After a two-year battle with in vitro fertilization, genetic tests and thousands of rands, Jan-Adriaan van Rooyen, better known as the singer and songwriter, Prop, and his wife, Mieke, finally welcomed their miracle boy, Adriaan.
“We want to share our story, because we are definitely not the only couple who had to walk this path,” explained Mieke, with Adriaan on her lap and Prop by her side, to RNews.
“People are shy to talk about it, especially men. Actually, we should normalize it to talk more about fertility problems,” Prop agreed with his wife’s words.
For this couple, it was not only a battle with fertility problems, but they wanted to try to prevent Prop’s semidwarfism gene from being passed on to their baby.
Throughout his childhood, Prop had to undergo around 27 operations to ensure that he would be able to walk. It was not easy, he admits, the treatments were expensive, the recovery process time-consuming and he was often bullied at school.
“Fortunately, given his personality, the bullying did not affect him,” says Mieke.
He was diagnosed with septicemia in 1986 as a seven-month-old baby. At that stage, he was the only person in the world under the age of 14 who survived this often fatal disease. This is also the cause of the scars on his arms and the reason why some of his fingers had to be amputated.
“A pediatrician decided at that stage that I was going to have to bleed out the virus before it moved into my organs. I had to get five blood transfusions a day, and my father had to drive around Pretoria himself to look for blood banks that had enough blood,” he says.
“It saved my life.”
Prop’s parents did not realize at that stage that he was not growing properly, they only noticed this when he was four years old. He was subsequently diagnosed with Pseudoachondroplasia, or semi-dwarfism.
His life took a turn after that. It was an ongoing battle to ensure that he moves comfortably and that his legs and muscles develop in such a way that he will indeed be able to walk one day.
He had been in a wheelchair for long periods of time, and doctors even believed that he would never be able to walk again. It was then, in the midst of his medical struggles, that he picked up the guitar. Music became his outlet.
Before he became a household name with his hit track, “Kwaaitjie”, he toured with Robbie Wessels as guitarist for 10 years.
However, he began studying architecture at the University of Pretoria in 2013 at the age of 27, and in 2019 obtained his master’s degree in it. It is also during his studies where he met his wife.
“It is a real love story. I didn’t think that this would be my love story, but I did pray for a friend, and that’s exactly what he was for me,” says Mieke.
This couple got married on Paternoster’s beach in 2017 and soon after decided that they would like to have a baby. Even then, they had serious discussions about how they would conceive the baby, and how they would prevent Prop’s Pseudoachondroplasia from being passed on to the baby.
“Look, there is a fifty/fifty chance if you walk the normal path. I know that testing genes is controversial for many people, but I know the path I have walked and I would like it differently for my child,” explained Prop.
“Regardless, we will love our child very much, but we just want to spare him the challenges of that.”
At the beginning of 2020, the couple started a process to have genes tested. They initially planned to identify the gene, have it eliminated, and then try to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization. At that stage, they could only test seven of Prop’s genes to see which one contained the Pseudoachondroplasia. However, these tests did not bear fruit, and they could not determine which gene it was.
After a while, they decided to try to get pregnant themselves. It was a long and difficult journey, they admit. Prop even had to undergo surgery to attempt to address fertility issues. However, they were not successful in these efforts, and returned to the idea of in vitro fertilization.
In 2022, they resumed the process of testing Prop’s genes, and this time were able to test more than 300 genes. However, this was again unsuccessful.
The couple then decided to take the plunge and proceed with the in vitro fertilization without the elimination of the semidwarfism gene. A total of three embryos were created, giving the couple hope that they won’t have to wait too long before expanding the family.
“It was a matter of faith. Because we had tests done on the embryos, and it was determined that they would each be healthy, we decided to have only one implanted,” explains Mieke.
“We are very happy that it worked the first time.”
Adriaan is currently six weeks old and is being monitored to see if there are any signs that the gene has passed on, but Prop explains that he is actually taller than the average baby in that age group. However, they won’t know for sure until he is older.
“We believe in our hearts that he will live a normal life, but if he doesn’t, we will love and accept him as he is. He is our miracle child.
“People always ask so easily when you have a child, but it’s not something to be ashamed of. We need to start talking more about infertility problems, and make it normal to share your fertility journey with others.”