that another couple will raise.

Surrogacy is considered to be a form of assisted reproduction. Artificial insemination, fertility drugs, and in vitro fertilization are also forms of assisted reproduction.

Definition of Surrogacy

Understanding the various types of surrogacy can be complicated for someone who is unfamiliar with the process.

Traditional Surrogacy

The typical definition of surrogacy refers to an arrangement in which the surrogate is the child's genetic mother. The woman's egg is fertilized in a lab using sperm from the man who wishes to raise the child. This form of surrogacy may be used by a woman with medical issues that affect her ability to ovulate normally. In addition, some women choose surrogacy as an option if they have a serious illness that would decrease their ability to carry a pregnancy to term or could be potentially passed to the child.

Gestational Surrogacy

The other form of surrogacy is more accurately referred to as gestational surrogacy. In this case, the pregnant woman is not biologically related to the baby. She is implanted with a fertilized egg and agrees to turn over the baby at the end of the pregnancy. This option is often used by women with normal ovarian function who have problems with their uterus. For example, Asherman's Syndrome or leiomyoma may cause scarring that would make it difficult for a woman to carry her pregnancy to term.

Characteristics of Surrogate Mothers

In many cases, a surrogate mother is a relative or close friend of the couple who is motivated by a sincere desire to help provide others with the joy of parenthood. However, some surrogate mothers are paid for their services.

Generally, a woman must meet the following criteria to be considered a good candidate for becoming a surrogate mother.

  • Between 21 and 38 years of age
  • Given birth to one or more children previously, with no complications
  • No history of STDs
  • In good health, with no chronic medical conditions
  • Average weight for her height
  • A non-smoker who lives in a smoke free home
  • No illegal drug use

The Ethics of Surrogacy

Before deciding to pursue surrogacy as an option for having a child of your own, it's wise to spend some time considering both sides of the issue.Arguments for surrogacy include:

  • The process provides a genetic link between parent and child. Even if the woman is not the child's genetic mother, her husband is the biological father. For many couples, this is considered extremely important.
  • It allows you to avoid common adoption pitfalls. While adopting a child can be a wonderful way to achieve your dream of becoming a parent, the adoption process is rather complicated. It's often difficult to adopt a newborn infant and many older children have physical or emotional issues associated with their early living conditions.
  • It's sometimes the only option available. While most people who use surrogacy to achieve their dreams of parenthood are married heterosexual couples, surrogacy is becoming increasingly popular among gay men who wish to become parents.

Arguments against surrogacy include:

  • It's expensive. In addition to the medical costs, the couple must generally pay for a portion of the surrogate's living expenses. In many cases, the cost of surrogacy represents a real financial hardship.
  • There are already many children available for adoption. Many people opposed to surrogacy believe couples should be encouraged to consider caring for a child in desperate need of a loving home before engaging in this form of assisted reproduction.
  • It sets the couple up for potential legal problems. For example, Melissa Stern was the subject of a highly publicized custody debate in 1986. Her parents had hired Mary Beth Whitehead as a surrogate mother. After she gave birth, however, Ms. Whitehead refused to give up the child. After several years of legal battles related to the definition of surrogacy, Melissa's biological father was awarded legal custody and Ms. Whitehead was granted visitation rights.

Additional Information

If you are interested in learning more about surrogacy as an assisted reproduction option, check out the following helpful resources:

Definition of Surrogacy