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Surrogacy: 'People don't believe it's your baby when you use a surrogate mum'

Wednesday, 16 December 2015


Andrea Smith

The arrival of celebrity babies always generates a frisson of excitement - or a frenzy in the case of baby Saint West - but the announcement this week that popular model Georgia Salpa was "delighted with the arrival of twin boys" generated a whole other level of wonderment.

With not a hint of what was to come in the months leading up to Georgia being spotted pushing a double buggy, eyebrows were raised when she and her hedge fund manager husband, Joe Penna, confirmed they had become parents six months after their Italian wedding in Portofino. The new mum took to Twitter to describe her sons as "the most special, perfect little babies" with whom she and Joe "are so in love."

As 31-year-old Georgia did not appear to be pregnant, and the bikini and skinny jeans photos she posted in recent months on her Instagram page didn't reveal any trace of a baby bump, early media reports suggested that the twins were adopted, which the model denied in her statement.

New reports are claiming that the babies were born via surrogate in the US, in a state whose laws would allow Georgia and Joe to be named as the parents. Commercial surrogacy, where a woman carries a baby on behalf of commissioning parents, costs around €11,800 in India, but far more in the US, where it can cost in excess of €55,000.

Celebrity surrogacy is not a new phenomenon, of course. In 2009, Sarah Jessica Parker announced that she and her husband Matthew Broderick were "happily anticipating" the birth of their twin daughters "with the generous help of a surrogate."

She discussed the subject in interviews, so unlike Georgia, it came as no surprise when twins Marion and Tabitha were born a few months later. At the time SJP was almost 45, an age at which a woman's likelihood of getting pregnant is around 3pc.

But just how does the process work? In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate is impregnated naturally or artificially, but the resulting child is genetically related to the surrogate. This was the method used by Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish, who are the parents of Zachary, who turns five this month, and Elijah, who will be three in January. It hasn't been confirmed if either man is the father.

In gestational surrogacy, the pregnancy results from the transfer of an embryo created by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to the surrogate's womb. Irish couple Caroline and Niall O'Flaherty availed of this type of surrogacy when they became the thrilled parents of Ava, now four, who is their biological child and was born via surrogate Nita in India.

The couple chose surrogacy after Caroline was diagnosed with cervical cancer aged 27, and as they explained in their book, Baby Ava, An Irish Surrogacy Story, she was unable to carry a baby to full term. She and Niall found hope through Dr Patel's Infertility Clinic in India, and following a successful embryo transfer, beautiful baby Ava was born in April 2011. While it took a very stressful five weeks for an Irish passport to be issued, the O'Flahertys were thrilled to bring their precious baby home. Family and close friends knew, but presumably some people did a double-take when they suddenly appeared with a baby in tow?

"When you explain to people that it's your child, some don't believe you and say she can't be as she was born through surrogacy," says Caroline. "You deal with a lot of ignorance. I was buying babygros in a shop one day and and when I explained the circumstances, the shop assistant asked if I was too posh to push? Our families and close friends were all delighted for us, but one couple said they didn't agree with it and never spoke to us again. I was so upset, but now I just think they're the ignorant ones."

Caroline says that while she was asked by people if she felt far removed from they pregnancy as she wasn't carrying Ava herself, she wasn't as she did all of the normal things an expectant parent does, such as decorating the baby room and buying the pram.

There was a night organised for parents-to-be by a baby equipment shop and Caroline was the only one without a baby bump. She detected a few curious looks, but it didn't bother her. "To do something like surrogacy, you need to be very strong-minded and comfortable in yourself," she explains. "This is for the rest of your life, and you have to explain it to your child too. We've told Ava that she's a very special girl as Mammy had a scar in her stomach and was unable to carry her. She knows that she has a special angel in India whose stomach was well and helped Mammy and Daddy, and not everyone has one of those."

Surrogacy presents a a number of ethical, social and legal dilemmas in this country. While it had been hoped that the recent Child and Family Relationships Bill would deal with surrogacy and assisted human reproduction services such as sperm and egg donation, this didn't happen, leaving a number of families in a legal vacuum. As it currently stands, the State's position holds that a woman who gives birth to a child is deemed to be its mother. This is not the case in India, and Caroline and Niall are named as the parents on Ava's birth certificate.

The issue hit the headlines here in 2013 when the genetic mother of twins born to a surrogate lost her Supreme Court battle be registered as their mother, overturning an earlier ruling by the High Court in her favour. She was unable to carry a pregnancy herself due to a disability, and her sister acted as a gestational surrogate, in an altruistic act she described as a "gesture of love."

Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has revealed that commercial surrogacy will be banned in Ireland under proposed new legislation, and prospective parents will have to formally apply to have a child through a surrogate.

According to solicitor Fiona Duffy, head of the surrogacy department at legal firm Patrick F O'Reilly & Co. couples embarking on surrogacy regularly come to her for advice in relation to the legal relationship between the commissioning couple and the child.

"It makes huge sense to bring in legislation to deal with surrogacy," she says. "I think if people can avail of surrogacy services, laws should be in place to enable them to regulate their relationship with the child and be recognised in Irish law as the child's parents.

Irish Independent