Health: Baby Sophia is a natural little wonder
Anne Cross gently strokes her four-week-old daughter's soft downy hair and rocks her to sleep. When she lays her in her brand new pram for a nap, Anne pauses to just watch her for a moment, hardly daring to believe the tiny bundle might be hers.
For Sophia is the baby Anne hardly dared to believe she might ever have.
Her arrival by Caesarian section last month came after a six-year-long frustrating fight against a condition which for years many argued simply didn't exist.
Even once Anne had beaten Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) - once scorned as "yuppie flu", it is now recognised as a lingering and debilitating condition - she faced a three-year battle to fall pregnant, eventually resorting to IVF only to then suffer the heartache of a miscarriage.
She was still grieving for her lost IVF baby when she finally got pregnant naturally, at the age of 40.
"I knew when I was in my 20s I wanted to be a mum," recalls Anne, 41. "But ME left me so drained that I couldn't even think about a relationship, never mind getting pregnant.
"It made me lose the best years of my life.
"When the time came to start trying for a family, I was 37 and my chances were getting slimmer all the time. I tried to stay positive but it was soul-destroying.
"Now that Sophia's finally here, I can hardly believe it."
Anne was in her early 20s and studying occupational therapy at college when she found herself battling exhaustion and lingering flu-like symptoms.
She didn't know at the time, but it would be the start of a six-year fight to get better.
The causes of ME - also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - are unknown, but earlier this week scientists in America revealed they had found evidence of murine leukaemia virus - known to cause cancer in mice - in 86 per cent of sufferers.
Some believe it is caused by a persistent virus which the body's immune system can't fight and that certain people are predisposed to developing it.
Anne believes her ME was partly caused by her own determination to push herself to the limit.
"I was studying hard at college and was very stressed. I've always put myself under a lot of pressure," she recalls.
"I developed glandular fever. And then, when I was due to start work at a hospital, I was given a Hepatitis B vaccination.
"I think my immune system was already struggling, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back."
The condition is defined by an overwhelming feeling of fatigue unrelated to physical exertion. Its symptoms are wide-ranging, which can lead to patients suffering for years without a clear diagnosis.
Some experience mildly debilitating flu-like symptoms, aching muscles and joint pain, others are struck so hard they can barely leave bed for years. In rare cases, it can even be fatal.
For Anne, otherwise fit and healthy with a love of hockey and tennis, the initial symptoms left her sapped of energy, aching and confused.
"I kept getting a sore throat and felt 'fluey' but I tried to carry on and push myself even harder," she says.
"I tried to battle through with antibiotics and I never took time off. That was probably the worst thing I could have done."
She struggled for two years while she working as an occupational therapist at a Dunfermline hospital before finally taking a break. Even that pushed her to her limits.
"I went travelling for ten months," she remembers. "All that did was put my immune system under more pressure.
"I was sick with abscesses in my mouth and sore throats. I was tired all the time. I'd go to the doctor and get antibiotics but it took years before anyone mentioned ME."
Eventually she quit work and, aged 30, returned home to live with her parents. She even had surgery to remove her tonsils, but the sore throats - a classic ME symptom - kept coming back.
She became so exhausted she could barely leave the house, spending days in a fog and slipping into a depression as she watched what should have been the prime of her life slip away.
Aware that conventional medicine couldn't help, Anne turned to alternative treatments and reassessed her diet in a bid to get better.
"I tried everything," she recalls, "from Reiki to herbs. I used a lot of supplements which help the adrenal glands - they support the immune system - things like rhodioloa and ashwagandha.
"I started to study nutritional medicine, which was hard because I was ill. I changed my diet, only ate healthy and organic food, cut out caffeine.
"And eventually I started to get better."
She met John Bissett, a courier, through an internet dating site when she was 35 and life finally seemed to be back on track.
As her health returned, she decided to pass on what she had learned about the impact nutrition has on our mental and physical health, fertility and immune system to help others and launched a career in nutritional medicine.
All Anne and John, 43, needed to make their Kirkliston home complete was a baby. "We tried for three years but nothing happened," says Anne. "It was soul-destroying."
Modern medicine had failed to "cure" her ME, but the couple hoped it might help make their family dream come true and paid for IVF treatment in Glasgow.
It worked first time, but their pregnancy delight became despair when an early scan revealed the baby's heartbeat had stopped.
"You don't just lose a baby, you lose all the hopes and dreams you had for it too," says Anne. "We were heartbroken."
She drew on her knowledge of nutrition and again turned to Reiki, herbal supplements and natural therapies to boost their IVF chances a second time.
But before the intrusive treatment could begin Anne discovered she was already pregnant entirely naturally.
Sophia arrived last month, a happy ending at last to Anne's long struggle.
"If anything, all this has helped me grow as a person," she reflects.
"I now live a fulfilling life but at a much slower pace, I don't work long days or study for hours any more because I've learned that stress hormones can play havoc on your physical health.
"Now I want to use my own experiences to help other people. If anyone knows what they are going through, it's probably me."
Anne Cross is part of Fertility Focus, a group of Edinburgh-based specialists in fertility, nutrition, relaxation and counselling. To make contact, call 07760-196 321.
ANIMAL LINK TO DEBILITATING CONDITION
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, affects around 250,000 Britons and usually develops in people in their early 20s to mid-40s.
It affects many parts of the body, in particular the immune and nervous systems.
Symptoms include extreme exhaustion, disturbed sleep, memory loss and concentration difficulties, sore throat, headaches, muscle and joint pains.
No test for the condition exists and there is no cure.
Scientists in America believe ME could be caused by a rare mouse-related virus, murine leukaemia virus, which causes cancer in mice.
Earlier this week the researchers announced evidence of the virus in 86 per cent of chronic fatigue patients.
It is the second study to link a mouse virus to chronic fatigue syndrome in humans - xenotropic murine related virus was named in 2009 as having been found in patients suffering from the condition.