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by Mary Ellen McLaughlin, partner at Alternative Reproductive Resources (www.arr1.com)
Fox’s wildly popular “Glee” tackles many controversial topics, most recently, surrogacy. One of the main characters, Rachel Berry, is an aspiring Broadway star and the daughter of two gay men. Her birth was made possible via a surrogate named Shelby Corcoran. The storyline is that Shelby was not just the surrogate but also the egg donor for Rachel’s gay parents, making Rachel her biological daughter. Sixteen years after giving birth to Rachel, Shelby regrets the contractual agreement that prevents her from meeting or speaking to her daughter. Meanwhile, Rachel has been longing to find and meet her biological mother as well.
While this complicated tale makes for great TV, it is far from the reality of a typical gestational surrogacy journey. Gestational surrogates are not biologically related to the child they carry.
Shelby’s surrogacy would be considered a traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate uses her own egg and artificial insemination to become pregnant. However, with as in vitro fertilization has become a standard in fertility treatment, so has gestational surrogacy.
Gestational surrogacy ensures that the surrogate is not related to the child through the use of unrelated egg and sperm, either from the intended parents or other donors. If a traditional surrogacy is used and the surrogate is biologically related to the child, she has legal parental rights if she changes her mind about surrogacy.
Stephanie Eckard was a traditional surrogate in Florida, where her verbal surrogacy agreement with the Lamitina family was viewed as an adoption, where Stephanie could decide to keep the baby until 48 hours after the birth. She changed her mind about the surrogacy a few months into her pregnancy, and the Lamitinas had no claim to the child they’d asked Stephanie to carry for them.
ASRM guidelines for surrogacy also state that surrogates should have already given birth to a child. Shelby doesn’t seem to have any other children on the show, making her a highly unlikely candidate for surrogacy in real life.
Another discrepancy between the “Glee” take on surrogacy and real surrogacies is Shelby’s motivation for becoming a surrogate. A desperate young Shelby, who needed money to fund her dream of becoming a Broadway star, decided the pay for nine months of pregnancy was too good to pass up. In reality, most women who become surrogates don’t do it for the money. They are already mothers of their own children, have stable family support systems, and often know someone who had problems with infertility. They are typically motivated by the idea of helping someone realize their dream of becoming a parent, or simply enjoy pregnancy and don’t mind carrying an unrelated child for another parent.
The moral of the story is, of course, that you can’t always believe what you see on TV. Surrogates are far more often mothers who want to help others create a family than aspiring Broadway singers looking for cash.