Lee and Andrea Byrne have revealed how they feared they would never become parents after “multiple” rounds of IVF failed to deliver their dream baby.
The former Welsh international, 39, and the news broadcaster, 41, have opened up for the first time about their private fertility struggle.
They only revealed their heartache to family and friends after first starting to try for a baby following their romantic New Year’s Day wedding ceremony in 2012.
Constantly brushing aside questions about when they would become parents, the pressure took its toll.
Lee said: “I have always wanted to be a dad, it’s what we wanted.
“I would not engage in conversation about children, it was the missing link.
“It was a tough few years.
“We did not want to tell anybody, we wanted to pass on the question.”
Repeated doctors’ appointments, IVF and a range of fertility treatment options were explored but after years of seeking medical advice and being told that she would not be able to carry a child they had given up hope.
But then out of the blue Andrea was told she was pregnant with Jemima, who changed their world a year ago.
“We had previous disappointments and losses and did not let ourselves get excited about it at all,” she said.
“We were cautious about everything until she was in our arms – I did not believe it.
“It took several years but she came along on her own – no-one knew how. Jemima defied science and it shows that there is still a lot to learn about fertility.”
She added: “Fertility treatment is not one solution fits all. It’s uniquely complex for every individual.
“We both found the journey very difficult.
“We started trying for children quite soon into our marriage and it became very isolating in the end.”
She said although they always try to be problem-solvers they suffered challenge after challenge before their lives were turned upside down by their baby news.
“Gradually, we spoke to different people and it became apparent from different opinions there was going to be an issue,” she said.
“There were complications with my womb lining and I was told I would not be able to carry a child.
“We did not anticipate how long it would be for it to be solved or if it would be solved.
“With infertility issues, you have no crystal ball.
“You are putting yourself through a lot – and with no guarantees – that’s the hardest thing.
“You have to keep having faith. I just wanted to say to anyone experiencing this, they are not alone and to find people to talk to.”
Video: Quick-fire questions with Lee Byrne
She added: “We had a long journey to get there, a long and complicated journey to parenthood.
“I’ve had lots of treatment, I’ve had multiple failed or cancelled cycles of IVF.
“Lee was playing rugby matches, I was on the news – it did not make it any more difficult for us than anyone else.
“You have to try to get on with parts of life, whilst the rest of life is on hold. It’s a waiting game.
“We always considered we would never become parents.”
Holding Jemima, Andrea said the sleepless nights and the chaos was all worth it since their wonderful surprise arrived on February 15, 2019 – the date is the same number her dad Lee wore proudly on his Welsh shirt before retiring nearly four years ago.
“That moment I went and had the scan and heard her heartbeat – that was huge,” she said.
“At one point, we had to try to accept our lives might take a different direction, without children. Now she’s here, I think it gives us a special perspective on parenthood.
“Yes, there are the sleepless nights and the general chaos but we constantly remind ourselves of what it took to get her here.
“It put pressure on all aspects of life: relationships, finances and careers. It’s been really hard to deal with but has made us stronger.”
She said she “cried” when she held Jemima for the first time after being overwhelmed by emotion on meeting her for the first time.
Devoted dad Lee, who rustles up dinner for his baby daughter, whispers that “she’s a daddy’s girl” as Andrea steps out of the room and said their little one already “watches rugby.”
He said their fertility battle was one of the biggest challenges he has ever faced.
“It’s the hardest thing I have ever been through,” he said.
“I was shocked really when the baby was put in my hands for the first time, it was amazing, it was emotional.”
Lee revealed he doesn’t shy away from any of the tasks of being a dad and when asked if he changes her nappies he said: “Yeah, I don’t mind that.
“We’ve obviously all been sleep deprived and she had reflux.
“But overall she’s been well and happy. We all walk the dogs together as a family and all our time is focused on Jemima.
“I am definitely more contented.
“It was a missing piece to be completed as a family and a person – it was worth it in the end.”
Lee,who was setting up the construction firm Bridgeport 360 when Andrea discovered she was pregnant, is one of the firm’s directors.
He said he never turned to his former team-mates or the rest of the Fab Four – Mike Phillips, Shane Williams or James Hook – for their parenthood advice but they stay in close contact since his retirement in April, 2015.
“We are in touch on a WhatsApp group but half the time it’s the c*** when we talked as players,” he said.
