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Surrogate Mother vs. Gestational Carrier: What’s the Big Deal?

Today more than ever, using the proper language is important — and gestational surrogacy is no exception.

Although this family-building process has been around for decades, there’s still a lot of confusion when it comes to exactly what surrogacy involves. Unfortunate, wildly incorrect myths about the process and the people involved continue to permeate our society — and they’re given more and more life everyday with the usage of incorrect and inaccurate terms.

What exactly are we talking about? We’re talking about some of the biggies: gestational carrier vs. surrogate mother, gestational pregnancy vs. surrogate pregnancy and much more.

Here at, our mission is to educate surrogates and intended parents — as well as the greater community — about exactly what surrogacy is like. And we believe that all starts with using proper terminology and language to protect the parties involved in this process.

Not sure what we mean? Keep reading to get the real details that you need to know.

What’s the Difference Between a Surrogate and a Gestational Carrier?

When you first start researching the surrogacy process, you’ll likely come across a lot of conflicting information. Surrogacy is a rapidly advancing field, and the truth is that many websites and professionals don’t update their education information as often as they should.

During the early stages of your research, you may have been surprised to discover that there are many different names for the women who volunteer to carry a child for someone else. You may have heard them called:

So, what’s the deal? Why are there so many different names for the thing?

The fact is, there is a big difference between gestational carrier and surrogate mom, or gestational carrier and traditional surrogate. Before we move any further, you need to understand what those differences allude to.

There are two ways a woman can choose to carry for intended parents. She can engage in:

  1. Gestational surrogacy, in which the intended parents create an embryo on their own and the surrogate simply has the embryo transferred to her uterus
  2. Traditional surrogacy, in which the surrogate has her eggs harvested to create an embryo for the intended parents — thereby, carrying and giving birth to her genetic child

The debate over “gestational carrier” vs. “surrogate mom” — and the charged emotions related to both terms — stems from this key difference in procedure. While gestational surrogacy is far more common than traditional surrogacy, both are still an option for prospective surrogates today.

And that’s why there can be so much confusion — and heated debate — when people speak of the surrogacy industry.

“Gestational Carrier” vs. “Surrogate Mother”: Signs of the Changing Times

For centuries, the only way that women could become surrogates was in the traditional way. Either they completed in vitro fertilization with their eggs or underwent artificial insemination, or (before the modern age of assisted reproduction) would conceive in the old-fashioned way with the intended father.

In these situations, a surrogate was the biological mother of the child she carried. And from this came the term “surrogate mother.” Even though a surrogate did not raise the child she carried, her biological connection held enough weight that “surrogate mother” became the norm in talking about the surrogacy process.

But, with the introduction of gestational surrogacy, the term became outdated. A surrogate no longer had to be related to the child she carried, and both intended parents and surrogates objected at the use of “mother” to describe the role that a gestational carrier took on. A gestational surrogate is in no way a “mother” to the child she bears; however, the prevalence of the term is hard to erase after years of its usage.

Today, many surrogacy professionals, intended parents and surrogates themselves advocate for more politically correct terms: “gestational carrier” or even simply “surrogate.” Using these terms helps to clarify the reality of genetic connection in surrogacy — and it’s a movement we are 100 percent behind.

Why Our Website Uses “Surrogate Mother” — and Other Surrogate Synonyms

But, you may wonder — if our website is so dedicated to education and correct terminology usage, why do we so frequently use “surrogate mother” and other politically incorrect “surrogates” synonyms?

It’s a complicated issue, and our intent is never to offend anyone who comes to our site for objective, educational materials on the surrogacy process. However, the fact is that many women who are first researching being gestational carriers are only familiar with the common phrases they see in media and other stories about surrogacy. For them, there is no difference between “surrogate mother” and “gestational carrier” — but, because the former is so heavily used by those unfamiliar with the process, it’s often the phrase they use themselves, too.

In order to educate as many people as possible about the surrogacy process, we must meet them at their level of knowledge — however little they may have. Many prospective carriers early in the process consider themselves as “surrogate mothers” in the making. So, our content is written to reflect the terminology they are familiar with and use. Only then can we begin to explain the right way to talk about surrogacy and guide a woman toward the best path for her.

We know that “surrogate mother” can be a heated term, and we in no way condone its use by professionals. However, we do recognize that surrogacy is a fairly new process to a lot of people, and there can be a great deal of ignorance about the process. By using the term in our website, we aim to meet people at their current knowledge level — and help them better understand what surrogacy is really about.

Have more questions about the proper terms for surrogacy — or about being a surrogate yourself? Contact a surrogacy professional today for free.

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