Independent vs Agency Surrogacy: Find Out Which One Is Right For You

What do Intended Parents, Surrogates, Egg Donors, and even IVF Recipients all have in common besides a love of family-building?

They all ask the same question when starting research - what is the difference between Independent Surrogacy and Agency Surrogacy?

Today we’ll dive right in to talk about our top 3 Pros & Cons of both, common questions, and best practices for making this important decision as smooth as possible.

If you are a total beginner, or deep into overwhelming research, this article is for you.

Don’t worry if you are not familiar with all of the terms, we have a handy glossary to check out when you’re ready. Piece of cake!

First, we’ll start with Independent Surrogacy since we get so many questions about it on a State by State basis.

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Independent Surrogacy

Popularized by movies such as Juno (2007), about an independent-minded teenager confronting an unplanned pregnancy…

…and made mandatory before the 1970s due to a lack of surrogacy infrastructure…

Independent Surrogacy was, and still is, an option many Intended Parents (IPs) seriously consider.

But why?

The Pros:

  • Intended Parents (IPs) can save a large amount of money.
  • Traditional Surrogacy is an option.
  • Freedom. Surrogate relationships may be within families, close friends, or whomever IPs choose without screening.

Let’s explore each point further.

Saving Money Up Front

All types of surrogacy are costly. Not just in terms of money.

The journey can drain your finances if you are not prepared for sure; however, the emotional toll can be depleting as well.

With Independent Surrogacy the upfront costs are typically lower as there is no staff to pay, no background checks usually, and flexible payments can be discussed.

Intended Parents may feel they have more control over how their finances are handled as individual payment plans may be brokered and loans are always an option.

Whether your choice is Independent or Agency, we at Giving Tree believe every person should be able to build their family with love...not financial stress.

Click here for Financing Resources, Grants, and Scholarships currently available which are not endorsed by Giving Tree Surrogacy.

We do not receive a commission or have any say in how these organizations conduct their business.

Traditional Surrogacy Is An Option

Typically, Independent Surrogacy is most often paired with Traditional Surrogacy - when there is a genetic link between baby and surrogate.

Here is an example of Independent Surrogacy and Traditional Surrogacy fused:

“Dave and Harry are deeply in love, newly married, and identify as gay. They have tried to adopt unsuccessfully in the past and desperately want a baby - they have been reading about surrogacy with a genetic link between them. Dave’s sister volunteers to go through IVF treatment using Harry’s sperm and her eggs. She also volunteers to carry the baby for them, securing a genetic link between the couple, while also helping bring new life into the world, keeping the issue private.”

This is a real example of conversations held at the information-gathering stage.

Same-sex biologically male couples, single men, and women without viable eggs gravitate towards Independent Surrogacy for many reasons beyond the example as well.

Freedom To Choose Your Surrogate Before Screening

Similar to the story above, in Independent Surrogacy, you may choose your surrogate.

Depending on where you live, surrogacy can be paid for; by supporting the surrogate through all medical expenses and needs, or it can be altruistic.

It can be completely unpaid for, between friends, family, neighbors…it is truly your choice.

However, there are issues to watch out for.

The Cons:

  • Surrogacy may be illegal in your State.
  • Legal contracts, medical interventions, and adoption issues may sneak up as hidden costs later.
  • Lack of screening and support may lead to financially devastating failed attempts, flight risks, poor communication, and deterioration of mental health.

Is Surrogacy Legal In Your State?

Without proper research and the legal counsel commonly found through agencies, many families going through Independent Surrogacy are blindsided by a whole host of issues along their journey.

Depending on your State, surrogacy may be illegal. Michigan is a prime example where the laws are tricky at best.

The Michigan Surrogate Parenting Act, states: “A person shall not enter into, induce, arrange, procure, or otherwise assist in the formation of a surrogate parentage contract for compensation.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to legal issues surrounding various types of surrogacy in Michigan, with harsh penalties for violators, up to and including criminal penalties.

Find out State by State details on our State Surrogacy Laws Page.

As for the rest of the U.S.A. - in some cases, there has been no professional screening performed on the surrogate or intended parents.

Legal Lessons Learned Can Be Heartbreaking

With independent surrogacy, there can be little to no guidance on the legal process, insurance laws, medical screening, or fund management of surrogate compensation if doing it alone.

Traditional Surrogacy “agents” are an entire topic in themselves and must be looked at cautiously. Information on Independent Surrogacy practitioners is difficult to come by. If seeking out an independent contractor, be sure to perform your due diligence.

A list of basic questions to ask these agents, such as the questions below, can easily be answered via an agency:

  • How long have you been in business and what professional organizations for continued education do you belong to?
  • What support will I receive if there is a loss mid-way through our surrogacy journey?
  • What kind of pre & post-natal guidance do you provide surrogates?
  • Specifically, how do you protect your clients legally?
  • Am I protected if my surrogate moves out of state?

The Intended Parent(s) will usually need to seek out third parties separately; often without referrals or established relationships, for all aspects of the journey.

This can be time-consuming, risky, and costly.

Are family and friends a better option then?
It’s complicated. Having an existing personal relationship with one another could potentially complicate the process.

There are more emotions involved and fewer boundaries. Finally, the surrogate may have a lack of understanding due to not being properly screened and educated on the actual surrogacy process.

Which is one of many reasons why we love, love, love…

Agency Surrogacy

When you decide to become a surrogate, or when you need a surrogate-related service such as IVF and Egg Donation, an agency provides protection, guidance, and support.

