"We are brought up to believe we are innately fertile." The fertility coach helping Irish women to become mums
Denise Christie didn't set out to be a fertility coach.
In fact, during her years of working as a busy legal executive, Denise would have scoffed at the thoughts of using aromatherapy as a treatment for anything. However, it was Denise's own experiences of multiple miscarriages that led her to a holistic path.
Denise describes her first pregnancy as "perfect", however the labour was a traumatic experience. After 39 hours' labouring, her daughter was born but wasn't breathing and had to be resuscitated.
When Denise and her husband tried for a second child, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Denise remembers:
"I had no problem getting pregnant. My husband and I used to joke about passing each other in the bathroom – that's how quick I could get pregnant. By the time we had our fifth miscarriage we were starting to hit the rocks in our relationship. By the time we had our eighth miscarriage we were completely broken, and I was on the point of a breakdown."
When she and her husband separated, Denise was left juggling her legal work, the sale of their home and the search for somewhere new for her and her daughter to live.
"I started to get counselling. I can't even remember the type of therapy I was getting – all I remember is stepping in to her office and crying from the moment I arrived to the moment I left every single time."
A friend suggested Denise try aromatherapy which she says she considered "ridiculous", but gave it a try anyway.
"I was hugely sceptical at first. I could not work out how it could possibly fix me but that was my black/white legal brain doing my thinking for me."
After three months of treatments Denise says the effect on her was so great that she decided to take a redundancy package from her legal job so she could study holistic medicine.
"There is no doubt it all seemed 'woo woo' at times, but by the time I started college I had seen the results for myself. And that was a huge leap for me, having worked in law for so long."
Denise began working as a holistic therapist, and shares the story of a client who became a turning point in her business. The woman had lost 13 babies and was on her 14th pregnancy.
"She saw me for a treatment every single week of her pregnancy, when I used reiki or reflexology and coaching to support her. At 34 weeks, she gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy.
"I realised I needed to have a deeper understanding of treatments that would help other women like her. There was very little out there at the time, and of course some 'Mickey Mouse' courses as there always are."
Denise meets baby Tadgh
Denise trained in fertility massage and acupuncture, mindfulness and fertility counselling. She now works as a fertility coach and therapist from her home in Galway, supporting people trying to conceive and those struggling to remain pregnant. Her programme centres around four pillars: nutrition, relationship, stress and lifestyle.
As a one-time sceptic of holistic medicine herself, today Denise revels in being asked if there is any evidence to back up her practice.
"I'm always itching to demonstrate the research. Although my methods when as a complete system may appear 'woo woo', when you break each element down there is scientific proof to back up the effectiveness of every layer.
"The first layer is getting to grips with changing the message you send your body – so basically it the science of epigenetics. The next layer is nutrition, with plenty of scientific research in to the benefits of both macronutrients and micronutrients."
Her work has given Denise insight into how Irish people cope with infertility and miscarriage.
"Unfortunately miscarriage and infertility are still massively taboo subjects in Ireland. I have worked with clients who have not even told their own parents, siblings or best friends they are struggling.
"We are brought up to believe we are innately fertile. In fact, we spent our teenage years and most of our 20s in fear of getting pregnant. But the emotions wrapped into a struggle are around shame and failure, and for guys can go even deeper than that – affecting the core of their masculinity."
Denise and baby Holly, who was born to a client
Denise now believes that her own struggles with miscarriage stemmed from a combination of factors: damage to her womb from her daughter's birth, a high-stress job, then-undiagnosed coeliac disease and her 'hatred' towards her body for failing her.
"In the back of my mind there is a realisation that if I had met someone with my particular skillset 20 years ago my story would be very different. Of course that makes me sad when I think of my daughter being an only child and that I could not give her a brother or a sister. But I do try not to dwell on that."
Since setting up her practice, Health&Harmony, Denise has worked with dozens of couples, 48 babies have been born and three more are "on the way". She says that this news is the biggest reward.
"I simply cannot describe the joy I experience – from the moment I receive a message or a phone call to tell me they are pregnant, and then most couples will message me when their baby is born. I feel elated for days after."
Please consult your GP before trying new treatments.