Three years ago, Aisling Kerr was driving home from the month's mind Mass for her late dad Matt, when she turned quietly to her photographer husband Colm and said: "Family is everything, really, isn't it." Colm knew exactly what she meant, as in that simple sentiment lay the hopes and dreams they had buried years earlier of having children.
Aisling (47) and Colm (50) have been together for 26 years, and once they married in 1996 in their 20s, they started trying immediately for a baby. It didn't happen for them, and they sought medical help in their 30s. They were advised that getting pregnant would be challenging as Aisling's left ovary wasn't working to capacity, and they had five attempts at IVF that were sadly unsuccessful. They didn't even get to the implant stage, and after the last failed attempt, they reluctantly concluded that the stress of injections and hormones and constant disappointment was taking a greater toll on them than they could bear.
"I said to Colm, 'Are we saying we're happy to be just us?'" recalls Aisling, recognising that Colm was also at breaking point. After talking it over and weighing up the situation from all angles, the devoted pair made the sad decision to stop trying and accept that becoming parents wasn't going to happen for them.
Among their friends and family, they had always been the live-wire couple, beloved by nephews and nieces and always up for fun. They didn't tell people about the struggle or treatments, apart from Colm's late mum Bridie and Aisling's late dad Matt, who was a carer for her mum Patsy, who has dementia. They were relieved that after the initial "anything stirring?" comments when they first got married, nobody pried about whether they were having children as the years went on.
As the youngest of their respective families, of course it hurt when friends became parents and older siblings became parents and even grandparents, but they coped because they're a strong unit. They have plenty of friends and ran the busy creative communications company, ARC Studios. Colm was also in a band and Aisling was involved with Chernobyl Children International, and they lived very fulfilling lives.
They had been able to sideline the disappointment until Aisling's dad Matt died from cancer in Harold's Cross Hospice, and the repressed sadness and longing for a family came bubbling to the surface again. Aisling was by now 44 and Colm was 47, so they knew it wouldn't be easy, but they decided to go ahead and try again for their much-longed-for baby.
Aisling had heard about Institut Marques, a clinic in Barcelona that offered unlimited IVF tries over a two-year period for a fixed fee. What she found encouraging was that they would refund 70pc of the fee if success wasn't achieved during this time, and she felt that this underlined their commitment to, and expertise at, trying to make a pregnancy happen. They embarked on treatment in the Spanish capital, and after rigorous tests and procedures, Aisling managed to get pregnant twice, but sadly both pregnancies ended in early miscarriages.
At one point, she and Colm were on holiday 1,200km away on the other side of Spain, when the clinic phoned and said they wanted to do another test and procedure. How soon could they get there, they were asked, to which they replied they'd be there by the following day. They got into the car and drove the entire 1,200km in one day to the clinic, had the procedures and then drove back the same distance the following day.
In December 2016, they had another round of IVF, and to their great joy, this time the procedure resulted in a successful pregnancy. "I enjoyed every second of being pregnant - morning sickness, swollen ankles and all," laughs Aisling. The baby was born by Caesarean section at the Rotunda in August 2017, and they were utterly thrilled at the safe arrival of their beautiful daughter.
She is called Darci Miah (Miah after Colm's former garda dad Jerry, short for Jeremiah) and at her naming ceremony, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Aisling's older brother Ciaran made a speech in which he said Colm and Aisling had been such a fantastic auntie and uncle to all the nephews and nieces, it would have been desperately unfair if they hadn't been able to have a family of their own. While meeting other new parents can remind Aisling and Colm that they are slightly older embarking on this particular journey, they feel that they have a wisdom born of the experiences they have had in life, which will benefit their little girl. They have been through some difficult times, including Colm's 10-year struggle with depression and the sad loss of his sister.
Colm suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being abused as a youngster by a member of a religious order, who was prosecuted for other similar crimes and is now deceased. The acute phase of his illness lasted four years and resulted in three spells in St Patrick's Mental Health Services, but he came through it and is completely well again.