“Mike is in Dubai, James wants to be a children’s author and Shane is doing his oil… and everything really! ”
He said rugby fans will be able to see the four reunited for James Hook’s testimonial as he prepares to retire from the game.
“I played in Paul James’ testimonial match and I will be playing in Hooky’s – it will be good to get the Fab Four back one final time,” Lee added.
Lee said James is probably the most likely to end up coaching in some capacity in the future but when pushed the former full-back said he is unlikely to be passing on his rugby skills any time soon.
“Hooky will get involved, he’s got the right skills,” he said.
“I am not going back to being a coach.”
The Ospreys when Lee starred in the line-up were hailed as “the Galacticos” of Welsh rugby but despite having the pivotal figure of Alun Wyn Jones still pulling on the jersey their fortunes have dramatically changed suffering a record 44-0 defeat at the hands of the Scarlets in December of last year.
Lee, who also played for the club’s rivals the Scarlets, said he hoped former Welsh rugby coach Mike Ruddock will be able to transform their fortunes.
He said: “The Ospreys are struggling at the moment, it’s a real shame.
“Seeing them lose by that amount of points to the Scarlets, another of my old clubs, in a derby game that should not be happening.”
He added: “They brought the right man back in Mike Ruddock and I have got a lot of time for Mike.
“They are also lucky to have him (Alun Wyn Jones) he has stuck with them when he could have gone as well, he seems to be getting better and better.
“He’s an amazing player, he pushed everyone, although he has mellowed now.
“He has changed his game and has adapted.”
Lee said he believes Wales will continue to thrive under new coach Wayne Pivac and his old team-mate Stephen Jones, 42, who is the side’s attack coach as no one can predict the way they play.
But he credits Warren Gatland for giving Wales the reputation that they have now.
“Warren Gatland has done so much for Wales, we weren’t a nation to be scared of, we weren’t great before,”he said.
“Warren took over in 2008, my first year and Warren’s first year.”
He added: “But I think change is good.
“I can only speak from experience of playing with Stephen Jones as he’s such a positive influence around the squad – he knows the game inside out.
“Jonathan Humphreys did a good job in Scotland and with what other people say of Pivac, hopefully there is a good bond there.
“I hear he’s a good coach and they rate him highly – nobody can tell what the game plan is going to be.
“Byron Hayward has done a great job with this team and the Scarlets.
“I always want Wales to do well, even though I had my differences with Rob Howley – Wales will do well.”
He can usually be found watching the game these days with Jemima or out with his pals.
Lee said: “It’s great for me to be a supporter and have a few pints watching the game.
“I thought (Nick) Tompkins played really well, he should be in line for a start – he’s a big loss to England.
“He’s been doing it for a few years for Saracens, fair play to the exile system it’s working well as his grandmother is from Wrexham.”
He said one thing he would change is helping players from the moment they retire transition into a different way of life.
Although, some still believe he should be still pulling on the shirt for Wales as once when he arrived on a building site ahead of the World Cup he was asked why he wasn’t out in Japan.
“They thought I was still playing,” Lee, who also played for Clermont Auvergne, said.
“The first year was tough at times, it was an empty feeling – you miss the buzz and the camaraderie – people tell you what to do along with your training programme.
“You finish on the Friday but where is anyone to help you?
“There needs to be more done with welfare after rugby to help you transition and into a job.”
Andrea said there are real advantages to being married to a former sportsman as she credits him for helping her take just six months to get back into shape following Jemima’s birth along with her busy baby, who is happiest when she is crawling.
She said: “Lee is still into his exercise and we have three dogs so we are in the sand dunes a lot and when Jemima was crawling around I have been running around after her.
“So I wasn’t short on exercise.”
Andrea, who has now returned to presenting the news on ITV Wales and will be back on the ITV network news in the future, also lost her dad to the silent killer sepsis two years ago, as she desperately tried to become a mother.
She said bosses at the channel were “very supportive through everything.”
“For me it’s very sad that my dad won’t get to meet her, I hope he is watching from somewhere,” she said.
“My mum was very emotional when I had Jemima as both our families supported us through those years.”
Andrea said she wanted to share their fertility story to encourage women and men to seek support on their journey and talk about their problems.
“We have not spoken about it publicly before, as we found it too difficult, and infertility can be a big taboo – but there are lots of other people going through this struggle – and it’s important to reach out and give them the opportunity to talk if they feel ready to open up. Remember, keep asking if they are ok. It can be a long and lonely road,” she added.