Every day can feel like an eternity when you’ve been trying to grow your family for quite some time. Now that you’re considering surrogacy, asking “How long will the process take?” is completely normal. While specific timelines vary, a typical surrogacy journey lasts anywhere from 18 to 24 months.
The surrogacy process is this long because it involves various stages and requires input from multiple professionals. The process also depends on a number of factors that fall outside of one’s control, such as a successful embryo transfer and pregnancy. In the grand scheme of things, it’s worth the wait – as each day gets you closer to hopefully welcoming your little one.
For many intended parents researching their surrogacy journey, creating a realistic timeline in advance is really helpful. Seeing the entire process broken down into smaller, achievable steps helps you focus on each stage and know when to expect the next. With that said, let’s get into the entire surrogacy process and the stages you should expect along the way, with approximate timelines for each:
The decision to build your family through surrogacy is a big one. And, as with all big decisions, research goes a long way. The time you need to weigh your family building options and to address any complicated feelings you (or your partner) may be dealing with is completely personal. When you’re sure that surrogacy is the right path for you, it’s time to decide whether to enlist the help of a surrogacy agency or go ahead on your own. Here are a few articles that can help you start to think this through:
If you decide to work with a surrogacy agency for your journey, the first step is to choose the right one for you. Here’s one place GoStork can really help you save time: we’ve researched and vetted top surrogacy agencies across the US, so you don’t have to. Rather than managing accounts with multiple agencies, you can view (and easily compare side-by-side) many different options on our platform, including all of the important information about their services offered, ratings and reviews, number of babies born, team profiles and much more. We’re also the only place where you’ll see costs published upfront, saving you the time it takes to call agencies or attend initial consultations to get them. All of this combined reduces what used to take many weeks of research into as little as a few hours.
Once decided on your top choice (or choices), you can instantly message the agency or schedule a phone consultation, where you can discuss the surrogacy process and your wishes in more detail, get to know the staff, and start building a relationship with them. It’s important that you develop a good rapport – knowing you can trust the agency, and that its staff will help you manage any difficult situations that may arise. A service agreement is signed once you’re sure the agency is right for you.
If needed, at this stage you will also match with an egg donor and create your embryo(s). We also have a few articles that can help you start to think this part through:
The agency will ask you to complete an intended parent profile, which they will present to potential gestational carriers. (As a note of clarification: a gestational carrier is a woman who carries a pregnancy for someone else but has no biological link to the fetus. When the carrier also provides the egg, she is called a surrogate. Most surrogacy arrangements today are gestational surrogacies). The agency helps to find the most ideal carrier that meets the intended parents’ requirements and then presents the match to both parties. If everyone is happy with the match, the agency facilitates a meeting (which happens over a video conference in current times or if you don’t live close to each other) where you get to learn more about each other. If everyone’s excited about taking things further, the journey can officially begin!
The length of this stage greatly depends on the criteria you have for your gestational carrier. If you’d prefer that she is a specific age, or from a specific location, for instance, this can lengthen the process. Some intended parents reach an agreement at the very first video call – others meet with more than one gestational carrier before finding a match.
Here’s another helpful article where you can learn more about the Essential Qualifications to be a Gestational Carrier.
A number of milestones mark the next few weeks, all of which have a big impact on the overall surrogacy process.
The gestational carrier undergoes medical and psychological screening to ensure that all is well for her to carry a child and in general to successfully complete the surrogacy process.
During this time, you will also work with your surrogacy attorney to draw up the surrogacy contract – while the gestational carrier simultaneously works with her own lawyer. Once all points are made clear and agreed upon, both parties sign the contract – another milestone successfully reached!
Once the legal agreement has been finalized, the IVF clinic provides the gestational carrier with her protocol and the required medication. She is also advised on the monitoring required ahead of the embryo transfer.
If you already have embryos available, this stage will take an estimated 4-6 weeks. For the embryo transfer itself, many parents choose to join their carrier and experience this important moment together – if they can’t be there in person, a video call is often organized.
While we all hope for success at first try, in reality there are instances where the transfer is not successful. In that case, you will have to wait another 6-8 weeks before a second transfer attempt.
Following the transfer, your gestational carrier visits the local clinic for beta tests until a heartbeat is confirmed. If you’d like more background, you can learn more about the IVF process, here: A step-by-step guide of the IVF process.
This part of the process can be longer if you don’t have your embryos yet. In between contracts, travel, screening, medications and – if you choose to – embryo testing, the process can take around 4 months.
Congratulations! Next up is the longest stage of the surrogacy journey, but also an amazing one. A full term pregnancy takes 40 weeks, but a couple of weeks would have already passed at the point the pregnancy is confirmed. Your gestational carrier will keep you updated as the pregnancy progresses. At this stage, she’s cared for by her own OBGYN. Depending on the legal framework in your gestational carrier’s state, your attorney may be able to start the pre-birth order process around the 16th to 20th week mark. We’ll go into more detail on this in a later section.
If you’re considering breastfeeding (or if you’re reading here first that it’s even possible to breastfeed if you don’t carry the baby), you can speak to your doctor early on in the pregnancy about inducing lactation. In this article, Candace Wohl, infertility advocate, co-writer of Our Misconception blog, and mom to two daughters born via a gestational carrier, writes about her experience of deciding and then preparing to breastfeed.
As the pregnancy progresses, it’s time to create a birth plan, book any travel as required, and prepare the hospital bag including everything you need (carseat, etc) to take the baby home. A note on car seats: all states require parents to have a car seat before leaving the hospital – some hospitals offer car seat safety classes and can also check your seat for correct installation. For international parents, the surrogacy agency can help you source a car seat and any other baby gear you may need before you travel back to your home country. You should also take the time to research, interview and choose a pediatrician. Most hospitals ask for the name of the pediatrician as soon as your gestational carrier is admitted to deliver the baby.
When the doctor gives the all-clear, you can head home. International parents, however, will have to stay in the state the baby was born in for a few more weeks until all paperwork is complete and the baby has a passport.
The Uniform Parentage Act provides a legal framework for establishing parent-child relationships. Under this act, the woman who gives birth to the child is presumed to be the child’s mother, both biologically and legally. Because of this, the gestational carrier (and if applicable, her husband) have to formally establish that they are not the child’s parents.
Once your baby is born the carrier and her partner sign and relinquish any rights they may have. Your attorney submits this documentation to the court, together with other paperwork to prove the baby’s parentage.
As noted earlier, in some states, the process of establishing parental rights can start before your little one’s birth. At around the 16th and 20th week of pregnancy, your attorney starts the pre-birth order process which establishes the baby’s legal parentage.
If one of the intended parents is not genetically related to the baby, they may need to complete an adoption, or (a more straightforward) stepparent or second-parent adoption. In cases where neither intended parent is related to the baby, a full adoption or embryo adoption is required.
We’ve gone over all the main elements of the surrogacy journey so you should now have a better idea of what to expect. That said, this is a general outline: surrogacy is a very human and highly personal experience, with variables that can affect the overall length of the process. Focusing on each step as it comes and remaining flexible throughout will help you stress a bit less and be at peace with the fact that there may be some unexpected situations along the way.
As you start your search for a gestational carrier, we hope you’ll take advantage of our free platform where you can find, compare, and connect with top surrogacy agencies across the US, already researched and vetted for you with profiles including all of the important criteria (years in business, number of babies born, costs, ratings and reviews, team profiles, and much more) you need to make an informed decision. Find your ideal surrogacy agency, here.