Sunday 20 January 2019

It was tough but look at us now...

For author Mairead O'Driscoll it was almost a decade-log struggle to have a baby, while novelist Clare Dowling spent three years fighting the asthma which left her bedridden. Yet as their stories show, when things get desperate, sometimes the only way is up, writes Anna Coogan

'It took me three years to cure my debilitating asthma. now i'll do a 10k run

Fair City scriptwriter and novelist Clare Dowling caught a cold which developed into a chest infection and bronchitis, and was finally diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. Then it became really depressing, when standard medications didn't work. She couldn't get out of bed, and had to take time off work in spite of being the family's main breadwinner.

After three years of looking for a cure, a combination of drugs have improved her asthma, and she feels she has been given a reprieve in dealing with her chronic condition.

Clare says: "I used to be a smoker, a fairly heavy smoker, at one point puffing my way through 20-a-day without a bother in the world. But once I had kids, it was no fun huddling outside on the patio in the rain. Also, I was afraid I'd get lung cancer and die on them.

"I quit for good seven years ago, guiltily relieved that I'd 'got away with it' in terms of problems with my chest.


"Then, three years ago, I picked up a cough from my son. He got better, I didn't. I went to the doctor and got a course of antibiotics to cure what was now a chest infection. Then, a second course of antibiotics. When it still didn't clear, I got a diagnosis of bronchitis. Benign enough, I thought -- before ending up a week later in St James's Hospital, flat on my back, with test results so high that they initially suspected a blood clot on my lung.

"It was only after a second hospitalisation and two more bouts of crippling bronchitis that I got the diagnosis of adult-onset asthma. I was baffled. Nobody in my family had asthma. I knew nothing about it except that people got a bit short of breath. Then they took a puff or two of an inhaler and everything was grand, right?

"My asthma was nothing like that. I had little or no shortness of breath; instead there was a chronic burn in my chest, a permanently raw throat and a bewildering exhaustion.

"Worse, the standard asthma medications didn't help, except to stave off more bouts of bronchitis. I was on and off steroids like a yo-yo -- at least they worked, but the long-term effects were scary; a risk of diabetes, bone thinning and an unattractive 'moon face'. Part of me couldn't believe this was happening to me -- and that this may be it, for the rest of my life.

"The effect on family life was huge. I was the main breadwinner, but could hardly get out of bed in the mornings, never mind write. Often I had no energy for the kids, they knew something was wrong, but because I looked alright, they couldn't understand why I was so miserable all the time. I felt very down, and easily prone to tears.

"I knew I couldn't go on like that, and so I decided to try alternative cures. I tried the water diet, acupuncture, herbs, supplements, industrial doses of fish oil and prayers in the church. I wish I could say any of it worked, but it didn't. My chest was as bad as ever, only now I was poorer, too.

"In the end perseverance paid off, and six months ago, with my doctor, I found a combination of medicines that works -- for now. Like most people living with a chronic condition, I'm not sure of what's down the line. But in the meantime, I feel like I've got my life back. I'm writing full-time again, and have taken up Irish dancing and plan to do a 10k run in May. I might well be walking some of it, but I now appreciate the things I can do, instead of agonising over the things I can't."

Clare Dowling's new novel, Too Close For Comfort, is published by Headline Review, price €12.99

'Eight years of trying paid off, and we now have our beautiful baby boy

Author and midwife Mairead O'Driscoll always dreamed of being a mum, and today she is, to a bubbly toddler called Tim, now 21 months old. Yet the struggle to hold her firstborn included fertility drugs, a miscarriage and IVF treatment.

She fell for her husband Leonard when she was 25, and married him three years later, and once they had set up home, naturally expected a family would follow. Tim finally made a joyous arrival when she was 37 years old.

Mairead says: "There is amongst most couples, unless one or other of them specifically does not wish to have children, a sort of automatic assumption that they do. Of all the labels I ever imagined attaching to myself, infertility wasn't one of them.

"I was healthy, so was my husband. We had married at a relatively young age -- I was 28, Leonard was 31. Yet there we were, a few years later, unable to conceive.

"Being the proactive type, a "doer", I booked us an appointment with our GP as a precaution, a back-up while we waited to get pregnant. It was the start of a rollercoaster ride that would last eight years -- and lead to the birth of Tim.

"Starting fertility treatment seemed the natural progression, mainly to find out exactly what minor detail was causing the problem. As the investigations were ongoing, the fantastic staff at the fertility centre advised a course of Clomid, a common fertility drug. After six hopeful months -- and in terms of fertility treatment, everything is measured in units of time -- we were no further on. Cue the next step, intra-uterine insemination. It sounds scary, this technical term that might or might not give us what we wanted, but at the time it seemed like just another step on the road.

"We made a conscious decision to embrace the Christenings and Communions that are the dread of most couples who have difficulty starting a family, believing it was a blessing to have children rather than isolate ourselves.

"A little burnt out after six attempts at IUI, the inevitable step was IVF. A gentler treatment, NaPro is often described as a natural form of fertility care, based on the female cycle but still includes medication and a certain level of investigations. While NaPro has been criticised for not being suitable for all couples and has had some negative press regarding a certain religious ethos, Leonard and I will always be grateful for the gift of our first pregnancy, sadly ending in miscarriage after six weeks.

"Age, that menacing monster that just keeps on chasing you relentlessly, was now catching up on us. So it was time to bite the bullet and start IVF. People talk about how difficult it is -- the injections, the physical demands on the body, the impact on the relationship and the social and financial considerations. Yes, it was hard -- but not as difficult as wanting a baby that we couldn't have.

Mairead O'Driscoll's novel, A Moment In Time, is out now, price €8.99

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