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Josh and Evan are our two little miracles. Every day I think, 'Wow, they are ours!'

Claire McDowell (41) had a recurring dream of a toddler running into her and husband Peter's bedroom.

It was a dream that sustained the Galway-born mum through 10 years of agonising miscarriages and ravaging fertility treatments but the couple never gave up.

"It was a huge issue. We had a good life, we had our holidays, our friends, our jobs, but what we wanted most in the world we didn't have," she explained.

Casualty nurse Claire was in her mid-20s when she married Peter, a Church of Ireland rector in Portrush, Co Antrim, 16 years ago. They were eager to start a family but after suffering a miscarriage three years later, Claire attended Belfast's Royal Hospital and was placed on the fertility drug, Clomid.

After six months without success, Claire had a laparoscopy and some endometriosis -- a condition in which cells from the lining of the uterus occur outside of the uterine cavity -- was detected. She was told it was not enough to cause infertility.

She then underwent three treatments of intrauterine insemination (IUI) where sperm are placed in the uterus to improve the chances of fertilisation, but once more they were disappointed.

Claire was 35 when she began in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment at the Royal Hospital, Belfast.

This involves the woman taking fertility drugs to boost egg production. Eggs are then removed from the woman's ovaries and fertilised by the sperm outside the body while the woman takes a further course of drugs to prepare the body for pregnancy.

To the couple's joy, Claire became pregnant after the first treatment but tragedy struck nine-and-a-half weeks later when she miscarried.

"It was probably the worst night of my life," she recalled. "I was feeling I wasn't able to hold on to this baby and it was the worst feeling in the world because there was nothing I could do to stop it happening."

Claire wasn't alone in her grief. After a harrowing, sleepless night, Peter had to conduct a double baptism the next morning.

After two further IVF treatments, both Peter and Claire knew they couldn't take any more.

"We were probably nearly ready to divorce, it had put such an emotional strain on us.

"Peter felt largely ignored throughout the process. Because of my age, there was not much recovery time between treatments and there was a physical toll from the side effects of the drugs.

"We had started to look into the process of adoption but I wasn't at a stage emotionally to say we had finished our journey here. I wasn't ready to shut that door."

By then Claire, aged 37, and Peter were considering one last IVF treatment abroad, as a last "throw everything at it" attempt to get pregnant.

While waiting for it to be finalised, they turned to the natural procreative technology (NaPro) Fertility Clinic in Galway where a pioneering fertility treatment teaches couples to become their own fertility experts and corrects potential problems through surgery.

Their first appointment was in January 2008.

"There were photographs of babies everywhere that had been born as a result of Dr Phil Boyle's treatments. I remember saying to Peter I want a child of ours on that wall.

"We left the clinic feeling like somebody had taken a cement mixer off our shoulders; we decided to give it a shot.

"We knew we needed time to heal but also had the need to be proactive and be doing something rather than wasting time.

"The big difference for us was that we were treated as a couple and in a holistic way."

The following July, Claire underwent surgery to remove a small amount of endometriosis. She continued the drug treatment and by September she was pregnant.

"From the minute I got pregnant I didn't worry about a miscarriage. I felt very strongly that this was our time. For us to be able to tell our friends that we were pregnant was the most fantastic experience."

Josh was born in June 2009 and his brother Evan was born in May 2011.

"They are our two miracles. Every single day, at some point when I am with one of them or both of them, it will cross my mind, 'Wow, they are ours; they are here'.

"Our children are very happy, smiley contented souls and I am so grateful that our story ended this way," said Claire.

And smiling pictures of Josh and Evan are now on the walls of Dr Boyle's Galway office.

anita guidera

Irish Independent