CORK woman Sandra Murphy is looking forward to her first Christmas as a mum – something she thought was never going to happen for her.
Sandra, who is a Fianna Fáil local area rep for the Bishopstown area, had been told by three consultant gynaecologists that she would never conceive naturally as she suffers from debilitating endometriosis, for which she underwent a six-and-a-half-hour surgery, as well as fibroids.
But, against all the odds, the UCC Law graduate, who ran The Rising Tide in Glounthaune for 12 years, and her partner, former Lord Mayor of Cork and Fianna Fáil councillor Colm Kelleher, welcomed their ‘miracle’ baby daughter Charlotte into the world last July.
Now, almost six months into motherhood, Sandra feels overwhelming gratitude every single day, and is convinced Charlotte was a gift from her dad, Ted a detective garda, who died in 2019.
“To be completely honest, I had learned to accept that, unfortunately, the chapter of motherhood would just not feature in my book of life,” admits communications manager Sandra, from the Model Farm Road.
“I am an aunt to four beautiful boys and accepted that they would be the children in my life,” she said.
Describing herself as ‘a glass half full rather than half empty’ person, she accepted the card she had been dealt and was very much at peace with it.
MASKING THE PAIN
Sabdra’s endometriosis began to manifest in her late 20s when she started having extremely painful periods.
Initially, she thought that it was ‘normal’ and she didn’t seek any medical intervention for a few years.
“You just assume that when, on every box of paracetamol and ibuprofen, they treat ‘period pain’ that it is a normal part of every cycle.”
But as the years went on, the pain began to interfere with her life in a significant way.
“I masked the pain really well but I would be in an excruciating level of pain for one week out of every month and I would struggle to sleep and to perform every time I had a period,” she said.
She sought medical help and her GP referred her for investigations, for which she’s really grateful.
“I know of so many women who have been told that period pain is just something that we need to accept, but pain is not normal. Pain that is impacting your life is not normal,” she said.
A subsequent laparoscopy revealed her endometriosis (where tissue, like the lining of the womb, starts to grow in other places) and a process called ablation was used, which is the most common treatment in Ireland.
“I got pain relief for about 12 months but found myself back experiencing extreme pain again. I was referred to another consultant gynaecologist, who again used the ablation process to remove the endometriosis, but it again grew back in less than a year.”
By 2018, Sandra was suffering at an extreme level.
“I had tried other treatments to mask the pain of endometriosis such as having the coil put in to stop periods, taking the pill back to back, I was put on decapeptyl and prostap (a hormone treatment that puts the body into a state of temporary menopause) but nothing was working.”
She was in severe pain, not sleeping, and because of all of the treatment, had put on a lot of weight.
“I was completely miserable and was only existing,” she remembers.
in her typically assertive way, she refused to accept that was her lot, and started to research other treatments.
“Through a wonderful fellow endometriosis sufferer, I found Dr Peter Barton Smith in London. In 2019, he performed a six and a half hour operation at the Princess Grace Hospital where he excised endometriosis from multiple organs and removed 11 fibroids,” she said.
The relief – emotionally and physically – was huge, even if, again, she was told a natural conception wouldn’t happen for her.
A LITTLE MIRACLE
So, having been through all of that, becoming pregnant with Charlotte was, not surprisingly, an absolute surprise, albeit the best possible one!
And even though she felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude throughout the pregnancy, she admits she still found it hard to relax until she held her in her arms.
“I was in fear that the pregnancy would not progress and I lived from scan to sca,n waiting to see if the baby would be OK,” she remembers.
Charlotte was delivered by caesarean section as a natural delivery was not possible, and the section was difficult due to previous surgeries.
“And when she was delivered, the cord was wrapped twice around her neck. I honestly am pinching myself every day that she is here and that she is healthy,” said Sandra.
Motherhood has been an incredible journey so far.
“People tell you that the time goes quickly and I certainly echo this. The nights can be long and the days can be short, but I love every single part of being a mother. I am learning every day and truly loving the process.
“She is a joy and I believe that she is a gift from heaven from my Dad who died in 2019. It has been heartbreaking that he never got to meet her but I know he would have gotten so much joy from her.”
Unfortunately, more surgery is on the cards for Sandra.
“The issue with this gynae’ condition is that there is no cure. But it is a case of having a medical team that can manage it with you,” she said.
For now, though, the focus for her little family is on having a fabulous Christmas.
“Charlotte is an extremely happy and content little girl and our hearts are just filled with so much love for her.
“Honestly, every day has been filled with magic since the day she arrived.
“She won’t remember any of this, but we will, and we will treasure these days for the rest of our lives.”