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The History of Surrogacy: 4 Important Eras to Know

Although surrogacy is growing in popularity as a way for intended parents to build their families, the history of surrogacy is actually a fairly new one. While the idea of surrogacy has existed for thousands of years, it’s only within the last 50 years that new technologies have emerged to make the process safer and more efficient than ever.

Whether you’re considering surrogacy as an intended parent or surrogate, understanding the history of surrogacy is important. Only by knowing how long surrogacy has been around and the advances it has gone through during that time can you better understand why surrogacy is the way it is today — and where you may expect it to continue in the future.

For information about the current state of surrogacy in North Carolina, you can always contact the Parker Herring Law Group PLLC at 919-821-1860. To learn more about the history of surrogacy, keep reading this article.

The Age of Traditional Surrogacy

For thousands of years, the history of surrogacy referred to only one process: traditional surrogacy. Because no medical procedures existed to allow an intended mother to be genetically related to her child, all surrogacies before 1975 had to be traditional surrogacies — completed in the traditional way.

For example, one of the first mentions of surrogacy in history is in the story of Sarah and Abraham in The Book of Genesis. Unable to carry a child herself, Sarah enlisted her servant Hagar to carry her husband’s child so she could raise the surrogate-born child as her own after birth.

Because these early surrogacies required an extramarital sexual relationship, surrogacy was a controversial and taboo topic that was usually kept secret. Children born via surrogacy often didn’t know their true birth story, and there was no way for surrogates to be given legal or financial protection during this difficult process.

The Age of Assisted Reproduction

Until 1884, any surrogacies had to be completed in the traditional manner, requiring sexual intercourse. However, the first successful artificial insemination of a woman was completed in 1884, which would pave the way for future artificial inseminations in the history of surrogacy.

Still, it would take until 1975 before the first ethically completed IVF embryo transfer was successful. IVF would not be regularly used for gestational surrogacy until 1985.

In the meantime, artificial inseminations continued to be used for traditional surrogacies. In 1976, the first legal surrogacy agreement was created, although the surrogate did not receive any compensation for the pregnancy. The lawyer who brokered this agreement, Noel Keane, went on to establish the Infertility Center, which would arrange hundreds of surrogacy pregnancies a year in the U.S.

In 1980, the first compensated surrogacy arrangement in the history of surrogacy was completed. The surrogate received $10,000 to carry a baby for another couple, but she was unprepared for the emotions of surrogacy and the challenges of giving a child related to her to the intended parents after birth. She would eventually write a book about her experiences, called Birth Mother.

How the “Baby M.” Case Changed the History of Surrogacy

Four years after the first compensated surrogacy was completed, another traditional surrogacy case changed the history of surrogacy forever. This case was known as the “Baby M.” case.

In 1984, intended parents Bill and Betsy Stern hired surrogate Mary Beth Whitehead and agreed to pay her $10,000 for a traditional surrogacy. When the baby was born and it was time for Whitehead to sign over her parental rights, she refused and took custody of baby Melissa. From there, a custody battle ensued that would play a key role in the development of New Jersey’s surrogacy laws.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the surrogacy arrangement between the Sterns and Whitehead was illegal and that Whitehead had natural parental rights to the baby. Bill Stern was granted custody rights, and Whitehead received visitation rights. Looking at the complications of this traditional surrogacy case, many surrogacy professionals began to move towards gestational surrogacy.

Surrogacy in the United States Today

Today, gestational surrogacy is by and far the norm for those completing surrogacies in the United States. Traditional surrogacies are rare, and many surrogacy professionals will not work with intended parents and surrogates pursuing this specific family-building path.

While surrogacy laws vary by state today, the overwhelming majority of those who pursue surrogacy will complete a gestational surrogacy with an enforceable legal contract and proper compensation for the surrogate. They work with a fertility clinic to complete the IVF process and a surrogacy attorney like those at the Parker Herring Law Group to ensure both parties’ interests and legal rights are protected throughout.

Despite how long surrogacy has been around, it is only now coming into its own as a popular family-building method. Almost 5,000 children were born via surrogacy in the U.S. between 2004 and 2008, and it’s reasonable to assume that number is still growing today. Advances in medicine have made surrogacy success rates soar, making it more of an attractive option for couples who have failed at fertility treatments.

To become one of the thousands to have achieved their dreams through surrogacy, call the Parker Herring Law Group PLLC or a local surrogacy agency today. Our attorneys can always help you through the legal process of your surrogacy when you contact our law firm.