An agency is an established, legal operation that will be contractually obligated to you - providing you with a whole host of services. All of which you do not personally have to seek out.

The agency will not abandon you when you have difficult questions and they are held to extraordinarily high standards State by State.

Agencies partner with various medical professionals, legal councils, community support groups, and professional organizations - which they talk about openly!

As with all things, there are both Pros and Cons. So, let’s dive in.

The Pros:

  • Bespoke surrogacy matching done well! (aka Comprehensive Screenings)
  • Higher pregnancy success rates.
  • Top-notch communication and relationship building with surrogates!

Let’s explore these points further.

Professional Surrogates, Fully Vetted

Any surrogate candidate you review will have already gone through medical records screening, an up-to-date background check, financial independence checks, and a thorough interview process.

Seriously, it is a process. And an important one, containing no less than 6-initial phases of screening.

Should anything go wrong during the medical screening stage, you will still be able to be re-matched within the agency, and there will be other surrogates available.

Typically, in Independently Surrogacy, if things don’t work out, you are back at square one and there are so many emotional complexities involved without support.

Higher Rates of Success!*

Depending on the type of surrogacy, Traditional vs Gestational, there can be varying success as well.

Agencies are bound to Gestational Surrogacy, which in turn means higher pregnancy success rates.

According to the CDC, “Gestational carrier cycles had higher rates of implantation, pregnancy, and live births when compared to non-gestational carrier cycles.” (*Read the full article and key findings here.)

An agency gives Surrogate Mothers and Intended Parents more freedom to choose who they think is the best fit for them within their surrogacy roster; providing guidance every step of the way.

They are experienced in the ups and downs of surrogacy, can anticipate hiccups, and provide you with a realistic timeline of the surrogacy process.

Relationship Building & Communication Superstars!

An agency can provide a communication buffer between Intended Parents and Surrogate Mothers.

Most of the time, your agency as a third party will prove to be extremely beneficial with clear communication while acting as an advocate for all parties’ rights, obligations, and wishes.

But what about the downsides to Agency Surrogacy?

The Cons:

  • Higher fees upfront.
  • Gestational Surrogacy only.
  • Contractual obligations.

Let’s explore the Top 3 Complaints we hear at the agency level.

Sticker Shock & Navigating Higher Costs of Service Upfront

The main complaint we hear regarding Agency Surrogacy is the price.

Intended parents may pay initial agency fees, as well as fees for the screenings that were performed on the surrogate’s behalf (Background, Psych, and Insurance Review are a few examples).

Some agencies go over this up front, providing full transparency from the start, so families can save, budget, fundraise, or go all in.

Other agencies provide pricing piecemeal to avoid sticker shock.

The total cost of any surrogacy, whether it is Independent or Agency, can be costly.

Remember…even in Independent Surrogacy there are hidden fees down the line.

Some Intended Parents love the agency feel, having everything done in one place, by professional hands, so they can focus on family-building.

Your Definition of Personal Freedom Matters

When an agency is involved, you will be going through Gestational Surrogacy.

If that is not for you, we understand but hope you’ll read on to see why it is preferred.

In Gestational Surrogacy there is a common myth that the baby will receive half of the genetic makeup from the surrogate.

As we saw above…some people may want that. However, that is Traditional Surrogacy.

In Gestational Surrogacy there is no DNA or Genetic link to the surrogate.

If this is important to you, it is a point to consider. One crucial element to remember is that “no DNA relationship” does not mean “no relationship”.

Relationship building is the core belief at Giving Tree.

We encourage maintaining meaningful communication throughout the life of the child or children.

Intended Parents visit their surrogates a few times to familiarize themselves with one another if the schedule allows and we love that!

For some families, it can feel impersonal to not have a friend or family member surrogate…while other families bond with their surrogate intensely, and become like family, but appreciate the business side of it too.

Lastly, on our list of possible cons, there is the contractual obligation.

Contracts For Pregnancy?

Absolutely. In many cases, contracts protect all parties involved, including the baby.

However, some may not completely love all of the restrictions placed on them.

For surrogates, this may look like the obligation to communicate, even when you do not want to, and the obligation to share your medical information, which is very personal.

Some contracts state where the surrogate can live - but it also is restrictive of the Intended Parents.

IPs are typically contractually obligated to remain with the surrogate matched with, even if you decide later, that you do not want to continue for personal reasons.

In most cases, unless the surrogate is in breach of contract, you will not get your funds returned to you or be eligible for a free rematch should you choose to cancel the match through no fault of the surrogate.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Surrogacy worldwide is costly; however, as with most things, there are reasons for the higher price tag.

Especially in California, where the mental and physical well-being of all parties involved - the Intended Parents, surrogates, egg donors if present, and even IVF recipients - are considered.

In addition, higher rates for surrogates ensure adequate care, medical follow-ups, interventions if necessary, and legal counsel for contractual obligations.

Furthermore, there are many pros and cons for both Intended Parents and Surrogate Mothers when deciding if an Independent Surrogacy journey or an Agency Surrogacy journey is right for them.

In the end, the most important factors remain true for us here at Giving Tree…that everyone is cared for, healthy, happy, and building families in safe ways for all involved.

Choosing surrogacy is a very important decision filled with questions and research.

It can be confusing - but you are not alone.

Contact Us with your questions, or schedule a free, no-obligation exploratory consultation today.

It takes a village to grow love!
The Giving Tree Surrogacy & Egg Donation blog is a space to connect and communicate with intended parents, surrogates, and egg donors. For media inquiries, please call: 888-328-8883