Surrogacy In the Media

In the 21st century, the concept of entertainment has grown in leaps and bounds from its humble origins founded in mindless escapism. 

Various forms of media embrace aspects embedded in reality, such as health issues, the importance of family, and relationships between people.

Surrogacy has enjoyed a similar time in the limelight. What began as celebrities discussing their difficulties with fertility has morphed into full-blown themes discussed at length in movies and television shows. 

Read on to explore how surrogacy has been embraced and portrayed in the media.


The beloved sitcom that started in the late 20th century is one of the most recognizable depictions of surrogacy in the media. 

In the show, the character Phoebe, played by renowned actress Lisa Kudrow agrees to be the surrogate mother for her brother Frank in the landmark episode entitled The One with the Embryos.

While injecting some comedy and folly into the encounter, the show grounds Phoebe’s decision into relatable themes, showing that she took the role because of her fondness towards her brother rather than out of the motivation for financial gain. 

Despite the intentions behind the theme in the show, there were some nuanced ethical questions raised by the focus on surrogacy.

Phoebe agrees to carry a child for her biological brother Frank, whose significantly older wife Alice had health issues with fertility. The biological relation carried some taboo subjects, granted that the two were siblings and one being pregnant with the child of the other appeared ethically challenging.

phoebe buffay

The showrunners timed the idea for actress Lisa Kudrow’s character to become a surrogate mother to coincide with her real-life pregnancy. This allowed the writers and producers to use pregnancy for the narrative in the fourth season of the show.

The episode made up for this ethical dilemma by diving into the nuances of surrogacy. Kudrow’s character learned that the doctor would implant five of the couple’s embryos into her uterus with an estimated 25% chance of success. 

Phoebe offered to do the procedure as many times as possible, and she grew concerned when she learned that her brother Frank and his wife Alice were spending $16,000 for a single IVF cycle, an amount that included all of their savings.

This portrayal garnered incredible acclaim both with critics and the viewing masses. The episode ranked fourth on the week it was aired and is widely considered one of the best parts of the entire series, and is a favorite amongst cast members and producers. 

According to Wikipedia, The One with the Embryos was ranked number 21 on TV Guide’s list of Television’s Top 100 Episodes of All Time.

When the Bough Breaks

when the bough breaks

This film released in 2016 is a remake of another film by the same name originally featuring Martin Sheen in 1994. 

In the remake, a woman named Anna agrees to be a surrogate for a couple in need, John and Laura, with the hidden intention of extorting the couple in collaboration with her boyfriend Mike. 

Things soon turn sour when the surrogate mother becomes infatuated with the intended father, and she ends up killing her boyfriend when he insists that they demand money from the couple.

This is far from the emotional and grounded depiction of surrogacy as shown in Friends, focusing more on the drama of romantic obsession and financial greed. 

The story takes twists and turns after the surrogate Anna confesses her feelings for John who does not feel the same way. Anna falls into a violent rage, after which she unsuccessfully attempts to escape with the baby once it is born, meeting a similarly violent death after John and Laura track her down and confront her.

Many acclaimed critics have fairly chastised the film for its misguided portrayal of surrogacy. The surrogate mother did not undergo the mandatory psychological screening, and she also had no children of her own, both of which would typically disqualify her candidacy. 

Furthermore, the film did not portray a pre-birth order or a surrogacy contract that would have better protected the rights of the intended parents.

Baby Mama

Baby mama

Renowned actresses Tina Fey and Amy Poehler joined forces for a hotly anticipated comedy involving surrogacy. 

A driven career woman Kate(tina fey) discovers she cannot have a healthy pregnancy and turns to an obnoxious and immature woman Angie (Amy Poehler) to become her surrogate mother. 

Once the fertility center informs Kate that Angie is pregnant, Kate fastidiously begins to prepare for motherhood.

Unbeknownst to Kate, Angie’s IVF procedure had failed and she feigned pregnancy intending to run off with her payment. Eventually, her guilt wears her down and Angie regrets lying. 

However, when getting an ultrasound, Angie discovers she is pregnant, resulting in her relationship with her separated husband Carl. Angie confesses the truth at Kate’s baby shower, driving a wedge between the two unlikely friends.

The film has been criticized for getting a few things wrong, such as how the surrogate lied about being pregnant when in reality the pregnancy would be confirmed by the IVF clinic.. 

Also, Angie would not qualify for surrogacy since she had never been pregnant before since all surrogates require to have carried at least one healthy pregnancy to term. 

Also, the two women go to court where the child’s parentage is determined. In reality, a surrogate is contractually prohibited from sexual intercourse once hormone injections and embryo transfers have been initiated.


While these depictions of surrogacy in movies and television are meant to create awareness through entertainment, they are generally far from reliable in giving information to those looking to learn about surrogacy and how agreements with intended parents work.Looking for a more grounded experience you can learn from? Consider reaching out to members of our surrogacy community to come across reliable information that you can apply to your life.

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