Women use surrogates for a number of reasons, but surrogates aren't always offered the same maternity leave policies and treatment as biological mothers who carry their babies to term. Here's what you should know about becoming a surrogate and the maternity leave that may or may not be available to you.
A surrogate is a woman who carries a baby for intended parents. This woman may or may not have genetic ties the baby, depending on the type of surrogacy it is. There are two types of surrogates:
Traditional surrogacies used to be the only possible surrogacy possibility up until about three decades ago when gestational surrogacies started becoming popular. In a traditional surrogacy, the surrogate’s own egg is used to create the embryo of the child that she is going to carry, which is done either through intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization.
Traditional surrogacy is still the right move for many intended parents.
"If the surrogate is related to one of the intended parents, traditional surrogacy can provide a genetic link that would not have been possible with a donated egg [and] if the intended parents are a same-sex male couple, a single male or a heterosexual couple where the woman is unable to use her eggs, traditional surrogacy may give them the genetic link they desire," according to Surrogate. "For intended parents who cannot find an egg donor they like, don’t want an anonymous donor or are looking to reduce the cost of their surrogacy, traditional surrogacy may be best for them."
In a gestational surrogacy, the intended parents create an embryo using their own egg and sperm or using a donated egg or sperm. Then that embryo is transferred to the surrogate.
A gestational surrogacy means that both parents (of a heterosexual couple) will be biologically related to their child. A gestational surrogacy also helps eliminate any legal and/or emotional stress that may (and often does) arise when a surrogate genetically related to the child she’s carrying delivers the baby. This is because the intended parents have full legal rights and custody of the child after he or she is born.
"Intended parents and surrogates who are wary of the legalities and emotions involved in traditional surrogacy will want to choose a gestational surrogacy," according to Surrogate.
Likewise, hopeful parents might choose a gestational surrogate if a traditional surrogacy is outlawed in their state. Or if they have remaining embryos from past in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, they can use them in the gestational surrogacy.
Surrogates get paid for carrying the babies of intended parents. Most first-time surrogate compensation packages range from $43,000 to $53,000 and up dependent upon individual circumstances, according to Conceive Abilities.
Surrogates can carry babies more than once, as well.
"Repeat surrogate mothers happen all the time; in fact, many intended parents view a successful previous surrogacy as a welcome sign, a valuable characteristic, and they will often pay a premium for a repeat surrogate mother," according to Creative Love Egg Donor and Surrogacy Agency.
That said, Creative Love, among other agencies, won't work with some women who've had C-sections more than three times, who don't have children of their own (because they may not actually be up for the task), or who've been a surrogate more than a few times already. This is because they want to help ensure healthy pregnancies every time.
Intended parents might use a surrogate for a number of reasons, spanning health complications to personal choices.
"When intended parents consider surrogacy, it’s usually because it’s one of their last options for having a child that is biologically related to them," according to Surrogate. "Many intended parents go through extensive fertility treatments and IVF processes before deciding on surrogacy, so it will be a highly emotional decision to come to. Add in the (unmerited) shame and stigma that often come with being childless and/or struggling with infertility, and surrogacy means the world to intended parents who have tried and waited for years to have a child. For intended parents, surrogacy means they can finally achieve the dreams they’ve had for so long. For them, it’s a priceless gift given by a selfless woman — one which they will never be able to repay."
Surrogates go through pregnancy for intended parents. They carry and deliver babies and, as such, need time off from work in order to carry the baby to term, deliver the baby and recuperate after the pregnancy. Unfortunately, maternity leave policies can tend to be rather exclusionary; they may not give surrogates the same amount of time off as biological mothers who carry their babies to term.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain protections to employees, such as 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave. This is for different situations, which includes but is not limited to, the birth of a child or because of the placement of a child with the employee for adoption and/or foster care. Surrogates and intended parents, alike, benefit from FMLA protection. But FLMA does not require paid leave — and it only applies to some employees based on the size of the employers for which they work and how long they've work there.
Unlike every single other developed nation in the world, all other parental leave policies are at the discretion of the employers' policies and state laws that may require certain paid leave provisions not unlike the FMLA. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 13 percent of employees get any kind of paid leave when they take time off from work to care for a new child.
Among the companies that do offer generous paid leave are Netflix and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which allow new mothers to take 52 paid weeks off. In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has such a family-friend policy that both male and female employees who have a child through birth, surrogacy or adoption receive six months of paid leave and $20,000 upon their return to work to help with childcare costs.
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.