The lack of a legal framework in the country at present surrounding surrogacy means that this type of fertility choice has to be based solely on trust. We spoke to Becky Loftus, a mum of four, about why she decided to become a surrogate mother
"I never gave away my children – I still have four. I took my friends' baby, who themselves couldn’t grow, and I grew him for them."
Westmeath mum Becky Loftus explains her decision to become a surrogate for her very good friends last year with a simplicity many find astonishing.
But, she says, it was simply a matter of the stars aligning in quite an organic way:
"It was never something initially I had in my mind. In fact, it was something that came about quite organically when we were away with friends who we'd known for more than 20 years. In the course of a conversation, my husband commented that they'd make great parents.
"They explained that they had run out of options and were beginning to realise they'd have to close the chapter on that aspect of their lives. I thought to myself, 'I could offer the option to carry a baby for them'. They were very taken aback when I said it out loud. But we'd reignited a thought that they could have the family they'd always wanted."
"It was lovely to watch, surreal and mostly very humbling"
Becky said she experienced a wonderful perspective that not many others ever get to see. "It seemed very natural for me to offer. The stars aligned. It was the right time for them and the right time for me.
"Being part of that first-time parent experience is really special. Watching them watch the first heartbeat, see the scans, get their house ready. It was like I put myself into their story. It was lovely to watch, surreal and mostly very humbling."
With four children of her own, I asked Becky if being a surrogate blurred many lines in terms of her own family life. "It was a very different pregnancy journey. It's very hard to describe it to those who haven't gone through it. I knew I had a job to grow my friend's child. It has no biological connection to myself or my husband.
'There was a huge amount of trust we all had to rely on'
"I was very much concentrating on my own personal health – to be a strong and healthy mum returning to my own family. My friends, they focused on the baby's health. We split the jobs. I had an app where they could read stories to the bump so their baby would recognise their voices. At home, we didn't speak about a new baby coming or a sibling.
"We weren't getting a room ready or talking about the financial implications of adding another person to our family. It was very much focused on growing someone else's child because they couldn't".
How did she discuss it with her own children?
"My children were involved with the entire process. My friend's included them and so did I — they even sent them a thank you card which makes me emotional even thinking about it. I also think it is a great gift to my own children that they have been exposed to the different ways a family can be formed. They are very accepting, not judgemental and understand that creating a family takes many shapes and is based around love.
"All in all, we were very lucky. I respected their wishes when it came to certain things they did or didn't want me to do — like dyeing my hair. It was trial and error, even working out a system where they could come see their bump but without overstepping boundaries with our own friendship."
But as trusting as this type of arrangement can be, there is currently no legislation in place in Ireland governing assisted human reproduction. I ask Becky how she navigated that aspect of the relationship. "There was a huge amount of trust we had to rely on.
"One parent is left in limbo without legal rights, and in quite a vulnerable position"
"Here, when the baby is born, we [my husband and I] have full legal rights because we are married," explains Becky. "My husband has to sign an affidavit to say he isn't the genetic father. The genetic father has to declare that he is. We get joint custody. The next date will be to give the genetic father full custody. Then his wife or partner has to claim guardianship or adoption and that's where the legal situation is so inadequate. One parent is left in limbo without legal rights, and in quite a vulnerable position."
"The final draft of the donor-assisted reproduction part of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill has to be presented to cabinet when the new government is formed. This will ensure both parents get equal rights to make legal decisions on a child they used a surrogate to get. It will make things much more transparent as well as fair.
"Health Minister Simon Harris has been very involved in driving forward the momentum on this. We have to keep the conversation going."
Becky also praises former Miss World Rosanna Davison for being so open about her own surrogacy journey. Davison and husband Wes Quirke welcomed their baby girl Sophia into the world last year through surrogacy in the Ukraine.
"What I love about Rosanna is that she never made a huge deal out of it. She isn't pushing for legislation, she is just sharing her story as a mother. Her attitude seems to be that it is her baby and that's it. It is refreshing to see her normalising it and showing off her life living happily as a first-time mum."
And that's the crux of it — surrogacy is just another fertility option for families to be formed, which is how Becky puts it. "It is a massive gift to someone. I hope others would consider offering to do it for someone they know. You have to be in the right head-space. But if you are considering it, I'd suggest the person aiming to be a surrogate brings it up with the couple or person wanting the child. It is always going to be awkward for them to ask you."
So would she recommend being a surrogate?
"I would," she says without hesitation. "It was a special journey that we shared together. A group journey.
"And while I don't feel a strong bond with the little boy, there is of course always a special place in my heart for the relationship that he has with our family. We all went through this together."
If you are interested in learning more about surrogacy in Ireland, there is a free information event taking place at Athlone Hodson Bay Hotel on February 8th, 2020 for couples as well as potential surrogates.
You can also check out www.surrogacyeventsireland.com or email Becky direct on [email protected]
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