Using a Family Member as a Surrogate: Surrogacy Advice for Gay and Lesbian Parents

by Katharine Swan

Using a surrogate is an excellent way for gay men or lesbians who can’t bear children to become parents. Many gays and lesbians prefer to use a family member as a surrogate, as a solution to concerns about money and discrimination: Not only is it more expensive for an agency to match you up with a surrogate, it can also be difficult and demeaning to try to deal with agencies that are prejudiced against gays and lesbians.

Surrogacy Love

While using a family member as a surrogate makes some things easier, it also means that you will need to take over the agency’s role and arrange everything on your own. Here are five things you need to be sure you don’t overlook when making arrangements for a surrogate.

Medical Screening for Your Surrogate

One of the obvious advantages of using a family member as a surrogate is that you know (and share) the same family medical history. Even so, medical screening is necessary no matter how well you know the surrogate, for her safety as well as the baby’s.

The doctor’s goal is to ensure your surrogate is physically healthy and capable of bearing an equally healthy child. To this end, the doctor will:

  • Verify her personal and family medical histories
  • Perform a thorough physical exam
  • Inspect her uterus and cervix via a hysteroscopy
  • Perform a blood test to verify prolactin and thyroid stimulation hormone levels
  • Test for STDs such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and Chlamydia

The All-Important Psychological Evaluation

While the medical screening ensures that your surrogate is physically capable of bearing a healthy child, the psychological evaluation verifies her emotional stability. Essentially, the psychologist’s job is to make sure your surrogate can handle not only being pregnant and giving birth, but also giving up the baby afterward. Therefore, two of the most important qualities in a surrogate – whether a family member, friend, or complete stranger – are integrity and empathy.

To screen your surrogate, the psychologist will discuss a variety of topics with her, including:

  • The physical changes her body will undergo during pregnancy
  • The sacrifices she will need to make in her own life, such as taking time off of work
  • The medical risks of pregnancy and childbirth
  • The emotional aspect of carrying a child, and what it will mean to her to give birth to it and then give it up
  • Her moral and religious beliefs, in regards to GLBT parenting as well as surrogacy in general

Even if you and your partner have chosen to use a family member as a surrogate, be sure to have her evaluated by a psychologist, for her sake as well as the baby’s. The decision to be a surrogate as an “act of love” doesn’t automatically make her capable of dealing with the physical and psychological stress of bearing a child for someone else.

The Surrogacy Agreement: Getting it All in Writing

Even when using a family member as a surrogate, it is important to get your surrogacy agreement in writing. A surrogacy agreement spells out your intentions for the surrogacy, and creates a procedure for dealing with disagreements and other problems should they arise.

For example, a typical surrogacy agreement includes:

  • How reimbursements for expenses are to be handled
  • What other compensation the surrogate will receive
  • How the doctor will be chosen
  • What procedure (in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination) will be used
  • How the egg or sperm donor will be chosen
  • How many times the procedure (IVF or artificial insemination) will be attempted
  • How major medical decisions, such as selective reduction, will be made
  • What is expected of the surrogate (i.e. frequency of medical visits, diet and exercise, cessation of smoking and/or drinking)
  • How decisions will be made in the event of a disagreement
  • Who the child’s guardian will be in case of the intended parents’ deaths

There are many decisions to be made by all parties before, during, and after the surrogacy period, many of which are potentially sticky legal issues. These issues can arise no matter how close you are to your surrogate, and have the ability to rip families apart. The best way to avoid this is by consulting an attorney and creating a written surrogacy agreement before IVF or artificial insemination is begun.

Counseling for All Parties

Surrogacy can be an emotional and sometimes difficult experience, for the intended parents as well as for the surrogate. Therefore, when an agency matches a gay or lesbian family up with a surrogate, part of its job as the middleman is to provide counseling for all parties.

By keeping it in the family, you, your partner, and your surrogate are missing out on this important service. To help all parties deal with various aspects of the surrogacy, you will need to seek out the appropriate counseling on your own. However, before bringing a counselor on board you will need to make sure that he or she understands the situation, and is not only experienced with surrogacy, but is also comfortable and familiar with GLBT parenting issues.

Money Matters: Reimbursement, Compensation, and Insurance

While using a family member as a surrogate will save you from having to pay an agency, it’s still not a free option. As the child’s intended parents, you and your partner should be paying its way, even though someone else’s body is bringing it into the world.

Some expenses to consider include:

  • Preliminary Expenses – The cost of medical and psychological evaluations
  • Medical Expenses – The procedure (IVF or artificial insemination), fertility drugs and other prescriptions, checkups during the pregnancy, and medical care and hospital accommodations during childbirth
  • Legal Expenses – The creation of a surrogacy agreement
  • Counseling Expenses – Counseling for all parties involved: you, your partner, and the surrogate
  • Other Expenses – Any other reimbursement, compensation, or insurance costs you agree to provide for your surrogate

When determining what type of reimbursement to provide your surrogate, don’t forget to figure in the sacrifices she is making in her own life. She will need to take time off work, purchase maternity clothes, and undergo numerous physical changes and discomforts. She is also assuming a certain degree of risk, which might justify the purchase of disability and/or life insurance to protect her and her family.

In addition, a gift of money or something comparable, such as an all-expenses-paid vacation for after the baby’s birth, is appropriate; although a family member who acts as a surrogate may not want to be “paid,” the gift conveys your appreciation for her obvious sacrifices.

Planning a Successful Surrogacy with a Family Member

For many gay and lesbian parents, using a family member as a surrogate is the answer to many problems, from prejudices against GLBT parenting to financial issues. However, it is important not to become complacent and assume everything will work out fine just because you already know and trust your surrogate. Be sure to take the proper precautions – not only to protect you, your partner, and your unborn child, but also to protect your long-term relationship with your surrogate.


All in the Family: Using a Family Member as Surrogate

When Your Surrogate is a Family Member or Friend


Surrogacy – Selection and Screening

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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