Surrogacy can be a way to happiness and equality
Turning to the United States to fulfill a dream
Surrogacy, a birthing process which allows all types of families to birth a child, is illegal in Norway and many other European countries including Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. But for many hopeful parents, it is one of the only options to have a genetically related child.
I first learned about the modern realities of surrogacy through my own extended family. My Norwegian second cousin and his husband had a beautiful son via surrogate in Oregon in 2016. While not an easy journey, Hans-Petter and Frode found all of their investments, in time and money, to be well worth it.
To understand what makes surrogacy controversial in Norway, we have to understand what it really means. The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration defines surrogacy as, “A woman (the surrogate mother) [who] agrees to give birth to a child and to hand over the child to someone else when it is born.”
The most common form of surrogacy is what is known as “commercial surrogacy,” where money is exchanged and the surrogate “birth mother” gives up all parental rights to the child. Commercial surrogacy typically involves an egg donation from someone other than the surrogate mother.
Surrogacy can be a great option for women with health issues and for male same-sex couples to have a child genetically related to them. Because of the personal nature of this transaction, the countries where surrogacy is legal have very specific legislation and parameters.
The nuances in the global laws around surrogacy require aspiring parents to do a lot of research. The time investment is extremely high. My relatives decided on the United States because, in the states where it is legal, the process is well established, and they found the legislation to be thorough.
They told me, “Not only is there a system in place that takes care of future parents, the egg donor and the surrogate, but it also felt like the different institutions we were in touch with (hospital, the doctor’s office, passport agency, etc.) were ‘cued in’ to our situation.”
Norway’s Children Act explains what it means to be a legal parent, with emphasis on maternity. The Children Act states, “The woman who has given birth to the child shall be regarded as the mother of the child,” and goes on to specify that, “An agreement to give birth to a child for another woman is not binding.” This act provides no addenda for alternative maternal situations, such as two male parents bringing a child into the world. Under this act, it is much easier for two female partners to become parents or “co-mothers.” This makes it easier for female same-sex couples, based on anatomy alone.
Equality for those in the LGBTQ+ community in Norway fuels much of the conversation around surrogacy. From the outside, the United States has a progressive outlook on LGBTQ+ rights, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states according to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. Yet LGBTQ+ residents are far from national acceptance and basic safety in many areas of the United States.
Norway also has a global reputation for liberal policies and systems. But the birthing options for the gay community are lacking. What appears a matter of legality, actually reflects a country’s morals and ethical standing. It is not a simple issue. As communities and countries around the world have come to understand, logistically, how same-sex couples can birth children, the law asks the question, what is a family?
In a 2013 sciencenorway.no article “Surrogacy Changes Perception of Family” by Isak Ladegaard references two families who pursued commercial surrogacy. Commercial surrogacy is a global industry where, in many countries including parts of the United States, women are paid to be surrogate mothers. Despite this being the only option for some hopeful parents, there is a major social stigma around commercial surrogacy in Norway, according to Ladegaard.
Ladegaard focuses on a Norwegian woman named Kari Ann Volden, whose maternity case generated buzz around commercial surrogacy. Volden used a clinic in India to have twins, using a surrogate and sperm donor. After the Norwegian government denied her reentry with the children, Volden faced both the negative and positive sides of media attention. Critics of her case argued that this type of parenthood was exploitative of developing countries and the women there.
Volden defended herself by explaining that throughout this process she was the only one who would be the twins’ mother moving forward. “(The children) are innocent. Will the Norwegian welfare state sacrifice them and take them away from the only mother they have?” Volden said to the newspaper VG (Verdens Gang).
Ladegaard describes a second case in which two Norwegian men, Geir and Sebastian Kvarme, fought the Norwegian law, after hiring an American surrogate. He writes, “Geir and Sebastian Kvarme are genetically related to their twins, as they have donated sperm, and for practical reasons they each had to inseminate an egg. According to existing laws, they can only be the legal father of their genetically related child and stepfather of the other, but the couple argued that they were both parents of the two, together, no matter what genes they have inside.” One can imagine how being denied a parental relation to your child after going through this extensive process would be incredibly disheartening and even painful.
Hans-Petter and Frode wanted to be as involved in the process as possible. From start to finish, it took about two years for them to have their son and bring him home to Norway. They had to decide what type of agency to use, a more full-service company or one that handles surrogacy relations. Research had to be done on in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics: the options, the success rates, and the financial commitments.
Then there is the egg donor piece, finding one (often through an agency that provides a library of options) and contracting with the chosen donor. Hans-Petter and Frode prioritized chemistry with the people they would be directly dealing with and finding agencies that mirrored their values. They were also looking for an open egg-donor relationship, which can be more time consuming to find. This decision made it possible for their child to reach out in the future and have the potential of a relationship with the donor.
Creating a family is a complex decision for anyone. While many aspects of surrogacy can feel very scientific, it is an incredibly personal journey.
Hans-Petter and Frode explained, “It also has an emotional side to it. One thing is embarking on a journey that puts you in a vulnerable place—the dream is to make a baby and become a family of three (in our case). At the same time it is not only about our emotions, because we are asking other people to be important contributors in making this happen—women investing their time, mind, and bodies to make our dream a reality.”
Despite the reason for choosing to have a baby via surrogate, it is an extremely intimate experience. And for the parents wanting families, it is a special opportunity to have a wish come true.
This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.