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Circle of life: The agony and joy of having an IVF baby

Sir Elton John led calls for a boycott of fashion label Dolce & Gabbana for describing IVF babies as 'synthetic'. Stephanie Bell speaks to two local mums for whom the treatment turned out to be the best decision they ever made.

As a growing list of celebrities vow to boycott fashion label Dolce & Gabbana, families of IVF babies around the world have also been expressing their outrage at the couple's comments. Stefano Gabbana and his long-time business partner Domenico Dolce, caused widespread horror and hurt when, in an interview with an Italian news magazine, Dolce called IVF babies "synthetic" and said they opposed gay adoptions. The designers are both gay and were previously a couple.

Speaking to Panorama magazine, Dolce said: "I am not convinced by those I call children of chemicals, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalogue … psychiatrists are not ready to confront the effects of this experimentation."

The remarks drew an immediate response from Sir Elton John, who has two children, Zachary and Elijah, with husband David Furnish, both of who were conceived through IVF treatment.

Sir Elton took to social media on Sunday to start a "boycott Dolce & Gabbana" campaign, which pop star Ricky Martin soon joined, followed by Victoria Beckham, singer Courtney Love and Hollywood screenwriter Ryan Murphy of Nip/Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story fame.

"How dare you refer to my beautiful children as 'synthetic'?" Elton John wrote on Instagram.

"And shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at IVF - a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children."

Singer Courtney Love said she had gathered up all her Dolce & Gabbana items and wanted to burn them, while Victoria Beckham wrote: "Sending love to Elton, David, Zachary, Elijah & all the beautiful IVF babies."

Dolce & Gabbana have since released a statement insisting their remarks were "personal views" and that they "did not judge other people's decisions".

"We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it.

"We talked about our way of seeing reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people's choices.

"We do believe in freedom and love," Gabbana said.

Dolce added: "I'm Sicilian and I grew up in a traditional family, made up of a mother, a father and children.

"I am very well aware of the fact that there are other types of families and they are as legitimate as the one I've known.

"But in my personal experience, family had a different configuration. That is the place where I learnt the values of love and family.

"This is the reality in which I grew up, but it does not imply that I don't understand different ones.

"I was talking about my personal view, without judging other people's choices and decisions."

As families of IVF babies post their children's pictures online in protest at the comments, we spoke to two local mums who have been through the emotional IVF journey.

'When you want a child so badly, you will do anything'

After three failed IVF treatments Alison and Andrew Allen simply couldn't take the emotional and financial strain anymore and reluctantly decided that their fourth attempt would be their last.

It had been five long years of heartache and unbearable disappointment when they embarked on their final course of IVF in 2013.

Even when she found herself pregnant with twins on her fourth attempt, Alison couldn't allow herself to feel any joy until she had babies Jack and Indie in her arms.

That joy of finally being a mum and gazing at the little miracles which were her son and daughter is something which, 16 months on, Alison still can't find the words to express.

"They are just amazing, I can't put into words how awesome they are," she says. "Jack is the quiet one and the thinker of the two and Indie is so mischievous, she is going to be a real wee minx.

"You just get smiles and laughs out of the two of them all the time. We are just complete now. I don't know what we ever did without them. I just can't even imagine them not being here.

"We worried about my step-daughter Ruby and that it might be difficult for her, but she is brilliant with them and they just adore her. "

Alison (39), owner of the Miss Daisy Driving School, and Andrew (47), an IT specialist, from Belfast, had been together three years when they started IVF.

Alison had suffered from endometriosis, a gynaecological condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other areas of the body, most commonly in the pelvic region.

She had been through numerous surgeries and had always feared that it might interfere with her ability to conceive, even though she had been assured that it shouldn't. She was in her early thirties when she and Andrew first decided to try for a family, but when nothing happened after a year, she went to her GP to enquire about IVF.

"I knew it would take some time once you are referred, which is why I went to the doctor. In the end, it took 18 months before we got our free IVF on the National Health Service."

The failure of the first of their four courses was the most devastating for Alison and Andrew, leaving both of them feeling shock, devastation and anger.

"It was horrific, your whole world ends," she says. "It is like somebody has died. It was a long time before emotionally I could consider going through it again."

Deciding to try again meant finding more than £4,000 to pay for IVF. It was money they had to borrow from the bank and when that course failed, the financial burden made it even more heart-rending.

"I thought I would cope better second time round but it was just as devastating," she says. "It was a huge burden borrowing the money and we had to think hard about if we could afford it or not.

"When it didn't work and you are still paying back a loan every month, every time that direct debit goes out it's another little reminder that it didn't work."

