When my daughter died aged 11, I knew I had to have another child – I gave birth to my son at 54
- Carolyn Mayling, 68, and her ex husband David lost their daughter Rosie in 2003
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A director at one of Britain’s leading performing arts schools has revealed in an extraordinary new memoir how she decided aged 48 to try for another child after tragically losing her 11-year-old daughter – and eventually gave birth at 54.
In her book, The Future is Rosie, Carolyn Mayling, 68, from Maindenhead, explains she was torn apart by grief following the death of her previously healthy daughter to vasculitis in May 2003.
The memoir also covers her ‘rollercoaster’ fertility journey as she tried desperately for another child – including using donor eggs and seeking fertility treatment in Cyprus – as well as her battle with breast cancer that saw her undergo a full mastectomy.
Speaking to Femail, she says life for her family had been ‘brilliant’ before her daughter’s death, as she juggled raising Rosie and her older sister Ellie with her work at Redroofs, one of the country’s most successful theatre schools, with Kate Winslet, Joanne Froggatt and Kris Marshall amongst its former pupils.
In December 2002, Carolyn’s life changed forever, when Rosie, a pupil at her mother’s school, fell ill with what her parents assumed was a chest infection.
Carolyn Mayling’s daughter Rosie, who died following a cardiac arrest caused by vasculitis at the age of 11 in May 2003
The illness didn’t respond to antibiotics and by January, the young girl was struggling to breathe and growing weaker.
Doctors thought she may have cancer before a CT scan revealed she had vasculitis, inflammation of the blood vessels caused by an auto-immune disease, which was causing clots in the arteries going into her lungs.
‘When the doctors said it was vasculitis, I looked it up and they said it was not curable but was treatable. We hung onto that and tried to get her as better as possible.’
Rosie was in intensive care for weeks and underwent an operation but was finally allowed home around Easter time but suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage in May 2003. Rushed back to hospital by Carolyn and her ex-husband David, she had a cardiac arrest soon after and was put on a ventilator.
She explains: ‘Eventually it became very clear that she wasn’t going to get better and the doctors said she was brain-stem dead and we made the decision to turn the life support machine off. A compromised life for a child like mine was no life, because she was so active. I thought there are some things that are worse than death.’
After falling ill in December 2002 with what her parents thought was a chest infection, Rosie, left, pictured with her older sister Ellie, was eventually diagnosed with vasculitis, inflammation of the blood vessels caused by an auto-immune disease, which caused clots in the arteries going into her lungs, and would lead to her death
Carolyn, now 68, says her family received little bereavement support following Rosie’s death – and that she wanted to create a charity in her daughter’s honour
Freefalling in grief, Carolyn says the family had no offer of bereavement counselling from hospital staff. David suffered a heart attack two days after his daughter’s death, and was hospitalised for a week-and-a-half before her funeral.
‘They sent me and my husband out of the hospital with a pile of papers on how to register the death of a child.
‘We couldn’t go back to our house because it was too difficult so we went to stay with my mum.
‘I was curled up and rocking with grief, and David had a heart attack two days later – it jolted me back into the “now” and I thought “We’ve got to get through this for our other daughter”‘.
Carolyn decided she couldn’t bear other families to go through the same trauma without the offer of counselling, and, in her daughter’s honour, set up her charity Rosie’s Rainbow Fund, using performance art and music therapy to support very sick and disabled children and their families.
In the months and years that ensued, she says the house was plunged into silence, and that the happy chaos of family life was wiped out in an instant with Rosie’s death.
She says: ‘There was this horrible void. Our house had been full of singing and dancing, kids and toys. Everything was just silent.’
Older sister Ellie, 14 at the time, wouldn’t have counselling, ‘bottled it all up’ and threw herself into her schoolwork, says her mum. Now 34, she eventually did seek therapy for her bereavement in her late twenties.
Carolyn says that spirituality, something that was always important to her, came to the fore in her grief, and that she had a vision of a baby while in her garden one day, which sparked a seven-year fertility struggle to fall pregnant again.
She explains: ‘One day I was feeling really rough, I was walking around the garden and I suddenly saw this image of a baby, and I heard Rosie’s voice saying: “Mummy, you can do this, you can do this”‘.
