If you do anything today, readers, please take 15 minutes – if you can – to read this exclusive interview. Because it seems, given recent happenings, that we all need to remind ourselves – frequently – that we just do not know what goes on behind closed doors.
It was last July when we first caught a glimpse behind Rosanna Davison’s door after she announced on Instagram that she and her husband Wes Quirke were expecting a baby girl by gestational surrogacy. Shock resonated all around. No one (bar those closest, of course) knew that this 35-year-old nutritionist and former Miss World had, for years, been putting on the bravest of faces while fighting a private turmoil which saw her endure 14 early miscarriages, years of tests, then finally the news that she would never carry her own child. Shortly after this bombshell in 2017, Rosanna asked Wes to leave to her, thinking she would never be able to give him a family.
Determined not to play the victim today though, Rosanna insists that they are – without doubt – one of the lucky couples who got their happy ending when they watched their little girl Sophia Rose Quigley (she’s the image of her daddy), come into the world in a labour ward in Kiev, Ukraine, on November 21st. But my god, was it a struggle to get here her.
Today is the first time Rosanna has sat and talked to anyone – bar her family and closest friends – about what has been the hardest of journeys. She has pretty much been operating on auto pilot for years, forcing herself to remain positive when faced with miscarriage after miscarriage, and setback after setback. And now since the arrival of Sophia some months ago, she has been caught up in a happy love bubble, feeling nothing but gratitude towards the universe, towards their surrogate and towards medical science, which allowed this miracle happen. Because it is a miracle. Sophia is a miracle.
We talk, a week before her appearance on The Late Late Show, and the tears, which she wasn’t expecting, are in a way cathartic, she says. The recounting though is making it all very real again, but even through the sobs, her grace is remarkable. Her mum Diane arrives during our photoshoot to help out, but only has eyes for her longed-for grandchild. As we watch her cradle this little bundle we can’t but help think what a struggle it must have been for Diane too, to watch her only daughter go through what she has.
On a cold afternoon at Powerscourt Hotel Resort (where this lovely couple married six years before) Rosanna tells us her remarkable story and explains their decision to hide their daughters face…
So, Rosanna – miracles do happen – Sophia is your happy ending! But, the beginning of your story is really where we should start.
The beginning of our story goes back to late 2015 when Wes and I decided it was a good time to start a family. It was all very exciting and it happened very quickly. We went to the doctor and got it confirmed and it all looked good: bloods were good, hormones were good. Told my family at five weeks – delighted!
But it wasn’t to be…
It wasn’t. At six-and-a-half weeks our excitement came crashing down. But I was told it was just a genetic anomaly, and to try again. So, we tried again, and I got pregnant quickly, again. And the same thing happened. And then a third time it happened, again. In total, I had 14 early miscarriages.
Oh my gosh Rosanna, you must have been broken. How did you keep going?
I just kept busy with work… I never got to a stage in those early pregnancies that we actually heard a heartbeat.
That’s not much of a consolation…
I still had all those early hormones, the tiredness, the bloating…I was just so frustrated.
And all the time the investigations to see what was up, continued.
Yes, I had countless bloods done and hormone levels checked. I had a hysteroscopy to see if there were any structural issues. Then half way through 2017 after I had seen about five specialists between here and the UK, I saw another one, but one who specialises in immune fertility, and he got me to do the Chicago Bloods Test, which showed up the first anomaly in my blood: an imbalance in my specialist immune cells.
What did this imbalance mean?
So, for a pregnancy to be successful you need a balance one way and I was very significantly balanced the other way. The specialist explained it to me by saying that my body was basically in defence mode all the time, and that I was constantly fighting off foreign invaders. So, for fighting things like cancer cells, bacterial infections and viruses it’s useful, but the downside is that my body views Wes’ DNA as a foreign invader and puts up an immune defence. My body was actually rejecting Wes [laughs]…
How was Wes when he heard that?
He was like, “Oh, great, thanks!” [laughs] But we were actually relieved to have an answer, at last. So, from the middle of 2017 each time I got pregnant, I would try out a different sort of medical approach: high dose cortisol steroids; Humira injections designed for people with Crohn’s or rheumatoid arthritis to help suppress the immune system response. I did progesterone injections into the bum; blood thinners daily; I used to have a nurse come to the house and give me a drip that was designed to suppress my immune system. Everything worked slightly but nothing made a significant enough difference. 2017 was bad, but I just tried to stay positive. We had time on our side and I felt we would always get there in the end.
