The History of Surrogacy

How the Perception of Surrogacy Has Changed 

The history of surrogacy goes back thousands of years. Recently, however, the stigma surrounding surrogacy has changed. 

Surrogacy is a life-changing avenue for intended parents wanting to start a family and gestational carriers who selflessly sacrifice their own comfort to give hopeful parents the greatest gift imaginable.

Are you ready to get more information on the history of surrogacy and how to start your surrogacy journey today? Complete our online contact form and immediately get connected to a professional ready to answer all of your important questions. 

Until then, let’s look at how long surrogacy has been around and how the history of surrogacy in the United States is adding a new chapter.  

How Long Has Surrogacy Been Around? 

The history of surrogacy dates back to ancient times. Back then, every surrogacy was a traditional surrogacy, where a woman uses her own egg to carry a baby for intended parents that cannot have a baby either for physical or biological limitations. In this case, the surrogate’s genetic link to the baby makes her the biological mother. 

The first documented case of traditional surrogacy is referenced in “The Book of Genesis.” 

A married couple, Abraham and Sarah, struggled with infertility. Sarah gave her husband her servant, Hagar, to be the mother of Abraham’s child. Despite Hagar’s genetic relationship with the baby, he was seen as Abraham and Sarah’s child. 

So, surrogacy has been around for thousands of years, but has traditional surrogacy changed? 

 A New Era in Surrogacy History [From Traditional to Gestational]

More recently, traditional surrogacy has become relatively obsolete due to cases such as “Baby M,” where the surrogate (who is the baby’s biological mother) decides to maintain her parental rights.

The risks and lack of protections for intended parents in traditional surrogacy led the vast majority of surrogacy professionals, surrogates and intended parents to prefer gestational surrogacy, which is now the norm. 

In gestational surrogacy, the embryo is created by a fertility clinic using the intended parents’ and/or donors’ gametes, then transferred to the surrogate’s uterus by the clinic.

This process eliminates the surrogate’s genetic relationship to the baby, making it a much safer process for everyone involved.

Surrogacy has carried a stigma, as it is still a relatively new and unfamiliar process for many people.

Intended parents often feel guilty or inferior because of the struggle to have children naturally or through other fertility treatments, and surrogates often face rude and insensitive questions and comments based on common misconceptions about the process.

Many of the taboos surrounding surrogacy and the history of surrogacy is related to the misconception that today’s surrogates conceive naturally with the intended parent. 

While this may have been the case in some of the earliest traditional surrogacies, it is not at all how the process works today.

Thanks to a number of groundbreaking medical advancements, today’s surrogacy looks very different than it did during Sarah and Abraham’s time — though certain ethical debates and taboos remain.

Understanding the Controversial History of Surrogacy and IVF

In 1976, Lawyer Noel Keane was the first to create a legal surrogacy agreement and would go on to establish an infertility clinic and arrange hundreds of surrogacies each year.

Then, in 1978, the first baby was born through IVF transfer, further creating a new path for surrogacy and changing the history of surrogacy in the United States. 

In 1980, Elizabeth Kane (a pseudonym) became the first surrogate mother to receive compensation for traditional surrogacy.  

1984-1986 was perhaps the most important shift in modern surrogacy with the case of “Baby M.”  Bill and Betsy Stern hired surrogate Mary Beth Whitehead, agreeing to pay her $10,000.

This surrogacy arrangement was to be done by artificial insemination, meaning Whitehead was the biological mother of the child. When it came time to sign over parental rights, Whitehead refused and a difficult legal battle ensued.

While the Stern’s were eventually awarded custody of the child, the case of “Baby M” led lawyers and lawmakers to begin creating contracts for intended parents and surrogates in an effort to avoid similar situations.

The case of “Baby M” would also lead to a shift away from artificial insemination to avoid creating a genetic link between a surrogate mother and the baby.

Now, fast forward to 2011. Intended parents from the Western world began taking part in what authors called “surrogacy-led migration” after fertility rates declined dramatically.

U.S. and European intended parents wanted to find surrogate mothers from poorer Asian countries to avoid higher surrogacy costs in their own countries.

More recently, popular surrogacy destinations like India have closed their borders to western visitors searching for surrogates to “rent out” a womb at a lower cost. The ethical and legal difficulties of such arrangements quickly made domestic surrogacy a much safer option.

