This Sunday is Mother's Day, when we celebrate the role mums play in the lives of their children. While of course it's an important day for every family, for some women it is particularly special. We spoke to three who shared their heart-warming stories of how, despite setbacks along the way, they ultimately realised their dream of becoming a mum.
A different path
Erica Algeo was 36 when she and her husband married, and straight away they began trying for a family. A paediatric nurse, Erica loved children and had always wanted to become a mum. But after three devastating miscarriages, they turned to inter-country adoption. And due to changes in the legal system, it was to be a further eight years before Erica, who was by now 46, finally met her little boy Dan, an adorable 21-month-old toddler in Ho Chi Minh City. The moment they met is etched on her memory.
"Myself and my husband were afraid to take our eyes off him in case he would vanish," she remembers. "It had been such a long wait to get him. I just couldn't believe he was ours to keep."
The new family spent two weeks in a hotel getting to know each other before returning home to Dalkey, Co Dublin. "He wasn't thrilled with us, because he was nearly two. It took a few days, but after a few days, bonding really started. He would hold his arms up to come to us and he picked up English so quick. We lived in the swimming pool for the two weeks we were over there and by the end of it, we were a family of three. As if we had always been."
When Dan was four-and-a-half, the family adopted a little girl, Grace, also from Vietnam, who was then 14 months old.
"She smiled at her big brother first, which was great - that made him happier to have her around. To this day, he still says, 'she smiled at me before anyone else'. It was hard for him to have a walking toddler come crashing into his life, wrecking everything. And it had just been the three of us for as long as he could remember. But he did really well and after a few months, it was normal."
Erica's long road to motherhood makes Mother's Day all the sweeter.
"It is so hard when you are in your 30s and it is all announcements and people saying, 'I have a bit of news for you'. I would be so happy for them and broken-hearted for myself. And Mother's Day came and went and I would say, maybe next year, maybe next year. This is my fifth Mother's Day now and it is still a thrill.
"We remember the children's birth mothers on Mother's Day too. They have a very special place in our hearts because they were our children's first mothers and without them, we wouldn't have the privilege of being the forever parents to these amazing little children."
Going it alone
Sue Santos had always wanted to be a mum. But after a long relationship came to an end, she was faced with a stark choice. "I didn't want to have a relationship just because I wanted to have a baby. It wouldn't be fair on the baby and it wouldn't be fair on the guy." So she decided to go it alone. The 38-year-old, who lives in Dublin 8 but is originally from Brazil, started researching her options and decided on using a sperm donor from Danish bank Cryos through a fertility clinic in Dublin. She opted for a known donor, where medical history, a childhood picture and some details are available, and the donor has committed to meeting the child when they reach 18.
Sue underwent two IUIs (where follicles are stimulated with drugs and sperm is injected into the womb) and one IVF (where eggs are extracted, fertilised with sperm and the resulting embryo is returned to the womb) before conceiving her daughter.
She then broke the news to her family at home. "I think there is that initial shock. I didn't talk to anyone before announcing the pregnancy, so when they heard about my decision, I was already pregnant. My family is Catholic and traditional, so they were a bit shocked, but I have always been independent."
Her mother flew over from Brazil for the birth last November and Sue had a doula with her in the delivery room. When baby Maya arrived, Sue was over the moon and undaunted by the prospect of raising her little girl alone.
"I was so prepared to do this and I saw a lot of benefit in the fact that I had full control. When you are in a relationship, you kind of have to get the other person on board for everything. I found the process quite relaxing because I was in full control of everything."
Now three years on from when she started her journey to motherhood, Sue is enjoying her beautiful baby.
"It is amazing. It was recently my birthday and it is amazing when you dream about something and it seems so impossible, so far away, and here I am now, on a year's maternity leave, so I have enough time to enjoy this new life with her. And Mother's Day and Christmas - everything is all more exciting now.
"Because of the coronavirus, there will be no big Mother's Day celebrations this year, but I know I am one of the mums now and that is good enough for me."
The miracle baby
For as long as she can remember, primary school teacher Nicola McNally (37) had wanted to have children.
"Even as a teenager, I remember telling people that my biggest fear in life was that I wouldn't be a mother. I used to have conversations with my friends and I said if I don't meet that someone special, I will just do it myself because one way or another, I am going to become a mother. I was very determined that it was going to happen."
Single at 32, she decided to freeze her eggs. She went to a fertility clinic and was put on medication for a lazy ovary. She was to take the medication for a number of months before coming back to do the egg retrieval. It was during this time that she met her now husband, Brendan.
"We were dating for about two months and I thought, I either tell him now and he runs a mile, or he respects my decision. So I told him and he thought it was great. He was supportive."
Nicola got very sick after the retrieval. "They were expecting 15 eggs and got 37," says Nicola. She developed a severe case of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome - a side effect of taking fertility medications where ovaries and the abdomen become filled with fluid, and was hospitalised. It was nine months before she felt well again. Brendan and Nicola went on to get engaged and married, both eager to start a family. Nicola moved from Arklow to Brendan's native Carrickmacross.
"We are both traditional and wanted to be married first. We started trying and nothing was happening. I was 34 and I didn't want to wait, so I went to the fertility clinic again for investigations and we both turned out to be fine, fertility wise."
Unwilling to wait, Nicola opted for Timed Sexual Intercourse (TSI), whereby the ovaries are stimulated and the follicles monitored to try and pinpoint the best time to have sex. They got pregnant on the second try, but unfortunately the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Nicola underwent blood tests and it was discovered she had a low immune system, and she was put on more medication. The next TSI was successful and resulted in her now 20-month-old son, Aden.
They are now trying for a sibling for him.
"I always say he is my little miracle. He really is. Now that we are having so much trouble to have the second one, I'm really thinking back and going 'he really is a miracle'. We have done three more TSIs and two IUIs and no luck. So I am so grateful for the little man that I have."
Last year, Mother's Day was a big celebration.
"I focussed so much on last year being my first Mother's Day, I kept saying to Brendan 'it has to be special'. We went out for lunch, we took Aden to Carlingford and we made a lovely day of it. This year, we will probably just stay at home and maybe go for a walk in the countryside."
And what of the 37 eggs?
"They are still on ice in Sims," laughs Nicola. "Waiting for me should I ever need them."