While this was your very visceral, physical struggle, Wes had to watch on from the side-lines. That can’t have been easy for him to watch you suffer, to watch you beat yourself up, and then to deal with his own sadness alongside.
It was really hard on Wes. And he desperately wanted a baby, as well. He almost wanted one before I did. As a couple, I suppose, ultimately, it made us stronger, but there was a stage where I seriously tried to persuade him to leave me and find someone else.
Oh Rosanna…that is desperately sad.
A couple of times I did. I just felt I couldn’t do it. Of course, he laughed at me…but it did get to that stage where you feel strong and positive one day and then the next day, you can’t do it anymore. But talking to family and friends did get us through.
And at least you were not alone as one in six people in Ireland face fertility issues and almost 8,000 Irish couples a year have fertility treatment.
Yes, there is a big conversation about fertility, and it is ever growing. I think it’s really important to talk about it and reduce any taboo and stigma, because not everyone can have a baby in the traditional way. I’ve so much compassion and empathy for people going through fertility issues because it does take its toll, physically and emotionally.
And yet no one would have guessed any of this was going on in your world, Rosanna.
People just assume I have this perfect life.
You worked during this period. We would have done a shoot with you. You wrote a book and finished your thesis. How?
I didn’t want to be a burden on people and I didn’t want to open up an area that was so sensitive, so, the best way I could deal with it was to focus on work and travel. I worked for those few years with an international hotel group designing a range of wellness menus for their restaurants and spas, and I studied for a full-time master of science degree in Personalised Nutrition from 2018-19, which really took up my time.
When did the idea of gestational surrogacy crystallize in your mind?
It was around this time two years ago that we decided to finally go for surrogacy. My specialist had told us that it was our best option, also because I was still young and my egg quality and quantity was good. I played with the idea for weeks and I was horrified at the thought.
What was the most horrifying aspect?
The idea of someone else carrying my child thousands of miles away. It was a terrifying idea, really. Also, relinquishing control because up until then I had been in control of everything: medication, approaches, the lot. And then suddenly not having that, terrified me.
But it was your only option.
It was. In fact I was going to jeopardise my health by taking any more medication. I started to get bloated from taking steroids and then I got ulcers in my mouth. Wes was like, “It’s time to stop this”.
So you did. What happened then?
The first thing we did was go to a lawyer that specialises in surrogacy law. We were given a list of recommended clinics and one of the clinics that our lawyer had worked with before and had success with, was this clinic called New Life in Kiev, Ukraine. We were just confident we had a lead because when you are starting from scratch and entering this whole new terrifying world, there’s a worry that you’ll get into legal difficulties or medical difficulties but New Life’s approach was very focussed on the medical and legal side. The next part took a year though.
More waiting and more testing…
It was a year of blood test after blood test, scan, after scan. They have to make absolutely sure that your biological material going into another person won’t infect them. So I had to do all sorts of blood coagulation tests. Then I had to show hormonally I was healthy enough for the treatment. I had to get ovary scans, breasts scans, lung scans so I didn’t have tuberculosis; letters from my doctor, marriage certs, birth certs, passports and liver tests to show we weren’t heavy drinkers.
What about the surrogate? How do you figure out selection?
The agency does that for you based on the surrogate’s medical history. The surrogate needs to be unmarried but already have a child and have had an uncomplicated natural vaginal delivery.
Why must the mother be unmarried, Rosanna?
It causes legal problems as it makes her partner the legal father. We chose commercial surrogacy rather than altruistic, which means we don’t have any contact with our surrogate. Emotionally this was easier for us because it takes away the human attachment. The egg transfer into the surrogate happened in March 2019 and then we found out on the 26th of March that she was pregnant.
And what was that like?
I remember I was in the hair salon when I got the email and I had to go outside and cry. Then we had to wait a few weeks to see the six week scan [she shows us the six week scan, eight, 12 and 16 week]…
How were those nine months of waiting and wondering?
I was just a bag of anxiety, certainly up until I knew Sophia was viable at 28 weeks. In August I asked for a picture of the surrogate’s bump and I remember feeling a bit strange looking at it thinking, “There’s our baby in there, and she’s going about her life in Kiev. What does a she feel? Is she feeling kicks? I was wondering what her own daughter thought. Did she think she was getting a sibling? What does her own partner think? Is there any emotional attachment?” So while I loved getting the picture, it made me feel strange so going forward we just got the scans from then on. I just focussed on the medical side of things and kept myself busy, working and traveling.
You went over to Kiev to await Sophia’s arrival in November, how was that?
