It’s quite normal for many couples to decide it’s time to move onto a new phase of life and start a family. In average cases, this involves the woman allowing herself to become pregnant and bringing a newborn baby into the world nine months later. Unfortunately, this outcome, while common, isn’t available to everyone. Some women have medical circumstances that leave them unable to conceive naturally. For these medical challenges, adoption is one way to start a family, but surrogacy is another.
Surrogacy is when another woman who has been medically assessed as safe agrees to become pregnant on behalf of another couple. Once she gives birth to the baby, she unites it with the new, hopeful parents, and a new family life can begin. Surrogacy, however, requires some serious investment in time, finances, and most of all, planning. One of the big questions that hopeful parents will need to address early on is the use of egg donation.
How Does Egg Donation Work?
Because the woman in a hopeful couple is unable to become pregnant, the surrogate mother must take her place. The surrogate mother provides the uterus in which the baby is going to grow for the next nine months. However, the egg that is used for this is not fixed.
In the past, this wasn’t the case. As recently as the 1970s in the 20th century, the only choice hopeful families had for a baby was to use the egg of the surrogate mother. For the last 30 or so years, however, this hasn’t been the case. As long as the medical experts deem it safe and feasible, a different egg besides the surrogate mother can be used. This is a process known as gestational surrogacy. It takes an egg, fertilizes it with sperm in a lab, and then implants that egg in the surrogate mother, at which point healthy pregnancy runs its course.
So now, this means hopeful parents have many more choices, and this is where careful decisions have to be made.
The Surrogate Mother
This is still a decision made by many hopeful families for many different reasons. A same-sex male couple has no egg between either partner to donate for gestational surrogacy, so if the surrogate mother herself is medically fit, and has no hereditary conditions to worry about, there’s no reason not to use her egg. In the case of other couples, the woman may, for medical reasons, have had her fallopian tubes or other reproductive organs treated/removed. If the eggs were not removed and frozen before this, she has no eggs to use for a surrogate pregnancy. So, once again, the surrogate mother herself may be a viable choice for egg donation.
In this case, while the egg is donated, it doesn’t actually “go anywhere.” For surrogacies, where the surrogate mother uses her own egg, artificial insemination is the most common method of fertilization. Before the 20th century, fertilization was less sophisticated, requiring the hopeful father to have sexual intercourse with he surrogate mother, but this is both more emotionally awkward and not as efficient for maximizing success as modern techniques.
The Hopeful Parents
Thanks to gestational surrogacy, which was not perfected until late in the 20th century, now any suitable egg can be used. For hopeful parents, this is an incredibly popular decision. However, it does mean that the financial investment in surrogacy goes up dramatically. This does mean, however, that the hopeful parents get a “True Blue” baby in the sense that it will be the traditional mix of 50% father and 50% mother.
In other words, if a genetic test is done on the baby, it will reveal the expected DNA combination of parentage between the two hopeful parents, just as if the child had been born naturally. With the traditional surrogacy egg donation, the baby will always have a 50% genetic connection to the surrogate mother, making her the biological mother in the genetic sense as well. With gestational surrogacy, while the surrogate mother provided a safe environment, she has no genetic ties to the child.
There may also be circumstances where the hopeful parents may not want to use the egg of the surrogate mother, but can’t use their own. Other donors may be selected in this instance based on different preferences, such as ethnicity.
For example, an Asian couple may want a child that matches their ethnicity. If a surrogate mother is medically fit, but is Caucasian, using her egg will result in a child that is half Asian, half-Caucasian. The couple, not wanting to complicate things, may prefer to find another egg donor that Asians, in order to ensure that the baby born, has matching ethnicity with the parents.
Every couple thinking about surrogacy is going to have to address this question. It’s essential to take the time to look at the consequences and make a decision that will match the hopeful family’s needs.