In 2009, I learned that there was no realistic way my best friend would ever be able to become a father -- his greatest desire in life. I decided then that I would offer to be a surrogate for him (which didn’t sound realistic at the time). A year later, I made that offer. He accepted, and in Nov. 2011 I got pregnant.

I’m writing this blog because I’m not the typical surrogate. For one, in the terms of the trade, I’m an altruistic traditional surrogate (I’m unpaid and the egg is mine) with a totally open arrangement with the dads. Most importantly, though, this is my first pregnancy (NO ONE thinks this is a good idea; most surrogates already have their own kids).

Also, we’re all gay, so this is going to be the gayest baby ever.*

- The Deputy

*Except for the children of those many, many other sets of three or more gays who decided to combine their powers to procreate...

August 7, 2012

"Altruistic" vs. "Commercial" Surrogacy

Recently, a reader commented on my lecture on surrogacy pointing out that all surrogacy is altruistic, regardless of whether money is exchanged. The failings of the current terminology are not news to me, and I'd talked about them in the lecture, though they hadn't made it into the slides. But what's a girl to do when right from Reproductive Technology Council comes this definition:

Altruistic surrogacy: Altruistic surrogacy means a practice whereby a woman agrees, for no financial gain, to become pregnant and bear a child for another person or persons to whom she intends to transfer the child’s care at, or shortly after, the child’s birth. (Specific expenses incurred, associated with the pregnancy and birth, may be reimbursed).

The alternative term you can find floating around is compassionate surrogacy. OH! Well take a huge sigh of relief, because THAT's certainly better!!!

The obvious solution is to stop making a distinction between 'commercial' and 'altruistic' surrogacy. After all, who the fuck cares?? There's a good deal of evidence showing that cash isn't a motivating factor for most 'commercial' surrogates [1], and anyway, they make so little money from it that it really couldn't be a motivating factor. "Woooo, I wanna get pregnant and risk my comfort and health instead of getting a part time, low wage job!!!!!" yeah right.

I'm not satisfied with throwing out the distinction, however. Not satisfied at all, but not because I think we need to label surrogates as 'money earning' and 'non-money earning.' I think the REAL distinction is independent, but correlates strongly with the altruistic/commercial distinction. It's how closely the surrogate knows the intended parents before the process begins.

'Altruistic' surrogates, in most cases, are very close to the intended parents. Family members, close friends, etc - and it's the closeness of their relationship that drives them to be a surrogate. They are touched by the specific needs of someone they love, and they recognize that they can help - whether or not it sounds like a fun project.

'Commercial' surrogates, however, are a totally different breed! According to my cursory research [1][2] and observations in the blogosphere, commercial surrogates, who usually don't know the intended parents, could be argued to have the more accurately altruistic motivations. Sure, some of them just REALLY LIKE being pregnant. Wow. Good for them. But a lot of them are driven by a deep empathy for nameless, faceless childless couples, paired with a desire to do something heroic; make a change in someone's life.

It's the difference between someone who sees their friend at their kitchen table hungry and decides to feed them, and someone who thinks "gosh, I bet there's someone hungry out there" and goes out to feed them. THIS distinction should not be overlooked.

Personally, I would never have chosen to be a commercial surrogate. I don't have the drive or the metaphorical balls to go out and take this kind of burden on for someone I don't know. I like drinking and rugby too much :) So I think that, if new terms are to be coined, they don't need to reflect the exchange of money (we have our old, crass terms for that), but they should rather reflect the relationship between the surrogate and intended parents. Philanthropic vs. intimate surrogacy? I'm taking suggestions :)


  1. Great post on a sensitive topic!

    I would say that EVERY surrogate, commercial/altruistic/philanthropic/intimate is an incredible woman. Truly remarkable.

    I have an immense amount of respect for all surrogates out there. I believe there are difficult moments throughout a pregnancy when a compensated surrogate is able to appreciate the fact that she's being compensated. Equally so, are the moments where she realizes, "I can't believe I am being compensated for this amazing journey I'm on." I'm sure it's similar for an altruistic/intimate surrogate. I hope that altruistic surrogates are able to recognize (on a daily basis) what an amazing gift they are giving, carrying a child for someone else, out of the goodness of their heart, without any financial benefit. And I'd be willing to bet that there are days when the altruistic surrogate would say (to herself), "This sucks. I should be being paid to endure this."

    Fact of the matter is: We're all kick ass. :-)

  2. My desire to become a surrogate was developed because of a family member's inability to stay pregnant. I was too young to help her. I also offered to carry for 2 sets of friends who were emotionally and financially unable to do surrogacy - without a surrogate fee. Me wanting to be a surrogate didn't fade just because I wasn't able to help someone close to me. I would absolutely love to help a family member or a friend but unfortunately that is not in the cards right now.

    I agree... financial gain or not, surrogates are amazing.

  3. Thanks for the feedback! Jeni, I'm sure I'll be screaming for reimbursement come time for labor ;)

  4. I offered to carry my surrogate twins without a fee because in my heart, the ultimate goal was to create a family for a couple that couldn't do that on their own.
    I am planning on doing another surrogacy, but just cannot do it without a fee again. I would never consider myself a commercial surrogate, but a surrogate who realized there are people out there who will take full advantage of those of us who just want to make a difference. Not that I'm using your board to vent about my previous experience with IPs, though. :)
    The IPs I'm talking to think it would be crazy of me to offer to do it without a fee. Do I think every surrogate deserves to be compensated in some way for what we do? YES! But I think of it as a win-win. They get the family they've always dreamed of, and I have a small nest egg to put away for my daughter and myself.

  5. Gosh not sure where I fit into those "terms". I do get paid, but I know my IFs ahead of time. I will only carry for men (single or gay). I am a research chemist so I'm educated and have a job that earns me more in six months than a surrogacy does in a year. So hmmm...I guess I'm a commercial surrogate with an asterisk. I would agree the terminology needs an update but it's so fun for others to leave the terms as archaic so they can picture us all as women who are too lazy to work so we whore out our uterus'.

  6. This is a great post on, as Jeni mentioned, a sensitive topic. I also so appreciate someone who is not being compensated, being so generous in your respect of all surrogates. You of all people could stand to make it clear that you are more awesome :) than the rest of us and you didn't. I am very open about being compensated for being a surrogate. One friend pointed out, isn't that what everyone wants, to love what they do at the same time expect to be paid for it. I'm living the dream baby, living the dream!

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  13. I think that both kinds of surrogacy deserve to live as not everyone can find an altruistic surrogate mother who would be that generous to carry a child for them but should they suffer from this inability to have kids and their lack of luck I suppose? I do not think so..
    I am sure that every surrogate mother deserves being praised because even if she's getting paid she still does an important thing!
    Well, you can look at the biotexcom's reviews anywhere and see how IPs are praising their surrogates after they meet them. and you would understand what I am talking about. because it says a lot about commercial surrogacy or about commercial surrogacy in Ukraine.