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 We risked death to become parents: Il Divo singer Sébastien Izambard

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PostSubject: We risked death to become parents: Il Divo singer Sébastien Izambard    Sat Sep 17, 2011 8:54 pm

We risked death to become parents: Il Divo singer Sébastien Izambard and his wife Renee tell of the traumatic births of their children

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The day before I meet Sébastien Izambard, I watch him sing with the rest of Il Divo to a packed London Coliseum.

The three other members of the opera group, who have sold more than 26 million albums worldwide, joke and flirt and have underwear thrown at them by an audience of near-hysterical women.

Sébastien, 38, devotes a song to his wife Renee and gives thanks for becoming a father. There is a hush on stage as he says how much it means to him because he ‘almost lost all of them’.

Proud parents: Despite problems conceiving and during the pregnancy which could have even led to death, Il Divo singer Sebsastien Izambard and his wife Renne now have three 'amazing' children
Indeed, Renee suffered not just one but two difficult pregnancies, battling a host of health problems. The first culminated in their elder children, twins Luca and Rose, now four, being born three months prematurely by emergency caesarean. For weeks it was not known whether the tiny babies would survive. And during her second labour, with their son Jude, now two, Renee came close to death herself.

When we meet in a London restaurant near their home, Sébastien rarely lets go of his wife’s hand. Renee, a vibrant 33-year-old Australian, worked as a publicist for Il Divo’s record company (the band was created by Simon Cowell, and they are signed to his label Syco) when they met seven years ago.

Both wanted to start a family as soon as possible – but soon found there were obstacles. ‘I have polycystic ovary syndrome, where fluid-filled cysts develop in the ovaries meaning you don’t produce a lot of eggs,’ says Renee. ‘And Seb .  .  .’

‘And I have slow-swimming sperm,’ he says with unabashed honesty.
Renee continues: ‘So I had fertility treatment for six months, taking daily tablets and having injections of hormone-stimulating drugs.’

In 2005, Renee discovered she was pregnant. ‘We were so excited,’ she says. ‘Then, two days before Il Divo were set to perform at Wembley Arena, I lost the baby. It was devastating.’
At Renee’s insistence, Sébastien went on stage as planned. ‘I wanted to cry the whole show. It was difficult to put on a bright face in front of the crowd. I wanted to go and hide myself but I was so exposed,’ he says.

So when Renee became pregnant again with twins four years ago, the couple were ecstatic. But she soon realised, once again, that something was terribly wrong. ‘It started with awful headaches and I was diagnosed with a condition called pre-eclampsia, which is basically dangerously high blood pressure,’ she says.

Cute: Twins Luca and Rose weighed just 3lbs each at birth, which took place just 24 weeks into the pregnancy after Renee was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia

Renee fell ill while the couple were visiting Sébastien’s family in France, and, deemed unfit to travel by doctors, remained there for the rest of the pregnancy. ‘I was hospitalised at 17 weeks and spent seven weeks there until the babies were born. I was in a British hospital in France but I got too sick and they didn’t have a specialised neo-natal unit. I ended up outside Paris in Port-Royal-des-Champs maternity hospital.’

Sébastien says: ‘It was very difficult. My wife is number one in my life and we had a tour in Japan. I said to the guys [Carlos Marín, Urs Bühler and David Miller], ‘‘I can’t do it.’’ They were not very understanding but I can’t blame them. We had to cancel the tour. Eventually they understood. All of a sudden “we” were pregnant and having difficulties. I thought I was losing my wife and children.’

'I wanted to cry the whole show. It was difficult to put on a bright face in front of the crowd. I wanted to go and hide myself but I was so exposed.' Pre-eclampsia affects up to ten per cent of first-time pregnancies, with severe cases (about two in every 100) requiring hospitalisation. It is the most common reason for death in pregnant women. The cause is still not known, and the majority of cases occur in the third trimester.

In the early stages, the condition is symptomless and detectable only by regular checks on the mother’s blood pressure and urine. At its worst, it can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart.

Treatment of severe pre-eclampsia is a balancing act – continuing the pregnancy can lead to life-threatening complications for the mother, so induced labour or an emergency caesarean is usually necessary. Yet born too early, the baby may not survive.

‘My blood pressure was rising and I developed a pulmonary oedema, which is fluid on your lungs, so I was put into intensive care,’ says Renee. ‘It was terrifying as it was difficult to breathe.’

Clive Spence-Jones, consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at London’s Whittington Hospital, explains: ‘Fluid in the capillaries in the lungs leaks into the spaces normally filled with air, and patients become very short of breath.’

