MARIE and John McPhilemy’s daughter Lucy returned to Dooish National School this week. She soon turns eight and, like all parents, the couple remember the day she was born.
But, in the eyes of the law, Marie and her daughter are strangers.
Marie, who lives in Ballybofey with husband John, is a mother through altruistic domestic surrogacy. Having discovered at the age of 16 that she would not be able to carry a baby in her womb, her sister Sharon selflessly offered to be a surrogate to the couple’s baby.
Little Lucy was born on October 18, 2013 in Letterkenny University Hospital and is the light of her parent’s lives. However, under current legislation, Marie is legally Lucy’s guardian, not her mother.
The couple are lobbying for change and have contacted Deputy Pearse Doherty to bring the issue to the Dáil.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Marie said: “Surrogacy can be a very lonely journey. Fertility is a very lonely journey whether you’re doing it on your own or with a partner.
“I was born with a number of complications. When I was 16 it was discovered that my womb was not properly developed and I was advised that even though I had both ovaries and fallopian tubes I would never be able to carry a baby in my womb.
“At 16, that is not even something you ever think about. I was just thinking about the next disco I would be going to. I remember going home and meeting my sister at the back door of our home and telling her what I had been told and in true big sister style, she immediately told me, ‘I’ll carry your baby for you’.”
Marie met her now husband John through a blind date and the couple married after five years together. Marie said she was open with John about the situation from day one.
“I attended with three different high risk foetal experts who all said it would not be wise for me to carry and that the only way would be if someone would carry for me.
“I remember myself and John coming back from the clinic in Dublin and my sister Sharon saying to me, ‘I will give your baby a wee safe place to grow’. I still cry now when I think about it.”
The couple sought legal advice.
“We went to see a lawyer in Dublin because we wanted to know that it was ok legally to do what we were going to do. We discovered there was no law whatsoever around surrogacy in Ireland and that we were going to have to do it a different way.”
The couple and Sharon progressed their plans and IVF began. The plan was to fertilise Marie’s eggs with her husband’s sperm at an IVF clinic in Prague, while Sharon would then carry the embryo.
“I had started taking IVF medication and my sister had to get her womb prepared. I was 36 when I was having my eggs retrieved and Sharon was a fraction older. I worried about her in this because we are sisters and it was such a big thing she was doing for us.”
Marie recalled the huge excitement when a pregnancy test revealed positive news.
“Sharon took a pregnancy test but left the stick in our room for us to look at first. The excitement was great, I think it may have been around Mother’s Day when we discovered we were having our baby. The pregnancy ran very smoothly and myself and John were involved from the get-go. We were there in Letterkenny hospital for the first scan at five and a half weeks’ gestation.
“Lucy was born on October 18, 2013 by planned Caesarean Section and we were allowed to attend the birth. I always loved the name Lucy, which I later found out means light and that is what she is to us, she is the light of our lives.
“All of the staff in Letterkenny hospital were simply amazing. We were allowed to stay on the maternity ward and we were fully involved.
“Lucy has always known that her auntie Sharon carried her in her womb. We always wanted her to be fully aware and both Sharon and her husband Patrick are Lucy’s godparents.”
Currently, here is no law on surrogacy in Ireland which means that the woman who gives birth is the legal mother. Sharon and John are registered on Lucy’s birth certificate as her mother and father. When Lucy was two, Marie was permitted to apply to the courts for guardianship which was successful.
Planned legislation to change laws around surrogacy have not come to fruition.
“Although I am Lucy’s mammy, in the eyes of the law I am her guardian and that seems so strange. We have legislated for so much this past while in Ireland, yet not for this. I am not named as Lucy’s mother on her birth certificate, which has a number of implications including that I can’t sign for any medical interventions Lucy may need, and at the age of 18 I am no longer her guardian.”
Marie said the current absence of legislation means that she had faced difficulties in a number of areas.
“Simple things like applying for a passport for Lucy, opening her bank account are more difficult and need signed off on by John, even though I am her mum. Inheritance rights is another huge challenge for children born through surrogacy.
The couple have contacted Deputy Pearse Doherty in the hope he will raise the matter in the Dáil.
“We feel totally let down by the lack of legislation.
Marie and John have been supported by Irish Families Through Surrogacy. The non-profit association is campaigning for children to have a legally recognised relationship with both parents.
Plans for Marie and John to expand their family again through domestic surrogacy did not come to pass.
“I had three embryos left after Lucy and my younger sister Catherine also offered to carry for us to give Lucy a sister or brother, but unfortunately those plans did not work out. I see Catherine as just as important in our story as she was willing to do such a kind thing for us and Lucy.”