As many as 30 percent of all U.S. based surrogates are military wives. Or at least that's what some recent news articles would have you believe. Thanks to our penchant for sitting around doing nothing ("availability"), our willingness to grow humans, our dedication to serving others and our awesome free healthcare, they say, we are the people other people want growing their babies.
That's according to reports like this one.
But the truth is that no report I've read on the subject or expert I've spoken with has data to back up that statistic. It's anecdotal at best. From what I can find idea calling military wives the "most sought after" surrogates may be nothing more than attractive headline. Even if 15 percent of surrogates are military, 75 percent are something else.
Need a job? Become a surrogate!
The articles always at least insinuate that military wives pursue surrogacy because they don't anything better to do and it makes a good side gig. According to one researcher, however, to people who actually are surrogates the idea of it being a "job" or a "career" is deeply insulting.
Any money earned in the process, said Elizabeth Ziff, who is working on a PhD in sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York, is usually seen as a side perk at most or just as fair compensation for the risk pregnancy brings. Most women - military and otherwise - she has spoken with instead point to the pride and joy they feel by helping another person have a baby.
The popular culture stereotypes of money grubbing surrogacy in "Army Wives," or "Baby Mama," are, in general, just not real.
But why is there a fascination from the civilian media with military surrogacy?
The first reason could be rooted in history, Ziff said. At the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, surrogacy agencies realized that military wives really did make good candidates. Many of them were located in surrogacy friendly states, military wives are often inclined towards personal sacrifice for others, the unemployment rate in the military spouse community is high and healthcare costs are low thanks to Tricare.
But when Tricare caught wind of what was happening, they cracked down, warning military moms that if they were caught using Tricare to cover a surrogate pregnancy they could be forced to pay back their costs.
That change ushered in a period where surrogate agencies wouldn't touch military wives at all, Ziff said. But now that a cooling period has passed, the situation has balanced out again and some news organizations are once again taking note.
(Tricare still does not cover surrogate pregnancies and will still seek to recoup the costs if they discover that a pregnancy they paid for was a surrogacy. However, a doctor is unlikely to directly ask a woman whether or not the baby she is carrying is for her or someone else).
What is the real deal on military surrogacy?
When I see military wives as surrogates it is because they want to help others, not because they want to make cash while watching Netflix. What is offensive to the military wife community about these news stories is the underlying suggestion that we become surrogates out of a lack of other things to do with our time.
And while the widely publicized, generally unfounded numbers regarding how many surrogates are military wives may be far-fetched, there's no denying that a relationship between surrogacy and the military does exist. Ziff told me that she believes a 15 to 20 percent military wife estimate to be possible based on the interviews and reading she's done on the subject, even though literally no data exists nailing down actual numbers. And there really is an abnormally high concentration of surrogacy agency around some military bases in California and Texas, adding credence to the idea that agencies seek them out.
So why do military wives become surrogates in such high numbers? It's probably mostly a combination of heavy recruitment and a desire to help others. Because, at least in my experience, that's just how military spouses are.