a surrogate holding a block heart by her pregnant belly

The History Of Surrogacy: When Did Surrogacy Start?


a surrogate holding a block heart by her pregnant belly

Surrogacy as we know it today really has only been around since the 1980s, but infertility and pregnancy loss have been around for centuries, making it hard to pinpoint when surrogacy started. One thing is for sure: it has evolved tremendously since its very beginnings.

We’ll cover the history of surrogacy from biblical times to today, including the medical and legal advancements that had to take place to get where we are. Surrogacy continues to play a pivotal role in society by helping families achieve their dream of having children.

Have you ever wondered if you would be a good candidate for surrogacy? Fill out our surrogate inquiry form to get started today!

How Long Has Surrogacy Been Around?

The history of surrogacy can be traced back thousands of years in biblical references. The method of initiating surrogate pregnancies has evolved as the medical procedures to do so have evolved. The first recorded surrogacy using sexual intercourse with the surrogate was in the Book of Genesis when Sarah and her husband Abraham could not conceive a child on their own. They enlisted the help of their servant Hagar to become pregnant with Abraham’s child via traditional surrogacy. 

Since this first instance of traditional surrogacy, others have been noted throughout ancient history to kings and other rulers whose wives were unable to become pregnant. The definition of “traditional surrogacy” now excludes pregnancies initiated through sexual intercourse since alternative medical procedures to initiate the pregnancy via IUI now exist.

In traditional surrogacy as it exists today, there is an added level of complexity because the surrogate is biologically related to the baby. That biological link creates an additional legal basis for the surrogate to assert her legal maternity. Technological advancements in fertility treatments and technology since the late 1980s have made another type of surrogacy possible.

With gestational surrogacy, the embryo is created using sperm and egg from the intended parents and/or donors and then implanted into the surrogate. Because there is no genetic link between the surrogate and the baby, gestational surrogacy is by far the more common method of surrogacy today and avoids legal risks of traditional surrogacy. 

Who Invented Surrogacy?

When was surrogacy invented in modern times and by whom is a tricky question to answer, but there are some key players and events worth highlighting. In 1976, the first legal surrogacy agreement was drafted by lawyer Noel Keane (the original founder of IARC) for a traditional surrogacy between a married couple and a surrogate. Although it did not include financial compensation for the surrogate, this agreement paved the way for surrogacy contracts in the United States. Four years later, the first paid surrogacy agreement occurred via traditional surrogacy and compensated the surrogate in the amount of $10,000.

Learn about the surrogacy process for intended parents before requesting a free consultation with IARC. 

a silhouette of a surrogate family by a gavel representing surrogacy legality

Surrogacy In The 20th Century

A few critical medical milestones in the 20th century helped shape surrogacy in the United States as it is today. Up until the 1990s, traditional surrogacy was the only surrogacy method reliably available. By the early 1990’s, in vitro fertilization (IVF) had become reliable and became a viable method of establishing a pregnancy in a surrogacy. 

In 1978, Louise Brown became the first baby born as a result of an IVF procedure. IVF allows for an egg other than that of the surrogate to be used. This led to the first surrogacy in the world that was gestational in 1985, meaning the surrogate was not biologically related to the baby. Gestational surrogacy removes some of the emotional and legal risks that were encountered in traditional surrogacy. 

U.S. Surrogacy Politics

The legal history of surrogacy in the United States has not been an easy ride. There have been ups and downs, but the Baby M court case of 1986 was one of the most significant and influential surrogacy laws to this day. The case involved the intended parents, William and Elizabeth Stern, who entered a traditional surrogacy contract with Mary Beth Whitehead. Mary Beth agreed to artificial insemination with William Stern’s sperm, but once the baby was born, she had become too emotionally attached and wanted to keep the child as her own. 

The Baby M case was highly publicized and controversial, leaving the American people with an overall negative view of surrogacy. In the end, William Stern was awarded custody of Baby M with Mary Beth Whitehead granted visitation rights. This was because in a traditional surrogacy the surrogate is both the gestational and biological mother of the child, and the court was unable to successfully distinguish between the rules of adoption and the parentage by intent of surrogacy. 

This viewpoint affected numerous state legislatures that passed laws restricting surrogacy immediately after the decision in the Baby M case. Until just recently, several jurisdictions such as New York and Michigan retained these restrictive rules; however, following the distinct trend of states now passing facilitative legislation for surrogacy, both those jurisdictions now have laws that permit and regulate gestational surrogacy. The Baby M case shined a light on the emotional strain surrogates can experience with traditional surrogacy, but it also highlighted the purpose and necessity of surrogacy as a solution to uterine infertility and thus propelled gestational surrogacy into popularity.

