The difference between gestational and traditional surrogacy

Starting or expanding a family through surrogacy is a big decision for any couple or individual to make, and one of the reasons it’s such a big decision is that it isn’t just one choice, because there isn’t just one way to build a family through surrogacy. Instead, there are several types of surrogacy arrangements, each one of which might feel more right or more wrong to each individual family. There are a hundred different decisions that can go into making a surrogate pregnancy work in the best possible way, both for intended parents and gestational carriers, but one of the major ones that any parent-to-be hoping to have a child through surrogacy is faced with is the choice of traditional surrogacy or gestational surrogacy.

In a traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate carries a pregnancy that uses her own egg, and either donor sperm or the sperm of the intended parent, is growing less and less common than gestational surrogacy, which uses either a donor egg or the egg of the intended parent, but both are legal and possible in many parts of the U.S., and both have potential drawbacks and advantages.

Gestational surrogacy

Currently, gestational surrogacy, where the surrogate parent carries a fetus formed from either the sperm and egg of the intended parents, or with donor sperm or a donor egg, which form an embryo through the process of in vitro fertilization. In any case, with gestational surrogacy, the gestational carrier is not genetically related to the baby she is carrying. There are a few reasons this option is increasingly common, and one of the big ones is that there’s less of a chance of legal confusion about who the parents of a baby born through gestational surrogacy are. Another reason may be that either the gestational carrier, the intended parents, or both, feel less conflicted about the carrier’s place in the life of a baby born through gestational surrogacy. And finally, in cases where it’s possible, gestational surrogacy offers the intended mother the chance to be genetically related to her baby.

For families who work through an agency to facilitate surrogacy, gestational surrogacy may also be the only option, since many agencies have policies against traditional surrogacy.

Traditional surrogacy

Traditional surrogacy, which used to be the only type of surrogacy possible, happens when a surrogate is inseminated using either donor sperm or the sperm of an intended parent, which then fertilizes her own egg. In this type of surrogacy, the surrogate mother relinquishes parental rights to the intended parents, but is the genetic parent of the child she carries.

Traditional surrogacy is often the right choice for families when the intended parents can’t provide a viable egg.

Intended parents trying to conceive with traditional surrogates need to make very clear from very early on that the surrogate and the parents are completely on the same page about what they’re expecting and hoping for from the surrogacy relationship. It’s also important for all parties to have their own, trustworthy legal representation. It’s also important to be familiar with state law, since some states ban traditional surrogacy, or do not recognize traditional surrogacy arrangements.

There is no one right or wrong answer to the question of whether a gestational or traditional surrogate is right for a given family, but it is important to remember that, in the U.S., laws surrounding surrogacy vary from one state to another. Before entering into a surrogacy relationship, it’s important to be clear about the rights of everyone involved in the relationship.

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Committee Opinion. “Family Building Through Gestational Surrogacy.” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG. March 2016. Retrieved February 6 2019.
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