Adriana Condello was distraught before she even walked into the appointment. Eight-weeks pregnant, complications had lead doctors to order an emergency scan. Having suffered four unexplained miscarriages previously, the Melbourne woman was bracing herself for a fifth heartbreak.
But doctors discovered that not only was all well with her unborn son, there was another baby growing alongside him. A little girl, roughly a week younger than her brother. One child had been conceived via IVF, the other naturally.
“It was such a shock,” the 33-year-old told Mamamia. “I went in there thinking I had lost that baby; I had put that in my head, that it was over. So to be told that that baby was OK and then to be told that there was a second, my joy was just through the roof. It was one of the best days of my life.”
Research by Monash IVF in 2014 found one in five non-identical twins born after a single egg transfer are the product of a concurrent natural conception.
“It couldn’t have happened a better way,” said Adriana. “With all our struggles it felt meant to be.”
How to help someone who has experienced pregnancy loss. (Post continues below.)
Pregnancy loss wasn’t the only struggle Adriana and her husband Mark had endured on their way to becoming parents. Adriana is among the 23,000 Australians living with Multiple Sclerosis.
While MS itself does not reduce fertility, the effect of some MS medications on pregnancy are unknown, meaning Adriana was advised to halt hers while trying, carrying and for six months after the twins’ birth.
Most commonly diagnosed in 20-40-year-old’s, MS is an incurable condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the fatty coating (myelin) around the nerves. This results in scarring that can block or impair the electrical messages between the brain and the body, and lead to a variety of different symptoms depending on where the damage occurs. From loss of motor control to impaired vision and incontinence.
Adriana was 26 when she received her diagnosis of Relapsing-Remitting MS in 2011. It began with pain in her foot; a sensation she described as almost like an electric shock. Working out at the gym at the time, she assumed she must have pinched a nerve while exercising.
“I went straight to the physio and knew then that something wasn’t right, just based on the looks on their faces,” she said.
From there the young accountant was sent for an MRI scan, which lead to an appointment with a neurologist and, within a week, she was admitted to hospital. By then, numbness and tingling had taken over and she’d lost sensation over roughly three-quarters of her body.
“It was frightening, so frightening,” she said. “That feeling in my body was like I was being strangled. I couldn’t feel the actual skin. It was bizarre.”
While Adriana regained sensation in most of her body, her hands remain numb. And relapses – or ‘flare ups’ – generally extend that numbness up her arms. Thankfully these are rare for Adriana, and temporary. She has also become adept at managing her MS-related fatigue and maintaining her general health with the support of her husband and family.
“I have to put myself first at times, so that I can be the best version of myself for my kids. I think that’s really important,” she said. “I don’t want to be out of action; I want to be able to take care of my children.”
The mother of two has learned to live with the numbness, a sensation she described as like wearing a thick pair of gloves. It's meant she has had to take extreme care around hot and very cold water, to learn how to hold a glass with the right pressure so she doesn't drop it or, worse, crush it in her hands.
It meant dark times at first ("I was just so frightened. I shut off from the world"). But Adriana has embraced a new perspective through her work as an ambassador for Kiss Goodbye to MS - a fundraising and awareness initiative for MS Research Australia that runs during the month of May. Since her diagnosis, her family has raised over $200,000 to assist in the development of better treatments and the quest for a cure.
"In the beginning, I wondered what the point of life was after an MS diagnosis," she said. "But through all the work I'm doing I have met all these incredible people that have changed my mind and my mindset. People can have an incredible life with MS, and they've helped me learn how to live mine."
It is not a question of ‘if’ a cure for MS is found… it is a question of ‘when’. This May, help MS Research Australia on their mission to Kiss Goodbye to MS by organising a fundraiser or donating.