Bells ring out in celebration at Bourn

A special peal of bells rang out across Bourn village on Saturday 13th May to celebrate the staff and patients of Bourn Hall. The bell ringers included Helen Atkins and Dave Richards whose little daughter has just turned five.

Dave tells the story:

“When Helen and I embarked on our journey as patients at Bourn Hall in 2016-17, we stepped into what seemed a whirlwind of activity.

“I was pleasantly surprised that the flurry of medical tests and procedures was balanced by other elements, particularly the social aspects of the Fertility Support Group and the various counselling sessions.

“We knew from the outset that our chances were slim. For our first cycle of IVF, blastocyst development had not gone well and the subsequent pregnancy test fell on Christmas Eve 2016. It was negative, but that was almost the expected result.

“That experience also emphasised how difficult the process can be for the staff – hours of skilled and focussed work resulting in a disappointing outcome for all involved. It really brought home the experiences of others shared at the fertility support group.

“We chose a different approach for the second cycle, and it was at that point we hit upon the idea of ringing at Bourn.

Helen and her daughter in front of St Helena and St Mary church
Helen and her daughter in front of St Helena and St Mary church

“Helen and I are both church bell-ringers and it is customary to mark events with special performances known as peals (about three hours of ringing) or quarter-peals (45 minutes of ringing).

“As we started the next phase of our journey into unfamiliar territory, the target of a special performance when sufficient time had passed seemed like a small anchor of normality.

“It wasn’t entirely clear what happened during the second cycle but the result was, very surprisingly, a natural pregnancy.

“Our daughter, Ellen, was born at Addenbrookes in January 2018 and the next chapter of our lives started.”

The Fertility Support Group meets virtually every month and there are also occasional special meetings on a particular subject.

A special performance

The couple hadn’t forgotten their pledge and five years later they arranged a ‘special performance’ of 1260 Grandsire Triples in St Helena and St Mary’s church to celebrate patients and staff at Bourn Hall.

The church, which can be seen from the clinic, was built in the 12th century to replace a wooden church that was built after the Norman Conquest. It has an octagonal twisted spire with eight bells and is open to visitors.

Dave continues:

“Just after Ellen’s fifth birthday, it seemed enough time had passed to remember and reflect on our experiences at Bourn Hall. We successfully rang a quarter peal with friends on Saturday 13th May 2023 – the report can be found here .

“It’s a small way to recognise the dedicated hard work of the staff, the hopes and dreams of the patients, the tears of disappointment, the tears of joy and, above all for us, our ‘miracle’ baby.”

Helen and her daughter outside Bourn Hall
Helen and her daughter Ellen outside Bourn Hall
The bell ringers
Jackie Stewart coping with uncertainity

Support for the fertility journey

“Meeting others who empathise and can understand what it’s like, no matter the different stage or type of fertility treatment, has brought mutual support and comfort to many,” explains Jackie Stewart, an independent fertility counsellor who runs the Fertility Support Group supported by Grace Holdsworth.

The virtual group uses Zoom, so people need to register their interest ahead of the meeting; they are then emailed an invitation to attend, with some helpful information attached. This includes a request to reply confirming they have read and received the information. The link to the meeting itself follows once these details have been confirmed.

The meetings often have a guest speaker and and a facilitated group discussion. This could be in the form of written questions submitted using chat, or if participants are happy to ask questions themselves they could indicate they want to comment and be given space to do so. There is some organisation behind the scenes to make it flow and let people contribute in the way they wish.

Jackie continues: “The meeting is open to patients and non-patients and lasts no more than 1.5 hours and runs from 6.30 to 8pm once a month.

More information about the upcoming meetings can be seen here.

More information

Dave and Helen had a goal to help them on their fertility journey – more coping tips are on our blog

Bourn Hall provides counselling and there are several different types – Jackie Stewart explains here.

You don’t have to be a Bourn Hall patient to participate in the Fertility Support Group – more information here.

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