Over the years, science, medicine and social services have frequently worked together to provide infertility options for parents who hope to raise children but have been unable to conceive or bear a child. Before the 1970s, though, fertility alternatives were limited, especially for parents who preferred to raise a child that shared their genetic heritage. And then, in 1978, Louise Joy Brown was born in a small village in the UK and all that changed.
Nearly anyone who has studied infertility options will recognize the name. Baby Louise was the product of the world’s first in vitro fertilization – a process by which a donor egg – often from the intended mother – is fertilized outside the human body then inserted into the mother’s womb to implant and grow. The IVF process, which was hugely controversial when the news first emerged, has now become a standard treatment for infertility. In fact, there are an estimated 4 million people in the world who were born through IVF procedures of one type or another.
The IVF breakthrough was just the first in a series of other advances, many of them building on the miracle that allowed the Browns to become parents and raise a healthy, beautiful girl. The many infertility options have also sparked a whole new language and terminology to describe the relationships between the various people involved in the birth of a child conceived in ways other than the traditional.
Traditional IVF, for example, usually takes the egg from the woman who will bear the child – she is the egg donor and both the genetic and the gestational mother. It’s an option that is most useful for women who have healthy eggs and a healthy uterus, but have fallopian tubes blocked by scars, such as those that commonly result from endometriosis.
There are, however, many women who have healthy eggs but have trouble carrying a pregnancy to term. These women may turn to gestational surrogacy, often simply referred to as surrogate motherhood – but gestational surrogacy is very specific. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate mother often carries a child that is genetically her own. In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate mother has no genetic relationship to the child growing in her womb. In fact, the child is often the product of combining the intended mother’s egg with her partner’s sperm. The surrogate simply serves as a vessel to carry the child to term.
To describe the relationship in such scientific and bloodless terms, however, ignores the many emotional decisions and bonds that often grow between the intended parents and the surrogate. For most parents, the choice of a surrogate mother is one of the most important decisions they’ll ever make.
If you’re looking for infertility options and interested in learning more about the various ways that science can help you become a parent, you’ll find many pregnancy and fertility centers that will help you make these important decisions.