What Is a Surrogate Mother?

what is surrogacy block letters

Surrogacy offers the gift of parenthood to those who aren’t able to have a child on their own. And while it is a wonderful life-changing process, it can also be a complex one. If you’re not familiar with surrogacy, you may need to start with the basics: What is surrogacy? What is a surrogate mother? What types of surrogacy are there? And just how do you go about finding a surrogate mother?

What is a surrogate mother?

A surrogate mother is a woman who carries a baby for someone else. Surrogate mother, gestational surrogate, and gestational carrier are common terms for a surrogate, and you’ll see them all used interchangeably in your reading. In gestational surrogacy, the term “gestational surrogate” or “gestational carrier” may be preferred over surrogate mother, as the surrogate is not the mother of the baby.

What is an intended parent?

An intended parent—often abbreviated IP—is someone who requires third-party reproduction (egg donation and/or surrogate) to start or expand their family. Intended parents can be single individuals or couples (both married and not). Intended parents can be from anywhere in the world and work with a US surrogacy agency such as Circle Surrogacy.

What is surrogacy?

Surrogacy is a method of assisted reproduction when intended parents work with a surrogate who carries and cares for their baby(ies) until birth. There are two different types of surrogacy: gestational surrogacy and traditional surrogacy. Understanding what surrogacy is will help you see if it is a viable family-building option for you.

What is the difference between gestational surrogacy and traditional surrogacy?

There are two types of surrogacy: traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy.

Traditional Surrogacy

In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate mother uses her own egg in the process and has a genetic relation to the child. In many cases, the traditional surrogacy will be completed via intrauterine insemination with the intended father’s (or a sperm donor’s) sperm. Traditional surrogacy can require fewer IVF procedures in order to achieve a successful pregnancy.

Gestational Surrogacy

In gestational surrogacy, the gestational surrogate does not use her own eggs to achieve a pregnancy, so she does not have a genetic connection to the child(ren). Instead, the IVF clinic will use the intended mother’s eggs (or donor eggs) and fertilize them via in vitro fertilization (IVF) with the intended father’s sperm (or donor sperm). When the embryos reach a specific maturity, 1 to 2 embryos are transferred into the uterus of the gestational carrier.

In this type of surrogacy, IVF procedures are required to retrieve eggs (either from the intended mother or an egg donor), fertilize the eggs, and prepare the gestational surrogate’s body to receive the embryo for a successful pregnancy.

The more common type of surrogacy today is gestational surrogacy. It reduces any emotional (and biological) connection between the gestational surrogate and the baby and helps to ensure intended parents are able to establish parental rights for the child. Most surrogacy agencies—including Circle Surrogacy—only do gestational surrogacy.

traditional surrogacy vs gestational surrogacy

What is the difference between commercial surrogacy and altruistic surrogacy?

Commercial surrogacy is when a woman is a surrogate mother and is paid, meaning she is compensated for being a surrogate beyond just her medical expenses. In this type of surrogacy, the surrogate can be a woman the intended parents get to know just for the purpose of their surrogacy journey; the surrogate can also be a family member or friend who will be compensated for helping the intended parents.

Altruistic surrogacy is when a woman is a surrogate and does not receive any monetary compensation. In this type of surrogacy agreement, the woman is usually a family member or friend of the intended parents. 

With both commercial surrogacy and altruistic surrogacy, it is recommended that intended parents and the surrogate enlist surrogacy professionals and knowledgeable lawyers for as smooth and safe a process as possible.

Who can use a surrogate mother?

Gestational surrogates help all types of intended parents who cannot have a child on their own. With so many different types of families, using a surrogate mother is a wonderful way to help all families to grow.

A surrogate mother helps a variety of intended parents, including:

  • Heterosexual couples who have struggled with infertility
  • LGBTQIA+ communities (including same-sex intended parents) who want to have a genetic link to their baby
  • Intended mothers who are unable to carry a child
  • Intended parents who have a genetic issue or health condition they don’t want to pass onto the child

Many surrogacy agencies will require that you have a medical need for a surrogate in order to qualify for their programs.

What is the process for becoming a surrogate mother?

Women who are interested in becoming surrogate mothers with a surrogacy agency start out by researching the different types of surrogacy agencies and determining which surrogacy agency is best for her. Once she has identified the agencies she likes, she can start the surrogate mother process.

