Surrogacy: A History

There is nothing new about infertility. People have been suffering because they are unable to grow their family naturally as long as humans have walked the earth. And as long as humans have suffered from infertility, they’ve also found ways around it. Reproductive technologies are changing at a fast pace, so it may seem that gestational surrogacy is new, or taboo, but in reality, it’s a solution that we’ve been implementing for a very long time. The only difference is now your surrogate does not have to be related to either party.

Many think of surrogacy as a way to circumnavigate a blockade that was ordained for the couple and disagree with it because of that factor. Or, they think that same-sex couples should not be able to reproduce. In reality, surrogacy is mentioned in the first chapter of the Bible! Sarah and Abraham have children through a traditional surrogacy with her handmaid, and those that oppose same-sex couples should probably re-examine their bigoted thinking.

Throughout history, many couples, including prolific families, have been unable to conceive. It was a topic at the front of everyone’s mind with King Henry XIII and is still talked about today! Yet, most still had large families and continued their bloodlines. It is much more likely that these families used a traditional surrogate than their conception issues were magically fixed. Traditional surrogacy was not discussed often in euro-centric countries due to prejudice about infertility, infidelity, and illegitimate children. Thus, many children who were conceived by traditional surrogacy did not have their journey discussed and most people don’t even know.

Traditional surrogacy comes with some hang-ups and emotions that can get messy for the intended parents and the surrogate, so scientists have been looking for alternate options from the start. That is how we came to Gestational Surrogacy!

The advances in alternate family planning have only been developed since the 80s, which means that it’s still an incredibly new science that is rapidly evolving. As with most sciences, it went through a period in which the methods were questionable at best. For this reason, though the first instance of human artificial insemination was in 1884, we prefer to reference 1975 as the first ethically completed embryo transfer.

With advances in technology must come legal change to support it, and so in 1976, Noel Keane brokered the first legal traditional surrogacy contract. In this case, the surrogate was not compensated. After this contract, Keane went on to open the Infertility Center and is believed to have helped 500 or more babies come into the world. As for the surrogate, she dealt with many of the messier emotions that come with a traditional surrogacy and wrote a memoir to document her journey.

At this point, no babies had been born from IVF. It was still a very experimental technology that we were trying to understand better. There were many successful transfers, but no children had resulted yet. On July 25, 1978, the very first baby born because of In-Vitro Fertilization was born. This was a medical miracle and spelled hope for everyone struggling with infertility and those that were helping them grow their families.

Following just two years after, the first legal contract for a surrogate to be compensated for their help was struck. This surrogate was paid $11,500 for her efforts which is the equivalent of $41,305 today. Since then, rates for surrogacy have gotten considerably more competitive. For example, Simple Surrogacy’s first-time surrogate base rate is now $50,000!

More technological advances abounded in the next few years. In 1982 the first baby born with a donated egg was born! At the time it was not a motivator, but this opened the door for same-sex and trans couples in the future to procreate, regardless of gender.

Then, one of the biggest advances in surrogacy technology happened in 1985. The first baby born via Gestational Surrogacy was born. This child was genetically unrelated to the surrogate mother, and she experienced less conflicting feelings because of it. This was a major moment for alternate family planning as finally, your children could biologically be offspring to you and your spouse.

Just a year later, one of the first court cases regarding parental rights to a surrogate child began. The “Baby M. Case”, as it’s known, regarded Baby M, who was conceived through traditional surrogacy. Towards the end of the pregnancy and after the birth, the surrogate changed her mind about giving the child to the intended parents. She took them to court to attempt to make a change in the parental rights of the child, and the court ruled in the intended parent’s favor. This landmark case set a precedent in surrogacy rights for intended parents, leading to successes for intended parents in the future.

In 1990, a similar court case began, this time about a gestational surrogacy. The court again ruled in favor of the intended parents. At that point, the ball had started rolling on surrogacy laws across the United States. Because of these two instrumental cases, the US has one of the most understanding parental rights processes for intended parents in the world.

In the time since then, we’ve made amazing steps. For example, the Special Program of Assisted Reproduction helped make sure that men who are attempting to have a child through surrogacy but are also HIV positive can have a baby without passing on the disease. In addition, the oldest ever surrogate has completed her journey in 2011, giving birth to her own grandchild.

Today, surrogacy is still continuously changing and growing. Each state has its own laws regarding surrogacy, compensation, and other factors in the surrogacy process. In the US, the only states with strict laws prohibiting surrogacy are Louisiana, Michigan, and Nebraska. While many countries still object to surrogacy, the US has formed its policy compassionately. In addition, we understand reproductive technology so much better than in the nineties. Now when two embryos are implanted it’s not to hope one sticks, it’s to create twins! This constantly evolving process enables those who are suffering from infertility to grow their families and should be widely accepted. 

If you’re interested in learning more about surrogacy, please reach out to us here. If you’d like to become a surrogate, please apply here.

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