Surrogacy In Literature And Pop Culture

One of the first and most notable references to surrogacy in literature is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which was first published in 1985. In this dystopian novel, working-class women are forced to be traditional surrogates for high-powered commanders whose wives cannot have children of their own. This presents the image of surrogacy that lower economic status women can be used as a breeder class for the wealthy. Given the numerous protections afforded all parties to the process, including the self-determination of surrogates in the process, this has not become the reality.

On a more positive note, the hit sitcom Friends brought surrogacy to a widespread audience with their 1998 episode “The One with the Embryos,” where Phoebe agrees to become a surrogate for her brother and his older wife. While surrogacy originally started as an option for infertile heterosexual couples, it has since become popular as the only family-building option for same-sex couples, as well. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Elton John, Anderson Cooper, and Chrissy Teigen have helped to make it more of a mainstream option for all types of families. What was once considered an unfavorable and complicated process is now more widely accepted in large part due to pop culture and positive media attention.

Celebrities aren’t the only ones turning to surrogacy to expand their families – check out our FAQ page to learn more!

International Surrogacy

Many countries around the world have restrictive surrogacy laws in place, but most are intended for residents or citizens in their country only. Commercial surrogacy is only allowed in a handful of countries, with the United States and Canada at the top of that list, along with various other developing countries that offer far less regulated processes. The surrogacy process in those places is not as well ethically structured and implemented as it is in the US, and the complexities and risks skyrocket due to travel requirements and costs, international laws and necessary citizenship documentation, and frequently limited communication with the surrogate.

The United States is one of the top places for surrogacy in the world because of the legal regulations in place through state legislation, professional rules of conduct governing doctors, psychologists, and attorneys, and the support available to surrogates and intended parents from facilitative surrogacy and egg donor agencies. If you live in the U.S., domestic surrogacy will be the most convenient option, with well-established and highly experienced agencies such as IARC to organize and facilitate the process from start to finish.

cutouts of an LGBTQ surrogate family and a surrogate

Surrogacy Today

Surrogacy today is an incredible and life-changing experience for hopeful parents who are unable to gestate their own child. Although surrogacy laws vary state-to-state in the United States, it is becoming far more legally available and a popular and reliable option for people looking to expand their families. 

As innovations in medical technology such as advanced genetic screening, embryo testing, and the developing use of artificial intelligence continue to advance, the safety and success rates of surrogacy will only grow. Preservation of genetic material, including embryos, through advanced procedures such as vitrification, is one area in particular that has really expanded the options for intended parents, allowing them to store eggs, sperm, and embryos more safely for later use.

As a surrogate at IARC, we’ll be with you every step of the way! Learn more about our process and 6 steps for how to become a surrogate today. 

The Future Of Surrogacy

Surrogacy has made great strides in feasibility and accessibility in just four short decades, and the advancements will continue in the future. As public awareness and opinions shift more positively towards surrogacy, we expect to see more states adopt surrogacy-friendly laws. In the U.S., there are still some states where paid surrogacy is limited, but surrogacy is still successfully accomplished even in those jurisdictions with the help of experienced attorneys. Furthermore, technological advancements on the medical side will only make it safer and more affordable for people to grow their families via surrogacy.

two dads with two kids that they had through surrogacy

Start Your Surrogacy Journey With IARC

Education is the first step towards starting your surrogacy journey. If you are an aspiring parent, a no obligation free consultation with IARC’s director, Steve Snyder, who has more than three decades of experience as both an agency owner and attorney, to educate you is the first step. Schedule a free consultation with Steve Snyder, the Executive Director of IARC.

If you are interested in becoming a surrogate, surrogacy is a priceless gift for those unable to create a family of their own, and you’ll find from surrogate testimonials that the pros far outweigh the cons. Understanding the history and how far we have come in terms of access and public awareness of surrogacy is an important part of the process. 

Here at IARC, we are grateful for all of our surrogates and take steps to ensure the process is smooth from start to finish. This begins with our surrogate requirements and qualifications, which follow the American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines. We take necessary steps to make sure the surrogate and intended parent(s) are matched well and supported throughout the entire process.

Get started as a surrogate with IARC today and change the lives of another family forever!