In this article, Purl Founder, Katie Zimmerman, aims to shed light on a pervasive misconception: treating adoption as if it were surrogacy. Prospective adoptive parents, particularly those looking into domestic infant adoption, must understand that the two paths are not interchangeable, particularly when it comes to interacting with expectant mothers. This article explores the key distinctions between surrogacy and adoption to equip prospective adoptive parents with the insight they need for a respectful and ethical adoption journey. Read on to find out more.
I write this to educate prospective adoptive parents on a commonly misunderstood aspect of domestic infant adoption. A recurring concern I’ve noticed is the misconception that adoption and surrogacy are interchangeable, particularly when it comes to the relationship with expectant mothers. I can’t say I’m an expert in surrogacy, but I have attended a lot of combined educational seminars about adoption and assisted reproduction. I know enough to know that adoption IS NOT surrogacy and prospective adoptive parents need to make sure they are not treating their adoption journey (and the people involved in it) as such.
Why This Discussion Matters
Many families who have suffered from infertility or other medical conditions are considering many types of family building (such as surrogacy or adoption). More on the lonely battle of infertility here. If they decide on adoption, they are then likely choosing between the different types of adoption, each differing as to the amount of information they’ll receive and are entitled to, more on that choice here. However, there are things that families must understand if they choose domestic adoption over surrogacy. They are not the same, and you need to understand the intricacies and the lack of control you will have in the process should you choose domestic adoption.
The Basics of Surrogacy:
- There is a planned pregnancy. The pregnancy is intentionally established so that the intended parents can become the child’s legal parents.
- The intended parents in surrogacy may also be related to their child genetically. The parents often undergo in vitro fertilization to extract and fertilize their own eggs with their own sperm if, for some reason, the mother can’t carry the pregnancy herself. In such cases, the parents will choose a gestational carrier to carry the baby to term. If the child isn’t genetically related to the parents – say, if the child isn’t genetically related to the parents, such as when adopted or donated eggs or embryos are used, the intended parents usually still have control over the process. They are contracting with a surrogate who will agree to their specified terms.
- Surrogates are compensated for sacrificing their time, health, and short-term goals to carry this child. They often receive base compensation, as well as a monthly allowance to cover items such as maternity clothes, travel expenses, and more.
- The intended parents in surrogacy choose the surrogate, not the other way around. Surrogates are usually meticulously screened, so that you know they have good health histories.
- The desire for “open” relationships is not as strong, and many surrogates are comfortable with not receiving updates once the surrogacy is over.
- There is much more control available for intended parents during the pregnancy, In a surrogacy arrangement, the contract often outlines specific guidelines for prenatal care and lifestyle choices that the surrogate agrees to follow during pregnancy. This can include details on diet, travel, and activities considered risky, all aimed at ensuring the health of the baby.
- The laws on surrogacy vary by state, but in most states, the intended parents have at least some rights to the child before and after birth, and in many states, the intended parents will not have to adopt the child after birth to be legally the child’s parents.
- In most states, the intended parents will be listed on the child’s US birth certificate.
- The cost of surrogacy these days is between $100,000 – $200,000, depending on many different factors (is an egg donor needed, cost/type of surrogacy, etc.)
The Basics of Domestic Infant Adoption:
- The pregnancy is usually unplanned, or at least at the time she is making the adoption plan, the expectant mother cannot or does not want to parent the child.
- Expectant parents are not compensated for sacrificing their time, health, or short-term goals to carry this child. They may, however, receive reasonable and necessary living expenses in order to stay safe during the pregnancy (housing, food, phone, transportation, etc.), but that will depend on the state’s laws about what is allowed. No matter what is allowed, the most they can typically receive is reasonable living expenses during the pregnancy and up to 8 weeks postpartum, so it is not the same amount of fees we hear about in surrogacy situations.
- The decision to pursue adoption is frequently made by expectant mothers in crisis circumstances. Each situation is unique, but many expectant mothers are grappling with issues such as unstable housing, poverty, mental illness, addiction, or incarceration. Additionally, the pregnancy could be the outcome of sexual assault, incest, or involvement in prostitution. The expectant mother may not have the ability to parent the child due to her circumstances and may be choosing an adoption plan in order to avoid the state foster care system – she may want to have more control over the parents and lifestyle her child will have in the future. Or it could be that she just cannot or does not want to parent and doesn’t have a suitable adoptive parent for her child within her family or within those she knows. No matter what, prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents need to have empathy and care for their children’s birth parents.
