As an insider to the surrogacy industry, I can tell you that we speak our own language with terms and nomenclature unknown in other professions. Because surrogacy is so niche and a newly blooming industry, it was necessary to create new names and definitions for the truly unique roles, experiences and milestones that occur in a surrogacy journey.
Knowing all the frequently used terms and phrases in surrogacy will give you a real insight into this world, and help you communicate with your industry partners. After all, it takes a village to have a baby through surrogacy, so no matter what role you play, you will be in constant contact with many third party reproduction service providers.
Defining the Two Different Types of Surrogacy
Traditional surrogacy began in the 1970’s and it is when the surrogate also donates her eggs for the surrogacy journey, along with being pregnant. She can get pregnant in one of two ways. First option is by artificial insemination with sperm either from the biological father or a donor. Or secondly the clinic can do egg retrieval, make embryos in a lab, and then use IVF to implant the embryo.
With traditional surrogacy the surrogate has a biological connection to the baby she is carrying for another family, which can complicate emotions for some surrogates. Because of this reason, traditional surrogacy is on the decline, while gestational carriers have increased in popularity among surrogates and intended parents.
While traditional surrogacy is much less common in modern times, some agencies still have this service available for intended parents.
Note: To clear up any misconceptions about traditional surrogacy, surrogates should never be expected to have sex with an Intended Father in order to conceive a surro baby. This is not professional surrogacy, rather something else entirely.
A gestational carrier is the industry term for a surrogate who has no biological connection to the baby they’re carrying during pregnancy. Often referred to in short as “GC.”
You’ve probably heard the catchy phrase “Their Bun, My Oven.” Well the “bun” aka baby, is an embryo made of eggs and sperm from either the biological parents or donors. The gestational carrier is the “oven’ aka uterus, that is “baking” the embryo into a baby for 9 months.
Gestational carriers are much more common these days than traditional surrogacy, mostly because it eliminates the emotional complication of being biologically related to the baby.
Parents vs Intended Parents – What’s the Difference?
Intended parents is a surrogacy industry term to describe the parents to the baby the surrogate will carry. You may be wondering why we call them “intended parents” instead of just saying parents.
Well, the harsh reality is that some intended parents on a surrogacy journey may never actually end up being real-life parents. The truth is that not all surrogacy journeys end up with a live birth baby. There’s so many ways a surrogacy journey can take a turn for the worst. Starting from failed transfers and going all the way to fetal demise, the heartbreaking truth is that nothing is guaranteed.
In short, we call them intended parents because they have the full intention of becoming parents to their baby born via a surrogate. They truly become parents when they are holding their newborn baby in their arms after delivery.
In a journey where at least one of the intended parents is a female, we refer to her as the “intended mother”, or “IM” for short. There can be a single intended mother, an intended mother in a relationship with a man, or two intended mothers as lesbian couples.
Similar to intended mother above, an intended father is a male intended parent for the baby. There can be a single intended father, an intended father in a relationship with a woman, or two intended fathers as a gay couple.
Why Do We Refer to a Surrogacy Pregnancy as a Journey?
In the surrogacy world you will hear the word “journey” come up very often. Journey refers to the entire process of surrogacy, from the very beginning to the very end. It is often used in phrases such as “I’m starting my journey” or “the intended parents are matched with a surrogate for their journey.”
A surrogacy journey starts long before a confirmed pregnancy, with the initial screening process for both intended parents at the fertility clinic. After screening the intended parents have to make embryos, either going through egg retrieval or finding an egg donor.
Once they’ve got their embryos ready, the intended parents will need to find a surrogate. While pregnancy lasts around 9 months, the duration of a surrogacy journey can stretch out into years. This is especially true for the intended parents who must often wait for months on waitlists for egg donors and surrogates.
Once the parents have been matched with a surrogate, they will begin embryo transfer and hopefully a healthy pregnancy soon after. Baby will grow for 9 months in their surrogate’s uterus until labor and delivery.
The surrogate will begin the process of a journey by screening with an agency. This will consist of phone and zoom interviews, reviewing medical records from previous pregnancies, obtaining clearance letters from her OBGYN and a criminal background check. This will all be submitted at a fertility clinic, who will then decide if she can move forward as a surrogate for one of their clients.
Once a surrogate is pre-approved at a clinic, she will begin her psychological screening with a surrogacy industry mental health professional. Shortly after she will travel to the clinic for a physical medical screening with labs and ultrasounds.
If everything is fine to move forward, the surrogate will enter into legal contracts with the intended parents, with both parties having their own ART legal representation. Once all parties have completed the legal portion, a surrogate will begin IVF medications in preparation for embryo transfer.
Embryo transfer is a major milestone event in a surrogacy journey, and about 10 days later the doctor will confirm whether or not it was successful with either a confirmed pregnancy or a diagnosis of a failed transfer. It can take multiple transfers to for the surrogate to get pregnant, and sadly sometimes a pregnancy doesn’t ever happen. This is the end of the road for some surrogates, abruptly ending a once promising journey.
For the lucky surrogates who successfully get pregnant with a surro baby, complete a full-term pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby for the intended parents, this is the ultimate goal for a journey.
The Sad Truth About Some Surrogacy Journeys
In all honesty, not all journeys result in a pregnancy or a healthy baby. This can be true for both the intended parents and the surrogate. Journeys can be riddled with very disappointing events such as broken matches, failed transfers, fetal demise and stillbirths. It is important to manage expectations for all parties involved, so they can be prepared in the event that a journey doesn’t go as hoped.
The good news is that most surrogacy journeys do end up with a new baby joining their family. Journeys have their ebbs and flows with ups and downs, but hopefully you will still reach your destination of parenthood at the end.