Skip to main content

Assisted reproduction beyond the nation state and nuclear family? Transition to parenthood and negotiating relatedness in gay father families created through transnational surrogacy

Final Report Summary - 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 explored how family formation through surrogacy was experienced and shaped by involved parties: intended gay fathers, surrogates, egg donors, and agency or clinic practitioners. Secondly, the project looked at how these surrogacy practices and meanings were influenced by contextual 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, surrogacy not being allowed by law in most European countries), as well as bio-political institutions, social class, and race. Third, through asking what family relatedness meant to surrogacy participants and how it was practiced, this research aimed to evaluate how far the institutionalized couple and nuclear family logic might be reconstituted or challenged by surrogacy.


From October 2014 through March 2016, fieldwork was carried out in the US by the postdoc fellow Dr. Marcin Smietana, based at the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, the University of California Berkeley, and mentored by Prof. Charis Thompson. The second phase (April 2016 - March 2017) was focused on fieldwork analysis, writing up and dissemination - based at the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc), the University of Cambridge (UK), and directed by Prof. Sarah Franklin.

Fieldwork research. The fieldwork included qualitative in-depth interviews with 37 gay fathers in 20 families (a half 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 community events.

Publications. A book chapter (Smietana 2016 in Lie & Lykke) and a peer-reviewed journal paper (Smietana 2017, Sociological Research Online 22(2): 2) have been published (for details see A special issue of a widely read peer-reviewed open-access journal Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online is accepted and under preparation for 2018, guest-edited by Prof. Charis Thompson and Dr. Marcin Smietana: ‘Making Families: Transnational Surrogacy, Queer Kinship, and Reproductive Justice’. Four other papers are at advanced preparation stages, to be published in 2017 and 2018, as well as a book draft proposal by April 2018.

Dissemination: conferences, outreach, website. The conference ‘Making Families’ was organised at UC Berkeley on February 19th, 2016, by Prof. Charis Thompson and Dr. Marcin Smietana. More details, including videos and a blog post, can be seen on the event website The dissemination and discussion of the findings has also been taking place in community outreach and numerous academic events (for the full list see the project website

Training and teaching. Apart from versatile research training that Dr. Marcin Smietana as the postdoc fellow received throughout the project, also several teaching collaborations as a lecturer or mentor took place: the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program at UC Berkeley, the Sociology of Gender paper and the MPhil in Sociology of Reproduction at Cambridge, and the MPhil in Anthropology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Receiving the opportunity of a further year as a ReproSoc Research Associate by Dr. Marcin Smietana through March 2018 has enabled continuous preparation of publications and outreach actions. Please also see:


Experiences. Overall, surrogacy was experienced positively by all involved (regarding the questions in objective 1). Some emergent contentious points included 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. Other challenges referred to 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. These and other experiences are gathered in one of the articles currently under preparation, and will subsequently be disseminated through the project website:

Social hierarchies. As for the factors shaping U.S. surrogacy (objective 2), in particular the study participants’ socio-economic class structured it in a complex way. On one hand, most of the gay fathers represented upper-middle classes and most of the surrogates lower-middle classes, surrogacy exchange thus being founded on social stratification. At the same time, however, as a result of a normative expectation of equality between the parties and of the surrogates’ self-determination, women of lowest socio-economic status were not recruited as carriers, and a half of the interviewed surrogates had higher education degrees. Neither was the intended fathers’ class always the highest: many resorted to bank loans or financial help from their families of origin to pursue surrogacy. Surrogacy in the US thus opens biological 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.

Narratives. Two over-arching narratives were found to frame surrogacy in the US: 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 economic narrative of transactional compensation paid by intended parents to de-kin 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 gay fathers and surrogates maintained or wished to maintain mutual friendship, they all aimed to create nuclear families with the fathers’ exclusive rights over the children, exemplified by the legalization of the pre-birth order in California.


Academic impact through the publications listed above should become visible from 2017 and 2018 on. Significance in the field can be seen through actions such as the ‘Surrogacy Researchers’ global network created throughout the project (

Beyond academia, the research findings have been communicated and discussed with civil society organizations and the general public throughout the project (Men Having Babies in Brussels and in San Francisco, Association of Multi-Ethnic Adoptive Families in Granada, Chilean Adoption Foundation in Santiago, Cambridge Festival of Ideas in the UK – e.g. see: Final recommendations are being gathered not only in a journal paper currently under preparation, but they are also going to be subsequently disseminated through the project website and on relevant forums for LBGTQ families, families created through assisted reproductive technologies, surrogates, egg donors, as well as professionals and officials dealing with surrogacy.