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From 15 miscarriages… to three little miracles

The doctors treating Rosanna Davison after her 15th miscarriage must have thought she was having some sort of emotional breakdown. 

Frankly, no one reading her medical notes would have blamed her.

The former Miss World, and daughter of singer Chris de Burgh, had been brought into the Dublin hospital in 2020 after her husband found her collapsed in the bathroom.

She didn’t realise what was happening at the time, but she had miscarried yet again.

The doctors treating Rosanna Davison after her 15th miscarriage must have thought she was having some sort of emotional breakdown. Frankly, no one reading her medical notes would have blamed her

Today, she remembers that her reaction — after doctors told her that she had been pregnant, but no longer was — stunned everyone. 

‘I was almost laughing. I’d had no idea I was pregnant, but they told me I’d made it to almost 11 weeks.

‘The nurses were telling me about counselling services, but I was saying to them: ‘This is incredible. I’ve never made it this far into a pregnancy.’ I don’t think it was the usual sort of reaction from a woman who was miscarrying. I couldn’t believe my body could do this. Yes, I’d lost this baby, which was very sad, but to have got so far . . .

‘I remember calling my husband, Wes, and saying: ‘You’ll never believe this.’ ‘

Just the day before, Rosanna had been on a TV chat show in Ireland to talk about a very private matter. Three months earlier, having concluded she would never carry a baby herself, after a heartbreaking 14 miscarriages, she had become a mother via a surrogate.

In a delivery room in Kiev, she had cut the cord after her daughter, Sophia (who is biologically Rosanna’s and Wes’s) was born.

That was supposed to be the couple’s ‘happy ending’, the conclusion of their extraordinarily difficult fertility struggle — one which, Rosanna admits today, had brought her to the brink.

And yet just as she had been weeping publicly about how it felt to be, effectively, a poster girl for infertility, here was her body giving her the unexpected message that perhaps this was not the end.

‘As I left the hospital, reassuring them I didn’t need counselling because I was going home to my three-month-old baby, they told me to be careful because I would be very fertile after a miscarriage.’

She smiles. ‘And then another miracle happened.’

What word other than ‘miracle’ can you use, when you consider that Rosanna, 37, is now a devoted mother of three?

Identical twins Oscar and Hugo, conceived naturally and carried against all the odds by Rosanna, were born in November 2020.

What word other than ‘miracle’ can you use, when you consider that Rosanna, 37, is now a devoted mother of three?

What word other than ‘miracle’ can you use, when you consider that Rosanna, 37, is now a devoted mother of three?

Needless to say, her pregnancy was very stressful. She admits spending much of it simply waiting to miscarry, ‘because that was my norm’.

There is no medical explanation as to why she didn’t, but the upshot is all her dreams have been realised. ‘We still don’t quite know why, or how, but we are now a family of five. I feel so blessed,’ she says.

Obviously with three children under the age of two, she is exhausted, but happily so. We meet at a Dublin hotel to talk about a book Rosanna has written about her extraordinary fertility ‘journey’. It’s a roller coaster of a read, surreal in parts where the various moments of her life story converge.

Take the chapter set in Kiev, where she travels to have her eggs collected for the surrogacy. She recalls visiting the city before, to judge the Miss Ukraine contest with Paris Hilton and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Indeed, there was a vast contrast between her celebrity on-show life and the private reality. The first of her distressing early miscarriages occurred while she was still modelling, all the while being interviewed about her seemingly perfect life.

‘I would be asked about starting a family and I’d try to brush it all off,’ she says. ‘Then I’d worry people would think: ‘Isn’t she selfish, putting off starting a family so she can swan around travelling?’ ‘

She quietly slipped out of the public eye to do a Masters degree in nutrition — a decision partly inspired by her own research (she was convinced a diet low in sugar and processed foods would boost her chances of staying pregnant), but partly because she wanted to avoid being asked about her family plans.

Her father, she says, was also facing jovial questions in interviews — ‘Is your daughter going to make you a grandfather soon?’ — when behind closed doors, he was deeply distressed for Rosanna.

‘Dad was always supportive, but he found it very difficult to deal with my sadness. I am his little girl, and this was something he couldn’t fix.’

Rosanne Davison is pictured above with her father Chris De Burgh and mother Diane

Rosanne Davison is pictured above with her father Chris De Burgh and mother Diane

Rosanna admits she regarded her body — so outwardly perfect — as ‘broken’, and felt a ‘failure as a woman’. Her battle to have children became all-consuming and nearly cost her her marriage.

‘I told my husband to find someone else,’ she says. ‘I knew having children was so important to him, and we knew the problem was with me.’

He insisted he would stay put and told her: ‘Rosie, we can still have a lovely life.’ But she couldn’t see a happy future without babies.

One of three children herself — she has two younger brothers, Michael and Hubie — Rosanna grew up hoping one day to have a large family of her own. She has learned since that her mother also had fertility issues: after an ectopic pregnancy in 1982, Diane Davison was told she had only a five per cent chance of conceiving.

