Born by Surrogate: New Paths to Parenthood

Parenthood through surrogacy has become accepted in the United States, but it’s relatively unregulated compared with other countries – something that can be traced back to case of Baby M.

Parenthood through surrogacy has become accepted in the United States, thanks in part to outspoken celebrity parents like Kim Kardashian and Jimmy Fallon. But surrogacy here is relatively unregulated compared with other countries. It’s an issue that most state legislators won’t touch, because of what happened in the case of Baby M.

Melissa Stern, also known as “Baby M,” was born in March of 1986 in New Jersey to a surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead. After answering a newspaper ad Whitehead was inseminated with sperm from William Stern and contracted to carry a child for him and his wife. But once Baby “M” was born, Whitehead decided she could not give her child away. The ensuing custody battle both fascinated and divided the public, raising important questions: was surrogacy essentially baby selling or was it a new way to help infertile couples have families?

In the days since Baby M, reproductive technology has made it possible for a surrogate to carry a baby made from another women’s egg–either from an egg donor or the intended mother. And, today, families look very different than they did back in the 1980s. Gay male couples are one of the fastest growing groups employing surrogates to have children, and hopeful parents come from around the world to use American surrogates.

The surrogacy business has grown, but the law has not kept up. It still reflects the Baby M era conflict over surrogacy and motherhood. And that’s created a lot of confusion as well as a lot of families.

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  • Producer: Jill Rosenbaum
  • Editor: Anne Alvergue
  • Reporter: Olivia Katrandjian
  • Additional Editor: Sandra McDaniel