When Adriana Condello, from Victoria, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she feared she might never become a mum. Then, a miracle happened. Now she's sharing her story to show that her MS diagnosis wasn't the end, but a new beginning.
Exercising at the gym, I suddenly felt an odd sensation in my neck. Have I pinched a nerve? I wondered.
I was 26 and, apart from a stressful job, I was healthy. But from then on, whenever I moved my neck I felt an electric-shock sensation in my toes.
This is really strange, I thought. When I saw a physio he explained my symptoms, and urged me to see my GP.
By the time I had an MRI scan, I’d started to get pins and needles and spells of numbness in other places. Three days after my scan, I lost feeling in three quarters of my body, including my hands.
As I waited to see a neurologist, I hoped it was just a trapped nerve. Sadly, my diagnosis was much more serious.
‘Your scans show you have multiple sclerosis,’ he said. MS is an incurable neurological condition that affects the signals sent along nerves in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
It can cause difficulty walking and even bladder and bowel problems. And it’s hard to know which treatments will work, and for how long. I was floored.
My mind raced back to a video I’d seen at primary school about a woman in a wheelchair who had MS. Her life had looked so challenging. Would I be able to walk? Or take care of myself?
But I knew what my first question had to be. ‘Will I be able to have children?’ I asked.
It broke my heart to think that my partner, Mark, 33, and I might never have a baby.
‘Your fertility isn’t affected,’ the doctor explained. ‘However you’ll have to stop treatment while you are trying to conceive and while you’re pregnant.’ Off medication, I was at greater risk of a relapse.
The future I’d imagined faded before my eyes. This isn’t fair on Mark, I told myself.
‘This is my battle,’ I said to him, tearfully. ‘You can leave if you want.’
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he told me firmly.
Medication stopped the constant numbness in my hands from spreading, so I tried to get on with life. But I fell into depression. I gave up work and hid away.
What brought me back was the support of Mark and my family, and working with MS Australia. I met others with the condition and their fulfilling lives gave me hope.
My parents, Franca, 55, and Angelo, 65, run a restaurant in my hometown, Shepparton. Together we organised two charity events and raised an incredible $300,000.
In 2014, Mark and I married in Bali. Afterwards we felt ready to try for a family. ‘It’s worth the risk of relapse,’ I decided. When I fell pregnant, we were elated.
Tragically, I suffered a miscarriage unrelated to MS. More heartache followed as we lost three more babies. All the while I desperately hoped I didn’t relapse.
Then we decided to try IVF. Our first attempt failed then, last October, we had a single embryo implanted. It was an anxious time but, six weeks later, a scan showed I was pregnant. Please let this be it, I thought, crossing everything. Then, at eight weeks, we had another ultrasound.
As the sonographer looked at the screen, she spotted something amazing. ‘There’s another smaller baby here,’ she smiled. ‘You’re having twins.’
‘But we only had one embryo,’ I said, stunned.
She explained we must have conceived our second bub, or twin two, naturally soon after the IVF. We were thrilled but I worried about how I’d manage two babies.
My hands were numb, meaning I couldn’t feel temperatures and textures. How would I know if their bath was okay? Or feel their soft skin? It was also hard to sleep at night if I was in pain.
Although, during my pregnancy, my symptoms actually eased. ‘We’ll do it together,’ Mark told me.
Last month, our IVF baby, Leo, and Olivia, who was conceived naturally, were delivered by caesarean at 37 weeks. Holding them in my arms, I felt on top of the world.
With my family’s help, I’m trying not to get too tired. I’ve got a bath water thermometer, and my cuddles with my bubs are just as special as any mum’s.
Now I want to let people know there is life after an MS diagnosis. I’m convinced that, with enough funding, a cure is just around the corner. Until then, I’m determined to stay as well as possible for my two little miracles.
What is multiple sclerosis?
MS is caused by the body's immune system attacking the central nervous system.
This causes scars, or leisons, to develop on the brain and spinal cord.
It affects more than 23,000 people in Australia, and 4,000 in New Zealand.
Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, and 75 per cent of sufferers are women.