Military Wives Becoming Surrogate Moms
MIKE PESCA, host:
Military wives are often determined and selfless, and because they are military wives, they usually could use a little extra income. That is a formula that makes them perfect candidates to be surrogate mothers. According to a recent Newsweek article, military spouses currently make up about 50 percent of the carriers at in-vitro fertilization clinics and surrogacy agencies in Texas and California. The economics of this arrangement play a key role. The military's healthcare plan covers a mom who's carrying someone else's child. A lot of healthcare plans don't. Angel who is a military wife who was recently matched with a couple for surrogacy and she joins us now. Hello, Angel.
Ms. ANGEL (Military Wife; Surrogate Mother): Hello.
PESCA: And also with us is Stephanie Caballero, founder of Extraordinary Conceptions, I get it, an egg donation and surrogacy agency in San Diego. Hello.
Ms. STEPHANIE CABALLERO (Founder, Extraordinary Conceptions): Hello.
PESCA: Angel, tell me a little bit about yourself. From what I understand, you have many, many childrens.
Ms. ANGEL: Yeah.
PESCA: Childrens, yeah, listen to me. And your husband is currently deployed in Iraq with the Navy, is that right?
Ms. ANGEL: Yes. That's correct.
PESCA: All right. So why was now, with everything you've got going on, why was now a time to take on having another child?
Ms. ANGEL: Well, it's not my child. I'm having it for somebody else, and it wouldn't, like, it wouldn't be me raising the child.
PESCA: Sure, but being pregnant, doesn't that slow you down? You have a lot to do with those six kids.
Ms. ANGEL: Well, with six kids, another pregnancy really isn't a big deal, I guess you could say.
PESCA: I guess you could say, as a percentage, it's, you know, just a drop in the bucket.
Ms. ANGEL: And it's just something that happens. It's not something that will slow me down. Obviously, I'm used to being pregnant, so with six of my old kids, them being older, it makes things easier.
PESCA: How old is your youngest?
Ms. ANGEL: He's 18 months.
PESCA: Oh. OK. And how far along are you in this pregnancy?
Ms. ANGEL: I'm not pregnant yet.
PESCA: Oh, you're going to be.
Ms. ANGEL: No.
PESCA: And who do you think will help you with the kids and everything else you have to do once you become pregnant, once you're, you know, really eight months along and so forth?
Ms. ANGEL: Well, I have a great support system with plenty of friends. Some are military. Some are not. Majority are. And I have my family, and my husband hopefully will be back at the end of the year. So if by chance I'm pregnant, then he'll be here towards the end.
PESCA: What are his feelings about this decision?
Ms. ANGEL: He's very supportive.
PESCA: And what kind of money are you looking at, do you think?
Ms. ANGEL: Um, I really don't want to go into the financial, because it's not about financial for me.
PESCA: So what's it about? What's your motivation?
Ms. ANGEL: It's about helping a family. That's why I went into this, to help another family. I've been blessed with six children. These people just want one. They'll be lucky with, you know, to have twins, but it's more or less helping somebody else out that can't do it.
PESCA: Stephanie, you're there in San Diego, huge military town. How many of the surrogates that your agency works with are military wives?
Ms. CABALLERO: Currently, we have about six military wives of the 15 active cycles.
PESCA: Oh OK, so that's, you know, more than a third of all your wives who are pregnant, or women who are pregnant, are military wives.
Ms. CABALLERO: Correct.
PESCA: What makes them good for this sort of role?
Ms. CABALLERO: They're very stable. And not that I want to discount our non-military surrogates, but they don't complain. You know, you tell them that they're going to be taking, you know, injectable medication and some of the needles are very large, for three months, and they're like fine, that's fine.
PESCA: Was it always the case that people in your line of work knew that military wives were, you know, fertile ground, if you will, for surrogacy, or recently has there been an uptick in that?
Ms. CABALLERO: We always knew it. I think the media has recently grabbed on to this story.
PESCA: Yeah, I'm guilty as part of that. So tell me a little bit about the money at stake. You know, you don't have to talk about Angel specifically, but if I was a wife, a military wife or otherwise, no, military wife, because healthcare might come into it. And I came into your office and I'm like, you know, pitch me on this, I'm willing to go through it. What would you tell me could be waiting for me at the end?
Ms. CABALLERO: You know, I have to say Angel's right. Most women don't ask about the money first, and if they do, we don't accept them. Because you can't be pregnant for somebody just for the money, because you're pregnant 24/7. So it's not like a nine-to-five job where you can, you know, at five p.m. say, you know, my day is done, and I'm not going to be pregnant for you. But most women who are surrogates earn about, throughout the whole entire pregnancy, so it's about a year, earn about 25,000 dollars.
PESCA: 25,000 dollars. Now I - the San Diego Tribune reports that the military's main medical provider, which is called TRICARE...
Ms. CABALLERO: Right.
PESCA: Is one of the few healthcare insurers nationwide that doesn't ban coverage for surrogate pregnancies. So if you use a woman with TRICARE benefits, the intended parents avoid paying - how much do they usually pay for standard surrogacy medical policy? How much do they usually wind up paying?
Ms. CABALLERO: Oh, it all depends, because a lot of insurers have, you know, either an exclusion, or they want the intended parents to pay up to 10,000 dollars. TRICARE does have something called cost-sharing, that they can ask for the intended parents to pay the benefits. Most people don't know that, but they've had it since, I think, 1994.
