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It’s been an exhausting, nail-biting struggle, but Simone Buchanan’s brilliant smile says it all. Her precious baby Rémy is safe in her arms at last, following a rollercoaster IVF battle and more medical dramas than an episode of RPA.
After years of trying for another baby, the TV favourite has finally become a mother for the second time, sealing her happiness with husband Brett Smith and proving that love can overcome almost any obstacle.
‘From the beginning [the pregnancy] was extraordinary,’ reflects the former Hey Dad..! star, who was rushed back to hospital for emergency treatment only days after Rémy was born.
‘He’s fought so hard to be here, and so have I. He’s a very special, very wanted, very loved little boy. It’s been such a battle for both of us;
you wouldn’t believe it if it was written in a soapie storyline, but it’s been so worthwhile.’
The pregnancy was always against the odds – at the age of 42, Simone had only a 15 per cent chance of conceiving, even with IVF. Add in an acute case of needle-phobia, a perforated uterus and heavy bleeding at six, eight and 10 weeks, and Rémy’s healthy arrival is all the more remarkable.
‘Only seven days before he was born I was in the casualty department yet again, because my amniotic fluid was leaking,’ says Simone, who was recently caught up in the controversy surrounding the alleged sexual assault of her then under-age Hey Dad..! cast mate Sarah Monaghan.
‘I was lying there, worrying, when a nurse came in and told me the tests could go one of two ways – either I’d be sent home, or I’d be rushed upstairs for an emergency caesarean, there and then. So that was pretty scary, too!’
Luckily, however, little Rémy Makoto Smith clung on and made his entrance right on cue at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital.
Delivered by caesarean – natural birth would have been too risky for such a diminutive mum-to-be – he weighed 3.2kg and measured 51cm, with a fuzz of blond hair like Simone.
‘But he’s got Brett’s nose and mouth,’ she laughs, while her 38-year-old husband jokingly responds: ‘Let’s hope he grows to look more like his mother.’
The first person to meet tiny Rémy, after his ecstatic parents, was his proud big brother Tane, 11, who can’t wait for him to learn to play soccer!
‘The actual birth was really smooth. I can’t stress that enough,’ says Simone, who met kendo champ Brett in his Melbourne bar six years ago, and sensed he was her ideal man. They married in 2008.
‘The medical staff were amazing, and I was able to breastfeed Rémy for the first time in the recovery room. I really didn’t feel any pain at all – until the next day!’
With mum and baby both doing well, the family returned to their north-east Melbourne home. But just days later, Simone started to feel feverish and sick.
‘First, I had a nipple infection, and then I started bleeding heavily,’ she recalls, tenderly nursing her new son. ‘I had to have an ultrasound, which revealed that not all the placenta had been removed.
‘Apparently, that happens in about three per cent of cases – but it can be dangerous so I had to go straight back to hospital.’
Doctors initially intended to operate, but Simone’s uterus was still too soft. There was a high risk it would be perforated by the procedure – and that had already happened once, in a freak incident during pre-pregnancy tests.
‘I ended up back in hospital for four days on a very strong, intravenous antibiotic drip,’ she explains. ‘Luckily that did the trick but I’m still suffering the consequences. I feel quite sick.’
Yet sunny Simone, who last played troubled Samantha Fitzgerald on Neighbours, somehow manages to find the bright side in the health crisis.
‘Due to the infection, my breast milk dried up slightly, so we have to top up his milk with bottles. In a way it’s been lovely, because it means Tane is able to feed his little brother. They have these beautiful bonding moments that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. So that bit has been good, very positive.’
It’s fortunate, too, that Rémy Makoto – named Rémy in honour of Simone’s French heritage and Makoto after one of Brett’s Japanese kendo friends – is unusually well behaved.
‘Makoto means “sincerity” in Japanese, and Rémy has his father’s manner,’ the doting mum says. ‘He’s very calm, placid and laid-back. He’s not panicked to be here at all.
‘I had a chat with him while he was still in my tummy, and I told him: “Listen, we’re busy people and I have to sleep at night.” And it worked!
‘He sleeps for six-and-a-half hours straight. We have to wake him up to give him a bottle – although we haven’t shared that news with some of our friends, because they’re new parents and they’d be too jealous!’
Brett, who’s been cooking, cleaning and doing the school run, as well as changing dirty nappies, chuckles and adds: ‘We’re counting our blessings at the moment, but we’re not taking anything for granted. Watch this space in three weeks’ time!’
In terms of the future, these proud parents simply hope Rémy will be happy and healthy.
‘I don’t mind what he becomes as long as he knows he’s loved and safe,’ Simone says. ‘That’s the main thing, and the rest follows.
‘But, of course, he’s got no choice, really, other than to take up kendo like his dad!’
One thing is for sure. Simone has no regrets, despite her IVF battle and those many medical emergencies. An enthusiastic patron of Bali’s Jodie O’Shea Orphanage, she is passionate about kids and chooses to work in childcare between acting roles.
‘Rémy has totally been worth it, absolutely,’ she says emphatically. ‘I feel so blessed. As soon as we held him in our arms everything else fell by the wayside, but it was a rocky start.
‘We’ve had our hearts in our mouths a lot of the time. I had no idea how difficult IVF could be. We were so lucky it worked for us the first time. It’s a rollercoaster and I have such empathy for other people going through it.’
The hormone treatments sent Simone’s emotions see-sawing, while injecting fertility drugs into her stomach made her want to scream. Some days she was so depressed, she’d curl into a ball and cry. Other times, she’d be seized with irrational feelings of anger and anxiety.
Today she says simply: ‘I don’t think I could carry another baby. I think it’d be pushing our luck, because so many things went wrong. It would be too dangerous.’
She pauses, then confides:
‘I would love to adopt a little girl from another country. We’ll see how we go. It may never happen but that would be my dream.’