The History of Surrogacy: A Timeline

Surrogacy wasn’t always a scientific medical process with legal contracts and consent from all parties. The Bible first mentions surrogacy in The Book of Genesis. According to the story, Abraham and Sarah used their servant, Hagar, to carry Abraham’s baby. Sarah and Abraham raised that child as their own. Today this would be known as traditional surrogacy because the surrogate used her own eggs.

Infertility is not a new problem experienced only by modern women. Women in all times leading up to ours have had trouble conceiving, and one way in which they were able to start a family was through the assistance of a surrogate mother.

Keep reading to learn more about the history of surrogacy:

  • 1884: The first successful artificial insemination of a woman was completed, although in an ethically questionable way. This paved the way for future artificial inseminations used in the surrogacy process. 

  • 1975: The first ethically completed IVF embryo transfer was successful.

  • 1976: Lawyer, Noel Keane brokered the first legal surrogacy agreement between a set of intended parents and a traditional surrogate mother. The surrogate mother did not receive compensation for this.

  • 1978: The first baby conceived through IVF transfer was born.

  • 1980: The first compensated surrogacy agreement was arranged between a traditional surrogate and the intended parents. Elizabeth Kane (a pseudonym) received $10,000 to carry a baby for another couple. Kane eventually regretted her choice to become a surrogate and wrote about her surrogacy experience in her book, Birth Mother.

  • 1984-1986: Perhaps the most famous case in surrogacy history is the “Baby M” case, involving a traditional surrogacy. Bill and Betsy Stern hired Mary Beth Whitehead to be their surrogate in 1984, agreeing to pay her $10,000. Whitehead’s eggs were used in the artificial insemination process, making her the biological mother of the child. When the baby was born and it was time for Whitehead to sign over her parental rights, she refused and took custody of baby Melissa Stern (“Baby M.”), which started a long custody battle in 1986. This case played a key role in the development of some of the stricter surrogacy laws in the U.S. This case also marked a huge turning point in the history of surrogacy, and, not surprisingly, many surrogacy professionals began to move toward the use of gestational surrogacy to avoid these legal entanglements.

  • 1985: The first successful gestational surrogacy was completed, paving the way for future gestational surrogacies to be the norm.

  • 2001: A grandmother, Viv, became the world’s oldest gestational surrogate, giving birth to her own grandchild. 

  • 2005: Teresa Anderson delivered five boys as a gestational surrogate to a couple she met online. The intended mother, Luisa Gonzalez, and her husband had battled infertility for over 10 years.

Surrogacy has come a long way through history. From rarely spoken of traditional surrogacies of centuries past, to family members acting as surrogate carriers and commercial surrogacy of today, the road has been long, and many miracles and hardships have been faced along the way. The history of surrogacy is just beginning — and, with its ever-changing nature, it’s reasonable to expect more will be added to the story in the future.

Interested in becoming a gestational surrogate yourself?  Find out more here.