After seven long years of trying for a baby, Alyson Blush, 29, had given up hope of ever becoming a mother.
Suffering with polycystic ovaries, which can affect ovulation, her periods were irregular and sometimes didn’t occur for eight months.
‘My husband and I both desperately wanted a baby,’ she says. ‘But with every month passing in vain, I honestly believed it would never happen.’
At the beginning of last year, however, Alyson finally conceived her ‘miracle’ child, Ella, now a giggling one-year-old with a shock of red hair.
And bizarre as it sounds, she credits her longed-for pregnancy to a regime devised by, of all people, King Charles III.
Crowning legacy: The King at Dumfries House where couples and single women who have struggled to conceive can follow a six-week programme of complementary therapy treatments called the Fertility Wellbeing scheme
Few know of the Health & Wellbeing Centre — set up by the then Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation in 2018 near Cunnock in Ayrshire.
Yet in four years, its unique — and free — combination of wellness therapies, including acupuncture, reflexology, hypnotherapy and yoga, has played a part in the birth of no less than 40 bouncing babies.
Dubbed the ‘Royal NHS’, Dumfries House — a stunning 18th-century stately home set in a 2,000-acre estate — is seen by many as vindication of the King’s long-time advocacy of complementary therapies.
It offers couples and single women who have struggled to conceive a six-week programme of treatments called the Fertility Wellbeing scheme.
According to Dumfries House, the programme is based on the philosophy and vision of the King, who is given a weekly report on the number of babies born and is actively involved behind the scenes in the course’s delivery.
For Alyson and her husband Terry, 45, it was life-changing . . . though she does admit to scepticism at first.
‘I had never tried acupuncture or reflexology and I was cynical about everything. But after just a few sessions of reflexology, my periods started coming regularly.
‘It was extraordinary. If I stopped the treatment for any length of time, they would go back to being erratic.’
At the time, she and Terry were about to embark on IVF at a private clinic, and had raised £10,000 for it. In the event, the IVF was never needed.
After the three free sessions of reproductive reflexology at Dumfries House seemed to successfully re-set her cycle, Alyson decided to pay for a further eight with the same specialist at a cost of £50 each.
Pictured with twins Mia and Lilia, aged one, yoga teacher Sara Chan, 36, spent six years trying to get pregnant with her husband Simon, 35, before turning to the Prince’s Foundation
It was during one session that the reflexologist told her, just by touching her feet, that she was about to ovulate.
Alyson believes she went on to conceive her daughter later that very same day though, of course, it took her several weeks to confirm.
Initially, she barely dared to hope. ‘I’d had so many previous disappointments I had banned myself from buying pregnancy tests,’ she says. ‘But I began feeling dizzy and tired so a friend ordered me to buy one, and there they were — two lines.’
Baby Ella was born in October 2022 and takes up all of Alyson’s time, especially now Ella is crawling.
‘Terry and I believe there is no way I would have got pregnant without Dumfries House. It’s amazing to think that we have the King to thank for this.’
Indeed, with 80 women having taken part so far in various fertility treatments, Dumfries House has an impressive 50 per cent success rate — enough, surely, to make conventional medical experts sit up and take notice (though Dumfries House stresses it can’t prove the course is entirely responsible).
Established in 1986 with the aim of providing ‘holistic solutions’ to life’s challenges, the Prince’s Foundation promoted wellness treatments such as yoga and reflexology long before they were fashionable.
In 2007, the Foundation bought Dumfries House for £45 million from the Marquess of Bute, and a year later, it was re-opened as the foundation’s headquarters.
A health and wellbeing centre in a corner of the estate followed in 2019, with a range of courses not only for those trying to conceive but for cancer patients, menopausal women and for those managing chronic pain.
But it’s the baby boom at Dumfries House that is capturing hearts. Yoga teacher Sara Chan, 36, spent six years trying to get pregnant with her husband Simon, 35, before turning to the Prince’s Foundation.
Alyson Blush, 29, tried for seven years to have a baby with husband Terry. Alyson, who has polycystic ovaries credits reflexology, which she first tried at Dumfries House, with re-setting her cycle and, in turn, enabling her to conceive. Their daughter, Ella (pictured), was born in October 2022 and is now crawling
Sara already had a daughter, Darcy, age 12, from a previous relationship. But her inability to get pregnant again left her in a dark place.
‘We spent six years trying for a baby and had two losses during that time,’ she explains. ‘It was a very challenging and lonely period.
‘I was fortunate to already have a child, but I wanted to give my daughter a sibling, and my husband a child.’