Miracle: At 53, and after multiple attempts, Carolyn eventually fell pregnant with her husband’s sperm and donor eggs from a lady in Moldova. She says Dominic (pictured), now 14, is fully aware of his heritage
Joy: Dominic as a baby with Carolyn, David and older sister Ellie
Dominic is now a fantastic uncle to Ellie’s two children, says Carolyn. She says she’s been honest from the outset about how he was conceived
Carolyn says she’s always written a diary, saying: ‘When Rosie got ill, I was pouring out stuff – and I thought if I can help people by getting this into print then I should’ (Carolyn pictured at the launch)
She maintains her decision to try for another baby wasn’t because she wanted to replace Rosie – ‘there’s no way you can replace your child’ – but that a baby would ‘give me a future and fill the silence and give me hope where there wasn’t any.’
After telling her family that she wanted another child at 48, her mother told her she was concerned about her age and advised that she shouldn’t attempt it.
However, Carolyn says while her then husband had ‘mixed feelings’, she was determined to try, and a supportive GP set her on a fertility pathway.
Her younger sister, who was 38 at the time, offered to try and help the couple, and Carolyn underwent treatment using her sibling’s eggs and David’s sperm.
Carolyn says she had to face her demons while writing her book, The Future is Rosie, but hopes that her story will help other parents dealing with loss
However, when the attempts were unsuccessful, her sibling, now 40, said the treatment was having a negative effect on her health and that she couldn’t go through with trying again.
Carolyn, by this point 50, says it was an ‘absolute rollercoaster of hope, and then hopes being dashed.’
She was told she could no longer haver treatment at her chosen fertility clinic because she was too old, but was offered donor eggs at a clinic in Cyprus, using eggs from a woman in Moldova.
Despite being 53 by this time, she says she was convinced that the attempt would work and, ‘pumped with hormones’, jetted with David at a moment’s notice to the sunshine island when doctors told her there was a vital window for an embryo transfer.
She says: ‘I’d come to the conclusion that if it didn’t work this time we should give up…but because I’m very spiritual, I’d seen mediums and they’d all predicted I was going to have a boy. I was hanging onto that.’
Nine days after the transfer, a line on a pregnancy test revealed the treatment had worked. Carolyn says she wasn’t surprised.
‘During the preceding days to the test, I’d felt different to the previous attempts and I had a feeling it might have worked. I just felt it was going to be a happy outcome.’
After an uncomplicated pregnancy and a planned C-section birth, baby Dominic arrived healthy and weighing in at 8lbs 10oz.
‘Dominic’s birth was amazing. I can’t even describe it – it was like everything had come right.’
Sleepless nights were ‘savoured’, she says, adding: ‘I’d go and stare at him in his cot’.
The couple, though separated have been utterly honest with their son, now 14 and 6ft ,from a young age about how he was conceived, and say he’s a happy teenager, with lots of friends.
‘We decided that he needed to know right from the beginning what his genesis is because if he finds out when he’s 15, he’s not going to be happy.’
After receiving scant support when Rosie was ill, and following her death, Carolyn’s charity, Rosie’s Rainbow Fund, now helps families in need. Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt, far left, is a patron of the charity
Carolyn is now 68, and continues to run both her charity and continues her work at the performing arts school.
A breast cancer diagnosis in 2016 was ‘really scary’ – Dominic was just seven – and Carolyn underwent a full mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemo.
Her daughter moved in to help and she recovered well, and says she feels ‘in great health’. Do other parents judge her for being 20, 30 or sometimes 40 years their junior?
‘All his friends’ parents are totally accepting.’ she says.
‘I just feel like one of the gang. I’m sure there are people out there who think I’m bonkers – but I don’t think people should judge; every story is different. I’m perfectly healthy and perfectly capable of bringing up my 14-year-old.’
Describing the process of writing up her remarkable story, she says putting pen to paper was difficult.
‘When Rosie got ill, I was pouring out stuff – a bit like a diary. Over time I ended up with literally piles of paper. I can’t say it was easy but I faced my demons and got on with it.’
‘I thought if I can help people by getting this into print then I should.’
The Future is Rosie by Carolyn Mayling, published by Alliance Publishing Press, is available on Amazon and to order from all bookshops, visit carolynmayling.com
For information about Carolyn’s charity, visit rosiesrainbowfund.co.uk
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