Surrogacy has been around since biblical times, but the concept has evolved since then. Today, when we talk about the topic, we are mostly referring to gestational surrogacy, which has only been around for less than 50 years.
A surrogate mother carries a pregnancy on behalf of another couple or a single individual. After birth, the individual or the couple becomes the child’s parents.
Because of the unique nature of the process, surrogacy is usually bound by legal contracts to establish clear boundaries about the child’s legal custody. In gestational surrogacy, it is clear that the intended parent is the legal and sole legal guardian of the child. But while the legal boundaries may be clear, the biological ones are not as transparent.
A common concern for women wanting to become a surrogate is how much of their DNA will be passed on to the child.
To better answer this question, we have to understand the two types of surrogacy, and how the genetic process is affected by each.
DNA and Gestational Surrogacy
In gestational surrogacy, the egg is provided by the intended mother or by an egg donor. It is inseminated and fertilized with the sperm of the intended father or a sperm donor. Once the embryo is created, it is transferred into the gestational carrier (the surrogate mother), where she will carry out the pregnancy and deliver the baby.
Gestational surrogacy is sometimes referred to as host surrogacy or full surrogacy because it is done through IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).
As you can imagine, gestational surrogacy is a unique situation where more than two people are involved in the creation of a child’s life. For the surrogate, it begs the question of how much DNA she will pass on to the child.
The answer? None.
The reality is that the surrogate mother is not genetically connected to the baby. So, why is this?
The reason is quite simple. It is the intended parents — or donors, in the case of the donation process, who provide the eggs and sperm that will form the embryo. In essence, it’s the intended parents who provide the genetic material for the child, not the surrogate. She is just the host of the pregnancy.
DNA and Traditional Surrogacy
Traditional surrogacy differs from gestational in significant ways. The key difference is that the eggs of the surrogate mother are used for the creation of the embryo.
Traditional surrogacy also eliminates the need for finding an egg donor as it is the surrogate who is providing her eggs for the creation of the baby. Her eggs can either be inseminated with the intended father’s sperm or with the sperm from a donor.
Like gestational surrogacy, insemination is done artificially to form the embryo. After fertilization takes place, the embryo is transferred to the surrogate, where she carries out the pregnancy to full-term.
A woman who undergoes traditional surrogacy is genetically connected to the child because her eggs contain her genetic material. Technically, the surrogate mother is also the child’s biological mother.
Traditional surrogacy can blur the lines over custody and in terms of legality. As a result, this type of surrogacy is rarely practiced. Emotionally, it is also far more complicated for anyone involved.
How DNA Sharing Works Inside the Body of a Surrogate Mother
The body creates an organ called the placenta that forms during pregnancy. It’s a structure that helps provide essential nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. It also aids in helping to remove waste and toxins from the baby’s blood. It attaches to the walls of the uterus through the umbilical cord.
The placenta acts as an encasing that holds the fetus while performing vital functions. In the case of a gestational surrogate, the placenta blocks her genetic material from passing on to the child. Any genetics have already been passed on through the process of fertilization.
On the other hand, a traditional surrogate will utilize her eggs for fertilization, which means that her DNA is included and passed on to the child.
We can conclude that whether a surrogate mother shares her DNA or not will depend on the type of surrogacy: gestational or traditional.
As we mentioned before, traditional surrogacy is not common today, and most forms of commercial surrogacy are the gestational type. This means that when you work with a surrogacy agency, you will more than likely be a gestational carrier. The child will carry the intended parents’ or donor’s genetics, not the surrogate.
Emotionally, legally, and even ethically, gestational surrogacy makes the most sense because the boundaries are clear. The child carries the intended parent’s DNA, which means he or she will look like them, not the surrogate.
Gestational surrogacy gives parents the full sense of being biological parents to the child while the surrogate can feel a great sense of fulfillment.