‘She struggled to have me,’ Rosanna says. ‘A lot of women do and while it is talked about more now, I don’t think anyone realises just how common it is.’

Until this time, Rosanna’s upbringing had been rather fairy tale. Her grandmother, Maeve de Burgh (Davison is the family name, but Chris took his mother’s more exotic surname as a stage name) still lives in a castle in Wexford, and had quite the back story herself, working as a spy during the Cold War, and partying with Lord Mountbatten.

Chris would entertain guests with his music at the family castle, before finding global fame.

While his biggest hit is Lady In Red, he wrote For Rosanna (‘a song for the baby who changed my life’) inspired by watching his infant daughter sleep.

Rosanna later became famous in her own right — winning Miss Ireland in 2003, and then Miss World later that year. She met her husband, Wesley Quirke, in a nightclub and they married in 2013.

Two years later, they started trying for a baby and were thrilled when she fell pregnant. But at six-and-a-half weeks, she miscarried. The shock was tempered by reassurance from doctors that early miscarriage is very common. So they tried again. The same thing happened, at the same point.

Over the next two years, they would suffer a gruelling 14 miscarriages.

‘After the third, they did all sorts of tests but nothing showed up,’ Rosanna explains.

Further down the line, it was discovered there were genetic anomalies. ‘I was told my immune system was reacting to Wes’s DNA, seeing it as a foreign invader, as it would, say, a pathogen or a cancer cell, and killing it. So, essentially my body was killing my babies.’

She then underwent all manner of tests, readily agreeing to a cocktail of drugs to suppress her immune system, travelling to clinics in both Dublin and London in the hope someone could help.

She is able to laugh about parts of it now — such as the time she had to shoo her mother out of the house when her ovulation test showed she should have sex with her husband that afternoon — but other parts are deeply distressing.

Rosanna cannot bring herself to answer the question about how she would have coped if she had not been able to have a child.

Three years ago, advised by doctors to stop drug treatment for her health’s sake, she started to look at surrogacy. And though, happily, it was a success, she admits it took a big emotional toll. ‘I think some people think it’s an easy option, but it wasn’t,’ she says. ‘I found it very difficult.’

The couple decided on commercial surrogacy, engaging a clinic in Ukraine offering a highly controlled, contracted service.

‘We have since met couples who went down the altruistic route, with a family member or a friend carrying their baby, but we didn’t have anyone we could ask.’

They travelled to Kiev where Rosanna underwent the egg retrieval process, her eggs were fertilised with Wes’s sperm and an embryo was successfully implanted in the surrogate’s womb.

At first, the couple declined to meet their surrogate, but when it reached the point of receiving scan photos and pregnancy updates, Rosanna struggled.

‘I found it very hard to see her having my pregnancy. I desperately wanted to be her,’ she says.

‘It was an exciting time — all those positive emotions were there, too — but there was also a lot of envy and worry. Was she getting emotionally attached? I found it hard that I had no control over what she was eating, how safely she was crossing the road . . .’

In November 2019, baby Sophia arrived. Rosanna and Wes were in the delivery room, and Rosanna was the first to hold her baby. Everyone wept. ‘I kept saying thank you to our surrogate,’ she says. ‘I must have said it 20 times. I will never be able to repay her.’

Their relationship has developed since. ‘We will never be best friends, but, yes, there is a relationship there,’ Rosanna says.

She understands people can be squeamish about money changing hands in surrogacy deals, but is pragmatic about their experience.

‘We know she didn’t just do it for the money. There are other ways of making money. Yes, she had bills to pay, but she already had a daughter of her own and she wanted to give another couple the chance of being parents.’

When Sophia was just a few months old, Rosanna asked her surrogate if she would be willing to repeat the process with another of their embryos (several are ‘on ice’ at the Kiev clinic). She agreed.

Now Rosanna wonders if that positive reply made her body ‘relax’ into a pregnancy. Because it was just at the point where tentative plans were being made for a second baby, via the surrogate, that she herself fell pregnant, and made it to the 11-week stage.

‘That was the point I thought: ‘My body hasn’t given up here.’

Within weeks of her 15th miscarriage, Rosanna was pregnant again, this time with twins.

She half expected this pregnancy to end in miscarriage, too, and becomes emotional talking about the first time they heard a heartbeat. ‘In all that time, with all the miscarriages, we’d never got to the point of being able to hear one.’

That there were two was ‘almost beyond belief. It was a miracle, although even then we didn’t dare hope too much’.

Last November, during lockdown, Oscar and Hugo made their joyous entrance to the world.

Rosanna wrote her book for them, and for their sister. ‘One day we will tell them the lengths we went to, to have them,’ she says.

When Dreams Come True, by Rosanna Davison, is published by Gill Books at £14.99.

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