What is gestational surrogacy?

(May 7, 2011)    If you can't conceive naturally, there's an answer. You and your partner can create a child who is your genetic offspring, but who doesn't grow in your womb. This seeming miracle is accomplished by having another woman—a surrogate mother—carry your baby.

The dictionary says a surrogate mother is "a woman who becomes pregnant usually by artificial insemination or surgical implantation of a fertilized egg for the purpose of carrying the fetus to term for another woman".

A surrogate mother can become pregnant using her own egg, or the egg of another woman, and that makes for two kinds of surrogacy.

Traditional surrogacy

A traditional surrogate mother has a genetic link to the child—she is the genetic (or biological) mother. She provides her egg, and thus half the genes. The other half comes from the sperm of the intended father (or a donor), through artificial insemination. After birth she gives the child to the intended parents.

According to Sally Rhoads of Surrogacy in Canada Online, only a few Canadian clinics help with traditional surrogacy; some are in southern Ontario. "Most intended parents and surrogate mothers do traditional surrogacy on their own via home insemination."

Traditional surrogacy has a long history, starting at least in 1700 BC in Babylon. Under the Code of Hammurabi, to prevent divorce when a marriage produced no son, a wife was allowed to supply a slave-girl to bear a son in her place.

Gestational surrogacy

In contrast, gestational surrogacy is thoroughly modern, because it depends on in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology, first used in 1978. The egg comes from the intended mother (or a donor). IVF is used to fertilize the egg with the sperm of the intended father (or a donor). A doctor implants the resulting embryo in the surrogate mother's uterus. After delivery she gives the baby to the intended parents, according to the surrogacy contract.

In a gestational surrogacy the surrogate mother has no genetic tie to the child. In addition, the child may or may not be genetically related to the intended parents (the legal mother and legal father).

The child may be related in four ways, depending on whether egg or sperm, or both, are donated:
Related to legal mother (mother's egg, donor sperm). Choose this option if the father lacks viable sperm and the mother cannot carry a pregnancy herself. Also used by single women and lesbian couples (who would constitute two legal mothers).
Related to legal father (father's sperm, donor egg). This is the choice if the mother cannot produce viable eggs. It's also an option for gay men wishing to parent (a couple would constitute two legal fathers).
Related to both (mother's egg, father's sperm). The intended mother is unable to carry a pregnancy to term. The embryo created from her egg and the intended father's sperm is carried by the surrogate mother.
Unrelated (donor egg, donor sperm). If the intended parents can't produce an embryo from their own egg and sperm, the surrogate mother can carry an embryo created by IVF from a donated egg and donated sperm. This embryo may already exist in frozen form and be donated by a woman who produced extra embryos during a cycle of IVF treatment.

Using a donated embryo creates a child unrelated to the legal parents. This has some parallels with adoption, in that adoptive parents are the legal parents of a child they are not genetically related to. However it is not an "embryo adoption", in which the genetic parents transfer the embryo directly to the adoptive mother, without using a surrogate. In an embryo adoption the woman who gives birth is the legal mother. In a surrogacy the surrogate mother renounces her parental rights.

Alternate terms

You may encounter different words to describe surrogacy arrangements. Here are some common terms and alternate versions.
Altruistic surrogacy: also "non-commercial surrogacy". In a commercial surrogacy, the surrogate mother is paid a fee for carrying the child. In an altruistic surrogacy the surrogate mother gets no fee, only out-of-pocket expenses.
Genetic link: also "biological link". Linked by a transfer of genes, passing on hereditary characteristics.
Gestational surrogacy: also "full surrogacy", "host surrogacy".
Gestational surrogate: also "gestational carrier".
Intended parents: also "commissioning couple", "legal parents", "social parents". They are the couple who wish to have a child.
Surrogate mother: may be called a "genetic surrogate mother" if it is a traditional surrogacy.
Traditional surrogacy: also "straight surrogacy".
Traditional surrogate: also "traditional carrier".


What is gestational surrogacy?
Surrogacy: is it legal in Canada?
Surrogacy: what the Canadian law says
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