The History and Evolution of Surrogacy

A simple Google search for the word “surrogacy” brought up more than 6,000,000 results in 0.5 seconds. And still, with so much information out there about surrogacy, it’s a concept that most don’t understand.

Surrogacy, in a nutshell, is when a couple is unable to carry a child on their own, so they turn to another woman to carry the child for them. By default, those who use a surrogate are heterosexual couples where the woman can’t carry a child, or same-sex male couples.

We’ve discovered the majority of people who don’t understand surrogacy have been able to have children on their own. They were able to make their own decisions without being questioned. Because of their own health and sexual orientation, having children was much easier for them.

Well, we’re here to change the narrative. Surrogacy has allowed thousands of couples to have families that would have otherwise been impossible.

Let’s take a look at the history and evolution of surrogacy to show how we got to where we are today.

Surrogacy Through the Ages

While surrogacy is a concept that feels foreign to many people, it’s actually been around for centuries. 

Biblical Times

The first case of surrogacy happened in the Bible. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, wanted a baby. Sarah was infertile, so she requested that her handmaiden, Hagar, carry the child for them. 

In this case, Hagar was the biological mother of the baby, but Sarah and Abraham raised the baby together as their own. 

When the surrogate is also the biological mother of the child, it’s called traditional surrogacy. Up until 30 years ago, this was the only way intended parents could have a child through surrogacy. Traditional surrogacy remained a taboo topic through the 20th century due to the negative stigmas of infertility and illegitimate children.

The 1884 Artificial Insemination

The first successful artificial insemination happened in 1884. The doctor inseminated his patient while she was under anesthesia with a rubber syringe. The problem was the woman thought it was with her husband’s sperm, when, in fact, he used one of his medical student’s sperm. 

While the woman did have a baby nine months later, both the doctor and the husband decided not to tell her the truth. 

Not to worry, though, our ethical practices have gotten much better over time.

The 1970s to 1980s

The first official surrogacy agreement was brokered in the mid-1970s by a lawyer in New York. This was a traditional surrogacy arrangement, and the surrogate did not receive any compensation but this helped facilitate the opening of the first infertility center in the United States.  

In 1980, the first compensated surrogacy arrangement was made where the mother was paid $10,000. 

In 1982, the first baby was born from an egg donation. This led to the first successful gestational surrogacy that happened in 1985. Gestational surrogacy is when an egg from a donor is fertilized with sperm and then implanted into the surrogate. In this case, the surrogate mother is not biologically related to the baby. 

Perhaps the most famous surrogacy case happened in 1984. Mary Beth Whitehead was hired by the Sterns to be their surrogate. Whitehead was artificially inseminated with her eggs making her the biological mother of the child. 

When the child was born, Whitehead decided not to sign over her parental rights, resulting in a long custody battle that lasted more than two years. Eventually, the Sterns were granted custody with Whitehead receiving visitation rights. 

The Legal Battles of the 1990s

Because of the long custody battles that often came from traditional surrogacy, more and more agencies were leaning toward gestational surrogacy to avoid these legal conflicts. They also led to tighter legal contracts and stricter surrogacy laws. 

In 1990 the Calvert vs. Johnson case upheld the parental rights of intended parents in California. In this case, the gestational surrogate did not want to give the baby up after birth. But she was not genetically related to the baby. The court decided in favor of the intended parents. 

Modern Surrogacy

Boundaries are being pushed more and more every year for what can be accomplished through surrogacy. 

In 2011 the oldest-ever surrogate was able to carry her own grandchild.

Your Surrogacy Agency

Surrogacy has aided families for centuries. It has created viable options for those who are unable to have children. 

And while the history and evolution of surrogacy haven’t been perfect, we are grateful for those who blazed the way before us. We have learned from them and now have an industry that protects and respects all parties involved as families are created. 

If you’re interested in learning more about surrogacy, call us today. We can help you find the perfect surrogate for your family. 


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