Traditional vs. Gestational Surrogate: What is the Difference

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Family building opportunities have come a long way and surrogacy is fast growing option. With that growth comes the awareness of surrogacy as a very special means of creating a family – but it can also leave room for confusion.

To help set the record straight, we asked Dr. Daniel Shapiro, Medical Director of Reproductive Biology Associates, to explain the difference between gestational carriers and other types of surrogacy. Watch his clear explanation, and read on to understand more.

What is a gestational carrier?

The most common form of modern surrogacy is achieved with a gestational carrier. This is a woman who undergoes in vitro fertilization and carries an embryo that was created with the intended mother or donor’s egg and the intended father or donor’s sperm.

The gestational carrier is not genetically related to the child. Because gestational surrogacy does not involve a genetic link between the surrogate and the baby, it has become a safe and popular means of starting or growing a family.

What is a traditional surrogate?

A traditional surrogate, on the other hand, is the biological mother, while the gestational carrier is not. This typically means the embryo is creating using the surrogate's eggs and, perhaps, Intrauterine Insemination ("IUI") using the father or sperm donor’s sperm.

It is not recommended to attempt a pregnancy with a surrogate using her own eggs due to the underlying emotional and legal implications. If the surrogate is also the biological mother, there is a greater risk to all parties. For instance, she could have legal grounds to challenge custody or could, conversely, be left with medical and financial responsibility for the baby. Some clinics are not comfortable managing traditional surrogacy arrangements, and in many locations, traditional surrogacy is completely outlawed.

The Gestational Surrogacy Process

After a series of medical screenings, the gestational surrogacy process begins by preparing for implantation. To harvest embryos for the surrogacy journey, the intended mother or egg donor undergoes an egg retrieval. Embryos are created using these eggs and the intended father or donor’s sperm and then then transferred to the gestational carrier’s uterus.

Anyone considering how to become a surrogate mother must have a solid understanding of the surrogacy journey. She must be fully educated on what is involved, both medically and legally, and have a solid support system throughout this unique commitment.

Surrogacy and the Law

Surrogacy laws in the United States can vary widely from state to state and are always evolving. In states where surrogacy is not supported or the law is unclear, intended parents may have to go through an adoption process to gain custody of the child. In other states, pre-birth orders called “declaration of parentage” allow intended parents to be declared the legal parents, even prior to their baby's birth.

It is imperative that all contracts and agreements are drafted by lawyers with deep experience in third party reproduction and reproductive rights.

The surrogacy process is complex but can be a rewarding experience - even a miracle - for everyone involved.

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