- The expectant mother (and father, if involved) chooses the parents for the child. Prospective adoptive parents often have the opportunity to present themselves to a particular expectant mother who is making an adoption plan. However, the final decision on who will become the adoptive parents rests with the expectant parents. While prospective adoptive families may have the option to proceed with the adoption plan, the ultimate choice is made by the expectant parents. More on the selection process in domestic adoption here.
- Adoptive parents have NO CONTROL over the expectant parent’s actions during pregnancy. Despite an expectant mother possibly having made an adoption plan, chosen a family for her child, and received living expenses, the prospective adoptive parents have no right to dictate her actions during pregnancy. Additionally, the prospective adoptive family is not entitled to the child even if an adoption plan is in place. The prospective adoptive family cannot control if she receives prenatal care, or how she treats her body during her pregnancy (whether she uses legal or illegal substances, where she travels, what her diet is). There are no legal rights to that child until after consents are signed, and in many cases, no binding legal rights until after an adoption has been finalized. The agency she’s working with can choose to control some of these things or release her from their program, but ultimately, the prospective adoptive parents do not and should not have that control, no matter what. Read more about in utero drug exposure in our post here.
- The expectant mother gets to choose what type of contact she wants post-placement. Prospective adoptive parents should only present to expectant mothers or enter an adoption plan with an expectant mother, when they agree to the contact the expectant mother wants. They must understand that the level of contact desired by a birth mother may change over time. Adoption professionals typically recommend the benefits of open adoption to the expectant mother, but it is still her choice. Most birth mothers suffer from sadness and trauma associated with their adoption, and it is normal that they may want contact with their child, or at least information to know that their child is happy and healthy. Read this article thoughtfully written by a birth mom, reflecting on her placement experience.
- The expectant parent has ALL RIGHTS to the child and to the choices she makes during pregnancy before she signs consents to an adoption plan. While her situation, such as addiction, homelessness, or history with child protective services, may limit her options, she ultimately decides whether to proceed with an adoption plan or allow state intervention, which could potentially enable her to parent the child later. She still gets to choose if you are the parents for her child.
- You have no right to be listed on the child’s original birth certificate, and you and your child may never get access to that birth certificate. In my opinion, our archaic law on this should change, but you will receive a new birth certificate once an adoption is finalized, which will replace the original birth certificate. Read more about that process here.
- The cost of domestic infant adoption these days is typically between $45,000 – $60,000, depending on many different factors (the adoption professional, needed maternal living expenses, length of match, etc.). More on adoption costs here.
I’ve outlined just a few of the key differences between surrogacy and adoption to give you a starting point for understanding these distinct family-building options. I must emphasize how critical it is for those of you considering domestic adoption to be mindful of how you engage with expectant mothers. Please stop treating the expectant mothers who chose you in a domestic adoption plan as if they are your surrogates! If you feel you cannot handle the idea of the lack of control in domestic adoption, you might consider embryo donation/adoption and/or surrogacy, where you can have more control. To learn more about embryo adoption and embryo donation, read our article here. If you are an Arizona family and interested in more information on surrogacy, we encourage you to schedule a call with Heather Strickland, a AAAA attorney who specializes in both adoption and assisted reproduction, and she can share more information about the AZ law governing surrogacy and what she recommends to AZ families. If you are a family considering surrogacy in a different state, we always recommend starting by contacting an attorney who is a part of the Academy of Assisted Reproduction Attorneys and scheduling a consultation with an ART fellow (who specializes in Assisted Reproduction Technology).
It’s understandable that emotions run high and you may become invested in the process, but please remember that the expectant mother retains full rights to her child and her own medical information. In that context, behaving as if you have ownership over the child or some entitlement to the child or access to the mother’s private medical details isn’t just legally incorrect; it’s ethically wrong. My hope is that by providing these insights, I can help guide prospective adoptive parents toward an approach that honors the nuances of adoption and is respectful to all parties involved. To learn more on the boundaries necessary in adoption, please read part 2 of this post here.
Let Purl Adoption Advisory be your guide in the complex world of adoption. Our professional services are designed to help you make well-informed decisions. We’re just a call or click away.