When it began, he and Aisling had just moved near Mullingar, and she found the experience very isolating and was terrified that Colm would never recover. "It hasn't been an easy ride, but our love is so strong, it has overcome a lot of obstacles," she says. "For such a wild, mad, spontaneous fella, it was really tough for Colm to go through depression."
Now thankfully recovered, Colm oozes wisdom and compassion and people often phone him for advice around their own struggles. "Being open and sharing problems is a way of resolving them," he says, adding that Aisling was a tower of strength to him during that time. They feel they will be better parents to Darci now, because they are in such a good place in their lives and have a lot of life-experience under their belts.
So how did this clearly devoted pair meet in the first place? Well, Celbridge was where it all began in 1992, as Leixlip girl Aisling was working there and Colm, who comes from Smithborough in Monaghan, was staying locally with his brother. He had returned from London, where he went after studying industrial engineering in Dundalk. Having bumped into Colm in a friend's boutique, Aisling thought, "He's a bit of an alright." Shortly afterwards, Colm joined her group one evening in the pub as he was working with Aisling's friend's husband. They talked all night and she enjoyed his sense of humour, and liked that he was a "wild boy" - he was a metalhead at the time.
"I was so attracted to her," he says."She looked amazing and so elegant and I didn't think I'd have a hope with her, but the conversation was so easy between us." There was a slight hitch, in that Colm was dating another girl at the time, who later joined them in the pub. As the evening drew to a close, Aisling invited them both to go clubbing with herself and her pals, but they declined.
"Colm told me that he was going back to his girlfriend's house to break it off with her, and was going to return and ask me out," Aisling recalls. "I was mortified and told him not to bother. He ended that relationship in June and it took him until September to pin me down to go on a date, because every time he walked into the pub and joined us, I picked up my jacket and left."
Colm was undeterred by the fact that she kept running away, even though their pals could feel the sparks flying between them. "The chase was on," he laughs. Eventually, Aisling gave in to being caught and they began dating, and from then on they were inseparable. She loved his pure honesty and particular brand of fun madness. Colm told Aisling he loved her and asked her to marry him after four weeks, and they got engaged that Christmas Eve. Actually, he hadn't saved enough to afford the ring by then, and his sister Marie insisted on lending him the money.
Aisling, then 21, wanted to wait until she was 25 to get married but she and Colm were a very tight unit immediately. Four months before they were due to marry, Colm's sister Marie sadly died, aged 29, through suicide. They all adored her and were devastated, and when they married that summer in August 1996, the happy occasion was tinged with sadness at her absence.
Aisling started off her career in the printing industry, later opening a stationery company, and Colm joined her in that venture. Then they opened a print and design company called ARC Studios, which stands for Aisling or Colm, and through this, Colm discovered his passion for photography. He had always been creative and written music and poetry, but he fell in love with the art of photography and excelled at it.
ARC Studios is a creative communications company specialising in branding, creative concepts, brochure production, photography and videography. While it works with many companies in different fields, it has a strong association with the hospitality industry and has done photography shoots for many leading hotels such as The K Club, Ashford Castle, Dromoland Castle and Luttrellstown Castle.
While Colm does the photography, Aisling styles the shoots and they have become renowned for their creative approach and meticulous attention to detail. The fact that both are very personable helps too, because shoots by their very nature can be stressful affairs for businesses. With Colm and Aisling at the helm, everything goes off calmly and efficiently and with wonderful results produced.
Now that Darci has come along, Colm and Aisling are even busier, but they're loving it all and are filled with a renewed passion for life. Conscious of staying well for his child, Colm recently lost 25lbs and says he was blown away by the unconditional love they both feel for their little girl.
Given that Darci's youngest cousins are teenagers and they don't want her to be on her own, they haven't ruled out the possibility of trying for a sibling for the beautiful little girl, who turns one later this month. "We have two little frozen embryos back in Barcelona, so who knows?" Aisling smiles. "We don't miss going out because we're so in love with Darci, we sit there just looking at her and going, 'Imagine, she's ours'."
Sunday Indo Living