The Surrogate Mother Process

Step 1: Application Process. Fill out an application with selected agency(ies). The purpose of the application is to ask questions to help determine if the woman meets the surrogate mother requirements and would be a good surrogate candidate. Questions on the application could include: general information, demographic information, medical and employment history, and more. 

surrogacy screening process

Step 2: Surrogacy Consultation. If her surrogate application is accepted, the applicant will next speak with a social worker so they can continue to get to know her, as well as ask additional questions. During this stage, she’ll speak with a social worker in a surrogacy consultation, which will help the agency better understand her desire to be a surrogate. Her medical records will be reviewed and a background check performed. If all goes well in this stage she will be accepted into the program.

Step 3: Matching With Intended Parents. Surrogate mothers and intended parents will be presented with each other’s profiles to review. If both parties feel it could be the right match, a video call is set up so they can get to know each other.

Step 4: Medical Screening and Legal Contracts. Once matched, it’s time to make it official. The surrogate will attend a medical screening at the IP’s IVF clinic (or a compatible clinic) and both parties will begin working with legal counsel to negotiate the Carrier Agreement (intended parents and surrogates have independent counsel). When the surrogate is approved medically and all contracts are signed, the journey can begin!

Step 5: Medications and embryo transfer. The gestational surrogate will be given a cycle schedule by the clinic and will begin surrogacy medications. When her body has responded to the medications and is ready, she’ll go for the embryo transfer. 

Step 6: Pregnancy! Fingers crossed, the transfer was successful and the surrogate is pregnant! She will be monitored locally until about 10 to 12 weeks when she transitions to an OB of her choice (many times the OB she used for her own children).

Step 7: Delivery. Delivery day is the big day both the surrogate and intended parents have been waiting for. Careful planning with the surrogacy agency will hopefully enable the intended parents to be there at the birth, but babies are unpredictable and can sometimes arrive a little early! In most cases, intended parents are present at the birth, welcoming their little one into the world!

Where can I find a surrogate mother?

For intended parents looking to do surrogacy, they have three options for finding a surrogate mother:

  • A family member or friend offers to be your surrogate
  • A surrogacy agency matches you with a qualified surrogate mother
  • Surrogacy forums and social match groups

Intended parents who work with a surrogacy agency to find a surrogate mother will be matched based on certain criteria: legal fit, personality fit, and views on termination. The biggest piece is the personality fit. Intended parents fill out Parent Profiles, answering questions and sharing anecdotes and photos of themselves and their family. This, paired with conversations with their Program Coordinator, helps the agency find the right surrogate mother match. Circle Surrogacy has a high success rate on the first match presented for surrogates and intended parents.

Intended parents who find a surrogate mother on their own, are still encouraged to use professional surrogacy resources for the management of their journey. Some agencies, such as Circle Surrogacy, have surrogacy programs for intended parents who have found their own gestational surrogate. In these cases, the agency provides the necessary professional guidance, legal and accounting work, medical billing, and social work support.

Who can be a surrogate mother?

In order for a woman to be a surrogate mother, she must meet all surrogate mother qualifications, be approved medically and psychologically, and have a desire to help others.

Among the gestational carrier requirements, the surrogate must:

  • Be between 21-41 years of age
  • Have delivered a child of her own, and is currently parenting at least one child
  • Have had completed successful pregnancy(ies) and birth(s) without complications
  • Have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of no higher than 33, in most circumstances. Calculate My BMI
  • Reside in the United States in a surrogate-friendly state (we are very sorry but we cannot accept gestational carriers who reside in Nebraska, Louisiana or Michigan, or from outside of the US)
  • Be financially stable
  • Not use illegal drugs, smoke cigarettes, or abuse alcohol
  • Have a strong support system

The above criteria are just some of the surrogate requirements a woman must meet in order to be considered as a gestational surrogate. Circle Surrogacy follows requirements put forth by fertility clinics and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

There isn’t just one type of woman who applies to become a surrogate, but they all have one thing in common: helping others. Gestational carriers are women who enjoy being pregnant, but who have completed their own families. Some women come to surrogacy because they know a close family member or friend who struggled with infertility. Others want to be able to give the gift of parenthood to others who can’t grow their families on their own. Surrogate mothers have big hearts and giving spirits and make dreams come true every day.

Understanding the basics of surrogacy, alongside speaking with your fertility doctor if you have one, will help you determine if surrogacy is the right path for you to build your family. At Circle Surrogacy, we have helped to bring over 2,300 babies into the world, growing over 1,500 families all over the world. Also, 40% of Circle’s staff are experienced surrogates, egg donors, or parents through surrogacy, IVF, or adoption. They are always available to speak with you about their experiences, surrogacy options, and programs and to just answer questions. Contact Circle; we’re happy to help!