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Inverness Caley Thistle keeper Mark Ridgers and wife reveal painful journey to miracle baby

By Federica Stefani

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Emma, Roman and Mark Ridgers. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Emma, Roman and Mark Ridgers. Picture: Callum Mackay..

“Even on the day of my C-section, I still couldn't believe that I was going to have a baby. It was just surreal, like an out-of-body experience. I felt like I was looking at somebody else's life.”

Emma and Mark Ridgers (both 33) have had a long and painful journey to parenthood – one that started in 2016 when they returned to their home city for goalkeeper Mark to sign with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

“There really isn’t a right time for anyone I guess, but with football it's particularly difficult as you only get a small amount of time off,” Emma said.

But things soon started to go in the wrong direction for the couple, who had been together since they were 16.

Emma recalled: “I had a first miscarriage in December 2016, and second one in October 2017. This was much more serious as I haemorrhaged and had to be rushed to the hospital.

“However, they will test you only after three miscarriages. It was very tough to know that that I was probably going to have another one.”

After the third time, Emma was tested by the genetics department in Inverness, where they found out she had what is known as a Robertsonian translocation. This is an unusual type of chromosome rearrangement caused by two particular chromosomes joining together.

“That meant that for us to have a healthy child, the only route was through IVF,” Emma explained.

In order to have the treatment through the NHS and have the necessary medical care she needed, they had to go to Glasgow.

This was in 2020, and with the effects of the pandemic, it took time and several Zoom meetings before treatment could start in 2021. This involved heading back and forth between Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Inverness, a seven-hour round trip repeated three to four times a week for blood tests and other parts of the treatment.

“In my head, I was like ‘Oh great, they can fix this!’ I was quite naive, I didn't really know what I was talking about at that point,” said Emma, who later discovered that going through IVF would enhance her possibilities to have a child.

“We needed to give it a try, we needed do this because if we didn’t, we were always going to wonder what would have happened if we hadn't tried,” she shared.

“It's pretty difficult. In my first round, we got seven eggs to start with, but they have to see how many are mature eggs and then how many survive the tests. We ended up with only one remaining. Then, you start the stimulation to get your body ready for the transfer of the embryo, which lasts for about two weeks. Then, the embryo gets transferred into you, and you're completely awake for all that. It’s not the nicest experience. But you do what you need to do.”

The first cycle of treatment wasn’t successful, so Emma and Mark decided to take some time off. However, patients are allowed a maximum of three cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS, so in June 2022 they decided to go ahead and try again.

That car journey will always stay with me. It was so tough to process what had happened, and we were both just thinking it would never happen, and where we would go from there.

“My work were great," said Emma. “And Mark’s manager was letting him take time off which is hard with football because you've got a game at the end of it, whereas in an office job you can catch up on your work, but he couldn't catch up on his training.”

However, despite the treatment and tests showing promising results, they were unable to collect any eggs.

“We just couldn’t understand why. We were told we were doing so much better than the first time.

“I just felt like I needed to be out of there and go back home. In the car on the journey back, I told Mark: ‘I hope you feel the same, but I never want to do that again.’ So, we decided we wouldn’t try a third time.”

That moment was just as poignant for Mark, who described it as “heartbreaking”.

“That car journey will always stay with me. It was so tough to process what had happened, and we were both just thinking it would never happen, and where we would go from there,” he explained.

“The whole time was hard. I felt at times I wasn’t doing anything, but I also had the role of making sure she was fine and being positive throughout the whole process.

“When we got the news the second time had also failed, it was heartbreaking.”

Ten days after the results, Emma was rushed into A&E with what was believed to be ovarian hyperstimulation related to IVF treatment.

“I was so swollen, it was unbearable,” Emma recalled.

“Mark wasn’t allowed in so I was there on my own. At some point someone in a scrub came in and said: ‘Your numbers are really high, we need to scan you so we can see how many babies are in there’.

“I said they had the wrong person, that I could not be pregnant. I phoned Mark and he said to be careful, we couldn’t get our hopes up.”

Mark, who was driving back home when he received the phone call, said he “couldn’t process or even want to think about it”.

The happy family. Picture: Michelle Sinclair Photography.
The happy family. Picture: Michelle Sinclair Photography.

“I kept telling her to wait and see what the scan revealed the next day, because I just didn’t want to get excited for the possibility of another disappointment.”

The following morning, the couple had the surprise of their lives in the early pregnancy scanning department.

“I was lying on the bed and the lady asked if I wanted the video on for the scan,” Emma said. “I was like 'no, I don't want to see it'. I don't know how much she really knew about our situation. Every other time I'd been in there it had always been bad news.

“At some point she said: 'Oh there it is!' And moved on.

“I looked at Mark and asked the lady: ‘What do you mean it’s there?’

“And she replied: 'There's the baby! It's six weeks.' I was shocked. I couldn’t take any of this in, we just fell silent.

“There are still some crazy questions that go around in my head that will probably never be answered.”

It was still a long road ahead: the couple decided to have Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) – a test to check if babies have any health or chromosomal conditions – at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after Emma recovered from the swelling.

She said the test was one of the “weirdest experiences of her life”. The following weeks, they waited for results of various tests to come back. Finally, in the 17th week of pregnancy, they were told the baby didn’t appear to have any genetic issues.

“That's when we decided to tell the world that we were having a baby,” Emma said.

Emma and Mark had almost given up after a second cycle of IVF when they were told they were expecting baby Roman. Picture: Michelle Sinclair Photography.
Emma and Mark had almost given up after a second cycle of IVF when they were told they were expecting baby Roman. Picture: Michelle Sinclair Photography.

“But I still couldn’t believe it was happening.”

Baby Roman was born on the morning of February 15 (Valentine’s Day being already fully booked for c-sections) at Raigmore Hospital.

“It was out of this world," Emma said. "You can’t even start describing this feeling of knowing that your baby's here and he’s healthy and then taking him home.

“He just slotted into life perfectly, or better, we slotted into his! I can't remember what life was like beforehand or what I did with my time, because it just disappears.

Baby Roman smiling for the camera. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Baby Roman smiling for the camera. Picture: Callum Mackay.

“When we told people at the club our good news, everyone was delighted for us and we received so many gifts for Roman when he was born. Even some fans bought us gifts, which was lovely.”

Both Mark and Emma said they were very grateful for all the support from their respective workplaces and managers throughout their long journey.

Emma used her social channels to share updates on her journey and has supported people through their IVF journeys.

“I found a lot of information through Instagram, it helped me to know what to expect and the language is often complicated, IVF patients sometimes have no idea what it means but sometimes they won’t ask as they fear sounding stupid,” she said.

She is also advocating for SIMBA, a charity which helps support families who suffered a miscarriage and who campaign for separate family rooms for bereaved parents away from the main maternity ward.

Now, the family-of-three are enjoying life together with a big decision to make: whether baby Roman will support his mother’s team – Ross County – or side with his father and don a Caley Thistle strip.

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