Baby Carriers: Cold Cash or Warm Heart?

Lisa Wippler had all the characteristics of a good surrogate mother: She had previously given birth to two healthy children, she had a supportive husband and she was psychologically stable.

The 36-year-old was also a military wife -- organized, disciplined and able to keep up with the grueling schedule of in vitro fertilization.

And, she had a big heart -- willing to put up with the morning sickness, stretch marks and even the postpartum blues -- to carry a child for not one, but three childless couples after the birth of her sons.

Some reports show military wives are offering to be surrogate mothers in increasing numbers. While stereotypes suggest they are strapped for cash, experts say these women -- used to altruism and hardship -- are capable of making the ultimate sacrifice.

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"It's possible military wives are more independent," said Wippler, whose husband served in Desert Shield with the Marines. "They juggle family and doctors appointments. It's more involved than a normal pregnancy."

According to a report this week in Newsweek magazine, industry experts estimate about 1,000 surrogate mothers give birth each year in the United States. Agencies in Texas and California say military spouses make up 50 percent of their carriers.

With enlistees earning an annual salary of $16,080 to $28,900, renting out a womb can earn a woman up to $25,000 or more. Typically, military insurance covers most of the pregnancy costs.

For the adoptive couple -- or in surrogacy parlance "intended parents" -- the cost for egg donation, IVF and legal bills can exceed $120,000.

Kellie Snell, director of the California-based Creative Conceptions Inc., just began advertising for surrogate mothers on the San Diego Navy Base. "A lot of women are by themselves for a year and some want to bring in money for the family. They can be pregnant while their husbands are away."

But Stuart Miller, CEO of Growing Generations, which offers surrogacy counseling in New York and in California, doesn't think the number of military surrogates is any higher than 5 percent nationwide.

"Some agencies that are based in a city with a military base have a higher percentage but are not representative of the majority of surrogacies going on in the U.S.," he said.

Wippler was paid $12,000 for her first surrogacy in 1996; $15,000 in 1998; and $23,000 in 2005. For that, she committed to painful hormone injections, regular doctor's visits and a healthy lifestyle before giving birth.

Negative Stereotypes

"You hear a lot of negative common misconceptions about surrogate mothers," she said. "They must be financially strapped, lower income and uneducated."

But when she joined a support group to learn more about surrogacy, Wippler found all the women shared psychological similarities.

"We all had [the] same mind set of wanting to help," she said. "We were frequent blood donors, on bone marrow lists and did a lot of volunteering in the schools."

Her journey began in 1995, when her husband was transferred from North Carolina to California's Camp Pendleton. One night, while nursing her youngest son, she saw an ad in a parenting magazine looking for surrogates.

"I think I could do that," she told him. "It sounded fascinating to me. We had several conversations about how we took for granted how we were able to have children and how amazing it would be to do it for someone else."

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