Surrogacy: Movies vs. Real-Life

A family poses for a film.

In recent years, surrogacy has become a more popular way to have children. With stars like Kim Kardashian & Kanye West, Gabrielle Union & Dwyane Wade, Andy Cohen, and Anderson Cooper all having children through surrogacy, the media is talking about surrogacy more frequently. There are constantly articles in People MagazineInsiderUSA Today highlighting the celebrities who use surrogates to have children. As medicine continues to advance, and more men and women are having fertility issues, having a child through surrogacy is becoming a more common practice.

With the increase in awareness of surrogacy as a family-building option, the media has been highlighting surrogacy in movies, and they don’t always get it right. A few recent movie plots have involved surrogacy, from a “meet-cute” rom-com to a drama with intended parents and surrogates confronting difficult choices. As one of the leading surrogacy agencies in the U.S., we understand why the unique relationships and stories surrounding the surrogacy process are ripe for Hollywood’s storytellers.

Unfortunately, the stories told in movies don’t often reflect the realities of modern surrogacy. The uneven treatment of the topic in movies such as Together Together and The Surrogate – and who could forget Tina Fey living with her surrogate Amy Poehler in Baby Mama – can give viewers an inaccurate representation of what real people go through to grow their families via surrogacy.

The Movies Portray Traditional Surrogacy

Movies often portray surrogacy as a relationship between a couple or individual who wants a baby and they recruit a friend to be the surrogate mother, who is genetically related to the child.

This traditional form of surrogacy is rare these days in the real world, with most intended parents choosing to have surrogates who are gestational carriers. Gestational surrogacy involves a surrogate who has no genetic connection to the embryo, which is created using in vitro fertilization and transferred to the surrogate mother.

To its credit, the movie Together Together discusses egg donation, which is a common way for intended parents to grow their families if a woman has fertility issues or a gay couple is pursuing surrogacy. Anonymous egg donation is portrayed in the movie, but Circle Surrogacy promotes known egg donation. That means egg donors and intended parents communicate and form a relationship that is beneficial to all involved.

together together movie poster

In Real Life, Surrogates Have Previously Given Birth

The Surrogate and Milkwater—both released in 2020—revolve around unfulfilled and restless 20-something women who have never been pregnant agreeing to become surrogate mothers. That’s not what happens in real life.

Women who apply to be gestational carriers with agencies such as Circle Surrogacy must meet a list of requirements before being matched with intended parents. One of those requirements is that the woman has been pregnant before, carried the baby successfully to term, and is currently parenting at least one child. 

These requirements make sense. Intended parents working with an agency want to be sure that the surrogate they’re matched with can physically become pregnant. They are making a financial and emotional investment, and a woman who has never carried a baby to term may not know if she’s fertile.

Circle and other agencies conduct a thorough screening process for surrogate applicants, which includes having medical records of past pregnancies examined by a fertility specialist.

the surrogate movie poster

In Real Life, Surrogates’ Mental Health is Considered

Hollywood appears to find irresistible the idea of unstable or malicious surrogates manipulating parents, which is what occurs in movies such as When the Bough Breaks and The Surrogacy Trap. These plot lines are much juicier than what really happens because mental health screening is an essential element of the surrogate application process. When the Bough Breaks doubles up on inaccuracies, not only featuring a surrogate who didn’t undergo a psychological screening but who also had never been pregnant.

The women who apply to be surrogates at Circle begin the process by filling out questionnaires that include personal information, medical history, financial information, and details about their network of support. That’s followed by connecting with a Surrogate Advisor, a review of medical records, and background checks in addition to the psychological screenings.

The reality is that women interested in becoming surrogate mothers are naturally generous and altruistic, and they want to help others experience the joy of having a family. Few surrogates embark on this remarkable and emotional journey with compensation as their only, or even primary, motivation.

Movies centered on surrogacy can be entertaining and thought-provoking, but they shouldn’t be seen as accurately depicting the experience of surrogates, egg donors, or intended parents. 

What to Expect From Surrogacy In Real Life

If the movies are getting surrogacy all wrong, what is the right way to view surrogacy? Here we’ve highlighted important points when considering surrogacy and what really happens during a surrogacy journey.

  1. Happy families are created through surrogacy. Intended parents, surrogates, and the wonderful children brought into this world because of their love are real people. While thousands of families have welcomed children into their families through surrogacy and are thrilled with the results, the media tends to focus more on the occasional unhappy journey or journey that doesn’t go as planned. Articles talking about the dangers of surrogacy are not only misleading but hurtful to the individuals who are proud of their amazing families.
  2. Surrogates are motivated by selflessness and the desire to help others. The amazing women who come to Circle Surrogacy wanting to help another family are astounding. While the media generally focuses on compensation, there are many steps between thinking about becoming a surrogate and matching with intended parents to become a gestational carrier. The women who make this selfless, generous choice are often inspired by personal experiences where they’ve seen people close to them struggle with fertility. Other women have a strong desire to help the LGBT community. We have countless stories of gestational carriers who describe being a surrogate as one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.
  3. Intended Parents and Surrogates use a surrogacy agency instead of going independent. While independent surrogacy arrangements can go well, many surrogates and intended parents choose to work with an agency instead because they want to be sure that they are protecting themselves as well as the rights of the surrogate at every step of the way.  Intended parents often choose to work with surrogacy agencies to protect themselves legally and emotionally from the complex process of matching, embryo transfer, pregnancy, birth, and of course, taking home your child. Using a surrogacy agency is far more common for a surrogacy journey than going independent. Yet press coverage of surrogacy relies heavily on independent surrogacy stories, and they showing the pitfalls of the journey.

While movies about surrogacy can be entertaining, you may want to take the content lightly. The reality of surrogacy is that it’s a monumental emotional and mental journey between two parties – parents and a surrogate – and that it’s private and special.