Because of the growth in popularity of surrogacy as an option for intended parents, there is no longer a reason to look at foreign destinations as the only places to find a surrogate.

So, as you can see, surrogacy has seen many significant changes over the last several decades.

Scientific advancements, the case of “Baby M,” the creation of surrogacy contract agreements and the shift to gestational surrogacy have opened the door for intended parents to find safer surrogacy options.  

Are you ready to speak to a surrogacy specialist right now? You take the necessary steps to start your surrogacy journey today by filling out our online form to get connected and get answers to your important surrogacy questions.  

Next, we’ll dig deeper into the specific case of “Baby M” and give a more detailed background of gestational surrogacy and what it means for intended parents and surrogates.

The History of Surrogacy in the United States: “Baby M.” 

In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate’s genetic link to the baby creates many legal and emotional challenges. In the most notorious case of this, Bill and Betsy Stern decided to pursue a traditional surrogacy, choosing Mary Beth Whitehead as their surrogate in 1984. 

Her eggs were used in artificial insemination, which made her the biological mother. She was paid $10,000 for carrying and delivering a baby for the Sterns.  

When it came time for Whitehead to terminate her parental rights, she refused and took custody of the child. Thus, in 1986, a long custody battle was underway between the Sterns and Whitehead. 

The New Jersey Supreme Court eventually ruled that the surrogacy contract was illegal but awarded custody to Bill Stern and allowed Whitehead visitation rights.

However, the case of “Baby M” prompted many states to enact restrictive laws for surrogacy, some of which are still in place today

The case of “Baby M” is an unfortunate event in the history of surrogacy in the United States. However, it was critical in bringing worldwide attention to traditional surrogacy and the risk it presents. 

“Baby M” and the resulting attention led to a significant change in surrogacy — gestational surrogacy. 

The History of Surrogacy: Gestational Surrogacy 

During the 1980s, the history of surrogacy in the United States started changing when gestational surrogacy became an option. 

Gestational surrogacy is where an intended parent uses their own egg and/or sperm, combined with their partner’s or a third-party donor’s egg and/or sperm, to create an embryo, which is then transferred to the surrogate through IVF.  

The first successful gestational surrogacy took place in 1985, but it was not until “Baby M” and the fallout highlighted the potential risks of traditional surrogacy that gestational surrogacy became the norm. As a result of “Baby M,” many states restricted traditional surrogacy. 

Because the surrogate is not the baby’s biological mother in gestational surrogacy, legislators and lawyers began creating ways for intended parents to protect their parental rights through contracts.  

Surrogacy also saw the creation of agencies designed to help facilitate the process and manage surrogacy’s financial, legal and emotional challenges. 

Speaking of surrogacy agencies, are you ready to work with a trusted, ethical and professional surrogacy agency with experience in matching intended parents with qualified gestational surrogates? Take this link to complete our contact form and connect with a surrogacy specialist ready to help you get started. 

Why the Right Surrogacy Agency is Important 

There are many reasons why intended parents choose surrogacy: 

  • Infertility  
  • A single parent wanting a child 
  • Same-sex couples ready to start a family 

Ultimately, the individuals who pursue surrogacy want the same thing as many adults do in life; to raise a child. 

Working with the right agency means intended parents get matched with heroic surrogates. Why do these women decide to carry and deliver a baby for someone else? 

  • They love being pregnant and the amazing experience pregnancy gives. 
  • They have completed their own family and want to do something special for an intended parent. 
  • They get personal satisfaction and a sense of purpose from the process. 
  • They see it as a chance to set an example of selflessness and generosity to friends and family. 
  • They receive financial compensation.  

Whatever your reasons for pursuing surrogacy, working with the right agency means you are matched with qualified surrogates or intended parents who have undergone an extensive screening process to ensure they are pursuing surrogacy for the right reasons.  

Did you know you can get your surrogacy questions answered today? By completing this online form, a surrogacy specialist can answer questions about the history of surrogacy, gestational surrogacy and the screening process for both intended parents and prospective surrogates. 

You can also get more information on the benefits of surrogacy by checking out this guide

Intended parents deserve to start a family and raise a child. Courageous surrogates are eager to join the surrogacy journey and share a lifelong bond. Surrogacy specialists are here to help connect you and provide the services and resources you need. 

Here are some additional links to provide important surrogacy information: