“It was four weeks after my 15th miscarriage when I conceived the twins in the body I was told would never carry one baby, let alone two. Sophia, who’d been born via surrogacy, was only four months old. When you put it like that it’s pretty extraordinary.”
It really is a remarkable story. So remarkable, in fact, that Rosanna and husband Wes can hardly believe it themselves. Their very busy house, however, is a stark reminder of their new reality. And it is all new. Three children have been born in 23 months (Sophia is 23 months old and the twins Oscar and Hugo 11 months old), “it is really intense”, Rosanna laughs . A military like operation is required everyday to deal with 14 nappy changes, 10 bottles, 9 mini meals and all those precious minutes of nap time that offer mum and dad just that tiny little breather. It takes, roughly, three hours to get out of the house for even just a trip to the shops, Rosanna tells us. You’d imagine the two of them would be run ragged, which they probably are. But their gratefulness after all their sadness and struggle is what keeps their spirits lifted, even on the most draining of days.
In this moving interview Rosanna talks eloquently about her heartbreak and hope on her journey to motherhood, which is documented beautifully in her new book, When Dreams Come True. She also tells us that “daddy” is dreading his return to the office (he runs amusement arcade and casino Dr. Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium and the Carlton Casino Club), and would love, like many, to WFH forever, even if their home is “chaotic, noisy and messy” with a washing machine that never stops!
Rosanna, it’s 8pm, the kids are down and now you can think and speak in peace. With three under two what madness does each day bring?
Well, the days starts, roughly, at 6.15am with usually Hugo waking us up. Hugo need less sleep; we call him Party Boy! Bottle time is 7am, then Sophia wakes at around 7.30am so that gives us time to get the boys fed and dressed. When Sophia comes down things get chaotic! Being a toddler she loves to cause a bit of drama! We get everyone’s breakfast, I have stopped spoon feeding the boys now. I suppose there’s less mollycoddling second time round. But also there’s no time with twins, whereas Sofia was spoilt rotten. The clean up after every meal takes three times as long – it’s endless! And then it’s just a cycle of feeding, cleaning, sleeping and play time, all day, every day!
Can we be rude and ask – when did you last have a hangover? Even a little three-glasses-of-wine hangover?!
I know that I had one in September 2019 [roars laughing] because I was at a wedding! It’s not that we don’t drink – I’d have a glass of wine at the weekend – but I suppose we have realised it’s just not worth it. Wes did go out with friends for his birthday in September, and yeah, he wasn’t well the next day [laughs]!
How long does it take you to leave the house on any given day?
Usually about three hours! And even then someone will always need to be changed just as you are about to go out the door! There’s a lot of laundry! In the afternoons my mum usually comes over and helps, and if I have a bit of work, I usually try to squeeze it in then or Wes and I take will take turns going to the gym. You need two adults at all times with the kids. It’s just too busy and they are too small. I often don’t even get a chance to look at my phone in the afternoons. The day Instagram and Facebook went down I didn’t notice for hours!
It sounds like chaos.
It’s chaotic, it’s messy, it’s noisy, it is extremely intense and it is hard to get anything done. But we know it’s a short-lived phase, and, in truth, we love it.
You need Nanny McPhee! Aside from the help your mum gives, you have no one. Do you feel after all you have been through that you can’t shirk the work? That your not allowed to moan and complain?
We did have a little temporary help over the summer, but we are on the lookout again now – well, sort of! We do really like our everyday life at the moment. We love our little unit! Wes will have to go back to work soon, but I know he’d love to be at home longer. Neither of us want to miss a moment – it’s such fun!
In less than two years your lives have done a complete 360. Back when it was just the two of you you travelled extensively and went on fabulous family holidays. Thank heavens you did though because it will be a while before you get away now?!
It will! We’re sort of saying, tentatively, that we might get away with the family and the three new members next year! But gone are the 12-hour flight to the Indian Ocean! When you become a parent life changes. Your children come first, all the time.
Of course, but it is also important to mind you. Because if mum and dads cups are empty then they cannot pour.
