Catherine Doran, 29, from Derry in Northern Ireland, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (or MS) shortly before her wedding.
She then had to decide whether to go on medication that would delay the progress of her illness, but make starting a family out of the question.
When were you diagnosed with MS?
In April 2009, a week before my 27th birthday. I had been unwell with various things for quite some time, but never thought for one moment that it would be something like MS.
MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another and there are constant new treatments.
How did you feel about having a family?
My husband Joe and I have always wanted children. But once diagnosed all thoughts of having children left my mind - until four weeks before our wedding day when I had a neurology appointment. The MS treatment, disease-modifying drugs (DMDs), needed to be started immediately but I couldn't try to conceive or be pregnant while on the medication. We decided fairly quickly that we would try for a baby for six months, and if nothing happened I would go on the DMDs.
When did you find out you were pregnant?
Unbelievably I fell pregnant the very first month of trying. We were both astounded and over the moon – it felt like an affirmation that we were doing the right thing.
How did the MS affect your pregnancy?
MS can go into a sort of 'remission' during pregnancy and that's what happened to me, so I coped quite well throughout my nine months which was a relief. There is a higher risk of having a relapse after the birth and I definitely felt worse in the two months following my daughter Charlotte's arrival than I did during pregnancy.
What happened when you went into labour?
It actually quite bizarre. The MS Society wanted people with MS to tell their stories on video for their new website, and as a pregnant woman they thought it would be a great idea to interview me. So, with time running out, two filmmakers from the charity visited four days before my due date. Throughout the filming I had twinges and aches but definitely wasn't worried enough to think I was in labour, but two hours after they left, my waters broke at home!
How was the birth?
The hospital admitted me that evening, and I spent the night having manageable contractions. I hadn't been timing them so when the doctor examined me the next morning to find I was already 4cms dilated I was delighted. It was now 12 hours since my waters had broke so the decision was taken to put me on a hormone drip to help speed up my contractions. The midwifery team were brilliant and I made use of a rocking chair in the room to help ease the pain.
Did your MS affect the way you delivered your baby or the pain relief you could have?
After some gas and air and pethidine, I asked for an epidural at around 2.30pm. Word came back that because of my MS they wouldn't give me one - and I remember thinking 'I should have known this beforehand.' Thankfully, I went from 7cms to fully dilated really quickly, and my gorgeous baby girl, Charlotte, was born at 4.31pm. In hindsight, I was actually too late for an epidural, but I was annoyed that my options hadn't been set out properly before I got as far as labour.
How is life with a baby for you?
Charlotte's happy temperament has definitely made it easier. There are little things that I wish I could do more, like take Charlotte for walks on the beach, but having MS means I have to understand my own limitations, so if I'm feeling tired or my feet are incredibly painful I have to stay at home.
Where do you find support?
I have an amazing family network of support, especially Joe, my mum and aunt Catherine. My husband, in particular, is my rock. Not just practically but emotionally too. Coming to terms with having MS can be hard and talking to him about our life choices and future really helped me realise that the diagnosis was not the end of everything we hoped and wished for. That said, I am naturally a positive person and I honestly believe that helps.
There are also some websites I use to get information and support, including the MS Society and a young persons site called Shift MS. I also have my own blog - AlifecopingwithMS. I started it to get everything off my chest, and now I write to inform and hopefully raise awareness.
What would you say to other women with MS who are unsure about having a family?
It's very difficult to say 'everyone should just do it because I have and it's wonderful', because MS affects everyone so differently. But MS is a part of your life but it's not all of your life. Having Charlotte was the best decision I have ever made. Kids are so adaptable and I believe that my children will grow up to appreciate that its people's differences that make the world such a wonderful place. And you'll note my use of the word 'children'... because I fully intend to have more!