Ricky had always been concerned that his fertility could be impacted by an underlying health issue. Surgery on benign cysts on his prostate may have damaged his sperm. So, when he met and fell in love with Samantha, he was open from the start about his fear of never being a dad and that they might need fertility treatment to have a family.
“When I first met Ricky, he was completely honest with me about how having the cysts might affect his chances of becoming a dad,” says Samantha. “They became painful and every time he had a procedure there was the additional risk that the surgery might affect his fertility and so we knew that we couldn’t delay trying to start a family.”
Fear of never being a dad
Samantha was in her mid-twenties when they first started trying to conceive and Samantha says the situation took an emotional toll on her and the stress aggravated her Crohn’s disease.
“Ricky is six years older than me, and a lot of his friends were having children. I used to get really emotional seeing other people get pregnant. People were always asking us when we were going to have a baby and I found it really difficult.”
After three years trying to conceive naturally, they went to their GP and fertility tests revealed that there was hardly any sperm – and these were immobile. After a consultation with a urologist at a local hospital they were told they would be eligible for NHS funded IVF treatment.
Secrecy and stress aggravated Crohn’s
The couple kept their IVF treatment a secret from family and friends – something which Samantha admits piled the emotional pressure on even more.
“We were living with family while we were buying our first house and at first were concerned that our new address might affect our eligibility for NHS funded treatment,” she says. “Thankfully in the end it didn’t but it was a very stressful time especially as we were keeping it a secret. I am quite an anxious person and had a couple of Crohn’s flare-ups.
“I tried to focus on healthy eating, cutting out quite a lot of dairy and making healthy smoothies and shakes which I enjoyed doing. I also went out for lots of walks to clear my mind.”
Samantha and Ricky chose Bourn Hall for their IV treatment: “I wanted to go to one of the top specialist IVF places and I just knew that Bourn Hall was literally one of the best for IVF – one of our friends went through Bourn Hall as well so we already knew where we wanted to have our treatment.”
Specialist in male infertility
The couple were then introduced at Bourn Hall to consultant urologist Oliver Wiseman, a specialist in male fertility. The embryologists were concerned that there may be insufficient sperm to fertilise the eggs during the IVF cycle so back-up measures were discussed.
Mr Wiseman explored with the couple the possibility of Ricky undergoing a procedure called PESA (percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration). This is a procedure which involves inserting a fine needle into the epididymis, one of the tubes leading from the testicle, and collecting samples of fluid containing sperm using gentle suction. However, this wasn’t required as Ricky produced sufficient sperm to fertilise 12 of Samantha’s eggs.
The couple had IVF with ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) where one sperm is injected directly into each egg using a fine needle to fertilise it. One of the resulting embryos is then transferred to the woman’s womb. Then comes a two week wait before you can take a home pregnancy test.
The two week wait felt endless
Samantha woke up at 5am to take her pregnancy test.
“When I saw the test was positive, I couldn’t stop crying, it stills makes me feel emotional now just thinking about it,” she smiles.
“I am so glad we went to Bourn Hall. All the staff are very lovely, we couldn’t thank them all enough – everyone was just so good at their job. I was always asking them questions throughout the whole journey – I am quite anxious, but they put as at ease.”
No longer a secret
The IVF treatment was no longer a secret once Samantha was 12 weeks pregnant, as the couple told all their friends and family the good news .
“It was a complete surprise when we told everyone we were expecting,” says Samantha. “The first person I told was my dad and he had such a huge smile, it was lovely.”
On the 27 March 2020 Samantha and Ricky welcomed their daughter Blythe into the world.
Blythe is an old English name meaning ‘joyous and happy’ and Samantha feels that her daughter’s name sums up everything their daughter’s arrival meant to them.
“We loved her instantly the moment we saw her little face,” remembers Samantha. “Throughout all our scans she had always had her hands up in front of her face, so it was a really nice surprise to see it. It was just so lovely to hold her. Ricky just had this massive smile on his face. She was perfect.”
Treatments for male infertility
“Being told that you have a low or zero sperm count is a major blow and the emotional impact shouldn’t be underestimated,” says Mr Oliver Wiseman, a specialist in male infertility and consultant urologist at Bourn Hall.
“Some of the men we see at Bourn Hall already suspect they might have a problem with fertility, as they know a childhood illness or a sporting injury may have damaged the testes, where the sperm are made and stored. For others the news comes a complete shock.
“Even with little or no sperm in the semen there are ways that you can become a father, so this information is just the start of the journey. It is important to get good advice from a specialist, such as myself, to rule out any underlying health issues and make sure you are full informed about your options.”
If no sperm is detected in the semen, it might still be possible to find healthy sperm in the testes or the tubes using surgical sperm retrieval (SSR). There are two main types of SSR: PESA (percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration) is where sperm is collected from the epididymis inside the scrotum using a syringe and fine needle; MicroTESE is where immature sperm are retrieved directly from tiny pieces of tissue removed from the testicles. Both are minor operations.