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Surrogacy in Ireland: “I was born an ‘illegitimate’ child and now I’m branded an ‘illegitimate’ mother”


By IMAGE
01st Sep 2022
Surrogacy in Ireland: “I was born an ‘illegitimate’ child and now I’m branded an ‘illegitimate’ mother”

When Mia Fahey McCarthy was born in 1979 in Ireland, she was deemed ‘illegitimate’. Now, in 2022, after her daughter was born through surrogacy in Ukraine, she is deemed a ‘persona non-grata’, an ‘illegitimate’ mother in Irish law. We hear her story in the first of our ‘Surrogacy in Ireland’ series.

In 1979 when I was born, I was an ‘illegitimate baby’. In 2022 I am an illegitimate mother. Illegitimate meaning “not authorised by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules”.

I am damned if my daughter is going to grow up unequal to every other child in Ireland, in the same way I grew up.

My mother led her own powerful silent protest against societal pressure in 1979 by forging ahead and parenting me as she saw fit. Other mothers at the time were not afforded this opportunity, with many children separated from their parents within the mother and baby homes across Ireland at the time. The tragedy at the Tuam mother and baby home and the findings of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes illustrate the harsh environment in which women — mothers — were surviving.

My mother gave me the best start in life, cared for and supported me throughout my life, and still does to this day.

This brings me back to my own situation, over 40 years later, which finds me as an “illegitimate” mother to my beautiful miracle daughter born through surrogacy in 2021.

After IVF treatment that resulted in failure and miscarriage; miscarriages without the aid of IVF; and an ectopic pregnancy which required emergency surgery, it became clear that ‘natural birth’ would not be an option for my husband and I.

 

Discussions began about the possibility of surrogacy as a route to parenthood for us. Research commenced into what was at that point an unknown. Finally, with all our fears allayed, we set about beginning what is a lengthy process with no certainties at the end. After doing several months of research, speaking to other families who had gone through surrogacy and discussing with legal experts, it seemed Kyiv was the place with the clearest pathway for us as parents to navigate.

What was of paramount importance was that any process we took part in was ethical, and the research we did and people we met reassured us of this.

Hospital in Ukraine

We were blessed with the arrival of our daughter. She was born just under eight weeks early with health complications, but she fought her way off an oxygen machine, out of an incubator and off multiple medications to become the healthy, hilariously funny beautiful gift of joy she is today, at 15 months. Over the course of her overcoming her health issues, I stayed with her for five weeks in the neonatal unit in a hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine.

I was not allowed to leave the ward, and due to Covid, my husband was not allowed to visit until we were discharged. Those five weeks were most likely some of the hardest weeks I will encounter in my lifetime, from the initial fear over our daughter’s survival to negotiating the myriad of medical information in a language that is not your own in a system that is alien to you, without the support to deal with this.

One of the saving graces during this time was the fact that I could be there with our daughter through each stage, as I was recognised as her mother and guardian in Kyiv, due to both my husband’s name and my own name being, rightly, on our daughter’s birth certificate.

The absolute shame is that I am required to have my husband’s permission to do all of this, as here in my daughter’s home country, only he is her guardian, and my role is reduced to persona non-grata.

Now that we are safely ensconced back home in Ireland, we have seized every moment of the beautiful journey that is parenthood. With the support of our family and friends firmly back in place, we’ve visited and been visited. We’ve set out on many road trips, with Connemara, Cavan, Donegal, the Aran Islands, Austria, Waterford and Wexford being ticked off our 15-month-old’s travel list. We’ve had a christening, playdates, swimming lessons, music lessons, a 50th birthday party, tasted egg and hated it, tasted beetroot and loved it, and taken part in our first demonstrations and we’re walking — where do we begin with walking!

Irish system

We’ve also completed all the life admin which needs to be done to ensure our daughter is fully integrated in our Irish system in order to be recognised and avail of what our country provides its children. It is her mother, me, who has done this, navigating what can be at times a bureaucratic system. She has a GP and received her up-to-date vaccines, visited the public health nurse, been seen and discharged by a neonatal consultant. Again, it is her mother, me, who has organised and accompanied my daughter to these appointments.

I would have hoped that our society had evolved from the dark history that existed when I was born in 1979, but in 2022 we find ourselves in a situation where again some of Ireland’s children are being treated unequally to their peers. This cannot continue.

However, the absolute shame is that I am required to have my husband’s permission to do all of this, as here in my daughter’s home country, only he is her guardian, and my role is reduced to persona non-grata. This cannot continue for my family or any other family that is in this position.

As my daughter grows up, I will be instilling in her that, as a female, she is not and will never be less. But how can I teach her these imperative life lessons when her mother, me, due to her gender, is deemed to be a second-class citizen compared to her father in our family’s situation? How can I teach her these lessons when there is a lack of recognition of me as her mother?

surrogacy

I would have hoped that our society had evolved from the dark history that existed when I was born in 1979, but in 2022 we find ourselves in a situation where again some of Ireland’s children are being treated unequally to their peers. This cannot continue.

Irish Constitution

The Irish Constitution, Article 42A (4) (ii) states: [Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings—]
“concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.”

It is in my daughter’s best interest that her mother is recognised as such outside the confines of our small but fully formed family. Therefore, the upcoming Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Bill needs to include provisions for international surrogacy or retrospective pathways to parenthood.

Groups such as Irish Families Through Surrogacy, made up of dedicated mothers and fathers, are tirelessly advocating on behalf of all those affected by this perilous situation in which they find themselves, in in the hope that future families will not have to live through this experience.

surrogacy