In the California beach town of Malibu, aerospace engineer John Stehura publishes a guide listing dozens of women, some with photographs and suggested prices, who will have babies for other couples.

"I have light brown hair and brown eyes. I expect to lose 15 more pounds before becoming pregnant," said the entry for one married clerk from San Luis Obispo.

In North Hollywood, attorneys William Handel and Bernard Sherwyn have arranged six births by surrogate mothers, and at least 13 more are on the way at costs exceeding $20,000 each.

In Dearborn, Mich., attorney Noel Keane has arranged 23 surrogate births and will have doubled that figure in a few months, although adoptions under such arrangements must be made out-of-state because Michigan courts forbid the practice.

Keane estimated yesterday that 40 children have been born to surrogate mothers in the United States in the last two years, while others familiar with the field estimate the number at 100.

After originating as little more than a titillating topic for tabloid newspaper headlines, surrogate motherhood has become one of America's growth industries.

Through a unique combination of medical science and modern social mores, the practice is helping couples desperate to have children. But it frightens legislators who see the complicated, extremely personal arrangements proceeding with little sanction under law.

At least four states, including California, have considered laws to legalize and regulate the practice, in which a woman agrees to be artificially inseminated by the husband of a childless couple and give the baby to the couple.

But because of resistance from those who oppose the practice as psychologically and morally wrong, and those who want no restrictions on surrogates, no laws have been passed, and arrangements to produce children are being made with few rules.

"Anybody can go out and put up a sign and say that they are in the surrogate parenting business," said Handel, who entered the business when an acquaintance, Dr. William Karow, came to him with a couple who wanted to arrange such a birth.

Handel, Karow and Keane support the type of legislation introduced last year by the California assembly's majority leader, Mike Roos. It would have provided specific medical and legal requirements for surrogate contracts, including legal representation of the surrogate and the couple, and an escrow or trust account for the surrogate's fee. Those average about $10,000.

The bill bogged down in committee and, although it may be reintroduced in altered form this year, it continues to draw criticism from several sides, as have other surrogate bills in Michigan, Alaska and South Carolina.

"The bill was written too strictly for me. It gives the lawyers too much of a role, " said engineer Stehura, 40. He listed 30 potential surrogate mothers and 74 individuals seeking children in the spring, 1982, edition of his "Surrogate Mother" directory.

Reuben Pannor, a child-care specialist with the Los Angeles County Adoption Council, has a far different objection. He called surrogate adoptions "premeditated abandonment" and said "we should not be stampeded into a program that is totally unsound."

Pannor said couples desperate for children should be introduced to the many older children waiting for adoption.

Many surrogate mothers seem happy with the chance to help childless couples, even if it complicates their personal lives.

Jill Jamieson, 27, a secretary in Whittier, Calif., is expecting a child in September after being artifically inseminated with sperm from a man who lives with his childless wife outside California.

Jamieson, who has a child from a previous marriage, said she and her husband Bill, 29, a meat cutter, do not really need the $10,000. "I've always been interested in kids," she said. "I came from a family of 11."

She said that she enjoys being pregnant but that her husband has been reluctant about her bearing his children because his ex-wife became emotionally difficult during her pregnancies.

The Jamiesons agreed that the surrogate arrangement would help her prove to him that she could handle a pregnancy if they decided to have children.

Jamieson and Handel, who arranged her surrogate contract, said some of the other surrogates Jamieson sees in regular, required group therapy sessions are attracted by the money. But Handel said all are drawn to one thing: "This is one of the few opportunities that an average woman can have to have this kind of impact on other people's lives."

Legislation, he said, could help all parties anticipate problems such as who would take responsibility for a baby born deformed or whether a surrogate mother may change her mind and keep the baby. Most attorneys say courts probably would allow a surrogate to do so.

Two weeks ago in Lansing, Mich., an infant was born suffering from microcephaly, in which the head is smaller than normal, indicating possible mental retardation. The mother said she was acting as a surrogate for a New York couple, but the alleged father has denied the child is his, citing blood tests. Welfare officials are seeking custody of the hospitalized infant.

Keane, who arranged the pregnancy, said yesterday that the medical tests are incomplete but appear to indicate that the New York man is not the father. If he is, Keane said, he would be obligated under the contract to support the child and pay the mother.

"This all takes us right back to the need for legislation to cover this whole situation," Keane said.

Handel said he requires exhaustive physical and psychological checks of prospective surrogates, and bars women on welfare. The couple seeking a child must pay the $10,000 surrogate fee, plus $4,000 to $6,000 in legal expenses, $2,000 for psychological counseling of the surrogate, $1,000 for the insemination, $1,000 for life insurance and as much as $7,000 in medical expenses if the surrogate has no health insurance.

Pannor considers the procedure illegal under a California law forbidding baby-selling, but Handel arranges transfer of the infants under a law permitting step-parent adoptions. Courts do not ask about fees in this situation, and Pannor said he does not think any of the parties involved would ever challenge the arrangement.

When Keane failed to obtain an explicit court order in Michigan permitting the surrogate fee, he filed an appeal now pending with the U.S. Supreme Court. Ignored in such tumult is the emotional cost of the arrangement, Pannor said.

"The child is going to have to cope with the fact that because the parents could not have a child, they paid a woman to bear the child and then abandon the child. That is a tough psychological concept for the child to process," he said.

Jamieson said she thinks children can grasp the concept easily. She said her 5-year-old blithely explained to her teacher that her mother was a surrogate who was going to "have a baby for a lady who is sick."

When Jamieson met with the couple who are to adopt the baby, she said, "we hit it off so well we didn't want to leave."

Most of her neighbors know about it, she added, and "95 percent of them say it's great."