LOOKING at her baby girl cooing and crying in her arms, it's hard to believe the determined new mum had to travel all the way to Africa and back in order to bring baby Esme into the world.
When doctors told Emma Nicholas-Pugh five years ago she and her husband couldn't conceive a child naturally, her whole world fell apart.
She had the career (a midwife, ironically), met and married the love of her life... babies came next, right?
But after trying naturally for years, then 10 failed IVF attempts, adoption being a long process and her biological clock ticking loudly, Emma, 43, and Darren Pugh, 42, packed their bags for South Africa to start their family.
So why South Africa?
With her medical knowledge about babies and pregnancies, Emma never thought she would have trouble conceiving.
"The most frustrating thing was there was no real fix. They did mention my age and egg quality on a number of occasions but still could not prove that was the problem."
During the 10 IVF cycles in Australia, she also had two chemical (false positive) pregnancies, which Emma described as "cruel".
"Going through the IVF process was the most difficult thing I have had to do in my life," she said.
"One thing I have learnt is patience, it leads you from hope to despair."
It was on the suggestion of a specialist in Australia that the couple considered donor eggs after they were diagnosed with "unexplained infertility".
"I remember feeling horrified at the time thinking that a donor egg would mean the child would not be mine and put it to the back of my mind. How wrong I was, I should have listened to advice sooner," Emma said.
"My husband was out at work and I was doing some coursework for my masters in nursing and I got waylaid and started researching donor eggs," she recalls.
"I looked at all my options, looking at different countries and was amazed to find a clinic in South Africa that had good success rates with mature aged women - better than what Australia had."
She started contacting donor agencies and clinics and was amazed to find how easy the process appeared to be, compared to the struggles she had experienced back home in Australia.
"Cape Town didn't feel like an IVF cycle," Emma said. "It had always been so medicalised before but we actually had a holiday in between our IVF cycles.
"In between clinic visits we were exploring the country, visiting beautiful wineries, shopping and having massages in the beautiful spas... I really think my peace of mind helped with (falling pregnant)."
Despite the mental, physical and financial aspects of the IVF process the couple was determined to have a child.
"I was so persistent and became so desperate for a baby, it just seemed so unfair," Emma said.
"I had helped bring a lot of babies into the world when I was a practising midwife and here I was trying my best to get pregnant; I was in turmoil and was so determined."
And Australia simply didn't appear to have the solution the couple needed to conceive a child.
"We talked about adoption, unfortunately we were too old to adopt in Australia so it would mean going back to the UK as they have an increased upper age adoption limit," Emma said.
The trip to South Africa was a huge step and it was mix of emotions - Emma admits to being apprehensive about making the journey but in the end the whole experience was relaxing.
The trip home
The couple was told to take a pregnancy test 10 days after returning to Australia.
"I think everyone that has been in this game knows that we test every day as we become paranoid," she said.
"Mine was negative and I was so adamant it hadn't worked I contacted the donor agency again. Even though we both agreed we wouldn't do another cycle, I was so prepared to do it all again."
But the couple's luck changed on day 10 and the test came back positive.
Now Emma has her baby girl - Esme Ruth, born on March 6 via caesarean at the Mackay Base Hospital - and motherhood is fantastic.
"Wow, I love it. It is amazing, now I know what people mean when they have that deep love for a child," she said. "We are totally besotted with her and enjoying every second with her. Everyone dotes on her and so far she has been such a good little girl."
Emma has written a book called 11 Times a Baby about the rollercoaster of her journey to motherhood. The book will be available to download through Amazon and hard copies will be available at: Emma nicholaspugh@ gmail.com
Email news@daily mercury.com.au
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