Surrogacy, how it works, legality, Cost: Should you consider it?

For people who want babies, there are now various options to explore; surrogacy is one. Learn more about it and find out if it's a good option for you.

Interracial couple holding on a baby lying on a bed

Surrogacy is a process where a woman carries a baby for another person or couple who cannot conceive or carry a pregnancy themselves. 

The woman who agrees to carry the pregnancy and deliver the baby for the intending parent(s) is called a surrogate mother or gestational carrier. The person(s) the surrogate mother is carrying a baby for is called the intended or commissioning parent(s).

This arrangement has gained popularity as an alternative way to have a family for individuals or couples who are unable to get pregnant due to infertility or other medical conditions, and also those who do not want to carry and give birth to their babies themselves. 

Types of surrogacy

There are two main types of surrogacy: traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy. 

1. Traditional surrogacy

In this type of surrogacy, the surrogate mother is also the biological mother of the child, as her own egg is fertilized through artificial insemination using the sperm of the intended father or a donor’s sperm. 

This form of surrogacy may be used in cases where the intending mother of the baby has problems with her eggs (e.g., poor quality of egg) or has reached menopause and is unable to ovulate.

2. Gestational surrogacy

In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate mother carries the child conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) using the egg and sperm of the intended parents or donors, making her genetically unrelated to the child. 

This is often the best method in cases where the commissioning mother still produces good quality eggs (or has available frozen eggs) but will be unable to carry a pregnancy to term (e.g., due to medical conditions or problems with the uterus).

In Nigeria, the legal status of surrogacy is not clearly defined. This means there are no specific laws governing surrogacy arrangements. 

While surrogacy is practiced and accepted in Nigeria, there are uncertainties and risks associated with it, especially regarding legal rights and responsibilities. This lack of a clear legal framework can lead to disputes or misunderstandings between the intended parents and the surrogate mother. 

The intricacies of surrogacy and its legality in Nigeria raise important questions about parental rights, custody, and the enforcement of surrogacy agreements. Without proper legal guidance and documentation, both the intended parents and the surrogate mother may face legal challenges and uncertainties. 

Now, while surrogacy offers hope and possibilities for individuals or couples struggling with infertility, it's essential to understand the legal landscape and potential risks involved, especially in countries like Nigeria, where the legal framework is not well-defined. 

Seeking legal advice and ensuring all parties involved are fully informed and protected is crucial for a safe and successful surrogacy journey. 

How surrogacy works and the processes involved

Here is a step-by-step guide on how surrogacy works and the processes involved:

  1. Consultation: Intended parents meet with a fertility specialist or surrogacy agency to discuss their options and assess their suitability for surrogacy. 
  2. Finding a surrogate: Intended parents may choose to find a surrogate through friends, family, or a surrogacy agency. The surrogate should be a healthy woman of reproductive age who has previously given birth to a healthy child. 
  3. Medical and psychological screening: The surrogate mother undergoes thorough medical and psychological evaluations to ensure she is physically and emotionally prepared for the surrogacy journey. 
  4. Legal agreements: Intended parents and the surrogate enter into a legal contract outlining the terms and conditions of the surrogacy arrangement, including financial compensation, parental rights, and responsibilities. 
  5. IVF and embryo transfer: If using gestational surrogacy, the intended mother undergoes IVF to retrieve eggs, which are fertilized with sperm to create embryos. The embryos are then transferred to the surrogate's uterus. 
  6. Pregnancy and birth: The surrogate carries the pregnancy to term and gives birth to the baby. After birth, legal procedures are followed to establish parental rights and transfer custody to the intended parents. 

Who should consider surrogacy?

Surrogacy offers a glimmer of hope for individuals or couples facing various challenges on their journey to parenthood. While the decision to pursue surrogacy is deeply personal and complex, there are several scenarios where it may be considered an ideal option; 

1. Medical conditions and pregnancy risks

Surrogacy may be a viable solution for individuals with medical conditions that make pregnancy risky or impossible. For example, women who have had their uterus removed due to medical reasons, such as cancer or uterine disorders, may opt for surrogacy to fulfill their desire for biological parenthood without endangering their health. 

2. Fertility issues

Individuals or couples struggling with fertility issues, such as infertility or recurrent miscarriages, may turn to surrogacy as a means to realize their dream of having a child. Surrogacy allows them to overcome biological barriers to conception and experience the joys of parenthood. 

3. Failed IVF attempts

After multiple failed attempts at in vitro fertilization (IVF), some individuals may feel disheartened and exhausted by the emotional and physical toll of fertility treatments. Surrogacy offers a renewed sense of hope and possibility for those who have exhausted other options for achieving pregnancy. 

4. Inability to adopt

For individuals or couples facing challenges with adoption, such as lengthy waiting periods, legal complexities, or restrictions based on age or marital status, surrogacy may offer an alternative path to building a family. 

Surrogacy provides a way for individuals to have a biological connection to their child when adoption is not feasible or desired. 

