What Is a Surrogate?

Understanding an Alternative Way to Have Children

A surrogate is a woman who carries someone else's baby in pregnancy, as a nontraditional method to add a child to a family.

Adding kids to a family isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. As the cultural climate shifts to be more accepting toward single parents, gay parents, older parents and other nontraditional family structures, there are also more options available to bring children into to your household. For some families, surrogacy is the best option to grow the family they desire. A surrogate is a woman who carries someone else’s baby in pregnancy. There are different types of surrogates, as well as different reasons why families choose to use them.

Types of Surrogates

There are two types of surrogates. The type you choose depends on whose eggs you prefer: the surrogate’s, the mother’s or another egg donor’s.

A traditional surrogate is a woman who carries a baby from her own egg, in essence making her an egg donor. It is fertilized by the father’s sperm, or by a sperm donor. Typically, the egg is fertilized using a procedure called intrauterine insemination, or IUI. A doctor transfers sperm taken from the biological father or donor into the surrogate’s uterus for fertilization to occur naturally.

A gestational surrogate is a woman who carries a baby through a procedure called in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which doesn’t use her eggs. Instead, the biological mother’s or another egg donor’s eggs are fertilized in a lab. A doctor then transfers an embryo or embryos to the surrogate’s uterus, and she carries the pregnancy.

Reasons to Use a Surrogate

There are a number of reasons why parents would choose a surrogate to carry their baby. Common reasons are infertility issues or other health concerns. Women who have trouble getting pregnant, have had problems carrying a healthy pregnancy to term or have other significant health risks associated with pregnancy might choose a surrogate as an alternative route.

Using a surrogate is also a way for homosexual couples, typically men, to grow a family. They can use sperm from one of them to fertilize the surrogate’s eggs or eggs from another donor, depending on their preference.

Finally, sometimes surrogacy is simply the best option to grow a family for a couple or single parent. It can make a lot of sense if traditional pregnancy and adoption aren’t viable alternatives, for any reason.

Choosing a Surrogate

If you’re considering surrogacy for your family, the first person you’ll want to talk to is a doctor. Either talk to your primary care physician to get a referral, or find a surrogacy center that can walk you through your options.

When it comes to choosing a surrogate, many parents prefer using a friend or family member, as long as a close family member isn’t the egg donor. If that isn't an option, you may also want to consider finding a surrogate through a surrogacy agency, which will act as a go-between.

Surrogacy regulations vary from state to state, so be sure you are aware of the requirements and risks where you live. Talk to an attorney who specializes in reproductive law to understand the process and draw up the paperwork necessary to make it as smooth as possible.

In general, when following best practices, you’ll want to select a surrogate who:

  • Is at least 21 years old.
  • Has undergone a full medical exam and is not infected with STDs like HIV, syphilis or gonorrhea.
  • Has already given birth to at least one healthy baby and understands the medical risk of pregnancy as well as the emotional issues she might have with letting go of a newborn.
  • Has passed psychological screening by a mental health professional.
  • Will sign a contract that details her roles and responsibilities during and after the pregnancy.
  • Has her own doctor who she will see during the pregnancy.
  • Has been tested for immunity to communicable diseases like measles, rubella and chickenpox.

Costs of Surrogacy

Finally, if you’re considering using a surrogate you’ll want to be aware of the costs. A surrogate pregnancy can cost from about $80,000 to $100,000, depending on factors like health insurance, legal fees and compensation to the surrogate herself.

Using a surrogate is a realistic option if you want to grow your family in an alternative way. While there are risks and costs associated with it, for many parents they are worth it.

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