IT was her sixth pregnancy – and her sixth miscarriage. Devastated by each cruel blow, Debbie Byers wrestled with the terrible thought that her dreams of becoming a mother might never come true.
There was no clear reason why each longed-for pregnancy should suddenly be cut short, leaving her and husband Jim searching for answers.
And even though they had ploughed £15,000 into fertility treatments and embarked on a roller coaster of intrusive tests – and, on one occasion, particularly controversial techniques – it began to feel as if their parental hopes were in vain.
“It was devastating,” says Debbie, recalling the misery each agonising miscarriage brought. “I hated the feeling that what was happening was out of my control. You are left searching for reasons all of the time.
“I was doing well in my job, we had a nice house, a lovely marriage, great family and friends. I felt it was like a massive failing in me that I couldn’t hold on to a pregnancy.
“I had this conversation with Jim: ‘Maybe we will never be able to carry a child, maybe you should find another wife’.
“We so wanted a family. To think it might not happen for us, together, that maybe we weren’t in some way compatible, it was devastating.”
Today, though, Debbie is having one of her “mummy days”, a break from her normal working routine to concentrate on spending time with her precious little miracle – two-year-old son Benjamin.
Full of fun, healthy and lively, he has transformed the couple’s lives. Finally they are the parents they always yearned to be.
Yet incredibly, it was only after Debbie, 41, made the decision to step away from all the intrusive treatments, medical interventions and well-intentioned advice to focus on simply trying to relax, that their dream began to come true.
“I went through a period of reflection. I resigned from my job which took huge pressure off me. I had time to relax, I changed my lifestyle, I started running.
“Within six weeks I was pregnant – naturally,” says Debbie.
Unlike her previous six pregnancies, she knew from the outset that this one would have a happy ending.
While her thoughts are turning to trying to give Benjamin a brother or sister, Debbie, of Morningside, is also acutely aware that around 16 women in the UK suffer a miscarriage every day, and one in four women lose a baby during pregnancy or birth.
In many cases the reasons why are never established, and their loss remains one of life’s great – and saddest – mysteries.
Others’ lives are blighted by infertility, gynaecological cancers, pregnancy complications, menopause or incontinence – often banded together simply as “women’s troubles” and typically considered too personal or sensitive to discuss.
“People tip-toe around you a bit,” says Debbie, who runs her own public relations firm. “No-one wants to hear about it and, to be honest, you don’t really want to have to tell them.”
Indeed, it was only after she had become a mother that Debbie attended a charity event and learned of an organisation which this year marks 50 years of trying to find solutions and offer hope to women affected by a range of female health issues.
“The first outing I had with Benjamin after he was born was a charity lunch for an organisation I hadn’t heard of before, called Wellbeing of Women,” she explains.
“It turned out that it was helping research into recurrent miscarriage. I knew I wanted to get involved.”
Launched in 1964, the UK-wide charity has ploughed millions of pounds into research projects aimed at improving the health of women and babies, including £2.5 million in Scotland over the past 15 years.
Its latest projects include Glasgow-based research aimed at predicting the future health of babies using cord blood and another which investigates the cause of hot flushes in hormone-deficient women and men.
Closer to home, the charity is spending almost £145,000 on research at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by Dr Andrew Horne, which aims to find new treatments for endometriosis, a debilitating and painful condition which can lead to infertility.
Next month, the charity will mark its golden anniversary in Scotland with a glittering fundraising dinner at The Scottish Cafe and Restaurant at the Scottish National Gallery, with guest speakers jeweller Michael Laing and restaurateur and writer Carina Contini, pictured right.
“I had a happy ending and have the most wonderful two-year-old boy, but I know I would be in a very different place now if he hadn’t come along,” says Debbie, who is keen to raise awareness of the vital role the charity plays in supporting women’s health projects.
“Our first three natural pregnancies in 2008 all ended in miscarriage before ten weeks. As soon as you know you’re pregnant, you start planning and imagining what life is going to be like. When it goes wrong, you’re left with constant heartache.
“We looked at our chromosomes, did all these intrusive tests. My colleagues and friends were falling pregnant and we were happy for them, but it was another reminder that it wasn’t happening for us.”
The couple went through tests and assisted conception procedures until 2010, when three attempts at IVF, one of which cost them £5000, ended with one complete failure and two heartbreaking miscarriages.
Desperate for a positive outcome, they headed to London’s Harley Street for treatment with controversial fertility medic Dr Mohamed Taranissi, who has been criticised for using allegedly unproven treatments.
Debbie and Jim, 41, who works in marketing, spent £10,000 of their savings on an intrusive procedure aimed at preventing her from miscarrying. While she did manage to fall pregnant, the couple were devastated when, once again, Debbie suffered a miscarriage.
“I put on a brave face during the day, but we found it hard,” adds Debbie. “People socialise around their children and we were socially extracted because people didn’t want to upset us.”
The sixth miscarriage forced Debbie to rethink her lifestyle. “I had been pushing myself too hard. I would stay at work later than most people to escape reality. When I took a step away, everything changed. I fell pregnant naturally, which was incredible.”
Benjamin was born in July 2012, a 10lb bundle of joy the couple had started to think they’d never have.
“I just felt from the start that this time it was different. His birth was amazing and definitely the most surreal moment of my life,” she adds. “But so many couples go through this and don’t have a happy ending.
“Wellbeing of Women has invested more than £50m into research since 1964 that has proven that it is not only possible but vital to answer unknown questions, but we still don’t know enough. We don’t know enough about fertility, miscarriage, gynaecological cancers, pregnancy complications, menopause or incontinence.
“The more money that can be invested in research projects, the greater impact it will have on the lives of women and their babies for generations to come.”
• Wellbeing of Women’s 50th Anniversary Sparkling Scottish Fundraiser is on October 8. Tickets cost £25 plus raffle donation. For details visit their Facebook page or www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk
Women suffer in silence
THEY are the kind of conditions that for years were whispered about and referred to as simply “women’s troubles”.
And even now, many suffer in silence rather than discuss health issues which, in reality, affect millions. According to charity Wellbeing of Women, one in two women in the UK will suffer from some kind of reproductive or gynaecological health problem, while 17 babies a day are either stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Every week around 145 women in the UK die of a gynaecological-related cancer. And two million women suffer the pain of endometriosis. Meanwhile one in three will suffer from urinary incontinence at some point in their lives while one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Among the research funded by the charity is a two-year research project at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary which aims to unravel the reasons why some women develop endometriosis.
It is thought the condition could be linked to a genetic blip, and that drugs being developed to target the genes that lead to chronic conditions like asthma could treat endometriosis patients.