Helen and her husband, Kevin, had been matched with the potential surrogate by a US agency, but Helen, a computer analyst, had misgivings. “It was a personal thing. I felt something was missing.”
Within weeks, the Carrigtwohill couple, both 40, were back on the waiting list. This was February, 2013. Last November, in New York, they met Philadelphia-based Scottish woman, Gael, a 38-year-old mother of two who has been a surrogate for an Italian couple.
Helen wanted someone honest, trustworthy, warm, “someone I could get on with and have a laugh with … Gael is such a lovely person, very quiet, very family-oriented. This is important, because she’s going to be in our lives a long time.”
In a few weeks, Gael will begin taking medication to prepare her womb for the implantation of two embryos created from Kevin’s sperm and Helen’s eggs. “There’s a 70% chance she’ll conceive on the first go, a 90% chance on the second and 98% on the third. There’s a 40% chance she’ll conceive twins. We signed up for a guaranteed programme — they guarantee as many attempts as we want,” says Kevin. “This is a one-off. We’re not going through it again.”
Since a medical diagnosis aged 18, Helen has known that her only path to genetic motherhood was surrogacy. “I was dreadfully, desperately disappointed. When I got over the initial shock, my mother mentioned surrogacy could be an option. She’d read about it in magazines.”
Two months after she met Kevin, an engineer, in 2010, she told him she would never carry a pregnancy. “I knew, at that stage, the relationship was probably going to work out.”
Kevin says: “I guess you always want to have kids of your own, but this wasn’t the end of the line — Helen told me we could still go down the route of surrogacy.”
“He took it very well,” she says. “It was a huge relief. When I was trying to meet somebody — a partner — it was always at the back of my mind.”
Two years ago, at a surrogacy agency in Dublin, a big concern for the couple was the legal aspect. “They brought an attorney with them. We really quizzed him. He reassured us. Mine and Kevin’s names would be on the child’s birth cert [as parents]. He told us Ireland and the US have an agreement, whereby children born in the US to Irish parents automatically get a US passport. They enter Ireland without any issues. We can then apply for Irish citizenship,” Helen says.
Their other concern was their connection with the surrogate. The agency stipulates they have to maintain regular email, phone and Skype contact with the surrogate until the baby is born. “After the birth, it’s up to the two parties concerned. I have no doubt we and Gael will keep in contact,” says Helen. “I’ve done a lot of research into child psychology, so I know it’s important for children to know where they come from — ‘who gave birth to me? What country do I come from?’ We will leave it up to the child, or children, if they want to meet Gael in future. She has no problem with that.”
Helen and Kevin must pay $140,000 (€100,000) to the agency, plus an extra $10,000 if the pregnancy results in twins. “If she gets pregnant with one baby, the fee to the surrogate is $30,000; if it’s twins, she gets $38,000. I have no doubt money is part of it [Gael’s motivation], but she genuinely wants to do it. Her sister-in-law went through years of fertility treatment and she wanted to do it for her, but she wasn’t allowed, because she was too young and didn’t have kids of her own at the time.”
Kevin says the US agency receives 400 applications monthly from women wanting to be surrogates, but only 8% are chosen. “A surrogate can’t have a criminal record, be in any financial difficulty, or have gone through bankruptcy. There’s to be no history of drugs or dependency. BMI has to be within certain restrictions. When they give you a surrogate’s profile, it’s near-perfect.”
Carrying a baby for someone else is a huge undertaking. “It’s nine months out of her life and there could be complications,” Helen says. People have joked to Helen that she’s lucky not to have to go through the pregnancy. “I just laughed it off, but I’m missing out hugely,” says Helen. “You obviously have a connection with the baby you’re carrying and I’ll be missing out on that. But Gael has said she’ll tell me exactly how she’s feeling and when the baby kicks she’ll describe it as best, and as near, as she can — what it feels like.”
Helen would like to see provision in Irish law for surrogacy. “A lot of women here would have a sister, cousin, or friend who’d be a carrier for them. My sister offered it to us, but I didn’t want to go down that route.
“Her name would go on the birth cert. I trust my sister, but, God forbid, if something happened to my sister and to Kevin, I’d have no legal right to the child.”
Helen and Kevin might have two babies by the end of the year. They are “extremely excited,” but nervous too. “I won’t believe it,” says Helen, “until we have touched down in Shannon and we’re through customs and security and we’re in that car on our way home — then is when I’ll start celebrating.”
* Surrogacy is not illegal here but agreements are unenforceable, says solicitor Marion Campbell. “If you have an agreement with a surrogate and she decides not to hand over the child, you can’t enforce the agreement.”
* Many Irish couples go to India or the Ukraine. If going to these countries, emergency travel guidelines are issued by the Dept of Foreign Affairs. “You have to undertake to issue a declaration of parentage and guardianship once you come back to the State with the child,” explains Ms Campbell. In order to get the travel documents, the child has to have a connection to the Irish State — it has to be proven the child is that of an Irish citizen. This means a DNA test has to be undertaken in the country of birth.
* In the US, if you can afford it, you can circumvent the need for emergency travel guidelines— in America, children born by way of surrogacy are entitled to a US passport.