Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why do women become surrogates? In the US, it's not money

Amidst all the coverage over surrogacy, one of the questions that I have been asked is as to why women become surrogates. In Australia, the answers are pretty straightforward. I have asked a number of clients who were surrogates, or the surrogates when I acted for the intended parents, or asked a number of surrogates separately. Here are the common characteristics:

  1. They have requisite maturity- typically 25 and older.
  2. They have had all their own kids. This is important. First up, they are fertile. Second, they don't want any more. Third, they don't risk the possible loss of fertility.
  3. They LOVE being pregnant. A woman who hated pregnancy or had troublesome pregnancies does not volunteer to be a surrogate.
  4. Child birth is pretty straightforward. Woman who have had Caesars or long deliveries rarely want to be surrogates. A woman who has had a 40 minute child birth is much more likely to volunteer.
  5. They want to be able to give the gift of life. Everyone knows someone who has been unable to have children. In Australia it is estimated that 1 in 6 couples struggles with infertility.  This motivation is the one clear motivation for surrogates above all others. In my experience whether the intended parents are friends, family or strangers, this motivation remains the same. 

What I have experienced is similar to what research has shown about surrogates in the US. US surrogacy is compensated surrogacy, unlike Australian which remains altruistic. One might think that the motivation of surrogates in the US is that they are to be paid. This is not their prime motivation. Recent research presented to the American Psychological Association, by Aaron Anderson, Kim Bergman, Robert-Jay Green and Seth Pardo showed that less than 8% of surrogates put payment as a motivation for their being surrogates.

In the ground breaking study, the researchers explored:
Motivations and decision-making processes of gestational surrogates who are willing to work with gay male prospective parents.

Personality differences between these surrogates and an age-matched sample of non-surrogate women.

Prior psychological research in this area focused only on surrogates who worked with heterosexual couples. Researchers obtained archival assessment interview data and psychological scores (MMPI-2) on a sample of  79 gestational surrogates who worked with gay men.  They also received comparison archival data (given to them by MMPI-2 Corporation) on 100 women matched for age (22-37 years old).
Data were selected only from surrogates who indicated they were willing to help gay men become parents.  They were paid approximately $25,000 for surrogacy. 

The results of the research were not surprising for those who work with surrogates. Motivations that were most frequently expressed were: Want to give or help others (56%); Like being pregnant (43%); and Empathy regarding others infertility (38%).   Decision-making processes most frequently described were: Thought about being a surrogate for a while (58%), Own family is complete (57%) Perceived ability and confidence (27%), and Researched Surrogacy before (27%). Surrogates scored higher than the control group women on ego strength and social responsibility, and lower on negative emotionality/neuroticism. 

The researchers concluded that these results suggest that gestational surrogates who are willing and selected to work with prospective gay fathers are higher functioning psychologically than a comparison group of women their same age.  These surrogates are more resilient, less predisposed to experience negative emotions, and higher in social responsibility.  Their primary motivations include desire to help others and enjoyment of pregnancy itself.  Their decisions involve a process of thinking about and researching surrogacy over time, contemplating their own ability to handle it well, and concluding that the timing is right because they already have their own children. 

Here is the table as to what motivates surrogates to become surrogates: 


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