A surrogate mother is a woman who carries a fetus for someone else, usually a couple struggling with fertility issues. After the child is born, the surrogate surrenders it to the people who have hired her. There are various forms of surrogacy, some of which have been used historically, while other are more modern.
One form of surrogacy, traditional surrogacy, involves using artificial insemination to impregnate the surrogate mother. This technique is often used when a woman is physically unable to bear children, but she still wants to have children with her partner. In this case, the partner donates sperm, or sperm is secured from a third party if he is infertile as well, and the surrogate contributes half of the required genetic material. This type of surrogacy has been around for centuries, although it was not widely discussed until the twentieth century, since some women felt ashamed because they could not bear children.
Modern surrogate arrangements usually involve gestational surrogacy. In gestational surrogacy, the couple commissioning the surrogate mother donate both eggs and sperm. The egg is fertilized in a test tube, and then implanted into the surrogate. In this case, she acts almost like an incubator, carrying the child to term for a woman who is unable to do so.
There are some legal and ethical issues bound up in surrogate motherhood, since it is a sensitive issue. Until the 1960s, surrogacy was usually carried out by a friend or relative, as a favor to someone in need. In the 1960s, European couples began contracting with third parties, setting up surrogacy agreements and sometimes compensating the surrogate for her trouble. In 1976, the first formal surrogacy arrangement was set up in the United States, and within a few decades, surrogacy had become socially acceptable.
In some areas, payments to a surrogate mother are banned. This decision was made when sociologists began to observe that the bulk of surrogates were working class women, and the couples requesting surrogacy were in the upper classes. Some concern was raised that women were essentially selling their bodies, and this thought made some people uncomfortable. However, the couple requesting surrogacy is still expected to bear the medical expenses of the surrogate, and gifts are usually considered acceptable even if payment is not.
Several legal cases have challenged the surrogacy system, primarily when surrogate mothers refuse to surrender infants after they are born. In most instances, the surrogate loses the court battle, even if she is the child's natural mother. Most contracts spell out the terms of the arrangement, in the hopes of avoiding such a situation.
A surrogate contract also usually spells out expectations for the surrogate's behavior during the pregnancy. For example, surrogates are expected to attend pre-natal appointments, and they are usually asked to refrain from smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. In addition, a surrogate mother should eat well, take prenatal vitamins, and follow other pregnancy precautions to ensure that the child is healthy when it is born.
The relationship between a surrogate mother and the couple who commissions her can vary widely. Some couples grow friendly with their surrogates, and they may even on rare occasions invite the surrogate to be a part of the child's life as it grows up. In other instances, couples prefer to retain more distance with their surrogates. For couples considering surrogacy and women thinking about entering a surrogate arrangement, meetings to discuss everyone's expectations before proceeding are an excellent idea.