PESCA: So that means - but TRICARE has to know about where the pregnancy comes from? I mean, how does it work in the real world?
Ms. CABALLERO: Yes. And surrogate mothers who are military wives do not hide it. They absolutely, they would - that goes against their nature, and what their husbands believe in as being part of the military. So they are absolutely forthcoming, and always have been, with the pregnancy.
PESCA: And so how - is it just random whether TRICARE finds out about it, or you know, sometimes they pay for the surrogate mom's pregnancy and sometimes they don't?
Ms. CABALLERO: I used to work in the insurance field.
Ms. CABALLERO: It's when a surrogate mother goes out of network.
Ms. CABALLERO: Because then obviously, you know, TRICARE has to pay a higher portion, and they could look, go through the file and then they see that it's a surrogacy. So I think that's when they ask for, you know, the payment.
PESCA: And so, if I were, if I come into your office as intended parents, is that the phrase you use?
Ms. CABALLERO: Correct.
PESCA: OK, so if I'm an intended parent, do I say, well, we'd like a military wife. That will be, you know, less costly for us, we can't be picky. Or is the cost for the intended parents always the same?
Ms. CABALLERO: No, but some intended parents have a budget more than others. And so, they request a surrogate with insurance. They don't normally request a surrogate with military, you know, military wife, but I think they're not requesting it because we have, you know, we always have two or three military wives that are new surrogates that are pregnant, not pregnant but are new. So they're not specifically asking for it. They're asking for insurance in general.
Ms. CABALLERO: Other insurance carriers do cover surrogacy, not just TRICARE.
PESCA: Do you let your intended parents, if they can, make requests, military wife, non-military wife?
Ms. CABALLERO: Oh yes!
Ms. CABALLERO: I've had intended parents come and say, I'd like a military wife.
PESCA: And you say to them, we'll see what we can do, or do you say, that's not your decision?
Ms. CABALLERO: Well, no, they actually, we'll let them know who's military.
Ms. CABALLERO: And then they'll look at their profiles and see who they click with. And then they'll have a meeting with them to see further if they want to continue.
PESCA: Angel, how did you first hear about this possibility at all?
Ms. ANGEL: About being a surrogate?
Ms. ANGEL: Oh, well, I wanted to do it for about ten years now. And since my husband and myself were done having our children, we figured this is a perfect time, so...
PESCA: Do you know anyone else there, I don't know if you live on base, but do you know anyone else within the community of military wives who've done it?
Ms. ANGEL: Yeah. I met women that have done it. I have a friend who's going through the process as well. I started the process, then once I told her what's flying, she was worried about the shots, and I told her it was OK. They hurt, but you know, you deal with it.
Ms. ANGEL: Um, and she started the process as well.
PESCA: There's good, so there's good word of mouth in the community on this whole thing.
Ms. ANGEL: Yeah, yeah.
PESCA: Yeah. And do you think that you're done having your own children?
Ms. ANGEL: Oh yes, we're done.
Ms. ANGEL: Six, I think, is plenty.
PESCA: What kind of counseling - I guess, Stephanie, you can answer this best. What kind of counseling do you do about, you know, the psychological aspects. There might even be post-partum depression. That sometimes happens after a baby. So what do you talk to the wives about that?
Ms. CABALLERO: Well, we have a case manager that stays really in touch with the surrogates throughout the whole entire pregnancy, so she's there to help them. And if they have any problems like that, we have somebody that we work with very closely. We have actually two psychologists, and they can talk to that psychologist at any time during the pregnancy, as well as afterwards.
We haven't had anybody experience post-partum, but there is always a little bit of a letdown. So we just help the intended parents stay very close in touch. The surrogate needs to say goodbye to the baby and you know, welcome, and goodbye, and have a, you know, great life with your parents. But that needs to happen. And if that happens, usually the end is better. It's when the intended parents, for whatever reason, you know, take the baby, and walk off, and never speak to the surrogate again. That's where, you know, the surrogate has a tough time.
PESCA: Yeah. And how about screening? How many, you know, what percentage of people who have an interest in this actually do you allow to go through with it?
Ms. CABALLERO: I would say it's probably 60 percent. We screen out 40 percent of the surrogates. You'd be amazed at what they say during the interview process.
PESCA: And I'm sure even for health, there's some screening that has to occur that way, yeah.
Ms. CABALLERO: Oh yes, because you can be pregnant for yourself, and you can assume that risk for yourself. But let's say you've taken Fen-phen before, I mean, of course, you can be pregnant for yourself, but you know, intended parents don't want to take the risk that you've damaged your heart, and you could have a heart attack while you're pregnant.
PESCA: What's the upper age limit of a woman who wants to be a surrogate?
Ms. CABALLERO: It's 40, but usually, you know, if you're 39, it's going to be tough for an intended parent to pick you.
Ms. CABALLERO: Thirty-five and under is the best age range.
PESCA: All right. Angel, who is the wife of a Navy serviceman, she intends to become a surrogate mom. And Stephanie Caballero, who runs Extraordinary Conceptions. Thank you both very much.
Ms. CABALLERO: Thank you.
Ms. ANGEL: Thank you.
PESCA: All right.
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