After seven miscarriages and two rounds of IVF - what finally helped this NI woman become a mum again at 43?
Dawn McCartney, a financial advisor from Portadown, tells how she endured endless heartache before turning to a clinic in Greece and a Belfast fertility therapist, which resulted in the birth of a longed for second child
Dawn McCartney lost count of the number of times she was told she was too old to have a baby and today, as she gazes in awe at her contented four-month-old son Daniel, she is thankful for the inner voice which drove her not to give up on her dream.
She has endured a frightful journey to have her beloved son, suffering a heartbreaking seven miscarriages and making numerous trips to a fertility clinic in Athens, where she had two courses of IVF before finally falling pregnant with Daniel, who was born on May 13.
She credits the positive approach and wonderful care of the Greek clinic and local complementary therapy specialist, Ruth Ellen Logan of Logan Fertility in Belfast, for helping her to become a mum again.
Dawn (43) and husband Stephen from Portadown, who both work as financial advisors, also have a six-year-old son, Alfie and, now that little Daniel has come along, their family is complete.
When she charts what they have been through as a couple since deciding to try for a second child five years ago, it makes for upsetting reading, and Dawn has taken a horrendous battering, both physically and emotionally.
Yet, she is surprisingly positive about it and is focused on the wonderful help she found in the end, and now hopes her experience will encourage older women facing fertility issues not to give up.
She says: “The tests I had on the NHS always came back clear and at no stage did anyone tell me what was wrong. Instead, I was told that maybe it was my age.
“I was actually told that at my age, I should be grateful that I had a child.
“Nobody here ever gives you hope. We, as a family, had miscarriages every six months and in the end we all had to become immune to it. I think if we had hesitated or had doubts, it wouldn’t have worked out.
“The standard NHS tests are very simple, so you have to go to England or further afield for what are called level two tests.
“Northern Ireland is years behind the rest of the world when it comes to fertility tests and treatment.
“Clinics in Northern Ireland didn’t support older women so, because of my age, I looked overseas.
“When I went to Athens for my first consultation, I was told that I would not leave the clinic without a baby and that is the difference — that positivity, it was the same thing I got from Ruth Ellen Logan of Logan Fertility, Belfast.
“I would just like to say to women in their forties — you are not past it, so don’t give up hope.”
Because Dawn had no problems conceiving Alfie and had a text book pregnancy with him, she was not expecting any problems when, a year later, they decided to try for another baby. Again she conceived quite quickly and all appeared well until they went for a 12-week scan.
She says: “We were told there was no baby and that it had died at some stage. That knocked us for six. I didn’t struggle to get pregnant and had no idea there was any issue whatsoever going on in my body.
“It was devastating and it took us about a year to get over it, before we decided to try again.”
Little did they know the nightmare was only just beginning.
Dawn had no issues conceiving, but every time she went for her first scan she was shattered to be told that her baby had died. It happened so many times — seven in total — that the couple stopped telling people they were expecting.
Dawn says: “In the end we had to become very immune to it and it was almost like ‘here we go again’.
“You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have child and you start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of their future.
“You start making plans — and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience. After a while, you become very clinical about the process and try to convince yourself it’s all part of a learning curve.
“But, when you least it expect it, the tears come. Most people don’t discuss miscarriage — because you worry what happened will reflect upon you — as if you’re defective or did something to cause it. So you struggle on your own.”
With no answers from the medical world, Dawn looked at herself to see what she could do to improve her chances of having a baby. She started to train five nights a week in her local gym and eat a more healthy diet in a bid to have a healthy pregnancy.
But deep down she knew there had to be an underlying medical issue and turned to Logan Fertility for support as well as looking overseas for more detailed medical help.
The Logan clinic in Belfast was set up by local mum-of-two Ruth Ellen Logan as a result of her own fertility issues.
Ruth Ellen trained in America in 2009 with Rosita Arvigo and has gone on to write her own FHT accredited methods and courses.
Her inspiration was her own devastating fertility challenges, which resulted in three ectopic pregnancies and the crushing loss of both fallopian tubes.
She has helped more than 600 women to date, with 420 babies born and 123 pregnant.
She is mum to Aiyana and Tommy, both conceived with IVF and the help of the Logan Fertility Method, which is the only safe and approved method for assisted support in IVF.
