The process of surrogate pregnancy is complicated. The application process is extensive, getting matched with potential parents can be stressful and carrying a baby to term only to turn it over to the new parents can be emotional. Specific laws vary from state to state, but the general process is the same regardless of your location. Understanding what is involved with surrogate pregnancy will allow you to make an informed decision regarding surrogate pregnancy in your life.
Surrogate pregnancy took center stage in the U.S. in 1987 when New Jersey-based surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead gave birth to “Baby M” for a local couple and then changed her mind about giving the baby up. The case ultimately landed in the Supreme Court and the judge ruled in favor of the biological father and his wife, but on later review, gave Whitehead visitation rights. From that case, surrogacy contract laws were born to protect the surrogate mother, the potential parents and ultimately the baby’s rights.
Surrogate pregnancy involves an extensive application in which medical history, criminal background checks and family histories are taken. In addition, the surrogate mother typically undergoes a psychiatric evaluation to determine her mental ability to go through the process and give the baby up. If approved, the surrogate mother is introduced to potential couples or single parents seeking to have a child through surrogacy. They make a mutual decision about the process: whether it will be a traditional surrogacy, in which the surrogate’s egg and the potential father’s sperm are used, or a functional surrogacy, in which the potential mother’s egg and father’s sperm are combined and then placed in the surrogate’s womb for incubation and birth.
Medical tests are typically required of the surrogate mother in preparation for becoming a surrogate. A vaginal ultrasound is performed to check for polyps and scar tissue. A probe inserted through the vagina allows this examination. Pap smears and a hysteroscopy are performed. A hysteroscopy places a small camera into the uterus to examine the walls and determine if it is healthy enough to carry a fetus to term. Once the surrogate is cleared and chosen to carry a baby, she will be expected to submit to procedures that can include implanting an egg fertilized by the potential parents into her womb. If her own egg is going to be used with the sperm of the intended father, she will undergo IVF cycle treatment. This includes a hormone regime given by injection, pill or patches. Sometimes surrogates are required to take birth control pills to synchronize periods with the intended mother’s periods, to transfer the intended mother’s eggs at the optimum time. A catheter is then used to place the fertilized eggs into the surrogate’s uterus with the hope of implantation.
A contract is typically signed by all parties to identify each party’s role and responsibilities throughout the process. An attorney should examine the contract to be sure it is fair to everyone involved. The contract outlines general requirements such as who pays the medical expenses, what living expenses will be provided to the surrogate, where the baby will be born, whether or not the surrogate will have visitation rights during the child’s life and what happens if the parties change their minds about the process.
The surrogate mother typically has a contractual obligation to attend all physician appointments and to keep the intended parents informed about the outcome. Any changes, tests or problems that arise are also reported to the intended parents. In some cases, the intended parents go to the doctor appointments with the surrogate to be more involved in the process. Others want only telephone calls until the day of birth. The choices are individual.
When labor begins, the surrogate will report to the agreed-upon birth facility and go through labor and delivery. Intended parents sometimes choose to be present during the delivery. Following the baby’s birth, the intended parents step in to bond with the child and take over its care. The medical needs of the surrogate mother are also addressed. In many cases, she says goodbye to the baby at the hospital and the intended parents take the baby home. If the father’s sperm and surrogate’s egg are used, the intended mother usually goes through adoption to become the legal mother to the child. In some cases, the adoption is open and the surrogate mother will be included in the child’s life, though the child will live with the adoptive parents. Some surrogate mothers elect to join a support group to help them deal with the emotions and results of being a surrogate for others.