For many people, the journey of life is built on a series of well-established, predictable steps. Most people expect to go to school, grow up, fall in love, start a career, get married and eventually start a family. But how people achieve these goals will vary from one person to the next. And in the case of starting a family, sometimes it’s not possible for a hopeful family to do it the traditional way of a mother carrying a child to term and giving birth to a baby. In these cases, surrogacy is the next best option. But there are a lot of things to learn when it comes to considering surrogacy, including many new words. We’re going to look at some of the more important terms to help people navigate this complex concept.
This is when a couple finds that it is either medically impossible, or medically advised to not naturally give birth to a child, and so look for a “substitute.” As the word implies, “surrogacy” means that someone else is “deputized” or designated to carry on a role that normally falls on someone else. Surrogacy is when couples look for someone else to act as the carrier of a baby to give birth to that child.
This is the term applied to the specific person involved in surrogacy for pregnancy. A surrogate mother is someone that, after meeting with a hopeful family, agrees to take on the role of “biological mother.” In this case, the surrogate mother receives a fertilized embryo or undertakes artificial insemination, and then, once the embryo begins to develop, carries the baby in her womb for nine months, and delivers the baby when the time of birth arrives. However, at this point, the baby is then united with the intended parents and does not stay with the surrogate mother, whose responsibilities have now ended.
This is a more naturalistic form of surrogate motherhood. In traditional surrogacy, a surrogate mother is very carefully selected for her genetic characteristics. There is an emphasis on ensuring the surrogate mother has “good genes” with a low possibility for genetic disorders.
The reason for this is because the egg that will be used in traditional surrogacy is that of the surrogate mother herself. The sperm will usually be donated by the father, meaning that only the father of the intended family will share inherited genetic characteristics with the child.
This is an increasingly more popular form of surrogate motherhood. Gestational surrogacy is when the sperm of the father and the egg of the mother from an intended family are introduced, and, once the egg is fertilized, it is implanted in a surrogate mother. With gestational surrogacy, as with a normal pregnancy between a married couple, the child that is born will have the genetic characteristics of the two parents. So what the surrogate mother looks like, whether she has genetic traits that might problematic, or other genetic inheritance issues are not at play here.
In Vitro Fertilization
In vitro fertilization or IVF, as it is more commonly referred, is the process of fertilizing the egg of a mother in a laboratory environment. IVF is now popularly “paired” with surrogate motherhood, to ensure that a child shares genetic characteristics from both parents.
With IVF, this requires both the participating mother and father to allow their egg and sperm to be collected and used. Ideally, the samples will be “fresh,” although it is also possible to get older samples. Once sperm and eggs are available, they are introduced to each other in a lab, and carefully monitored to see which eggs become fertilized.
Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis
PGD, as it is more commonly referred to, is an extra, precautionary measure that is sometimes taken during the IVF process. In some instances, one or both parents may have genetic disorders that may potentially be passed down to children. A family with some history of cystic fibrosis, for example, always has a chance to pass that on to a child. PGD, however, can screen for this during the IVF stage, thus ensuring that a developing embryo implanted in a surrogate mother will not express this disorder.
A facility in which male or female genetic material, like sperm or eggs, can be frozen and stored until required. This is often a precaution advised by medical staff if, for example, cancer in the reproductive system of a man or woman means they may no longer be able to create healthy sperm/eggs after medical treatment. So the existing supply is stored until such time as a couple wishes to have a child.
There are a lot of things to learn about surrogacy. In addition to new terminology, there are many services to be considered, as well as the legal implications, depending on which country you are a citizen of. Make sure you inform yourself!