5. Desire to preserve body shape

Some individuals, particularly women, may choose surrogacy to avoid the physical changes and risks associated with pregnancy.

Pregnancy can have significant impacts on a person's body, including weight gain, stretch marks, and other changes, and some people may choose not to go through these experiences. Surrogacy allows such individuals to maintain control over their body shape and avoid potential risks to their health or appearance. 

6. Menopause and late parenthood

Individuals who have reached menopause or are experiencing age-related declines in fertility may still desire to have a child. 

Surrogacy offers a pathway to parenthood for older individuals or couples who may not be able to conceive or carry a pregnancy themselves but are eager to experience the joys of raising a child. 

The cost of surrogacy

Surrogacy is a significant financial investment that involves several expenses throughout the process, including medical procedure costs, legal fees, and compensation for the surrogate mother. 

In Nigeria, the total cost of surrogacy could range from around N1,000,000 to N3,000,000 or more. The cost varies widely depending on individual circumstances and choices made along the journey. Let's break down the potential costs involved: 

  • Medical expenses: The medical expenses associated with surrogacy primarily include the costs of in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures like  ovarian stimulation medications, egg retrieval procedures, and embryo transfer. In Nigeria, the cost of IVF procedures can range from about N600,000 to N1,800,000 (or above,  depending on the clinic and specific treatment protocols). 
  • Surrogate compensation: Surrogate mothers typically receive compensation for their time, effort, and the physical demands of carrying a pregnancy, as well as additional allowances for medical expenses and other related costs. The amount of compensation can vary depending on factors such as the surrogate's experience, location, and specific arrangements negotiated with the intended parents. 
  • Legal fees: Legal fees are incurred for drafting and reviewing surrogacy contracts, establishing parental rights, and navigating the legal complexities of surrogacy arrangements. Intended parents should budget for legal consultations and representation to ensure their interests are protected and the surrogacy agreement is legally enforceable. 
  • Medical and psychological screening: Both the surrogate mother and intended parents may undergo medical and psychological screening as part of the surrogacy process. These screenings ensure the physical and emotional suitability of all parties involved and may incur additional costs for consultation fees, tests, and evaluations. 
  • Prenatal care and pregnancy-related expenses: Throughout the surrogate's pregnancy, intended parents are responsible for covering the costs of prenatal care, medical appointments, and pregnancy-related expenses such as maternity clothing, vitamins, and travel expenses if necessary. 
  • Agency fees (if applicable): Intended parents who choose to work with surrogacy agencies may incur additional fees for agency services, including matching services, screening and coordination of surrogate candidates, and ongoing support throughout the surrogacy journey. 

How to find and choose the right surrogate

When embarking on the surrogacy journey, finding the right surrogate is a crucial step that requires careful consideration and planning. Here's a detailed guide on how to find and choose the right surrogate: 

Consider personal connections

Start by exploring the option of asking friends or family members to serve as surrogates. This can be a comforting choice, as you already have a level of trust and familiarity with the person who will be carrying your child. 

It's important to choose someone you feel comfortable with and who shares your values and intentions for the surrogacy journey. 

Explore Surrogacy Agencies

If you don't have a suitable surrogate within your personal network, consider working with a surrogacy agency. These agencies specialize in matching intended parents with qualified surrogates and can provide valuable support and guidance throughout the process. Surrogacy agencies often have extensive networks of potential surrogates who have undergone thorough screening and evaluation. 

Set the criteria for selection

When evaluating potential surrogates, consider factors such as age, previous childbirth experience, and medical history. It's generally recommended to choose a surrogate who is under the age of 35, as younger women tend to have better pregnancy outcomes. 

Additionally, look for someone who has given birth to at least one healthy baby before, as this indicates their ability to carry a pregnancy to term successfully. 

Ensure medical and psychological screening

Prioritize surrogates who have passed comprehensive medical and psychological screening tests. These screenings assess the surrogate's physical health, reproductive capacity, and emotional readiness for the surrogacy journey. 

It's important to confirm that the surrogate is free from infectious diseases and other health conditions that could impact the pregnancy. 

Establish open communication and mutual agreement

Establish open and honest communication with potential surrogates to ensure alignment on expectations, preferences, and boundaries. Discuss important topics such as compensation, medical procedures, and the level of involvement in the pregnancy and birth process. 

It's essential to reach a mutual agreement and understanding before moving forward with the surrogacy arrangement. 

Once you've chosen a surrogate, consult with legal professionals to draft a comprehensive surrogacy contract that outlines the rights, responsibilities, and expectations of all parties involved. The contract should address important issues such as compensation, parental rights, and potential contingencies in case of complications or disputes. 

Final words

Surrogacy can be a fulfilling way for individuals or couples to have a child, but it's essential to approach the process carefully and with legal guidance to avoid potential pitfalls. By involving a lawyer from the beginning of the process and ensuring all required paperwork is properly signed, intended parents can safely navigate the surrogacy journey and fulfill their dreams of starting a family.