There’s a very short and sweet answer to this question that can be stated in just one sentence: Follow the guidelines your fertility center gives you.
But like everything else in life, the issue does not have to be quite so black and white, which is probably a good thing (this coming from a woman who gave birth to her last surrogate baby at the age of 45).
If you are looking for a gestational carrier through an agency, the agency will have applied its own screening requirements to any potential surrogate candidates that you meet. In general, agencies accept women between the ages of 21 and 40, though some more conservative programs cap the age for women they’ll work with at 35, while some will allow a carrier to be 41 or even 42. Because a gestational carrier is not using her own eggs for the process, her age does not have an impact on your baby in terms of chromosomal and genetic health.
It’s easier to make a case for the minimum age guideline than it is for the upper threshold. Most agencies and fertility centers require a woman to be at least 21 years old because it’s an enormous responsibility- both physically and emotionally – to carry a baby for someone else. While a woman does not have to be married to be a surrogate mother, she does have to have given birth to at least one child already, be in a stable, secure living situation, and not be on any form of public assistance.
Upper limits on a gestational carrier’s age have a much wider range of variability. While the emotional maturity and life stability issues generally aren’t as much of a factor for a woman in her late thirties or early forties, physical considerations take the primary focus. The older a woman is during pregnancy, the higher the risk she has for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, placental abruption, and placenta previa (where the placenta is positioned low in the uterus, partially or entirely covering the cervix). There’s also the consideration that a pregnancy – even an easy one – is physically taxing, and generally speaking, a 23-year old will find it physically easier to endure than a 43-year old.
Even so, that doesn’t mean that a woman in her late thirties or even early-to-mid forties isn’t an ideal choice for a gestational carrier, because the experience is about much more then the physical aspects of the pregnancy. And in many cases, age can offer some benefits, as well.
A potential gestational carrier who is a bit older is less likely to be caring for young children herself, which can be a benefit for scheduling appointments, or even if she just needs a little extra rest. If she has a career, she may be more established, which may allow for more scheduling flexibility with her work hours.
A woman on the older end of the surrogacy spectrum is also likely to have a more mature outlook on the surrogacy process itself, and have a fuller understanding of the intricacies of the medical, physical, social and emotional aspects of the process, as well as all of the responsibilities. And although not universally true, the older a woman is, the better she knows her body, which can be a big benefit during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
No matter what the age of your potential gestational carrier, she will have to undergo a wide range of medical testing to determine that she’s a good candidate to carry for you. A woman who is healthy, fit, and has a history of low-risk pregnancies and easy deliveries but is in her forties may actually be a better choice than someone younger who does not maintain as healthy of a lifestyle or who has had difficult pregnancies or deliveries.
If you’re matching with your gestational carrier independently, it’s a good idea to check with your fertility center and ask about their particular age guidelines. While all centers have age limits, some are more flexible than others in interpreting them (in my experience the larger centers had more fixed, less flexible requirements, while the smaller centers were much more willing to look at the whole picture of a potential carrier’s health). Some fertility centers will make exceptions if your surrogate has already carried a child for you (i.e, if you’re trying for a sibling) or if you’re hoping to have a family member or close friend serve as your carrier.
Again, any potential carrier, previously known or unknown to you, has to be medically suitable for the surrogacy process. And just because a woman is younger does not necessarily mean she’s better able to serve as a gestational carrier – there are a wide range of medical, social, emotional, psychological and even financial factors to consider.
If you or your agency or your fertility center have a firm cut-off age, then let that be your guide in your search for a surrogate. But if you happen to really click with someone who isn’t the ideal age you anticipated, don’t let age overshadow your decision process – try to keep an open mind. You just may find your perfect match in someone you least expect!