Surrogacy vs. Adoption: Choosing What's Best for Your Family

adult and child hands holding a red heart

When thinking about family formation, you have a number of options, including surrogacy and adoption. Both have their advantages and downsides; which one is right for you depends on your family’s circumstances and needs. Here are some factors to consider as you make this life-changing decision.

Genetic Relationship

It may not make a difference to you whether your child is genetically related to you or your partner. But if that is an important factor in your decision, you may prefer gestational surrogacy. In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate becomes pregnant when an embryo is transferred into her uterus. The embryo may have genetic material from one or both intended parents. In gestational surrogacy (unlike traditional surrogacy), the surrogate has no genetic relationship to the baby.

With adoption, on the other hand, the birth mother is genetically related to the baby, and the intended parents typically are not. So if it’s a priority to you to have that genetic tie to your baby (or for the birth mother not to have that connection), surrogacy may be better for your family.

Potential for Disruption of the Process

The issue of genetic relationships is a good lead-in to the question of how those relationships might affect the process of expanding your family. With surrogacy, the surrogate enters the process deliberately, with the intention of carrying a baby who will be raised by other parents.

With adoption, the pregnancy is almost always unplanned. The birth mother may decide to develop an adoption plan for the child with the best of intentions, but also often because she sees few other options. That can change over the course of a pregnancy, especially if the birth mother would prefer not to relinquish parental rights to the child. Not to be overlooked is the biological father, who must also consent to the adoption, and whose consent cannot be presumed.

For these reasons, it is more common for the adoption process not to complete as planned than for intended parents working with a surrogate not to take home a baby. If the risk of a birth mother changing her mind about adoption is unbearable to you, you may prefer to work with a surrogate.

Ongoing Relationship After the Birth

If you successfully pursue adoption, you should expect to have some type of connection with the birth mother moving forward. In the last few decades, open or semi-open adoptions have become the norm. While agreements for open adoption are unenforceable in South Carolina, many women who relinquish their child for adoption want some ongoing relationship with the family who adopts the baby. This might range from an annual letter and photograph of the child, to regular visits with the child.

Obviously, the terms of any relationship need to be agreed upon by the adoptive parents and the birth mother. Surrogates may want some sort of ongoing connection with the family they help, but often not the level of contact that many birth mothers prefer.

Matching and Wait Time

When comparing surrogacy vs. adoption, they are both deeply personal, so naturally there is a matching process involved to ensure that the parties are right for each other. With adoption, prospective parents can specify criteria for the adoption: race, medical history, what type of contact they are open to after the placement, and so on. While the prospective parents can express what they do and do not want in an adoption, the birth mother ultimately chooses the parents with whom the baby will be placed. It may take months, sometimes years, for adoptive parents to be chosen by a birth mother.

On the other hand, matching in the surrogacy process is a lot less one-sided. Assuming the intended parents have not chosen a friend or family member as surrogate, they will probably work with an agency that offers a catalog of prospective surrogates with profiles for review. The intended parents can choose a surrogate, and she can decide if she is interested in working with them. If there is mutual agreement, the intended parents and surrogate can get to know each other better before proceeding with a pregnancy. The wait time to match with a surrogate is typically much shorter than the wait time for an adoption.

Health, Substances, and Prenatal Care

As mentioned above, the process of becoming a surrogate is intentional and deliberate. As such, women seeking to become surrogates typically go through a rigorous health screening. The surrogate typically signs a contract agreeing to get regular prenatal care and to abstain from alcohol and other substances.

Pregnant women planning to surrender a baby for adoption are generally not required to sign any type of agreement regarding their prenatal care or substance use during the pregnancy, but may be asked to self-report this information.

Cost of Surrogacy vs. Adoption

Cost may not be the first thing on your mind as you weigh the possibilities of surrogacy vs. adoption, but it is nevertheless an important factor to understand. Both adoption and surrogacy can be very expensive, but the nature of the expenses varies.

A big difference is compensation of the surrogate or birth mother. Surrogates usually receive compensation for carrying a child for intended parents. The payment is for reimbursement of living expenses, pain and suffering, forbearance from usual activities, and child support while the child is in utero. Birth mothers in an adoption may receive a stipend for their reasonable living expenses, but cannot legally profit from the pregnancy.

There are typically agency, program, and legal fees for both surrogates and birth mothers, In addition, both surrogates and birth mothers have their medical expenses during the pregnancy and birth paid by the intended parents.

Remember that there are also significant medical expenses involved in bringing about a surrogate’s pregnancy: retrieving eggs, fertilizing them, and transferring embryos. These expenses, together with the surrogate’s compensation, can make surrogacy more expensive than adoption.

And while there is a federal tax credit for adoption expenses, there is no corresponding credit for surrogacy costs. All of these factors taken together may mean that surrogacy is financially challenging for some hopeful parents, even if they would otherwise prefer it.

If you have further questions about surrogacy vs. adoption, it may be helpful to speak with an experienced family formation attorney. We invite you to contact Brinkley Law Firm to schedule a consultation.

Our Attorneys

Stephanie M. Brinkley's Profile Image
Since founding Brinkley Law Firm in 2011, attorney Stephanie Brinkley has helped families grow and expand by navigating them through the legal challenges surrounding Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and Adoption. As an attorney who focuses on f… Read More
Christopher D. Kays's Profile Image
Originally from Los Angeles, Christopher Kays moved to Charleston in 2007 when he reported to The Citadel for his knob year to study psychology. As a cadet, Christopher volunteered at the VA hospital and helped establish Leadership Day, The Citadel… Read More

Schedule a Consultation