Couple appeal for help to get surrogate baby out of warzone

A couple from Northern Ireland who have had a baby through surrogacy in Ukraine have appealed for urgent help to bring him home from the warzone.

Jaunty Beau was born on 31 January and his parents, Mary and Peter McDonnell, from Portaferry in County Down, have been trying to bring him home since.

The couple started their surrogacy journey before the war broke out.

The UK Foreign Office said it is in contact with the family and providing support to assist them.

The McDonnells told BBC News NI they explored surrogacy as an option after their 16-year-old daughter Ellie died in 2020.

Today, they live on a farm in Portaferry with their 15-year-old son Max.

Ellie had been involved in a farm accident the year before and, after the family thought she had recovered, she died in her sleep following an epileptic fit.

“We still have more love to give, we wanted Max to grow up in a family that could still smile and be happy and give him a chance to have a good life. We couldn’t fall apart when Ellie died,” said Mary.

‘We had to update our wills’

The couple decided to go down the surrogacy route and travelled to Ukraine in August 2021 for medical appointments and to get the embryos created.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the surrogacy clinic evacuated the embryos but last year the couple were contacted to say the process could restart.

The embryos were successfully planted in the surrogate and the couple travelled to Kyiv in late January ahead of the baby being born.

The Foreign and Commonwealth office advises against all travel to Ukraine’s capital.

“We had to update our wills and sign guardianship forms for our son who is back at home in case we didn’t come back. It’s very scary,” said Ms McDonnell.

The couple’s baby, Jaunty Beau, was born on 31 January.

Speaking to BBC News NI from Kyiv, Ms McDonnell said the situation was “terrifying”.

‘Don’t let us get blown up’

“The air raid alarm goes off at night and you have four minutes to get to the shelter and you just have to lift the baby and run and that’s what we do,” she said.

“It’s a very scary place, the people are very good to us and in the bomb shelter they gave us a couch to sit on with the baby.

“We’re very frightened and every day you say please let us survive today, don’t let us get blown up, because we have a boy at home, we want to survive.”

The McDonnells said they have not been able to leave Ukraine yet as Jaunty Beau has not been issued with a British passport and they are concerned about the delays in the process.

“There are a lot of legalities and paperwork. The next stage is an identity interview with Peter to look at his photographs, make sure he is who he says he is and that it’s not child trafficking or anything like that,” said Ms McDonnell.

That meeting is in three weeks time on 13 March but the couple want it to be expedited.

Jaunty Beau was unwell shortly after he was born and had to be rushed to hospital.

“He stopped breathing and turned blue, the doctors think he could have something wrong with his brain,” she said.

“The recommendation is to get him home to be treated by doctors in Belfast but they can’t move the interview forward.”

Ms McDonnell said their son Max, who stayed in Northern Ireland, was “starting to struggle” without his parents.

He is still helping on the family farm milking the cows and is sitting his exams.

“Three weeks is a long time to wait, he’s still struggling with the death of his sister, but he’s being very brave,” she said.

Surrogacy is legal in Ukraine and while the McDonnell family understand some of the controversy around surrogate births, they said, following the death of Ellie, it was the right choice for their family.

“This is our new beginning and the next part of our lives,” said Ms McDonnell.

“For us as a family it has given us hope to survive and to live again for ourselves and for Max, he lost his sister but he now has a brother.

“I go to Mass and I pray really hard but it’s our way to survive and maybe take the silence out of our house.

“When a child dies, your house goes very quiet and now there’s going to be a noise in the house.”

Listen to Mary and Peter McDonnell on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme here.

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