You may think that surrogacy is a fairly new concept, but the idea has been around for thousands of years. Traditional surrogacy is when the surrogate conceives a child with her own egg and is biologically the mother of the baby. Situations like this are emotionally and ethically complicated and sometimes lead to the mother not wanting to relinquish the child to the intended parents. Gestational surrogacy is when the surrogate receives an embryo through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and is in no way related to the baby. The egg used in this process can belong to the intended mother or comes from an egg donor. In a nutshell, the surrogate will take courses of medication until an embryo is transferred into her uterus. The embryo should attach to the lining and the surrogate will then have a normal pregnancy like any other. When the baby is born, the intended parents take the child home right away.

Examples of traditional surrogacy can be found all throughout history, and surrogacy is even mentioned in the bible when Sarah and Abraham failed to conceive a child on their own. They called upon their servant, Hagar, to mother a child with Abraham. After the child was born, Sarah and Abraham both claimed to be the parents from then on. Babylonian laws and customs allowed this practice to avoid inevitable divorces.

The history of surrogacy also tells us that the Spanish monarchy would use traditional surrogates to father children until an heir was born. Once the children were born, the biological mothers would act as nannies. The true parents were claimed to be the king and queen to avoid any disputes about their royal legitimacy.

Though it has been used many times throughout history, surrogacy was more often a taboo practice that was looked down upon. The mother’s biological tie to the child raised ethical and illegitimacy issues. Once gestational surrogacy was invented, and the surrogate was able to not be biologically related to the child, the ethical issues were alleviated and tighter legal contracts could be formed.  

Let’s take a look at some of the milestones in the history of surrogacy:

  • 1978 – In England, Louise Brown was born through IVF. Dubbed the first “test-tube baby” to ever be born.
  • 1984-1986 – The most famous case in the history of surrogacy in the USA was ‘Baby M’. This was a case of traditional surrogacy as the surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, was the biological mother of the child. When the time came, she refused to relinquish custody of the child to the intended parents. The courts of New Jersey ruled that the surrogacy contract was null and void and that Mary was indeed the true mother of the child. But in a twist, they granted custody rights to the biological and intended father, William Stern. Mary received visitation rights.  
  • 1990 – Another one of the most important cases in the history of surrogacy happened in California. In the case of gestational surrogacy, Anna Johnson refused to give up her rights to the baby. The intended parents, Mark and Crispina Calvert, sued her for custody and won. This court case set the standard for future cases and named the true mother the one who intends to raise the child as set forth in the surrogacy agreement.

Since the 1990s, gestational surrogacy has helped create thousands of happy families. According to WebMD, about 750 babies are born each year in the USA through gestational surrogacy. In many countries today, surrogacy is not an option due to foreign laws. This makes America and other countries where it is legal like Russia and Canada, major destinations for those who need assistance in procreating. In Canada, nearly half of all surrogacies are for foreigners. Performing the surrogacy process in America can also be a draw for foreigners who want to gain citizenship. Any child born in the USA is legally a citizen. The intended parents can apply for a green card once the child reaches age 21. 

The history of surrogacy has been long and fraught with court battles, but with technology that allows for gestational surrogates to have no biological connection to the child, times are bright for couples who need help starting a family. The Johnson-Calvert case in 1990 helped set legal standards and created solid, legally binding surrogacy contracts to protect the intended parents and their new baby. Technological advancements have made the entire process safe and raised the success rate for conceiving a child.

Are you interested in becoming a surrogate or an egg donor? You can learn more about the process and listen to testimonials at When you think you are ready, apply online for free.

by Julia McConnell | Last updated on : February 14, 2023