In Canada, we spend a lot of time speculating about surrogates — their economic circumstances, their motivations, the protections they need from our laws. But in truth we know little about them. In the largest study so far of Canadian surrogates, out last month, Samantha Yee and her colleagues at the CReATe Fertility Centre in Toronto shed light on some of the answers.
The researchers surveyed 184 women about their collective 287 surrogacies. All were gestational, meaning that they were carrying fetuses that were genetically unrelated to them.
The study has limitations. Recruitment was via agencies and the internet, and answers were retrospective. It was fully funded by a clinic that does a roaring business in surrogacy. We still don't know how many surrogacies take place in Canada each year, what the ratio of gestational to traditional is, or whether the answers in this survey are representative of the whole group.
Still, it’s an illuminating study and well worth the read:
Yee et al. “ ‘Not my child to give away’: A qualitative analysis of gestational surrogates’ experiences.” Women and Birth. (2019) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871519218307431
Below, some highlights.
Who are Canada’s surrogates?
All the women had given birth before becoming surrogates.
Most (79%) had completed their own families before becoming a surrogate.
Most (71.1%) were partnered.
Almost all (94%) were Caucasian.
The mean age for embarking on surrogacy was 32 (and ranged from 21 to 48).
>40 6.3% — 18 women
high school education or below (27.2%)
community college education (50.2%)
university undergraduate degree (20.7%)
postgraduate degree (1.6%)
Annual family income at survey time:
$30,000 or less 18%
$70,001 - 90,000 15.3%
Family budget based on income and expenses at survey time:
very tight or tight (41.7%)
comfortable or very comfortable (28.9%)
heterosexual couple (55.1%)
same sex male couple (39.4%)
single man (3.8%)
single woman (1.4%)
transgender woman (0.3%) — one woman
through agency 78.4%
via internet 14.3%
Words women used to describe their role:
Reasons (top three out of six provided) for why women chose to become surrogates:
knowing someone who had fertility issues (59.2%)
knowing someone who had been a surrogate (28.3%)
seeing information on social media about surrogacy (26.3%)
"I don't want to have a relationship with the intended parents afterwards. I am helping women who have struggled with infertility have a family. The absolute last thing that the women I'm helping need is a person in their lives trying to claim some sort of relationship with her children. I want my intended mother to be the mother 100%. Not 99% with some creepy "tummy mommy" or "birth mother" as part of the kids' lives. No, the mother deserves to be the one and only because she is the one and only."
"You really have to be in the right place, mentally and emotionally, to do it... You have to be willing to make sacrifices in your own family for the good of the baby that you are carrying. And you need to be able to do that without resentment."
"If you don't have good support from the people you care about the most, don't do it."
" 'I could never do that' (in regards to growing the child and then parting with it) is a very common sentiment shared with me and it often made me feel broken and cold, as if I'm some detached and unfeeling person because I can do it. It was usually meant as how strong I am emotionally but it never felt that way."
The women were not asked about the Canadian law. However, some offered their opinions anyway:
"Although I am following the law and only receiving reimbursements as a surrogate, I know that there are many women who are getting around the law somehow and making money. I would love to know the numbers for how often this happens, and what the government intends to do about this black market."
"I often wished it was just me, my partner & the intended parents rather than all the doctors, lawyers, agency reps, etc... It is frustrating to know the cost these parties charge throughout the surrogacy yet the surrogate who sacrifices her body & lifestyle can be sentenced to hefty fines and jail time for accepting any form of payment." [Note: it is not illegal to be paid for surrogacy; it is illegal to pay for surrogacy. ~AM]
"The unclear laws/loopholes in surrogacy laws have been frustrating and confusing and often leave me feeling taking (sic) advantage of by the surrogacy consulting agency."
"I think it would be important for them to know that 'not getting paid' can actually be done. Surrogates are not necessarily out for money (although some ARE and give us all a bad name)."
"It's my opinion that surrogates should be allowed to receive payment for our services. It's a difficult task, has risks and affects our families. There could be a cap to the amount, exceptions for family or long time friends, but at least 10,000 for a regular pregnancy would begin to be fair It's worth much more."
"I also think that the law that states that surrogates can't accept payment is ridiculous. It's a job. It's hard as hell. You're building a baby. You're creating a family. You're putting your life at risk."
"My own opinion is to commercialize surrogacy with enforced regulations and allow the women who want to do this to go ahead without the worry of financial consequences."
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