Surrogacy offers an alternative for couples who dream of raising children but face certain obstacles in conceiving naturally. Since biblical times, surrogacy was used as a means of helping many couples create families. Traditional surrogacy involved fertilizing the surrogate’s eggs with sperm from an intended parent or donor. At the time, this meant that the surrogate was the biological mother of the child.
However, as technology has advanced over time, so has surrogacy. Today, technology has made it possible for couples to have children with both of the intended parents’ genes. IVF (in vitro fertilization) is the main procedure used in the process of gestational surrogacy. Through IVF, a surrogate is able to carry a child that is a combination of both biological parents’ genes, and in no way genetically connected to the surrogate herself, solving many of the historical challenges of surrogacy.
Traditional conception occurs through natural insemination (unprotected sexual intercourse while ovulating). On the other hand, gestational surrogacy follows a few more steps in the process to facilitate conception. Since the surrogate mother is not genetically tied to the child, conception through gestational surrogacy requires artificial insemination through IVF.
However, to mimic the process of natural conception, the surrogate is prescribed hormones like estrogen and progesterone to help the lining of the uterus grow for the IVF process. Generally, several eggs are brought to maturity to raise the woman’s chances of conception. She may choose to have multiple eggs used during the transfer stages of IVF or use only one.
The next step is to fertilize the intended father’s sperm with the intended mother’s eggs (egg or sperm donors may also be used), where it is then incubated to produce an embryo for 14-18 hours. At this point, the embryologist checks the embryos for two pronuclei, indicating a successful fertilization. Roughly 40 hours later, the embryo is produced and examined.
After the surrogate’s uterus is cleared by the doctor, a reproductive endocrinologist implants the embryo in the uterus. This involves a special syringe with a thin and flexible catheter. The fertilized egg(s) is inserted into the woman’s uterus via a syringe with intent to attach it to the uterine lining.
If the procedure is successful, the surrogate will become pregnant (any extra embryos may be frozen for future use). If the procedure is not successful, the extra embryos will be inserted into the uterus for another chance at pregnancy. These procedures generally take place at a fertility center and are performed by specialized medical practitioners.
By traditional means, pregnancy occurs ten days after conception and is usually noted by a skipped menstrual cycle. In gestational surrogacy however, two weeks after the IVF procedure, the surrogate must visit a clinic to receive routine blood work in order to make sure that the embryo has successfully taken. In addition to HPT’s (home pregnancy tests) blood tests can be administered to find out if a woman is pregnant.
There are two types of blood tests, Quantitative hCG blood tests and Qualitative hCG blood tests. Each of these procedures tests the blood for levels of the pregnancy hormone, hCG, the difference being that quantitative tests measure the exact amount of the hormone present while qualitative tests discern whether or not the hormone is present in the blood.
Once the mother has successfully conceived, regardless of IVF or the traditional pregnancy, the physical symptoms of pregnancy are the same. Some of the usual symptoms that appear in the early stages of pregnancy are tender or swollen breasts tingling nipples, mild spotting and hunger pains.
Much like any other pregnancy, once the surrogate mother conceives, she is required to continue taking estrogen and progesterone hormones to ensure healthy development of the child. She will also need an OB/GYN, which can be be chosen by the surrogate, or the intended parents.
As with any pregnancy, it is important for the surrogate mother to visit her OB/GYN for regular check ups, maintain a healthy diet and take prenatal supplements. The surrogate will be eating for two, and as a result will need to make sure that she is consuming proper amounts of nutrients for both her own body and the developing child.
Pregnancy is an emotional time for anyone, but when surrogacy is a factor, there may be extra emotional trials to consider. Surrogacy concerns two families instead of one, which requires both parties to come together and support each other. Open communication and mutual respect are of utmost importance throughout the entire surrogacy process. Calling, texting and emailing are some suggested methods of contact however it really depends on the comfort level between the surrogate and IP’s. Some women are comfortable with their IP’s coming to their doctor check ups and being present in the delivery room, while others are not. Regardless, understanding and love will ensure that the child is brought into the world by caring, happy people.
Pregnancy not only changes a woman’s body but her state of mind as well and it can be difficult to adjust to life after birth. For surrogates especially, the period right after giving birth can be deeply emotional and take some time before truly settling back into a normal routine. However, no surrogate has to face these challenges alone.
With ConceiveAbilities, previous surrogates come together to form an elite group of women for support groups, picnics, parties, fundraisers, and other events. In addition to physical get-togethers, ConceiveAbilities offers a Facebook group where surrogates can reach out to each other and get help from one another during and after the surrogacy process.
While clearly there are additional steps and considerations involved with gestational surrogacy, that does not mean it has to be more complicated. Pregnancy may be a trying at times, but it is also a beautiful journey toward the most miraculous of endings. No matter the bumps along the way, surrogacy is an incredibly generous gift and is truly a gift that gives back.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.