Surrogacy Journey 101: Terms & Timeline Explained

January 7, 2021 by Eran Amir

Surrogacy is an incredible family building journey, but it’s also a complicated one with plenty of administrative, medical, and legal terms. As an intended parent (which I was myself), it can feel overwhelming to face confusing technical language and processes without support interpreting them. 

This article defines the most common terms you’ll encounter as well as provides an overview of the surrogacy process so you can feel empowered as you begin your journey.

Let’s start with the basics.


What is surrogacy?

Surrogacy is a method of assisted reproductive technology where a woman carries a pregnancy for an individual or a couple (in this case called intended parent(s)). The majority of surrogacy contracts today are ‘gestational surrogacy arrangements’, where a gestational carrier (GC) carries a pregnancy for the intended parents (IPs). The GC has no genetic link to the baby as the egg is provided by the intended mother or an egg donor. On the other hand, a traditional surrogate is genetically related to the baby as, in addition to carrying the baby, she also provides the egg. Because traditional surrogacy involves specific legal and emotional complexities (and is also illegal in some states), most agencies today only offer gestational carrier arrangements.

How do surrogacy agencies and surrogacy attorneys help intended parents?

Surrogacy agencies provide a broad range of services for both IPs and prospective GCs. Agencies aim to make the surrogacy experience as straightforward and stress-free as possible so IPs can focus on the journey itself and prepare for their little one. They also ensure that the whole process is completed safely and in line with all legal requirements.

Services offered by surrogacy agencies vary from agency to agency. Some are a one-stop-shop for everything surrogacy-related while others offer partial services. If you choose the latter, you will need to work with other surrogacy professionals in tandem.  You will need to identify the professionals you’d like to work with and coordinate between them, rather than the agency managing everything for you. So it’s important when choosing an agency that you do your research and are aware of exactly what it offers vs which elements of the process you’ll have to take care of yourself. 

Generally, though, surrogacy agencies:

  • Analyze applications to ensure the seriousness and commitment of both the GC and the IPs
  • Match and carry out one-on-one consultations – ie. they support both IPs and GCs until they connect with their best fit, given their needs and preferences 
  • Coordinate between clinics and surrogacy attorneys to address all surrogacy-related legal issues 
  • Screen GCs for physical, psychological and emotional readiness for the process
  • Provide support services, including counseling, to assist you throughout the journey

As mentioned above, you will also work with a surrogacy attorney. In any surrogacy arrangement, a surrogacy attorney is essential to ensure that the rights of both the GC and the IPs are protected. Surrogacy attorneys help IPs understand local surrogacy laws and regulations, ensure that the process is completed in a legal manner, draft and finalize the surrogacy contract, and establish IPs’ parental rights as early as possible (more on this in the timeline below).

The Surrogacy Timeline

A typical surrogacy journey can last anywhere from 18 to 24 months - but it’s well worth the wait!

The process is this long because it involves various stages and, as we’ve seen above, requires input from multiple professionals. The process also depends on a number of factors that fall outside of one’s control, such as a successful embryo transfer and pregnancy. Below is an overview of what you should expect on your journey:

  1. Research Phase 

The decision to build your family through surrogacy is a big one. And, as with all big decisions, research goes a long way. The time you need to weigh your family building options and to address any complicated feelings you (or your partner) may be dealing with is completely personal. Any amount of time needed is OK - do what’s best for you. When you’re sure that surrogacy is the right path, and then decide to get established support from an agency, these would be your next steps: 

  1. Consultation and Application: 1-3 Months

If you decide to work with a surrogacy agency for your journey, the first step is to choose the right one for you. Here’s one place GoStork can really help you make more informed decisions while saving you a great deal of time and work: we’ve researched and vetted the top surrogacy agencies across the US, so you don’t have to. Rather than going through multiple websites and making countless phone calls for information, you can view (and easily compare side-by-side) many different options, all in one place, and including all of the important information about their services offered, ratings and reviews, number of babies born, team profiles and much more. We’re also the only place where you’ll see costs published upfront, saving you the time it takes to call agencies or attend initial consultations to figure out what you’ll have to pay. Once decided on your top choice (or choices!), you can instantly message the agency or schedule a phone consultation - all from our 100% free platform.  In those communications you’ll start discussing the surrogacy process and your wishes in more detail, get to know the staff, and start building a relationship with them until you’re comfortable signing a contract.

It’s important that you develop a good rapport – knowing you can trust the agency, and that its staff will help you manage any difficult situations that may arise. A service agreement is signed once you’re sure the agency is right for you. 

(Note: If needed, at this stage we can also help you to find your egg donor - with a selection of nearly 10,000, the largest free online database).

