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  • Periodic Report Summary 1 - SURROGARTS (Assisted reproduction beyond the nation state and nuclear family? Transition to parenthood and negotiating relatedness in gay father families created through transnational surrogacy)

Periodic Report Summary 1 - SURROGARTS (Assisted reproduction beyond the nation state and nuclear family? Transition to parenthood and negotiating relatedness in gay father families created through transnational surrogacy)


The ‘SurrogARTs’ research project explores how family formation through surrogacy is experienced and shaped by all involved parties: intended parents, surrogates, egg donors, and agency or clinic practitioners – including what the very family relatedness means to them. Secondly, the project looks at how these surrogacy practices and meanings are influenced by factors such as gender and sexuality (by focusing on gay-father families), political geography (by studying both arrangements by American parents in the US, and transnational ones by European parents in the US, given that surrogacy is not recognized by law in most European countries), as well as bio-political institutions, social class, and race. Third, this research aims to evaluate how far the institutionalized couple and nuclear family logic may be reconstituted or challenged by surrogacy. In the first phase of the project (October 2014 through March 2016), the study looked at compensated surrogacy carried out in the US, while the second research phase in the UK (April 2016 through March 2017) will be focused on the analysis of the fieldwork material and publications.


The US phase of the project was focused mainly on fieldwork, within which Dr. Marcin Smietana carried out qualitative in-depth interviews with almost 20 intended families (mostly gay fathers, a half being European and the other half American), 20 surrogates, 5 egg donors, and 15 fertility professionals in the US. This was paired by participant observation at surrogacy fairs and agency or clinic anniversaries, and ethnographic elements such as accompanying some of the interviewees during their medical appointments or in their houses, follow-up interviews, and email or social media updates.

Another major achievement was organizing the conference ‘Making Families: Transnational Surrogacy, Queer Kinship, and Reproductive Juctice’ at the University of California-Berkeley on February 19th, 2016. The event was hosted by the project’s scientist in charge in the US, Prof. Charis Thompson, and the project’s postdoc fellow, Dr. Marcin Smietana, with the support from the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, and the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society. The line-up of speakers included (chronologically): Prof. Charis Thompson, Prof. Joshua Gamson, Prof. France Winddance Twine, Prof. Zakiya T. Luna, Prof. Laura Mamo, Prof. Kim TallBear, Dr. Michal Nahman, Prof. Sharmila Rudrappa, Dr. Marcin Smietana, and Prof. Judith Stacey. More details, including videos from the conference, as well as a blog post by the Center for Genetics & Society, can be found on the project website at:

In addition, this project phase also involved a teaching collaboration with five UC Berkeley undergraduate students, creating an international Facebook network of 28 ‘Surrogacy Researchers,’ and the dissemination of the first findings at five international conferences and meetings, including one specialized workshop (‘Embryo and Global ARTs’ at UC Berkeley), two major academic conferences (‘Queer Kinship’ in Poland and ‘American Anthropological Association’ in the US), and two community conferences (‘Men Having Babies’ in Brussels and in San Francisco).
The first resulting publication is forthcoming: Smietana, Marcin (in press, 2016). ‘Families like we’d always known? Spanish gay fathers’ normalization narratives in transnational surrogacy.’ In: M. Lie, & N. Lykke (eds.) Assisted Reproduction across Borders: Feminist Perspectives on Normalizations, Disruptions and Transmissions. Routledge.

For more information please visit the project website at:


Narratives. The findings show that surrogacy in the US is framed by two over-arching narratives: on one hand, the normalizing and de-commodifying affective narrative of altruism, family values, and friendship between the involved parties (absent, for example, from the surrogacy process in India or Russia); and on the other hand, the de-kinning and stabilizing economic narrative of transactional compensation paid by intended parents to surrogates and egg donors. Answering the questions in objective 3 of this study, surrogacy in this form represents only a partial transformation of the already existent conventional family formation practices, as despite the fact that most of the participant intended parents and surrogates maintained or wished to maintain mutual friendship, they all aimed to create nuclear families with intended parents’ exclusive rights over the children, exemplified by the legalization of the pre-birth order in California.

Experiences. In general, surrogacy was experienced positively by all involved (in answer to the questions in objective 1). Some emergent contentious points refer to biomedical practices such as the number of embryos to be transferred to the surrogate’s womb; the in-depth informed consent process including discussion of issues such as selective reduction; psychological support, post-partum care and medical insurance for surrogates. These will be gathered in the final policy recommendations reports, alongside other key points, notably ones related to contact between the involved parties, as well as citizenship and mobility issues the intended parents needed to deal with so as to establish their parenting rights and the children’s citizenship back home in Europe.

Social hierarchies. Responding the question about the factors that impact on the surrogacy process (objective 2), the study participants’ socio-economic class structured it in a complex way: on one hand, most of the parents represented upper-middle classes and most of the surrogates lower-middle classes. The average price the interviewed parents paid for commercial surrogacy was 150,000 USD, out of which the surrogates received about 30,000 on average, that is, well below the average annual income (the remainder accounting for medical, legal, agency and other fees, travel expenses, and egg donation if it was involved). Yet at the same time, due to the screening practices at agencies and clinics, women under the economic pressure of the lowest social classes were never accepted as carriers and, what is more, a half of the interviewed surrogates had higher education degrees. In the same vein, many of the intended parents resorted to bank loans or family resources rather than their own more established economic status in order to pursue surrogacy. Surrogacy in the US thus opens family formation options for those who otherwise would hardly have them, such as European gay men, yet at the same time it is structured by the existent social hierarchies.


Given the extent of the fieldwork carried out within this study in the US so far, as well as other studies completed in the UK meanwhile (e.g., Dow, 2016; Jadva, Imrie & Golombok, 2015), the main focus of the second project phase will be on analysis and publications. Three papers based on the project’s fieldwork have already been approved for special issues of important journals in the field.

In terms of impact beyond academia, the project envisages drafting a policy recommendations report for the European Commission and the relevant governmental and non-governmental agencies, in order to contribute to the current European debate on the recognition of surrogacy in Europe. This report is being prepared based on the research carried out within this study, but also in consultation with the civil society associations such as ‘Men Having Babies,’ including their Surrogate Advisory Board.

Related information


Renata Schaeffer, (European Policy Manager)
Tel.: +44 1223 761648
Fax: +44 1223 334550


Life Sciences
Record Number: 187542 / Last updated on: 2016-08-22
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