I wrote about this in the book, about how self care for parents shouldn’t be a luxury but a necessity. Last year when Sophia was born I decided I must put my life on pause and look after her needs 100 per cent. But when the boys came along I did it differently. I took breaks; I asked for help; I started exercising and eating well again. I am a better more patient mum because of it.
Self care for you must also include taking care of how you look, because you always look impeccably groomed…
I still make time to take a break and do my hair and nails and look after my skin. Because you do hear about new mothers going to bed with their makeup on because they’re just too tired to take it off.
Now when you say ‘breaks’, these ‘breaks’ could be five minutes in a bathroom throwing war paint on!
Oh yeah [laughs] it’s not a very long break at all! When I was Miss World I used to have to step off a transatlantic flight and go straight to a red carpet event so you pick up a few tricks along the way. I can pull myself together pretty quickly!
You once told us that you and Wes never argued. Still the case?
[laughs] That must have been pre-kids! There are, of course, times when we disagree, but we are both of the same mindset that we want to create a fun and happy environment at home, and so if we do fight, it doesn’t last long. We are a good team but we give each other space. Once the babies are in bed, Wes heads to his man cave.
What’s in Wes’ man cave?
Girls are banned [laughs] ah no, I’m only messing! He’s got office space, a big sofa, an Xbox and a screen for watching movies. But we just watched Squidgame on the kitchen sofa so if there’s something good on Netflix we will watch it together. But I do think it’s important to give each other space. It is important to have our independence and live our own lives too.
You told us on the photoshoot how you have photographer Jenny McCarthy lined up to do photos of the three kids the day after the twins turn one on November 18th, and when all three children will be one years old (Sophia will turn two on November 21st). That’s crazy.
Three one year olds [laughs] It’s hard to even believe. We’re also gonna have a little gathering in our house, mainly to mark Sophia’s birthday because last year on her birthday I was in hospital recovering from a c-section and I just felt so guilty that I wasn’t there when she turned one, which is silly I know, and total unnecessary mum-guilt. But still….
You spoke to us in February 2019 about your joyful surrogacy story that brought Sofia into the world. You were over the moon. But little did you know that you were actually pregnant at that time.
I was about nine weeks pregnant and didn’t know it. Sadly I lost that pregnancy but, four weeks later the twins were conceived, which is extraordinary. I didn’t really have time to even think about that pregnancy loss, because I didn’t really know about it. I just sort of put it to the back of my mind because I had to care for Sophia and then, the following week lockdown started.
When Dreams Come True is a gorgeous book full of heartbreak and hope on your journey to motherhood. It’s 236 pages long – when did you find time to write it?
This year has been a haze but I did it most nights between 8-10pm. Because I’ve done so many years studying – I wrote my thesis for my masters in about two months – I’m quite good at working under pressure. Also, newborns sleep a lot!
You wrote it for your children and also for other women who may be suffering similarly. But for you too it must have been a very cathartic process?
It was, it was really important for me to get the details down before they faded, all those details, like how it felt to arrive in the Ukraine for the surrogacy, or the egg retrieval process. I mean I am even still amazed that the surrogacy worked for us first time round and that we got Sophia from it. I remember when we were going through the process I used to wish for twins because, as was advised at the time, we planted two embryos in the surrogate but obviously one of them didn’t make it. But I remember at the time thinking it would be lovely to have twins. But can you imagine two sets of twins?! It would have been madness. Be careful for what you wish for!
It’s a really honest memoir Rosanna and it goes into great detail also about your 15 miscarriages and how you’d start bleeding usually after a few weeks of pregnancy and how Wes would have to pick you up and put you back together. You also talk about how on your first miscarriage you sent Wes to bed because you were worried about him, and then you called your brother in LA saying, ‘I need to talk to someone while I bleed out here on the floor’.