We went over on November 11th, the same day we had signed the contract a year before. She was about 37 and a half weeks then. We met the surrogate at her last full scan and it was so surreal to see a woman walk into the room carrying your child [crying]…
We can only imagine…
We had to wait another week for her birth. We stayed in an apartment in Kiev, my mum was there too. At 39 weeks I got a call from the pregnancy coordinator saying she’s gone into labour and to get to the hospital quick. We dashed, checked into our hospital room and then had to wait about an hour until we were called…we walked in [crying] as Sophia’s head was crowning. They handed me the scissors and I cut the umbilical cord and I just turned to our surrogate and I was like, “Thank you, thank you”, balling. The poor girl was just exhausted…so we were just handed Sophia…and that was it. I’ll never be able to thank our surrogate enough. Never ever.
A real life miracle.
It was extraordinary. The most surreal day of our lives – the 21st of November.
And now Sophia is all yours. Caring for a new-born is busy. Has it distracted you and helped you focus on the future?
It has. Before she was born I thought it would be great to get a night nurse, but no, we just want to experience it all, sleepless nights, the lot! It just feels like the day she was born was a new beginning. It feels like a different side to our story because she’s ours now, and we’re a family. But we’ll never forget what it took to have her. Every single day I look at her and go, wow. I cannot believe that someone else gave birth to her, but that she is ours. We are just so lucky that it worked, and first time round.
Despite years of debate about the legal and moral issues surrogacy raises, in Ireland it is still in legislative limbo, being neither legal nor illegal. Clearly this needs to change.
It does and I suppose one thing I’d like to do is appeal to the new government – whenever the new government is decided upon – to consider that today there are different routes to parenthood. Because at the moment, the person who gives birth to the baby is recognised as the mother. I am obviously Sophia’s genetic mother, but I didn’t give birth to her, so I don’t have the legal standing that I guess, I should. Wes is already recognised as her father, and he was able to bring her home from the Ukraine on an emergency passport, but in a few weeks the legal side should be finalised, we’ll be able to apply for a passport and it will all seem real then.
Surrogacy is expensive, isn’t it?
We are very lucky to have had the resources to go ahead with it, but yes, surrogacy is expensive. I have heard about people going through Facebook groups in the UK or Canada, where you can do altruistic surrogacy where there are women who have maybe had their families already, but want to give the gift of a child to someone else. In this instance, your surrogate chooses you and you cover all reasonable expenses, such as medical and travel costs. What adds on more expense though is the legal costs. If you want to bring your baby back to Ireland and be recognised as the legal parents here you do have to pay legal fees to go through the courts and essentially adopt your child under Irish law.
Will you venture down the surrogacy road again?
Yeah, absolutely. We do hope to go again in the not too distant future and have a sibling for Sophia, fingers crossed, touch wood. We just feel we had a really positing experience with both the clinic and the surrogate.
Your mum Diane was here today doting over Sophia but for her, watching her only daughter experience what you have these past four years must have been tough on her, too.
Yes, she found it very hard. But she was a great support to me. I used to ring her every time I found out I was pregnant and she used to say, ‘Okay, this could be the one, the new treatment might work’. So she was great, I had her to lean on and she had her own struggles too, it was four years before she had me, totally different to what I had, but she understood the trauma.
We’re talking a few days after the shocking news of Caroline Flack’s untimely passing. This must cement yourself and Wes’ decision further to keep Sophia’s face off the internet and social media until she is old enough to decide for herself.
We knew well before Sophia was born that we were going to do this. It’s mainly for her own safety and security. Wes and I grew up in an age without social media and the internet, and as teenagers we never had to worry about our faces being online. Obviously, we have a baby and we have a story to tell so we do post, but we just show the back of her head. We just feel it’s of no benefit to her though obviously it benefits us putting cute baby pictures up! But it’s not about us now.
Is Wes besotted?
He’s a great dad, he really is. He’s working hard trying to run the business and then he comes home and I’m like, “Here”. And then some nights he stays up late helping me, so I do worry he’ll burn out. He’s a great dad and he’s just so devoted to her.
We are so happy for you Rosanna.
Thank you. It still feels like a dream, you know.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lili Forberg; misslili.net
INTERVIEW: Bianca Luykx
STYLING: Megan Fox
MAKEUP: Michelle Regazzoli Stone; mrsmakeup.ie
HAIR: Ceira Lambert
Shot on location at Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. Powerscourthotel.com.
Rosanna is brand ambassador for Tan Organic.