Between January and March 2020, she and refrigeration engineer Simon, who live in Stewarton, Ayrshire, had three rounds of IVF on the NHS, all of which failed.
Sara then fell pregnant naturally but miscarried. As a last resort, the couple joined a six-week course at Dumfries House.
Sara says: ‘We tried all the different things there to boost fertility, including cooking classes and relaxation techniques. These things are usually expensive, but we managed to get the benefit of them for free.’
During this time, Sara underwent another cycle of IVF and though again it failed, she found the support from Dumfries House invaluable.
‘IVF is invasive, stressful and a really hard process on the body,’ she says. ‘So the relaxation treatments at Dumfries House were something nice I could focus on.
‘Meeting other people going through the same experience was also massive for me. There were five couples and we are all still friends now.’
Three months later, Sara became pregnant with twins.
Her non-identical girls, Maia and Lilia, are now two, and ‘strikingly different characters’ who are doted on by their big sister.
And it’s Dumfries House that Sara credits with giving her the crucial boost she needed for a successful pregnancy.
‘The course put us in the best possible position mentally, physically and emotionally to carry a child.
‘IVF was essential and I continued with that, but the course reminded us to take care of ourselves.’
Sophia (pictured) was born to Gemma Cameron, 29, and husband Michael, 33, on Valentine’s Day in 2021. Gemma learned about the link between healthy eating and fertility at Dumfries House and the team there supported her throughout her pregnancy
While some of the women at Dumfries House have unexplained infertility and have never been pregnant, many have experienced the grief and pain of miscarriages.
Gemma Cameron, 29, of Darvel, Ayrshire, was trying to get pregnant with her husband Michael, 33. But she feared she would never have a healthy pregnancy after she miscarried at eight weeks in July 2019 after three years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive.
It was a terrible blow and left Gemma feeling ‘intense anger’ with her body. ‘I think infertility, miscarriage and baby loss are not talked about enough,’ she says. ‘In fact, I didn’t tell anyone except very close family.’
After another year of trying and failing to get pregnant, the couple signed on at Dumfries House, feeling they had ‘nothing to lose’. Six weeks after the course finished — in July 2020 — Gemma fell pregnant naturally with Sophia.
‘It was a hugely beneficial experience,’ she says of Dumfries House, which not only taught them the link between healthy eating and fertility, and the importance of exercise and stress management when trying to conceive, but also supported her throughout the pregnancy.
‘It was amazing to be pregnant but because of my previous miscarriage I had extremely bad anxiety.’
Dumfries House also provides an NHS consultant gynaecologist, who is unable to prescribe but advised Gemma to contact her GP for a drug to help the pregnancy ‘stick’.
Sadly, it still wasn’t without major problems. At an early scan, Gemma learnt she was having twins, but at ten weeks, she began bleeding. One of the babies had died.
‘It was devastating but also terrifying as I was told I could also lose the other one. Thankfully, everything ended up OK and I had a normal delivery.’
Born on Valentine’s Day in 2021, Sophia is described by her mother as a ‘character’, who loves getting muddy and exploring nature.
‘Dumfries House is a hidden gem,’ she says. ‘It felt like we had freedom to really speak about what we were feeling, not just for the women but the men too.
‘It was just so special. Talking about things really helped to take my stress away. I think the King is amazing to provide this programme and its experts to surrounding communities.’
Leighann McGregor, 43, also feared she wouldn’t get pregnant, largely due to her age.
IVF success: Two-year-old Charlotte Rankin was born to Leighann McGregor, 43, and her partner Neil Rankin, 45. Leighann believes the support she received at Dumfries House helped change her mindset in an important way
She and her partner Neil Rankin, 45, an engineer, spent two years trying to conceive naturally until, in desperation, they signed up to Dumfries House in March 2020.
Now the proud mum of two-year-old Charlotte, Leighann, who also has a 16-year-old son, Tyler, from a previous relationship, says: ‘The House gave us so much support.’
Recalling that difficult time makes Leighann emotional.
‘I was 40, and classed as an older mum,’ she says, holding back tears. ‘I knew I was so lucky to have Tyler but Neil and I so wanted a child of our own. The course helped me feel in control.’
At the same time, the couple also had IVF at a private clinic in Glasgow, and amazingly, got pregnant with Charlotte on their first attempt — a rare statistical success at Leighann’s age, which they credit to the course.
‘I don’t know if I would have been in the right mindset if it wasn’t for their support,’ she says.
‘Fundamentally Dumfries House made me feel I had done everything possible in order to conceive, so if it hadn’t worked, that would have been OK too.
‘But it did work. It really worked! And we have the King to thank.’