Yeah, for much of the journey, and especially at the beginning, I tried to protect others from our hardship. I tried to protect Wes too. I have this video that I recorded the first time I told him I was pregnant. I gave him this box as he came in the door from work with the pregnancy test in it, and he opened it and burst into tears. His little face was just so happy. I felt protective towards him and my loved ones, I just couldn’t burden them. I know my dad found our sadness very hard to deal with.
What also struck us is how close your family of origin are. Even the way you rang your brother. Do you think growing up with a famous father made your family close ranks? Were you your own little island?
Yeah, probably. We all very much looked after and out for each other. My parents also protected us from public life. My mum comes from a family of five and she’s very close to hers and I think she really fostered that in us too.
The early years in the book read like the stuff out of a Famous Five novel! Days spent in your grandmother’s Bargy Castle with granny’s scones, pony treks, foaling lambs – it sounded idyllic.
It was very wholesome. I was into ponies and horses before I realised boys and clothes existed. It was a childhood spent outdoors.
Your parents, you say, constantly encouraged you. Even when their only daughter headed off on her Miss World adventure to China. They must have been silently quaking in their boots!
Looking back I thought I was so grown up, but I was only 19! They were happy to give me my independence but they really must have been worried sick.
Speaking about being sick, your dad (Chris De Burgh) caught covid recently – how’s he doing now?
He was fully vaccinated and so luckily didn’t get very sick. He just had a bit of a sinus infection and a little loss of smell and taste temporarily. He did his ten days isolation and mum stocked him up with food, and luckily didn’t get it. But he spends all his free time in his man cave watching football so it’s no wonder she didn’t catch it!
Praise be for the man cave! We better talk for a moment about the planned legislation to change laws around surrogacy. Because in the eyes of the law, you are Sophia’s guardian, not her mother, and therefore you cannot sign things like consent forms for medical interventions, also passport applications, or the opening of a bank account.
Correct. I cannot speak about our personal case but I believe the government is working on legislation to support and protect the children born through surrogacy. I trust that they will do the right thing because hundreds of families all across Ireland are relying on this legislation. I think it’s time it’s recognised that there are different ways families are created, and different ways children come into the world. I do hope the government does the right thing.
A new dawn has risen recently with open talk of fertility issues, miscarriages, even menopause. It’s about time!
It is! The conversation has really evolved, even in the last couple of years. I remember feeling incredibly ashamed and embarrassed when I had my first miscarriage in 2016. There was a veil of silence around fertility and pregnancy loss. I got fed up feeling ashamed of my body; feeling I was dysfunctional in some way; I got fed up hiding our reality and trying to live this double life and that’s why I made peace with the idea that I may not be able to have a baby and it was then that I became much more confident talking about our struggles. I think it’s important to encourage others to come forward and speak out because, unfortunately, one in six couples are affected by infertility, which is a really significant number.
Isn’t it a shame though that it has taken us so long to start this discussion? Because women have been experiencing these issues since the dawn of time.
I think social media has played a big part in opening up the conversation. We shared our story to help others feel less alone. Because it is a lonely process. And it drains not just your finances but your physical, emotional and creative energy, too. I want our story to show that under the most difficult of circumstances, miracles can actually happen. It was four weeks after my 15th miscarriage that I conceived the twins in body I was told would never carry one baby, let alone two. When you put it like that it’s pretty extraordinary.
It really is. How did it feel to glam up and strut your stuff in front of our camera today?
Empowering! Last year’s shoot was soft and and beautiful with my baby daughter. But this time around I feel so much more empowered. I think when you have children it gives you a confidence, strength and energy you didn’t know you had. Even on three hours sleep I find the energy to keep going; to keep looking after them. I have found the experience of motherhood very empowering and I wanted that reflected in this shoot. I wanted it to be a little badass, a little bit strong! I also loved the backdrop of Mother Nature. I have always thought nature is so healing and that it does wonders for your mental health.
STYLING: Zeda The Architect assisted by Aoife McGuigan
MAKEUP: Michelle Regazolli
Shot on location at Summerhill House Hotel and Rainforest Day Spa, Enniskerry: www.rainforest.ie.
When Dreams Come True, published by Gill Books, is out now.