Among those who want a child but struggle to have their own, in-vitro fertilization and adoption are standard practice. But despite its growing popularity, discussions of surrogacy in the U.S. remain hushed. And one of the largest segments of the American population involved with surrogacy is supported, in a way, by the federal government: military wives.
19 and 50 percent
Percentage of American surrogate mothers are military wives. The higher rates appear in large states with sizable military establishments, like Texas and California.
Credit low earnings and the military lifestyle. Military wives often have difficulty finding employment; military families move around a lot, and a military wife is often tasked with keeping the homestead running while her husband is serving overseas. An extra $25,000 or so for a surrogate pregnancy can provide a serious financial boost to a family living on less than $30,000 a year — even though that works out to roughly $3 per hour for pregnancy and labor. But many military surrogates describe carrying another’s child as a service to both family and country.
Military wives have health benefits under Tricare, which covers pregnancy and delivery without asking too many questions, according to ABC News and the National Review. Even though pregnancy is never easy labor, critics of military surrogates argue that Uncle Sam shouldn’t subsidize a family’s business transaction.
Surrogacy makes plenty of people queasy. Some nations ban it outright. Even Thailand, known for its lax attitude toward the issue, may tighten restrictions after a recent scandal in which a surrogate mother accused her baby’s biological parents of refusing to take the child after he was born with Down syndrome.
In comparison, the United States seems to look the other way. For its lack of surrogacy regulations, the U.S. was dubbed the “Wild West of third-party reproduction” last year by the National Review.
The number of infants born to surrogate mothers in the U.S. in 2008, the last year for which numbers appear to be available.
But the topic is still rather taboo. “We’re still stuck in the 1950s when it comes to the perception of the ideal family,” writes Elizabeth Ziff, a doctoral student at the New School for Social Research who is studying military wives and surrogacy. “Even considering new additions and definitions concerning divorce policy and marriage, there is a lot of cultural lag between what individuals do and what we are told is acceptable.”
As common practice outpaces cultural norms and laws, there may be complications down the road. Surrogate mothers are starting to stay in contact longer with the families of the children they gave birth to, according to Ziff. It’s yet another sign that the American family is changing, and our policies just haven’t kept up.
Why you should care
Because the laws, ethics and money involved in paying a woman to carry a child remain mostly unregulated, and under the radar, in the United States.