Renee says: ‘Every bit of fight in me said one more day – the aim was to get me to 27 weeks, which would give the babies a real chance. It’s quite difficult to describe the feeling – you feel horrible, and towards the end I didn’t feel anything. I looked at Seb coming in every day and he was exhausted. I could see the stress it was putting him through.’

Eventually, Renee was put on a ventilator to assist her breathing. At 24 weeks, doctors decided they could wait no longer.

‘I woke in the middle of the night and felt I couldn’t breathe, but I thought maybe it was the babies pushing on me. I waited a bit longer, gasping as I couldn’t breathe. They took my blood pressure in the morning and the doctor raced in and said, “We’ve got to get the babies out now.” I asked if we could keep them in a little bit longer, just one more day. But the doctor said, “You will not be alive tomorrow.” ’

Luca and Rose each weighed about 3lb at birth. ‘They looked like little sparrows,’ says Renee. ‘I felt guilty that I couldn’t keep them in longer.

There they were with tubes to help them breathe, all that machinery, all those beeps. And it was because I couldn’t keep them in.’

Sébastien says: ‘After four days we could hold them, but with all the cables you had to be careful.’

The babies were in hospital for just over six weeks and, despite a number of infections, when they came home they weighed a healthy 5lb. ‘We were so happy, but after that experience we weren’t planning to have another baby,’ says Sébastien. ‘I did not want Renee to go through that again. I had almost lost her and I couldn’t take that risk.’

Worldwide appeal: Sébastien, second right, with his Il Divo bandmates

So it came as a shock when Renee discovered she was pregnant two years later. ‘Initially it was a panic for both of us because we were unsure how the pregnancy would go,’ she says.

There is a 40 per cent chance of pre-eclampsia recurring if the mother suffered from it during a previous pregnancy. This time, though, Renee’s blood pressure remained normal. Instead, she developed an unrelated but equally distressing condition known as hyperemesis, or severe vomiting during pregnancy.

‘It wasn’t just for the first three months,’ recalls Renee. ‘It was constant, up to 40 to 50 times a day until I would vomit blood. I was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration. So I was hospitalised again.’

Hyperemesis is more common in multiple pregnancies and in those where there is an abnormality with the placenta. Sébastien says: ‘They thought she might have an ulcer. She tried every medication. She was fainting almost all the time.’

Renee continues: ‘I was put on a drip to rehydrate me. Perhaps I was sick because I had a deep fear of getting pre-eclampsia again. Again they don’t know what causes this. The hospital food [at Queen Charlotte Hospital, West London] was fantastic but I still couldn’t eat anything.’

'The doctor said: "We've got to get the babies out now." I asked if we could keep them in a little bit longer, just one more day. But the doctor said, "You will not be alive tomorrow."'This time, Renee carried the baby to full term but during labour she suffered placental abruption. The condition, which affects one in 200 pregnancies, occurs when, for reasons unknown, the placenta separates from the womb lining before birth. This can cause life-threatening bleeding and it is one of the most common causes of stillbirth.
‘After a day and a half of labour her waters broke, then the midwife pressed a buzzer and we had ten people coming into the room,’ says Sébastien. ‘The baby’s heart had stopped beating completely. Renee was in an oxygen mask. They took us straight to theatre. When Jude came out, he didn’t breathe. I said to Renee, “He’s OK,” even though I knew he was not OK.’

Renee says: ‘Seb was holding me down because I was shaking so much. And because of the sheet they put up, you couldn’t really see Jude when they took him out, but there was silence in the room, which is horrendous. Seb kept saying he was OK but I knew something was wrong.’

Sébastien says: ‘Then we heard him cry. It came from deep in his lungs.’
‘It was the most overwhelming rlief,’ says Renee. ‘You are in this silent room. They are stitching me back together. I am paralysed from the chest down [from the epidural, an anaesthetic injected into the spine to ease labour pain]. You can’t get up and see. You are waiting for that first breath, and when it came it was the best I have ever felt.’

Jude weighed almost 9lb, three times the size of the twins. ‘We had a very happy, smiley baby,’ says Sébastien. ‘To see your loved one going through all of this has been extremely difficult. Renee, all I can say is I’m really proud of you.’

Tears are streaming from his eyes. ‘It’s been very difficult but it pulled us closer together. We have risked death to be parents.’

Would they do it again? They aren’t sure. Renee says: ‘I think we’re programmed to forget the trauma of childbirth, otherwise women would never do it more than once. After the horror of my pregnancies, we have these amazing babies.’ Wicked Game, by Il Divo (Syco), is out on November 28.

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