AnnaMarie Houlis
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Family isn't always blood. But parental leave policies, like maternity leave plans, aren't always inclusive.

What Is Gestational Parenting?

A gestational mother is a woman "whose uterus was used for the nurturing and development of an embryo into a baby," according to the Medical Dictionary. A gestational surrogate is a little different from a traditional surrogate, however.

What is the difference between a surrogate and gestational carrier? The terms “traditional surrogate” and “gestational surrogate” are often used as one in the same. This is because, both a traditional surrogate and a gestational surrogate both choose to carry a pregnancy for a woman who cannot carry a pregnancy to term without help or chooses not to carry her own pregnancy for personal reasons. 

But, nowadays, they're used quite differently.

"[Traditional surrogates] are women who use their own egg and are artificially inseminated by the intended fathers or donor sperm; the surrogate mother carries the baby, delivers that baby and then gives that baby to the parents to raise," according to the Fertility Source Companies. "The traditional surrogate mother is the baby’s biological mother because it’s her egg that was fertilized by the intended father’s sperm."

Meanwhile, gestational surrogacy is more common. So what is a gestational mother?

"[A gestational surrogate] is a woman who carries a baby that has been conceived using the egg of the intended mother, or an egg donor, and sperm from the intended father or a sperm donor," according to the Fertility Source Companies. "A gestational surrogate mother has no genetic connection to the baby because it wasn’t the gestational surrogate’s egg that was used during the IVF cycle.

So, if you're wondering, is a gestational carrier the biological mother? The answer is that a gestational carrier is not the biological mother, but the gestational carrier does carry the baby to term.

A gestational surrogate is called the "birth mother," while the biological mother is still the woman whose egg was fertilized. 

How Does Gestational Surrogacy Work?

The gestational surrogacy process involves three major steps:

  1. Finding a surrogacy opportunity
  2. Completing legal contracts
  3. Transferring the embryo to the surrogate

While some parents may find their own surrogate and pursue an independent surrogacy with an attorney who specializes in assisted reproductive law, there are tons of full-service surrogacy agencies with which most intended parents choose to work. These agencies help intended parents to find a gestational carrier, and then the intended parents and carrier will work together with an attorney to discuss each of their legal risks and responsibilities, as well as the gestatonal surrogate's compensation.

After both parties sign the contracts, they'll find a fertility clinic to handle the in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is the process by which an egg is combined with sperm outside the body, in vitro. The fertility clinic will also handle the embryo transfer process. The embryo will be created and transferred to the surrogate using on the following methods:

  • Both the eggs and sperm of the intended parents so that both intended parents are genetically related to their child
  • The intended mother’s egg fertilized with donor sperm, so the intended mother is genetically related to the child

And, from there, the surrogate carries the baby to term, like any other pregnancy — the intended parents have full legal custody when the baby is born.

Why Do Women Use Gestational Surrogates?

Women use gestational surrogates for a number of reasons — whether they're health-related or personal. 

For example, the following women might consider gestational surrogacy:

  • Hopeful single mothers
  • Same-sex couples
  • Women with infertility struggles
  • Women who are unable to safely carry a pregnancy to term
  • Women who don't want a genetic link between their surrogate and their child

How Common is Gestational Surrogacy?

According to the Fertility Source Companies, 1,400 babies are born yearly through gestational surrogacy. It's becoming ever more popular, especially since, in the United States, gestational surrogacy is less complex legally — after all, both intended parents have genetic ties to the baby. There is always a legal agreement in place before intended parents work with a gestational surrogate, and it is always carefully written up via a fertility lawyer who ensures the protection of all parties.

Do Maternity Leave Policies Include Gestational Parents?

While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that all parents have 12 weeks of leave, many companies offer more general leave policies to birth mothers (including gestational surrogates who carried babies to term). Therefore, many policies tend to be exclusionary of mothers who used gestational surrogates (and mothers who adopt).

Kara Krill of Long Island, New York, for example, was featured in Parenting magazine after suing for breach of contract and discrimination on the basis of her disability. After giving birth to her first child in 2007, and receiving 13 weeks of paid maternity leave, she was diagnosed with Asherman's Syndrome, a condition that can cause uterine scar tissue. She wouldn't be able to carry her second child to term, so she'd have to have a surrogate. The surrogate gave birth to Krill's twins, but she was only granted five days of leave.

"If maternity leave is offered so that women can recover from what is, at best, the incredibly messy and strenuous business of giving birth, then new mothers like Krill who use surrogates would not really deserve paid leave, since they are not doing the hard yards of labor and delivery," Parents magazine reads. "But paid maternity leave could also be regarded the same way as paid leave for jury duty — something a company does out of civic responsibility. Supporting new mothers as they bond with their children, learn to care for them and give them a good start is beneficial for society and for the survival of the species."

There's a lot of controversy surrounding how much time parents who've used surrogates or have adopted should have with regards to parental leave. But the fact of the matter is that the United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn't offer paid leave to new mothers and fathers. It's up to the companies to decide, and they're not always fair.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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