‘I just knew I wanted to be a mother and nobody was going to tell me I couldn’t’

Little miracle: Sharon and Gary Seymour with baby daughter Aya Mary
Sharon Seymour with her daughter Aya.

Despite suffering 14 miscarriages and having to fight for IVF treatment, Sharon Seymour, from Londonderry, was determined to have a baby. She tells her inspiring story to Jane Hardy.

Happiness is a new baby. Happiness squared is having a new baby when you have suffered 14 miscarriages and had to fight to gain a second course of IVF on the NHS.

Sharon Seymour (33) who lives with her husband Gary on a new estate outside Londonderry experienced the ultimate happy ending on March 30, 2010, in the labour ward at Altnagelvin Hospital when her first baby, Aya Mary, was born at a minute past 11am.

Recalling that red letter day, Sharon says now, still sounding pleased: “I was thrilled, even though it was an awful pregnancy from start to finish. Gary was there holding my hand and I had a Caesarean because I was a high risk mother.”

Not only that, Aya, who weighed just 4lbs 2oz, was a premature baby, born at 31 weeks, so she was whisked off to the neonatal unit before her ecstatic mother had even seen her.

Fortunately, cameras and mobiles were on hand to record Aya’s features which were, as the proud mother recounts “the spitting image of Gary, a daddy’s girl then and now, with blue eyes and blonde hair.”

In fact, the extended family produced around 1,000 images of the little girl in the first few weeks of her life.

Sharon had to wait until her tiny daughter was four hours old before she could see her in the flesh, and a lot longer before she could hold her outside the incubator.

But the emotions of becoming a mother outweighed all the problems. She says: “I was brought in to see her in the intensive care unit and remember I just couldn’t believe she was mine. Even some of the nurses helping me were in tears when I went into the labour ward.”

Her disbelief is entirely unsurprising when you consider what Sharon went through to reach motherhood. It’s an epic journey that has required determination, courage, a certain feistiness in challenging the authorities and an inspiring self belief.

Asked what kept her going through the almost interminable miscarriages which began when she was just 19, Sharon says simply: “I just knew I wanted to be a mum and nobody was going to tell me I couldn’t.”

At the age of 19, Sharon became pregnant by her boyfriend and after a few short weeks — all her miscarriages occurred between seven and 13 weeks’ gestation — she lost the baby.

“I was shocked because although I’d only known I was pregnant for a few weeks, I was starting to get my head round the idea of becoming a mum. I was heartbroken, but that made me determined I was going to be a mother.”

Her second miscarriage came the year after, then the third and fourth and so on. After the seventh in 2003, Sharon and Gary had a routine appointment at the gynaecology department of Altnagelvin Hospital.

“A junior doctor, Dr David Hunter, came into the room and I’d wanted to see my consultant. He took five minutes to read my notes. As he did so, my heart was sinking and I thought ‘Here we go again.’ But now I’m very glad we had that five minutes.”

The man who is now a consultant in the Royal realised something needed investigating to help the woman who found it easy to become pregnant, but impossible to carry the baby to full term.

An appointment was made at the recurrent miscarriage clinic in St Mary’s Hospital, London and Sharon headed off for the usual scans and blood tests.

What they found was a rare, serious condition, antiphospholipid syndrome, which means that Sharon’s blood has a tendency to clot which in turn led to her placenta detaching and the loss of the babies.

Drug treatment is available and if it is administered early enough, can save the foetus, but Sharon suffered another seven miscarriages because of the difficulty of getting the right level of drug. Then this driven mother thought of IVF but knew she couldn’t afford private treatment.

“We just didn’t have the £6,000 or so needed”.

She had considerable help from Alex Attwood MLA, whom she contacted first, and from her SDLP MLA Mark Durkan.

But one serious obstacle stood in the way of Sharon and Gary’s chances of getting fertility treat

ment. Gary already had a daughter by a previous relationship, who is now 17, and since 2008, NHS rules are that only childless couples have free access to IVF.

Sharon says now: “We fought to get the first course and our first IVF treatment in 2008 was not successful. Then I did an interview with a local paper and Sharon Davidson of Infertility UK saw it and got in touch.”

This terrier of a woman whom Sharon describes as ‘brilliant’, who spends her professional life giving infertile women the best chance of motherhood, then spent some years trying to get the same rights for Sharon as other childless women.

“Mark Durkan was great too, he phoned me from London the night I’d got in touch with his office, to go through things on the medical side. He worked behind the scenes for four to five months.”

And Mr Durkan has met Aya, the pretty result of all the campaigning, at a charity fundraiser for the Neo-|natal Unit at Altnegelvin last May.

When Sharon |finally became pregnant, for the 15th time, she found herself in a maelstrom of emotions.

“It was a very dramatic moment when I found I was pregnant. Every single moment of every day I checked for bleeding.” Asked at what point she started to relax, Sharon says with a wry laugh: “The day before she was born.”

In the background, Aya Mary — named Mary for Sharon’s mother and grandmother — can be heard making her presence felt. You can sense that the best thing about having Aya has been getting to know this new personality — now 19 months old and vocal. “Yes, when she opens her eyes in the morning, she stands up in her cot and goes ‘hello’,” says her mum.

And to the couple’s further joy, Sharon has come through an ectopic pregnancy and is now pregnant with her second child, a brother or sister for the little girl she still regards as something of a miracle.

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