Anita Brush is happy in her role as a surrogate mum to eight babies
By Rita de Brun
Monday February 04 2008
Six years ago, Dublin couple, John Mc-Mahon and Gerard Whelan became the proud fathers of triplets. The event came about with the help of Anita Brush, a surrogate mother from California.
Fiercely protective of their family unit, John talks about their experience only to help others considering surrogacy. The closeness and affection between John, Gerard and Anita is obvious and they all agree that they knew instinctively when they met, that they would have kids together.
They had a good feeling about Anita when they met. "We liked each other instantly," says John. "We all knew that our meeting was meant to be.
"Of course, when we discovered that we were having not one or two but three children, we were totally blown away but quite overjoyed, and we trusted Anita to do whatever she could to keep our babies safe.
"We knew she wouldn't drink, smoke or take drugs, as she simply wasn't the type. She's a genuinely caring person, so we knew she would take it easy and try to hold on to the babies until term;,and she did," John adds.
"Anita is a close friend of our family and often comes to stay with us. She and the children get on really well together. We have a very deep and special bond with her and we know that without her, we wouldn't have our kids, so we'll always be grateful."
At 41, Anita Brush has a figure that most women in their early twenties would be glad of. On looks alone, nobody would ever believe that she is a mother of 11.
"Ten years ago, my then husband was training to be a teacher, so I needed to go back to work," says Anita. "I wanted a job that would allow me to be around for our children, and something that would have a positive impact on others.
"I had previously worked in childcare and always loved children. Also, I enjoyed being pregnant and wanted to help childless couples."
Anita had three children of her own, the youngest being two, when she first became a surrogate mother.
"My first pregnancy was for a heterosexual Japanese couple," she recalls. "Then the following year I had a baby for a heterosexual American couple. The triplets arrived in 2001. Then, two years later, I had twins for a gay couple in the Midwest, and in October of the following year, I had a third child for that same couple. In all, I had eight babies in seven years for four couples."
Then, she laughs: "Well I didn't set out to have that many, you know."
Anita says that for her, the highs were in not having to worry about the practicalities of raising a child.
"I get immense enjoyment out of being pregnant, but I have no difficulty handing the baby over to the parents at the birth," she adds. "They take over the responsibilities, and I go home to my family.
"Of course, my body isn't aware of that arrangement, so I have to get used to the hormonal changes that happen after giving birth," she concedes.
"And there have been times, following the births, when I've felt the need to hold a baby close. When that happens, I just hold my friend's babies for a while and that does the trick."
As to her own children, and the impact of her surrogacy on them, Anita believes that their experience was positive.
"Their lives have been enriched by the wonderful people we've met along the way. We keep in touch with all the families, and this has been very positive for my kids. Also, they had me at home with them all the time, and that was a big plus for all of us."
Two years ago, Anita, as a guest on Good Morning America, cautioned women never to become a surrogate mother for financial gain. "Do not do this for the money," she said. "If you want to classify this as a job, it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
For five pregnancies, she earned a total of $130,000, and it couldn't have been easy.
"I drank a gallon of whole-milk every day for the benefit of the triplets and I gained 80lbs," says Anita laughing. I used to feel a little queasy, but never sick and it was worth it."
Describing herself as very accepting of varying points of view, Anita says that her life experience has shown that there is no such thing as an ideal family type.
"What counts is the love between the members of that family, and that's what makes Gerard, John, and their children a beautiful family."
Surrogacy in Ireland
MOST of us are familiar with Cork woman Maureen O'Connor who, with her partner Justin Pearlman (right), offered €5,000 in their search for a surrogate mother
While their story attracted substantial media coverage, there are no doubt far more Irish families who have children with the help of surrogate mothers than we know.
Most Irish couples considering the surrogacy option head overseas because there is no specific law or protections governing the process here, should complications arise.
Fiona Duffy, partner at Patrick F O'Reilly & Co Solicitors, explains that there is no specific legislation in place governing the law on surrogacy in Ireland.
But the topic was considered by the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction. Although their report, which was produced in April 2005, made many recommendations, none have yet been implemented.
At present, the surrogate mother will be registered as mother on the birth certificate. If she is married, her husband will be named as father. If she is single, the commissioning father can apply to be registered as father.
If she is not married, she alone is the guardian of the infant. This may be so even though there is no genetic link between her and the child.
The commission recommended that a child born through surrogacy should be presumed to be the child of the commissioning couple.
As to whether the identity of the donors should be withheld, their view was that this information should in the long-term be made available to any child who results from the procedure.
Of 43 surrogate families in a British study, nearly two-fifths involved full surrogacy, where the embryo is provided by the commissioning couple and therefore the carrier of the child does not have any genetic link to the child. Just over three-fifths involved partial surrogacy, where the male partner has donated his sperm through a process of insemination or IVF. The egg is provided by the host herself.
Two-thirds of the surrogate mothers were unknown to the commissioning couple prior to the surrogacy arrangement, while the remaining third of surrogate mothers were either a sister or a friend of the commissioning mother.
Researcher Fiona MacCallum said: "It is often assumed that surrogate mothers will have difficulties handing the child over following the birth.
"In fact, we found only one instance of the surrogate having slight doubts at this time."
- Rita de Brun