Her approach is a combination of acupressure, mindfulness, reflexology and Maya massage, all combined to assist natural and assisted conception.
Maya massage is a tummy massage which aims to realign the pelvic organs and stimulate the ovaries, reposition the uterus and detoxify a congested, sluggish pelvic area.
Dawn adds: “After seeing a friend ‘Like’ Logan Fertility on Facebook, I decided to look at what they did, and after reading Ruth Ellen’s story I knew I’d like to meet her.
“She also had overcome fertility difficulties and was brave enough to share her story and offer hope to other women. I met her and had a consultation — I looked forward to my fortnightly massages where I could relax away from work and focus on trying to have a successful pregnancy.
“Straight away Ruth promised it would work. Sometimes we need positivity. Daniel is baby 401, so the statistics speak for themselves.
“When you go through tough times and suddenly something works, you want everyone to know.
“Complementary medicine does work,” claims Dawn, “and there are now 438 babies to prove it. I thank my therapist for greeting me each visit with her welcome smile and reassurance every week that everything was perfect. I left every session feeling relaxed, believing this was my time.”
Dawn met another positive approach in the clinic in Athens, and to this day she regards the woman who runs the clinic, Penny, as her fairy godmother.
From the moment she met her for the first time two years ago, Dawn says she was encouraged and assured that she would have her baby at her journey’s end.
She had one failed IVF treatment before she got pregnant with Daniel last year and then flew to Athens several times for consultations and tests where she met numerous women also from Northern Ireland who were receiving treatment.
The more rigorous tests offered at the clinic revealed that she had a slight immune problem and that her uterus had been scarred by the many miscarriages which she had suffered.
The Co Armagh mum was given a course of medication to help address this before beginning the next round of IVF.
Nevertheless, it was a tough journey, as she explains: "The Athens clinic offered the same treatments as the top UK fertility clinic in London, but at a fraction of the price, which is why we went there.
"Going through IVF is one of the hardest things you ever have to go through as a woman.
"The whole process is horrendous, but as we have proved it does actually work - with the help of the right clinic and right treatment for each person.
"There are so many injections and medication, and it can be very undignified at times.
"In Northern Ireland there are a lot of hard-working doctors who are trying to bring the province into line with the rest of the UK and Europe.
"With the constraints of the NHS, though, it appears we are all treated the same and that unfortunately doesn't always work.
"From the moment I met Penny in Serum, Athens, I believed I would have another child. She told me she had lots of women aged 47 and 48 having babies and assured me I would not leave the clinic without a baby. I never looked back.
"She is the most amazing woman you could meet and her dedication is humbling. We were all treated as her children and she gives everyone her personal attention.
"I believe there are times when she never sleeps, such is her dedication, and I've seen the most difficult of cases walk away with a baby. The more I visited Serum, the more people I met and every time there was someone from Northern Ireland.
"I basically had nothing wrong with me, but specialist blood tests revealed I had slight immune problems which I was treated for, and which benefited from massage."
Dawn and Stephen have visited Athens four times in the past two years, receiving two courses of IVF.
In total, the costs were around £15,000 including flights and accommodation - a third of what she believes the same treatment would have cost in London.
Dawn is grateful they were able to save the money for the treatment and travel, but adds that if she had needed to borrow it, there would have been no hesitation.
She adds: "In the clinic it's not about money and, in fact, money is barely mentioned.
"Penny genuinely cares and will give her heart and soul to every person fortunate enough to walk through her door.
"We did make some sacrifices to pay for it, but it was spread over the three years.
"We went there and we were able to save between visits. At any stage I would have taken a loan out - if we had to."
While she had a straightforward pregnancy after everything she had been through to get Daniel, understandably she was anxious and could not fully allow herself to relax and enjoy it.
Now that her baby is here, though - fit and healthy and four-months-old - Dawn says that she couldn't be more overjoyed. She adds: "Sometimes during my pregnancy I would have woken up and thought I was dreaming and felt it wasn't real. It is just unbelievable that I am getting the chance again to be a mum and do all the things you do again with a baby.
"It's what we've waited all these years for, and it's fantastic. I just want to urge women who are in their forties not to give up. I would encourage them to go to Ruth Ellen.
"If this helps just one person I will be delighted. I just look at Daniel and sometimes I can't believe that he is here."
Logan Fertility Care Clinic, Belfast. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.loganfertility.com