Anyone considering surrogacy — whether as a prospective surrogate like yourself or as an intended parent — should do substantial research to understand all of the intricacies of the process before committing to it. Oftentimes, to better understand how surrogacy works today, it’s important to first understand the history of surrogacy.
Surrogacy is one of the newest methods of assisted reproductive technology, so the history of surrogacy is not as old as other family-building processes like adoption. However, in the short time that surrogacy has existed in its modern form, a lot of technological and social advances have been made to change the way that surrogacy works in the U.S. and in countries around the world. In turn, the views about the surrogacy process have also changed over time.
To help you better prepare for the possibility of becoming a surrogate, you’ll find the history of surrogacy briefly laid out in this article. As always, a surrogacy professional can give you the most recent information on the history of surrogacy in your local area and how it may affect your personal journey.
The Beginning of the Surrogacy Age: Traditional Surrogacy
So, how long has surrogacy been around? You may be surprised to know that the traditional form of surrogacy has been around for thousands of years. It can even be traced back to Biblical times.
One of the first mentions of surrogacy in history is the story of Sarah and Abraham in the “Book of Genesis.” When the couple was unable to conceive on their own, Sarah’s servant Hagar served as a traditional surrogate for the two — conceiving and bringing a child into the world so Sarah and Abraham could continue their family line. This kind of traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate is genetically related to the child and in which traditional methods of conception were required, was the only way that surrogacy could be completed for most of history.
However, traditional surrogacies were also often taboo because of the stigmas associated with “illegitimate” children and infertility. It wasn’t until 1884 that the first artificial insemination of a woman reportedly occurred, which would pave the way for future traditional surrogacies to be completed in this manner. Still, it would take almost another century before in vitro fertilization was possible, with the first embryo transfer taking place in 1975 and the first baby conceived via IVF born in 1978.
However, while IVF-assisted gestational surrogacies would come later in the history of surrogacy, women who were traditional surrogates started to advocate for their rights around the same time as IVF became mainstream. The first legal surrogacy agreement was drafted in 1976 by lawyer Noel Keane, who would go on to establish the Infertility Center and arrange hundreds of surrogate pregnancies each year. The surrogate was not compensated in this first surrogacy agreement.
In 1980, the first surrogate to be compensated for her services received $10,000. However, she was unprepared for the emotions of the surrogacy process and eventually wrote a book about her experience being a traditional surrogate, called “Birth Mother.”
Situations like this continued to occur, highlighting the complications of traditional surrogacies. But it wasn’t until 1986 that a single surrogacy case would end up changing the history of surrogacy entirely.
How the “Baby M. Case” Changed History
In 1984, a couple named Bill and Betsy Stern decided to pursue a traditional surrogacy to become parents. Their surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, donated her eggs and became pregnant through artificial insemination. The agreed-upon compensation was $10,000.
However, when Whitehead gave birth and was required to terminate her inherent parental rights, she refused and took custody of the child, whom she named Melissa (“Baby M”). In response, the Sterns sued for custody, starting a drawn-out custody battle that would change the history of surrogacy forever.
Eventually, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the surrogacy contract between the Sterns and Whitehead was illegal, and that Whitehead could keep her parental rights. However, Bill Stern, as the baby’s genetic father, was granted custody of the baby, and Whitehead was granted visitation rights. In response to this case, New Jersey lawmakers would end up passing some of the strictest surrogacy laws in the U.S.
The “Baby M.” case attracted a great deal of attention, bringing the potential complications and ethical considerations of traditional surrogacy to the forefront of the discussion about surrogacy. Therefore, this case became the turning point in the history of surrogacy — and gestational surrogacy became the preferred surrogacy method in the U.S.
Surrogacy Today: Gestational Surrogacy
While the first gestational surrogacy took place before the “Baby M.” case, it was this controversial case that inspired the move toward surrogacies where the surrogate was not related to the baby she carries. In fact, as a response to the case, many states started to outlaw traditional surrogacy or set certain restrictions that made it difficult to complete.
As gestational surrogacy became more popular, surrogacy professionals started to better recognize potential complications and took steps to address them. Today, there are legal processes that allow intended parents to establish their parental rights as early as possible, as well as detailed legal contracts that protect surrogates from all potential risks and liabilities. Because gestational surrogacy can be so complicated, various kinds of surrogacy professionals have emerged to handle every step of the process safely and efficiently.
Since this new age in the history of surrogacy, thousands of children have been born via safe gestational surrogacies. One study estimates that almost 5,000 children were born through surrogacy from 2004 to 2008. While there are no current reports as to how many children have been born since then, it’s reasonable to assume the numbers have risen significantly in the U.S.
When you choose to become a surrogate today, you will likely complete this modern process of gestational surrogacy, assisted by experienced professionals every step of the way. They can always tell you more about the history of surrogacy in their organization to help you make the best decision for you.
To learn more about the modern gestational surrogacy process, contact a surrogacy professional today.