Surrogacy is a way for a childless couple or individual to have a child, with a surrogate mother carrying the child. Arlene Harris looks at surrogacy in Ireland as she speaks to an Irish couple who travelled to the US to organise a surrogate mother, and provides expert advice on the laws in Ireland surounding this issue.
Surrogacy in Ireland – a personal story
For as long as she can remember, *Gail Healy has wanted children. When she was a little girl herself, the Dublin woman (who grew up in the UK) was rarely seen without a pram, a baby doll or some sort of feeding and changing paraphernalia. In her own words, she was born to be a mother. So when she married her husband John in 2001, she was anxious to start a family and more than happy to give up her well-paid job in the financial sector in order to stay home and look after the big family she planned on having. But as the weeks and months went by, there was no sign of a pregnancy occurring and while everyone assured her this was normal, by her first anniversary, she was beginning to get a bit anxious.
“Everyone who knows me was aware that I wanted children as soon as I got married, but as time went by, nothing was happening and it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying,” she laughs. “I didn’t want to get too hung up on things as I knew that sometimes stress can prevent conception, so I decided to wait a few more months before going to see anyone about it. But when we had been married a year and my period kept arriving each month like clockwork, I made an appointment with the doctor. She initially told me I had nothing to worry about, but I waited another six months and then went back to her again and pleaded with her to arrange some investigation.”
Tests on both Gail and John proved inconclusive and they were advised to just keep trying. As the years went by, the now 42-year-old was becoming more and more disillusioned and she and her husband decided to try to conceive using IVF – but unfortunately this proved unsuccessful.
“Five years into our marriage, I still hadn’t become pregnant so after much discussion, we decided to go down the IVF route,” she recalls. “It was very costly but we believed that it would be worth it in the end. However, it wasn’t to be and after two attempts, we were told that it was likely that my womb wasn’t a hospitable environment for a baby to grow – I was devastated. ”
“John was also upset, but as I had always wanted a baby of my own, I couldn’t believe that fate had been so cruel. We talked about adoption but I felt that it wouldn’t be the same as having a child, which was created with the man I love, so we decided to look into surrogacy.”
Surrogate mothers need to be between 21 and 40 years of age, have had at least one child and be in good health themselves. With this information in mind, Gail contacted an agency and after an initial interview and counselling session, they were told that there was an American woman who ticked all the required boxes, was interested and able to carry their child for nine months.
“We spoke with the potential surrogate a number of times and then when we were all satisfied with the agreement, we decided to go ahead and had legal documents drawn up,” says Gail. “John and I travelled to the US where our eggs and sperm were harvested and then we waited for news on the resulting embryo. This was a very stressful time, but eventually we were told that we had a healthy embryo and our surrogate went to the clinic to have it planted in her womb. “
“It is an extraordinarily scary time and is also extremely emotional. I would liken it almost to having a complete stranger look after your child at the other side of the world for nine months. I could hardly eat or sleep and even though we had to borrow a lot of money, we made sure that we got over there while she was pregnant and also for the final delivery.”
Parents at last
Almost a decade after they got married Gail finally became a mother and returned to Ireland in January 2012 with her daughter Hope. She says it was an extremely difficult process and one which could have gone wrong at any time, but thankfully everything worked out for them. “Holding my daughter in my arms for the first time was the most amazing experience of my life,” she says.
“I never thought we would finally get to be parents and I was overwhelmed for the first few days – two years later I still can’t believe how lucky we have been. “But surrogacy is not something which I would encourage women to undertake lightly. It is extremely costly, very emotional and can carry huge risks, but I wanted a baby so badly that I was willing to go the ends of the earth for it to happen – and thankfully my story has a happy ending.”
Many reasons for surrogacy
Helen Browne is the chairperson of NISIG – the National Infertility Support and Information Group. She says that while surrogacy is not available in Ireland, many couples are looking into the possibilities of travelling abroad to find a host mother and undergo the process, which will hopefully result in a pregnancy and eventually a baby.
“Many couples look to surrogacy in Ireland and it’s usually for medical reasons such as Turner Syndrome, where the uterus is too small, where the woman has had multiple miscarriages or if she has had a hysterectomy due to illness.”
“And one of the reasons they are looking towards surrogacy rather than adoption is because it is very difficult to adopt a child in Ireland, the waiting period is also very long and more often than not, couples will end up with a child who is five or six years old. And while this is still wonderful, some people just want to have a baby to hold in their arms and bring up from birth.”
More about adoption in Ireland
No legislation yet
The infertility expert, who is also a nurse, says there are no guidelines to help couples through this difficult period as there is currently no legislation on surrogacy in Ireland. “It is very hard for couples who decide they want to go down the surrogacy route as it isn’t available in Ireland so therefore there is no legislation and no guidelines,” she says. “What most people do is go online to forums where they can talk to other people who have been through it. ”
“Generally people tend to go to the US or India from Ireland where their eggs and sperm will be harvested and the resulting embryo transferred into the host. It can then take up to two weeks to find out if it was successful and this is a very trying time.”
“Once pregnancy has been confirmed, the would-be-parents usually travel back to visit the host mother around the 24-week scan and then at the end for the delivery of the baby. “We at NISIG aren’t affiliated with any group but we do hold meetings where people can talk about their experience and discuss how to take it further and if people want information or support about any aspect of infertility, they should get in touch.”
Surrogacy and Irish Law
- Surrogacy is not illegal here but agreements are unenforceable. > If you have an agreement with a surrogate and she decides not to hand over the child, you can’t enforce the agreement by Irish law.
- As most Irish couples go abroad for surrogacy, emergency travel guidelines must be issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
- In order to be allowed into Ireland, the child has to be an Irish citizen – proof of this is needed so a DNA test has to be undertaken in the country of birth.
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