Fortunately, the clinic was able to extract 12 healthy fresh embryos from the treatment and freeze some, which meant that the couple could try again at a much lesser cost of £1,000.

When it failed for a third time, Alison and Andrew knew they had more eggs in storage, but in the interests of their emotional and Alison's physical health, they decided the next attempt would be their last.

After her implants Alison and Andrew decided to go to Portugal to deal with the difficult two-week wait to find out if she was pregnant for what was their last chance.

Seeing the positive line on the pregnancy test was a surreal moment as Alison recalls: "We were shocked. You just don't believe it. You are in denial. My first reaction was to get another test. In total I did 14 tests and even though they all came up positive I still couldn't take it in."

Understandably her pregnancy was fraught with fear; she spent the entire nine months hoping and praying that all would be well but was rewarded with her beautiful son and daughter.

As her two adorable toddlers play at her feet she is astonished by the comments from Dolce and Gabbana and says she can't believe how anyone could say her children are "synthetic".

"How can you label a child? What they said is really hurtful to women who can't conceive naturally," she says. "When you want a child badly you will do anything; people pay a lot of money and emotionally go through such a hard time and for them to say that is just disgusting, it's a horrible thing to say.

"I am appalled and horrified by what they said and especially being so well known, to put their name to something like that. Are they trying to destroy themselves? I can't imagine anyone would be on board with what they said."

'It's amazing what they can do, we feel blessed'

Pauline Blair can't find the words to express the happiness she feels as she gazes at her two-week-old son Rory. It's why there was no room in her heart for any anger this week when she heard the comments made by Dolce & Gabbana.

The Co Down pharmacist and her husband feel blessed that they were among the very few couples in Northern Ireland (just 18%) for whom IVF treatment works first time.

Although staggered by the idea that anyone could describe a child born as a result of the fertility treatment as "synthetic" the couple are just too overjoyed at being new parents to allow the comments to upset them.

"I'm too happy at the minute to feel any anger about anything, but I know if I had been going through IVF it would really have upset me to hear that.

"It is just so insensitive, especially for people who are going through the process or thinking about going through it.

"They are basically saying you are manufacturing a life but they are talking about a little baby with a beating heart, how can you ever say that is synthetic?

"When you see the end result I don't know how they can say that.

"They are no different to any other baby. It really is a stupid thing to say.

"It is amazing what they are able to do for couples now and we feel really blessed that we live in a generation in which IVF is available."

Pauline (35) and her husband had been trying for a family for two years when they went to their GP for advice.

He immediately referred them to the Royal Victoria Hospital fertility clinic, where they were put on the waiting list for IVF.

Their journey began and they waited two years before getting their first treatment last June.

It was an emotional two years and throughout her pregnancy Pauline did everything she could to ensure her baby was well, including attending Logan Fertility Care Centre in Belfast for massage and reflexology.

"It is very frustrating as you don't know what you are dealing with, it left you in a kind of no man's land.

"From the moment you go to your GP it is a tough time as you feel like you are in limbo.

"It's very hard going through all the tests and waiting for results. You go from feeling positive and thinking this is going to work to being down. I'm not normally an emotional person but I found myself quite teary at the slightest thing, which is not at all like me.

"When you get married you take it for granted that you are going to have a family and when it doesn't happen it is a shock to the system. My husband was very positive and really helped me through the down days."

The birth of baby Rory on March 4 made every second of their tough two-year journey worth it and Pauline feels heartfelt gratitude that a treatment like IVF is available to couples to make their dream of becoming parents come true.

"It's brilliant," she says. "We just can't believe it even now. Rory is a little miracle for us.

"It's a bit surreal and we love it, it's just amazing to see him and how it all works and just what they are able to do for couples. We feel so blessed."

Celebs who made the journey

  • Singer Celine Dion tried for six years before conceiving her eldest son, Rene-Charles, in 2001. She then battled through six failed attempts at IVF before having her twins Eddy and Nelson in 2010
  • Rod Stewart's wife Penny tried for two years to conceive their second son, Aiden. She became pregnant after trying IVF procedures in both the UK and the US
  • Brooke Shields also had to have six rounds of fertility treatment before getting pregnant with eldest daughter, Rowan
  • Actress Emma Thompson had IVF to get pregnant with her daughter Gaia, who was born in 1999. Emma and husband Greg Wise later adopted Rwandan refugee, Tindy
  • Sports presenter Gabby Logan and husband Kenny faced a three-year fertility battle before having twin sons Lois and Reuben through IVF
  • Chart-topping singer Maria Carey had twins Moroccan and Monroe in 2011 after IVF
  • Nicole Kidman went through various IVF and fertility treatments before the birth of her daughter, Sunday Rose, in 2008

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