A Surrogate Dries Her Tears

views updated

A Surrogate Dries Her Tears

News article

By: Lisa Baker

Date: December 11, 2005

Source: Baker, Lisa. NewYorkTimes.com. "A Surrogate Dries Her Tears." December 11, 2005. 〈http://www.nytimes.com〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

About the Author: Lisa Baker is a teacher and writer who lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and son.


Modern surrogacy began in the United States in the late 1970s, when a Michigan lawyer, Noel Keane, drew up the first contract for surrogacy in 1976. In the early years of surrogacy, many relationships were between family members; a sister carried a baby for her siblings, or a cousin carried a baby for a cousin. There are two forms of surrogacy: traditional and gestational. Traditional surrogacy involves the surrogate's egg and the adoptive father's sperm; the surrogate legally gives the baby, who is genetically linked to the surrogate, to the adoptive parents. Until the advent of in vitro fertilization, all surrogate relationships were traditional surrogacy; in vitro fertilization allows gestational surrogacy, in which an egg that is not the surrogate's is fertilized by the adoptive father's sperm, then the fertilized egg is implanted in the surrogate.

Since the late 1970s, more than 35,000 babies have been born in the United States as part of surrogacy arrangements. As surrogacy gained in popularity, state laws were implemented and rules about medical coverage, surrogate fees, surrogate contact with the baby, and other legal matters became legal issues for courts and legislatures to consider, while social acceptance of surrogacy came slowly.

Unlike traditional adoption, surrogacy allows one or both adoptive parents to have a genetic link to the baby. At the same time, traditional surrogacy carried risks for adoptive parents, in that the surrogate, biologically, was the child's mother. The 1986 case involving "Baby M" gained national attention when Mary Beth Whitehead, a traditional surrogate, sued for custody of Baby M rather than giving her over to the contracted adoptive parents, William and Elizabeth Stern. The case tested the boundaries of the law; reproductive technology and surrogate contracts created complex family and custody issues for the court's consideration. While a lower court awarded custody to the Sterns in 1987, in 1988 the Supreme Court of New Jersey overturned the ruling, giving William Stern custody, while Mary Beth Whitehead received visitation rights. In this instance, with no biological link to the child, Elizabeth Stern was not considered for custody initially, though Mary Beth Whitehead's parental rights were terminated, and Elizabeth Stern was free to adopt Baby M.

As in vitro fertilization became more consistent and implantations more successful, gestational surrogacy gained in popularity for parents wishing to build a family via surrogacy. Because the surrogate did not need to use her own egg, the question of biological motherhood did not play into any legal issues that may arise in the future. In the following essay Lisa Baker, a teacher in New York, details her experience as a traditional surrogate, contracted with a gay couple from California seeking to raise a baby. Baker explores the emotional side of surrogacy and its impact on her family.


[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


Surrogacy originally developed for couples in which the woman was infertile, or too old to conceive; by the 1990s it had become a method for gay couples to adopt a child of their own, either using a donor egg or traditional surrogacy with one of the fathers' sperm. Lisa Baker fits the mold for the "typical" surrogate in the U.S.: in her thirties, married, in a professional career, and with one or more children.

Many surrogates choose surrogacy because their own pregnancies were smooth, out of a desire to give a child to someone who cannot conceive or achieve a full-term pregnancy, or, in rare cases, for the fee, which can range from nothing to $50,000. Surrogate contracts since the Baby M incident have become complex and detailed, with sections on abortion, selective reduction should multiple eggs implant, medical procedures, and in some cases restrictions on the mother's activities while pregnant. Custody issues are spelled out in such contracts as well; traditional surrogacy is considered to be riskier for adoptive parents, as many states—like New Jersey—now prohibit traditional surrogates from receiving a fee for their service and grant traditional surrogates the right to change their mind and to assert parental rights.

High-profile celebrities, such as television show host Joan Lunden and soap opera actress Dierdre Hall, have publicized their experiences using surrogate mothers to carry their later-in-life children; Lunden has two sets of twins via surrogate, both born after she turned 50. While some surrogacy agencies exist in which professionals perform physical and psychological tests to screen potential surrogates, the Internet has revolutionized the process, with Web sites designed to help connect potential surrogates with couples wishing to enter into contracts.

As a relatively new social and familial phenomenon, researchers are beginning to delve into questions about the impact of gestational vs. traditional surrogacy on the surrogate, her partner, and her biological children, who spend the entire pregnancy going through its ups and downs, experience the birth, but do not go home with a baby. In Baker's case, as she ponders how her son feels about his half-sibling being raised by a couple he does not know, her traditional surrogacy complicates the question.

Reproductive technology continues to advance. From the first baby conceived via artificial insemination in 1978 to modern advances in artificial wombs, such change challenges notions of motherhood, families, and custodial rights while granting potential parents new opportunities for building families.



Shanley, Mary L. Making Babies, Making Families: What Matters Most in an Age of Reproductive Technologies, Surrogacy, Adoption, and Same-Sex and Unwed Parents' Rights. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002.


Levine, Hal B. "Gestational Surrogacy: Nature and Culture in Kinship." Ethnology 42 (2003).

Spar, Debora L. "For Love and Money: The Political Economy of Commercial Surrogacy." Review of International Political Economy 12 (May 2005): 287-309.

Stacey, Judith. "Gay Parenthood and the Decline of Paternity as We Knew It." Sexualities 9 (2006): 27-55.

About this article

A Surrogate Dries Her Tears

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article