“She carried my family, now it’s time to carry her family.”
In the midst of all the stories of turmoil and heartbreak we’re seeing on our screens, the story of how an Irish mother helped her Ukrainian surrogate is a welcome departure. A true testament to the power of friendships and the bonds developed throughout the course of surrogacy, it just goes to show that nothing else matters when the people you care about are in jeopardy.
It has been estimated that Ukraine accounts for more than one quarter of global surrogacies, with roughly one baby being born to Irish couples ahead of the invasion. One such couple were Kilkenny woman Cathy Wheatley and her husband Keith.
Almost three years ago, Ukrainian native Ivana Holub carried twins for the Wheatleys and struck up an instant bond with Cathy. Speaking to Eimear Ní Bhraonáin on KCLR, she mentions that their minds and hearts connected and that it’s this “unexplainable connection” that led to the decision to help Ivana and her family flee easy.
“For somebody to carry your children, of course you’re going to have a special relationship with them. They’re part of you and your family.”
The rescue mission
As a spokesperson for the Irish Families Through Surrogacy advocacy group, Cathy Wheatley has amassed a range of contacts within Ukraine. Having already helped to successfully complete a number of rescue missions, Wheatley enlisted ‘absolute heroes’ Joe McCarthy and Gary Taylor of Ready2Rock landscaping to bring her former surrogate and close friend to safety.
Travelling herself to the border of Ukraine and Romania, Wheatley finally found Ivana and her three children — Sergii, aged 7, Oleg, aged 5, and the 5-month-old Luda — at a refugee camp on the Ukrainian side of the Romanian border and returned home to Wicklow.
Speaking with RTÉ, Wheatley said, “When you do a pregnancy partnership with somebody and they give you the most precious gift anyone can give you, everything else goes out the window.”
Opening up their two-bed cottage to the wider family, they’ve now got three adults and five children under one roof. While Ivana and her children are settling in nicely to life in Ireland — both sons have already started school at Scoil Niocláis Naofa — her heart aches for her mother, husband and extended family that remain in Ukraine.
“It’s hard to know that my mother and my family are still in Ukraine,” she says on the RTÉ News. “But every time I look at the sky I know that the land is different, but the sky is one.”
Given that there is no current surrogacy legislation under Irish law, the surrogate of a baby is legally viewed as the mother on Irish soil. Only the father has the ability to access the courts for guardianship after two years of cohabitation, lasting only until the child is 18.
A special joint Oireachtas committee is currently examining the issues surrounding international surrogacy with representatives from each political party in order to legislate in the best interests of the child, the surrogate and the intended parents. Given Ireland’s status as the third highest country in the world per capita to avail of surrogacy, this call for legislation is long overdue.