Claire Coleman’s quest to have a child has taken her to some dark places that few of us would choose to visit.
The 35-year-old, from Charleston in Dundee, has put everything into becoming a mother after discovering she was unable to conceive naturally with husband Michael.
First she was told she could not be artificially inseminated unless she lost 10 stone in weight.
Then, at the very end of a painstaking nine-month vetting process, she was informed that her weight would stop her from being a foster mum too.
These devastating blows have pushed Claire to the edge and she has twice been admitted to Ninewells Hospital after overdosing on tablets.
That she is still here is heavily thanks to her dog Rosie.
“I basically owe her my life,” she says. “If it wasn’t for her, and my husband, I wouldn’t be here today.
“I want to help raise awareness for people who can’t have little humans through no choice of their own.
“I want people to understand how much my dog means to me because she is my child.”
Letter to the unborn child
Aberdeen-born Claire moved to Forfar with her family when she was 14.
She settled in Dundee at the age of 21 after meeting future husband Michael, now 34, on a night out at the former London Nightclub in Meadowside.
In 2006 the couple married in the West Park Conference Centre, Perth Road.
For many years they have wanted children. On each anniversary they go to the Isle of Mull and place into the sea an Irn-Bru bottle containing a letter to their unborn child.
Due to Covid restrictions the ritual took place at Lunan Bay last year on the day of their 10th anniversary.
“I needed to get over us not being able to have children and I thought this was one of the ways to do it,” Claire says.
Unable to conceive
The discovery that they could not naturally conceive happened in 2012-13.
The stress of dealing with the death of his mother Beryl caused Michael to develop Type 1 diabetes, which reduced his sperm count and made it impossible.
“All I have ever wanted is to have a child,” Claire says. “To realise we couldn’t was difficult.”
They looked into artificial insemination but Claire, who describes herself as a “larger lady”, was told by a Ninewells Hospital specialist that she would have to lose 10 stone first.
This was an unrealistic target says Claire, who now works as a support worker while studying to be a mental health nurse. Due to finances a second opinion was never sought.
“I struggled to come to terms with it,” she says.
A few years later, during 2014-15, the couple underwent a nine-month application to become foster parents.
This involved twice-weekly visits from staff at children’s charity Barnardo’s and many other checks, which they passed.
Claire says that as the process was coming to an end the couple were given some devastating news.
“We went to see the panel and the woman said that because of my weight we couldn’t be foster parents,” Claire recalls.
“They’d looked into every single aspect of our lives including our family background and we did full days’ training sessions for a good couple of weeks. No stone was left uncovered and everything was out in the open.
“They even said that they had a baby boy lined up for us so to be told at the very end that I needed to lose weight broke my heart. I couldn’t handle that.
“When they told me I got really angry and said to them ‘what if it was the other way and I was underweight?’
“She said that these were the rules, but we should have been told this from day one, not a week before the end.”
This was the response from a Barnardo’s spokesperson: “We cannot comment on individual applications from prospective foster carers.
“When considering whether someone is suitable to foster, Barnardo’s looks at many aspects of their lives, including their physical and mental health.
“The assessment process includes a medical assessment provided by a qualified medical consultant.
“We welcome people as foster carers from all walks of life and our priority is to meet the needs of and ensure stability for the often vulnerable children and young people we support.”
‘There was no point anymore’
The following day Claire overdosed on painkillers and was taken to Ninewells Hospital.
“I decided that there was no point anymore because I wanted a child and there was no way that was going to be happening.”
On the advice of her husband she also spent a night at the Carseview Centre, an experience she describes as “horrendous” and “surreal”.
“I should have stayed there a lot longer as it might have helped me deal with the issues that came later.”
Instead she had talking therapy treatment once a week for a month. “It needed to be something for longer,” she says.
For the next few years Claire “struggled through life” before making two very positive decisions in 2018.
The first was to go on a waiting list to see a psychologist, which bore fruit the following year after sessions began.
“It helped me get to the root of my problem, which was my weight,” she says.
“The psychologist thought I had an eating disorder, which I believed as I am a nightmare with food.
“He said it was something that stemmed from my childhood.”
The second was to get a dog in the November. She saved Rosie, a five-month-old Lhasa Apso-Bichon cross, from a Spanish ‘kill station’.
“She’s beautiful,” Claire says. “People says she’s got the prettiest face.
“Michael had a dog when he was younger and knew how to look after them.
“He pushed the idea that maybe a dog might help fill a void so we decided to get a rescue dog.”
Claire says that by the end of 2019 she was “in the best place I have ever been”, getting off anti-depressants and enjoying spending time with her furry friend.
Back in hospital
But a few months later the struggles returned as Rosie suffered the pain of a suspected back injury. Meanwhile, being childless continued to play on her mind.
It was all too much and on February 18 2020 she overdosed on anti-depressants and was again admitted to hospital for 24 hours.
‘A reason to be here’
Thankfully Rosie had only hurt a ligament and she made a full recovery. The improvement of her dog helped Claire back to health.
“She gives me a reason to be here,” Claire says. “When I am feeling low I just take her out. She knows when I am not feeling myself and gives me a reason to live.
“When I am having a really down day she comes up and lies on my stomach.
“I don’t do anything without her. If I go to the shops I make sure she comes and I stay outside with her while my husband goes in.
“She gets treated like a child and is so spoilt. If she was not here I don’t know what I would do.
“She helps so much with my mental health. If it was not for her I would be in a far worse place.
“Rosie, as well as my husband, are my rocks.”
This article is part of a series for The Courier and Evening Telegraph about people who owe a debt of gratitude to their dog.
We want to talk to more pet owners whose canine companion has helped them come through a tough time in their life.
If you live in Dundee, Tayside or Fife and want to pay tribute to your poochie pal (or pals) please email email@example.com.