As an only child, Zoe Marshall grew up knowing she was the miracle baby her mother had almost given up hope for. Her late mum Jan had always been open with her about her fertility struggles, and the many times she’d tried and failed to conceive.
But it is only this year that the beautiful brunette, who was diagnosed with severe endometriosis three years ago, has discovered her dear mum endured the same painful condition – which causes tissue to grow outside the uterus and can lead to infertility.
“I couldn’t believe it when Dad told me,” says Sydney-based Zoe, 32, who is married to rugby league star Benji Marshall, 31. “I was like, ‘Why haven’t I heard about this before? Are you sure that’s what she had?’
“She was told having a baby would never happen for her, but that age-old thing happened when as soon as she gave up trying, it all fell into place. Mum tried and tried, and that was her pregnancy story. Who knows if it will be ours? We’ll find out very soon.”
Fortunately for Zoe, a second operation to remove tissue caused by her stage-four endometriosis – the most severe grade – was a success, meaning the Marshalls can now get straight down to baby-making.
While it’s possible Zoe’s condition could have affected her ability to get pregnant, the procedure has increased the doting couple’s chances of conceiving naturally by 50%. “There was a big possibility the endometriosis might’ve eaten into the bowel and if it all went wrong, I might have woken up with a colostomy bag,” explains Zoe, who is an ambassador for Endometriosis Australia.
“It was just a nightmare. My fallopian tubes had been disfigured. It was a mess – a big, hot mess.” However, Zoe believes the reason the procedure was a success was because she was being watched over by a higher power on the day of her operation. After all, it was in the same hospital, on the same floor, that her beloved mum lost her battle with breast cancer 10 years earlier.
“It was no coincidence,” insists Zoe, who was just 22 when her mother died. “When I was contemplating which specialist I would go to, it was my psychic who chose and I believe he picked my doctor because he worked out of that hospital.
“It was really comforting. As I was going on into the next stage of my life, it was like mum was there with me. The great news is all the endo is gone. They put everything back in its original place and the doctors said we can start trying for a family.”
It also means the “shocking pain, heavy bleeding and blackouts” that often occurred during Zoe’s menstrual cycle are over – or for now, at least.
When the media darling and prolific blogger first had surgery shortly after her diagnosis, an unsuccessful removal attempt saw the endometriosis return less than two years later.
“History says it could come back again and I’m conscious of that,” tells Zoe, who has already met with IVF consultants in case she needs help to fulfil her baby dream.
“I would rather be less conscious, but I know I need to be responsible about what I want. You just have to weigh up the facts.” No matter what, Zoe and Whakatane-born Benji couldn’t feel more ready to welcome a baby into their hectic lives.
“I’ve married this amazing man, I’m healthy, my body is healthy and my career is going in a great direction. I can’t imagine my life without having Benji and I combined in a little being, so when you start going down that train of thought, it’s a no-brainer, really. But that doesn’t mean I’m not terrified.”
While devoted NRL star Benji – who plays for the St George Illawarra Dragons – and her friends and family couldn’t be more supportive, Zoe admits that the prospect of one day becoming a mum without her own mother by her side is daunting.
“I’m feeling her loss more as time passes. And I’m sure that when I do get pregnant, I’m going to feel that throughout the entire process. But Benji’s paternal instincts give me the most confidence out of everything. He really will make the most amazing dad. He’ll be so hands on, it will be a miracle if I even get a chance to breastfeed!”