Matching: 3-6 Months

The agency will ask you to complete an intended parent profile, which they will present to potential carriers who may then decide if they’d like to move forwards. When the agency finds the ideal fit, they then present her to the IPs. If everyone is happy with a match, the agency facilitates a meeting (which happens over a video conference in current times or if you don’t live close to each other) where you get to learn more about each other. If everyone’s still excited to move forwards, the journey officially begins! 

The length of this stage greatly depends on the criteria you have for your GC. If you’d prefer that she is a specific age, or from a specific location, for instance, this can lengthen the process of finding your match. Some IPs reach an agreement at the very first video call – others meet with more than one GC before finding a match.

  1. Medical Screening and Contracts: 1-2 Months

A number of milestones mark the next few weeks, all of which have a big impact on the overall surrogacy process. The gestational carrier undergoes medical and psychological screenings to ensure that all is well for her to carry a child and in general to successfully complete the surrogacy process. 

During this time, you will also work with your surrogacy attorney to draw up the surrogacy contract – while the GC simultaneously works with her own lawyer. Once all points are made clear and agreed upon, both parties sign the contract – another milestone successfully reached!

  1. Embryo Transfer: 1-1.5 Months

The IVF clinic provides the gestational carrier with her protocol and the required medication. She is also advised on the monitoring required ahead of the embryo transfer. 

If you already have embryos available, this stage will take an estimated 4-6 weeks. For the embryo transfer itself, many parents choose to join their carrier and experience this important moment together – if they can’t be there in person, a video call is often organized. 

While we all hope for success at first try, in reality there are instances where the transfer is not successful. In that case, you will have to wait another 6-8 weeks before a second transfer attempt. 

Following the transfer, your GC visits the local clinic for beta tests until a heartbeat is confirmed. 

  1. Pregnancy: 9 Months

Congratulations! Next up is the longest stage of the surrogacy journey, but also an amazing one. Your carrier will keep you updated as the pregnancy progresses. At this stage she’s cared for by her own OBGYN. Depending on the legal framework in your GCs state, your attorney may be able to start the pre-birth order process around the 16th to 20th week mark. We’ll go into more detail on this in a later section.

If you’re hoping to breastfeed (or if you’re reading here first that it’s even possible to breastfeed if you don’t carry the baby), you can speak to your doctor early on in the pregnancy about inducing lactation

As the pregnancy progresses, it’s time to create a birth plan, book any travel as required, and prepare the hospital bag including everything you need to take the baby home. For international parents, the surrogacy agency can help you source a car seat and any other baby gear you may need before you travel back to your home country. You should also take the time to research, interview and choose a pediatrician. Most hospitals ask for the name of the pediatrician as soon as your carrier is admitted to deliver the baby. 

  1. Birth and Postpartum: 1.5-3 Months

When the doctor gives the all-clear, you can head home. International parents, however, will have to stay in the state the baby was born in for a few more weeks until all paperwork is complete and the baby has a passport. 

  1. Establishing Parental Rights

The Uniform Parentage Act provides a legal framework for establishing parent-child relationships. Under the original act, the woman who gives birth to the child is presumed to be the child’s mother, both biologically and legally. The most recent update (2017) expands the definition of a parent to include reproductive technology and children born to same sex couples. 

Before, on, or after the birth, court proceedings are started for an order or judgement declaring that the intended parents are the parents of the child and that the GC and husband (if applicable) are not.

In some states, the process of establishing parental rights can start before your little one’s birth (as mentioned above, at around the 16th and 20th week of pregnancy, your attorney starts the pre-birth order process which establishes the baby’s legal parentage), whereas in others, this happens after the baby is born.

However, as noted by Melissa Heinig, Attorney, in an article for Lawyers.com, “the UPA and its updates aren’t mandatory throughout the United States, and the decision whether to adopt the most recent version of the Act is up to the individual state.”

This makes it all the more important to consult a surrogacy attorney to understand surrogacy law as it pertains to the GC’s state, and ensure that your rights are protected throughout.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what to expect with the surrogacy journey. That said, this is a general outline: surrogacy is a very human and highly personal experience, with different variables that can affect the overall length of the process. Focusing on each step individually as it comes and remaining flexible throughout will help you stress a bit less and be at peace with the fact that there may be some unexpected situations along the way. Good luck! 


About Eran Amir

With more than 20 years of experience, Eran Amir has worked as both a software development and product management executive in Israel and the Greater New York Area. The development of GoStork combines his professional skill set with a personal mission. After undergoing a long, difficult, and costly process to expand his family via surrogacy and egg donation, Amir vowed to help other intended parents avoid the complexity and confusion he experienced. His passion led to the creation of GoStork, which proudly names Amir’s two-year-old daughter as its co-founder.

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