A surrogate mother who carried twins for an Irish couple almost three years ago has left Ukraine for the safety of their home in Co Wicklow.
Cathy Wheatley traveled to the Ukraine-Romania border two weeks ago, from where she brought Ivana Holub and her three children back to Ireland.
An Oireachtas committee is currently reviewing a surrogacy bill in that country.
Under current law, Ms Holub is the legal mother of Ms Wheatley’s twins.
Since Ms Wheatley and her husband Keith had their twins through Ms Holub in Ukraine more than two years ago, they have remained in close contact with her.
When the invasion happened in Ukraine, Ms Wheatley traveled to Romania to get Ms Holub and her three children out of the country.
“We were trying to meet in the camp”
Ms Wheatley remembers the moment after the long journey, including sleeping in a car overnight, that she finally found Ms Holub in a camp on the Ukrainian side of the Romanian border.
“Ivana was on the phone, we were trying to find each other in the camp, I could hear her and I ran around trying to find her.
“One of the volunteers started screaming, saying ‘here, here, here’. Ivana ran out and we gave the biggest hug we could, and we had the boys, and yeah, that was it. “
As the surrogate mother of Ms Wheatley’s twins, under Irish law, Ms Holub is the legal mother of Cathy’s twins.
In Ukraine, the surrogate mother cedes the rights of the child and the Irish mother is recognized.
That is until she returns home to Ireland.
In this country, the woman who gave birth to the child is legally considered the mother.
As legislation is currently being teased in the Oireachtas to address the issue, people have questioned Ms Wheatley’s decision to bring Ms Holub to Ireland.
We need your consent to load this content rte-playerWe use rte-player to manage additional content which may place cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please check their details and accept them to load the content.Manage preferences
“War is war, there are no rules”
“There were people saying Cathy was thinking. Is this going to leave your kids in a precarious situation, what’s going to happen?
“War is war, there are no rules, and in this situation, I could think of nothing but Ivana and her children and if that left us in a vulnerable situation, that so be it, we’ll take care of it.”
The precarious situation reinforces the luck the two women have for the relationship they have built – they are both clear that Cathy is the mother of the twins.
Ms Wheatley, spokesperson for Irish Families Through Surrogacy, said they were not the only ones in the position.
She said: “A lot of families have brought their surrogates, if they want to come.
“When you make a pregnancy partnership with someone and they give you the most precious gift anyone can give you, everything else goes out the window.
“Your hearts are connected, you absolutely want the best for them, just like they wanted the best for you when they bore your children.”
“We have a special friendship”
Ms Wheatley said she was confident the government would work on the legislation and there was a way forward.
“Anyone who looks at me, Ivana and our children, you can see very clearly, we have a great relationship, we have a special partnership, but Ivana is not the mother of the children. I am.”
Mrs. Holub is aware of the legal situation, but as a surrogate mother, she clearly knows what her role was.
“I gave them my life and my health and it’s great that these children have such good parents. I’m very happy for them. I don’t understand people’s negative position,” she said.
“I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t steal anything, I just gave birth. Why is that bad?”
As she speaks, five-year-old Oleg enters the room. He and his older brother Sergii, who is seven, started at a local school, Scoil Niocláis Naofa, where principal Michael Moran and the children took them in.
Ukrainian Family Services in Kildare/Wicklow also supported them locally.
The school helped the boys who really miss their father. He stayed in Ukraine to help and was happy once the children and Mrs Holub were safe.
All five children had to adapt to the changes in their lives, including the twins.
The two-bedroom cottage, which once housed a family of four, now houses three adults and five children, which Ms Wheatley describes as “chaotic but amazing”.
The arrival of Mrs. Holub and the children coincided with the arrival of the lambs, which keep everyone busy and entertained.
Neither of the two women could have foreseen that a childbirth and a war would mean that their two families would live under one roof.
Ms. Holub worries about her family in Ukraine, including her husband. She gushes when she talks about it.
“It’s hard to know that my mother and my family are still in Ukraine, but every time I look at the sky, I know that the earth is different, but the sky is one.
“I pray for peace in Ukraine and hope everything will be fine,” she said.
For Ms. Wheatley, now is the time to give back.
She said: “People ask me why we did this, why did we go looking for her. We had no choice, Ivana is part of our family, we would have done anything we could to protect her.
“The way I look at it is Ivana carried my family, she carried my babies and now it’s up to me to carry her family and that’s what we’re going to do.
“We’re going to make sure Ivana and her family are safe and have everything they need.”